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House Democrats renew calls for ICE to release trans, HIV-positive detainees

Letter notes ‘grave concerns’ and ‘deficiencies’ in detention centers

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A group of 30 Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives on Friday called for the release of all transgender people and people with HIV/AIDS who are in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody.

“Immigration detention is notoriously dangerous and harmful for transgender immigrants, who are likely to be seeking asylum based on transphobic violence they have already faced, and because of such histories are likely to suffer from depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health conditions,” wrote U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) and the other members of Congress in a letter they sent to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and acting ICE Director Tae Johnson. “Transgender individuals also are more likely to require specialized medical care including hormone replacement therapy and HIV treatment.”

The letter notes there “are grave concerns regarding ICE safely detaining transgender individuals.”

ICE in 2017 opened a pod at the privately-run Cibola County Correctional Center in New Mexico that specifically housed trans women. The letter notes it “was plagued by alarming deficiencies in medical care, including ‘hundreds of unanswered requests for medical attention, poor quarantine procedures, and deficient treatment for mental illnesses and other chronic diseases'” that federal inspections documented.

“These deficiencies — which included failures to complete laboratory orders or ensure that HIV-positive individuals were seen by specialists — were so severe as to result in ICE transferring all transgender individuals and others with chronic illness out of the facility,” reads the letter.

“Even outside of this particular housing unit, there is a lack of adequate medical care throughout these detention centers for those with chronic health conditions, and evidence has overwhelmingly shown that those with HIV receive woefully insufficient and inconsistent treatment for their condition,” adds the letter. “HIV requires regular and regimented treatment to be managed, and for those living with HIV, such poor medical care could quickly lead to death or serious health consequences.”

The Cibola County Correctional Center in Milan, N.M. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement)

The members of Congress in their letter conclude ICE “is not fully capable of safely and humanely detaining transgender and HIV+ individuals.”

They specifically request Mayorkas and Johnson, among other things, provide monthly statistics on the number of trans women and men and people with HIV/AIDS who are in ICE custody. The members of Congress also ask for information about ICE’s work with non-governmental organizations that focuses on the release of trans detainees and efforts to secure legal representation for them.

“We look forward to working with you on how we can best support LGBTQ individuals in ICE detention,” reads the letter.

Quigley is among the House Democrats who have previously called for ICE to release all trans people in its custody.

More than 100 people marched to the White House on June 23 to demand the Biden administration end the detention of trans people and people with HIV/AIDS in ICE facilities. Immigration Equality, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the Transgender Law Center, the Santa Fe Dreamers Project, the Center for Victims of Torture, Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, Mijente and the National Immigrant Justice Center made the same request in a letter they sent to Mayorkas and Johnson on June 16.

Two trans women — Victoria Arellano and Roxsana Hernández — died while in ICE custody in 2007 and 2018 respectively. Another trans woman, Johana “Joa” Medina León, passed away in 2019, three days after ICE released her from its custody.

Arellano, Hernández and Medina were all living with HIV.

The Washington Blade has reached out to ICE for comment on the members of Congress’ letter.

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HHS awards more than $48 million to HRSA centers in effort to beat HIV/AIDS

Biden campaigned on beating epidemic by 2025

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HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra hailed the contribution of more than $48 million to beat HIV/AIDS. (photo public domain)

The Biden administration has awarded more than $48 million to medical centers under Health Resources & Services Administration in localities with high incidents of HIV infection as part of the initiative to beat the disease, the Washington Blade has learned exclusively.

Xavier Becerra, secretary of health and human services, said in a statement the contributions are key component of the initiative, which is called “Ending the HIV Epidemic in the U.S.” and seeks to reduce new infections by 90 percent by 2030.

“HHS-supported community health centers are often a key point of entry to HIV prevention and treatment services, especially for underserved populations,” Becerra said in a statement. “I am proud of the role they play in providing critical services to 1.2 million Americans living with HIV. Today’s awards will ensure equitable access to services free from stigma and discrimination, while advancing the Biden-Harris administration’s efforts to ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic by 2025.”

The $48 million contribution went to HRSA centers 271 HRSA-supported health centers across 26 states, Puerto Rico and D.C. — areas identified with the highest rates of HIV infections — to expand HIV prevention and treatment services, including access to pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) as well as outreach and care coordination, according to HHS.

The Ending the HIV Epidemic was set up under the Trump administration, which made PrEP a generic drug after an accelerated effort and set a goal of beating HIV by 2030. Biden has continued the project, after campaigning on beating HIV a full five years earlier in 2025. Observers, however, are skeptical he can meet that goal.

Diana Espinosa, acting HRSA administrator, said in a statement the $48 million will go a long way in reaching goals to beat HIV/AIDS.

“We know our Health Center Program award recipients are well-positioned to advance the Ending the HIV Epidemic in the U.S. initiative, with a particular focus on facilitating access to PrEP, because of their integrated service delivery model,” Espinosa said. “By integrating HIV services into primary care, and providing essential enabling services like language access or case management, HRSA-supported health centers increase access to care and improve health outcomes for patients living with HIV.”

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Melania Trump announced as guest for Log Cabin Republicans’ annual dinner

Former first lady Melania Trump is set to be a special guest at the annual “Spirit of Lincoln” dinner hosted by Log Cabin Republicans.

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Former first lady Melania Trump is set to be a special guest at the annual “Spirit of Lincoln” dinner hosted by Log Cabin Republicans, the organization announced on Tuesday.

The event — which will take place Nov. 6 at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla., marking a change of tradition in holding the dinner in D.C. — will likely mark an attempt for Melania Trump to develop her image as an LGBTQ ally and tamp down the reputation the Trump administration was hostile to LGBTQ people.

Charles Moran, managing director for Log Cabin Republicans, hailed Melania Trump in a statement for her work as first lady and breaking barriers for the Republican Party.

“Melania Trump’s work as First Lady, from helping children reach their full potential to championing a more inclusive Republican Party, has been historic,” Moran said. “Her vocal support of Log Cabin Republicans has been a signal to Republicans everywhere that it is possible to simultaneously be conservative and support equality under the law for all Americans.”

According to the Log Cabin Republicans, Melania Trump at the dinner will be awarded with the 2021 Spirit of Lincoln Award. Other high-profile Republicans in the past who have appeared at the annual event are Carly Fiorina, Newt Gingrich, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker and Mary Cheney.

Moran, in response to an email inquiry from the Washington Blade, said Melania Trump will not only be an award recipient, but is set to deliver remarks at the event.

It won’t be the first time Melania Trump has collaborated with Log Cabin. During the 2020 election, she appeared in a video for Outspoken, the media arm for Log Cabin Republicans, saying “nothing could be further from the truth” her husband, former President Trump, is against LGBTQ people.

Among the anti-LGBTQ policies under Trump were a transgender military ban, religious freedom carve-out seen to enable anti-LGBTQ discrimination and the U.S. Justice Department arguing against LGBTQ inclusion under civil rights law when the issue was before the U.S. Supreme Court. Nonetheless, Trump connected with a certain faction of LGBTQ people and his administration included high-profile LGBTQ appointees, such as Richard Grenell as the first openly gay person to serve in a Cabinet role.

As first reported by the Washington Blade, Melania Trump said in 2020 she wanted to light up the White House in rainbow colors similar to the display during the Obama years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled for same-sex marriage nationwide. However, the vision never came to pass at a time when White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows had a role in quashing an symbolic support for LGBTQ people in Pride Month.

The Log Cabin announcement comes at a time when Melania Trump is facing new scrutiny over her response to the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and whether she erroneously believes, like her husband, he was the winner of the 2020 election.

According to a preview in Politico, former White House press secretary and Melania Trump aide Stephanie Grisham says in her upcoming book she texted the former first lady on Jan. 6 to ask: “Do you want to tweet that peaceful protests are the right of every American, but there is no place for lawlessness and violence?”

A minute later, Melania replied with a one-word answer: “No,” Grisham reportedly writes of her account. At that moment, Grisham writes she was at the White House preparing for a photo shoot of a rug she had selected, according to Politico.

The Blade has placed a request in with the office of former President Donald Trump to confirm her appearance at the dinner and comment on what went into the Melania Trump’s decision to appear at the event.

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Blinken expresses concern over LGBTQ Afghans

Groups have urged White House to implement 10-point plan

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken (Photo public domain)

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday expressed concern over the fate of LGBTQ Afghans who remain in the country after the Taliban regained control of it.

Rhode Island Congressman David Cicilline asked Blinken during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing that focused on the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan about a 10-point plan to protect LGBTQ Afghans for which the Council for Global Equality and five other advocacy groups have called the Biden administration to implement. Blinken told Cicilline, a Democrat, that he had “not personally seen the report that you referred to …, but I’m going to take a look at that myself.”

“Thank you for rightfully putting the spotlight on concerns about the LGBTQI+ community in Afghanistan and the particular threat that they find themselves under,” said Blinken. “This is something that we are focused on.”

The Taliban entered Kabul, the Afghan capital on Aug. 15 and toppled then-President Ashraf Ghani’s government.

A Taliban judge in July said the group would once again execute gay men if it were to return to power in Afghanistan.

The U.S. evacuated more than 100,000 people from the country before American troops completed their withdrawal from the country on Aug. 30. It remains unclear whether any LGBTQ Afghans were among those who were able to leave during the evacuations from Kabul International Airport, but Immigration Equality last week said it spoke “directly” with 50 LGBTQ Afghans before the U.S. withdrawal ended.

Canada is thus far the only country that has specifically said it would offer refuge to LGBTQ Afghans.

“It’s important, in my view, that we take steps to ensure that those who would be subjected to violence or worse because of their sexual orientation or gender identity are safe,” Cicilline told Blinken during the hearing.

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