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LGBTQ groups support Hurricane Fiona recovery efforts in Puerto Rico

Storm caused widespread flooding, island-wide blackout on Sept. 18



Hurricane Fiona damage in Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico. (Photo courtesy of Olga N. Chapman Rivera/Waves Ahead)

Eliana Rodríguez and her father Javier floated on a mattress and pieces of broken debris in flood water in Utuado, Puerto Rico, praying help would come for hours.  

“The rain kept falling and never stopped,” Rodríguez said of the flood water that filled the home she shared with her father. “We sat in the dark when we lost power and when the water became too much, we prayed.”

Hurricane Fiona made landfall on Puerto Rico’s southwestern coast on Sept. 18, inundating Utuado and the surrounding area with 30 inches of rain.

Neighbors eventually rescued Rodríguez and her father. They have now relocated to New York with family, unsure when or if they will return. 

 Rodríguez still grieves for the things she lost in the flood that made her house a home.

Mi isla es mi alma (my island is my soul),” Rodríguez said, choking back tears.

Fiona, which made landfall two days before the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Maria, knocked out power across Puerto Rico. People in the U.S. commonwealth since Fiona’s landfall continue to struggle with a lack of electricity, drinking water, food and medical necessities. 

Rodríguez’s father, who has a heart condition, went without his medication until they reached the U.S. mainland, where they battled medical red tape to finally get the medication her father needs.

As recovery efforts continue to evolve on the island, humanitarian and grassroots organizations have flocked to “la Isla del Encanto” (the Island of Enchantment) to help Puerto Ricans rebuild. 

Agriculture and infrastructure are among the hardest hit industries on the island.

“Hurricane Fiona destroyed $159 million bananas and other crops,” the island’s agricultural minister said.  

Wilfred Labiosa, executive director of Waves Ahead Puerto Rico, an organization that offers support to marginalized and vulnerable communities, including the LGBTQ community, is helping with recovery efforts. 

According to Labiosa, necessities like electricity, drinking water and mental health aid continue to be grave needs that are still unmet and the government is unsure when relief will come. 

“They’re saying water is coming sooner than electricity, while getting electricity to some parts of the island could take months,” Labiosa told the Washington Blade during a telephone interview shortly after Fiona’s landfall.

Labiosa, along with many other Puerto Ricans, has sharply criticized the government for its lack of adequate leadership and oversight of LUMA Energy, the company that holds the exclusive contract to provide electricity to the island. LUMA Energy, which faces zero competition, has consistently failed to provide stable electricity to residents, even before the hurricane. 

Waves Ahead, in collaboration with World Central Kitchen and José Andrés, provides meals for those in need across the island. 

Like most small nonprofit organizations, Waves Ahead relies on donations and funds from the government to provide for those in need. And despite multiple visits by federal legislators, Waves Ahead has not been selected to receive federal aid funds, and Labiosa says that lawmakers do not mention the LGBTQ community in discussions of relief efforts.

Fiona’s effect are traumatic, Labiosa says the storm’s destruction hurts more because of the response from Puerto Rico’s central government and local municipalities.

“We haven’t learned anything in the last five years,” Labiosa said, referencing to Maria’s devastating effects.

Labiosa highlighted the burden of outdated infrastructure on the island, which the government has received millions of dollars to improve yet has not.

“The temporary bridge was supposed to be replaced two years ago,” Labiosa said in reference to Bridge PR-123 in Utuado that was built after Maria, and washed away the day Fiona made landfall. 

Waves Ahead is also working on a partnership with the Ricky Martin Foundation to provide resources and help to all affected by Fiona, including focused efforts on the LGBTQ community.  

Waves Ahead provides food to a resident of Maunabo, Puerto Rico, after Hurricane Fiona made landfall on the island. (Photo courtesy of Olga N. Chapman Rivera/Waves Ahead)

Just like Labiosa, Arianna Lint, executive director of Arianna’s Center, is calling for mental health aid as well as other necessities. 

“We have a very high suicide rate in our community,” Lint said. 

For more than five years, Arianna’s Center has worked extensively in Puerto Rico, serving people of the LGBTQ community through community development and federal legislative efforts. 

Recently, Lint delivered survival kits donated by Gilead Sciences around the island. 

Lint and Gilead Sciences have partnered in an effort to ensure that those living with HIV/AIDS are receiving the medical care they need in the aftermath of the hurricane and destructive flooding.

“One of our largest aliados (allies) is Gilead Sciences, who is promoting the use of PrEP,” Lint said. 

Parts of the island that remain inaccessible due to mudslides and debris from the storm are finding it hard to receive help, especially when it comes to health services for the elderly.

“Our greatest focus is on people left behind and senior people in our community,” Lint said. 

As cleanup and recovery efforts continue in Puerto Rico, one thing is for sure: Cleanup will be a slow process, and many, like Rodriguez and her father, will be faced with the decision to leave their island or stay, uncertain when the cavalry will come. 



Bill to support LGBTQ seniors in rural areas reintroduced

Advocates praise Elder Pride Act



(Washington Blade file photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

Representatives Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), and Sharice Davids (D-Kan.) reintroduced legislation to increase access to needed services and resources for LGBTQ seniors who live in rural areas this week.

The Elder Pride Act would bolster the capacity and ability of Area Agencies on Aging located in rural communities to better serve and support LGBTQ seniors who often require affirming care, services, and supports that are often underfunded and scarce in many parts of the country.

Recent surveys show that between 2.9 million and 3.8 million LGBTQ people live in rural American communities.

“LGBTQ+ elders and older people living with HIV live in every part of this nation, including rural areas. We all deserve to be able to age in our communities with the services and supports we need to remain independent,” SAGE CEO Michael Adams said in the press release announcing the reintroduction of the legislation. “We commend Representatives Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), Mark Pocan (D-WI), and Sharice Davids (D-KS) on reintroducing the Elder Pride Act. And we honor the contributions of our many LGBTQ+ trailblazers whose tireless advocacy allowed us to reintroduce this critical bill. We look forward to working alongside Reps. Bonamici, Pocan, and Davids, and our LGBTQ+ pioneers nationwide to pass this legislation.”

“LGBTQI+ seniors should be able to access services and care that meets their unique needs, regardless of where they live,” said Bonamici, chair of the Equality Caucus’s LGBTQ+ Aging Issues Task Force.”Those who live in rural areas frequently face increased barriers, which Congress can break down. The Elder Pride Act will increase resources for programs and services that will improve the lives of LGBTQI+ elders.”

“The Elder Pride Act will improve the overall health and social and economic well-being of LGBTQI+ older adults and seniors living with HIV in rural areas by better equipping senior service providers with resources to address the unique needs of these communities. I’m pleased to introduce this important legislation with my colleagues and co-leaders on the Equality Caucus, Reps. Pocan and Davids,” Bonamici added.

“Rural LGBTQI+ seniors have been lacking access to necessary services and care for too long,” said Pocan, co-chair of the Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus. “The Elder Pride Act creates opportunities for LGBTQ+ seniors in rural communities, benefiting everyone in the region. I look forward to advancing this important legislation.”

“Many of our LGBTQ+ elders fought tirelessly for equality in a world that refused to accept their identity,” said Davids. “While they overcame tremendous odds to give future generations the rights they deserve, our elders, particularly those in rural communities, continue to face discrimination when accessing long-term care and healthcare. I am proud to support the Elder Pride Act because who you are and who you love should never increase your risk for isolation, poverty, and poor health outcomes as you age.”

The Elder Pride Act complements the Older American Act, which was updated under Bonamici’s leadership, by establishing a rural grant program designed to fund care and services for LGBTQ seniors. The grant would also support programs that:

• Provide services such as cultural competency training for service providers;

• Develop modes of connection between LGBTQI+ older adults and local service providers and community organizations;

• Expand the use of nondiscrimination policies and community spaces for older adults who are members of the LGBTQI+ community or another protected class; and,

• Disseminate resources on sexual health and aging for senior service providers.

A fact sheet on the legislation can be found here, and the full text can be found here.

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State Department

State Department travel advisory warns of potential anti-LGBTQ violence

FBI issued similar warning this week



(Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress)

The State Department on Friday issued a worldwide travel advisory that warns of potential violence against LGBTQ people and LGBTQ-specific events.

“Due to the potential for terrorist attacks, demonstrations, or violent actions against U.S. citizens and interests, the Department of State advises U.S. citizens overseas to exercise increased caution,” reads the advisory. “The Department of State is aware of the increased potential for foreign terrorist organization-inspired violence against LGBTQI+ persons and events and advises U.S. citizens overseas to exercise increased caution.”  

The advisory further urges U.S. citizens to:

  • Stay alert in locations frequented by tourists, including Pride celebrations and venues frequented by LGBTQI+ persons.
  • Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive information and alerts and make it easier to locate you in an emergency overseas.
  • Follow the Department of State on Facebook and Twitter.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Homeland Security Investigations earlier this week issued a similar advisory.

The advisory notes June 12 will mark eight years since the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla.

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The White House

White House acknowledges IDAHOBiT, reiterates support for global LGBTQ rights

WHO on May 17, 1990, declassified homosexuality as a mental illness



Pride flags fly from an apartment's terrace in Warsaw, Poland, on April 11, 2024. The International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia commemorates the World Health Organization's declassification of homosexuality as a mental illness. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The Biden-Harris administration on Friday used the annual International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia to reiterate its support of LGBTQ and intersex rights around the world.

“On the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, my administration stands in support and solidarity with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) people around the world as they seek to live full lives, free from violence and discrimination,” said President Joe Biden in a statement. “This is a matter of human rights, plain and simple.” 

“The United States applauds those individuals and groups worldwide working to defend the rights of LGBTQI+ people wherever they are under threat,” he added. “We are grateful for the contributions that LGBTQI+ people make every day across our nation.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken echoed Biden.

“On this day, we reflect upon the violence and discrimination lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons worldwide suffer and re-commit ourselves to opposing these acts,” said Blinken in his own statement. “This year, like every year, we state unequivocally: LGBTQI+ persons deserve recognition of their universal human rights and human dignity.” 

IDAHOBiT commemorates the World Health Organization’s declassification of homosexuality as a mental disorder on May 17, 1990.

Blinken in his statement notes LGBTQ and intersex people around the world “continue to face insidious forms of stigma and discrimination.”

Dominica last month became the latest country to decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni in May 2023 signed his country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act that, among other things, contains a death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality.”

“Even as more countries make meaningful advancements towards full equality; LGBTQI+ persons continue to be sentenced to death for daring to live their sexual orientation or gender identity, subjected to coercive conversion ‘therapies’ and ‘normalization’ surgeries, discriminated against while receiving health services, restricted from exercising fundamental freedoms, and denied the dignity of same-sex partnership and fulfillment of family,” said Blinken. 

“As we reflect upon the injustices that LGBTQI+ persons and their allies endure, we must not forget that today is fundamentally a day of action,” he added. “On this day and every day, the United States stands with LGBTQI+ persons around the world. We will continue to advocate for the rights of LGBTQI+ persons not just because we have a moral imperative to do so, but because it helps to strengthen democracy, bolster national security, and promote global health and economic development.”

The Tonga Leitis Association is among the myriad LGBTQ and intersex rights groups around the world that acknowledged IDAHOBiT.

The Human Rights Campaign announced advocacy groups in 24 countries that include Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cambodia, Estonia, Morocco, and Peru received grants through its Global Small Grants Program. These funds, according to a press release, will allow them to “advance LGBTQ+ equality.”

“This year, the Human Rights Campaign is honored to mark the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia by highlighting the powerful impact of the Global Small Grants Program,” sand HRC Global Advocacy Associate Director Andrea Gillespie. “IDAHOBIT is a great opportunity for reflection of both the great strides made in our movement and just how far we need to go to achieve equality for all.” 

“As the anti-rights and anti-gender movement seeks to rollback progress on LGBTQ+ rights globally, HRC is proud to stand in solidarity with our partners around the world facing new anti-LGBTQ+ legislation and policies, and redouble our commitments to the important work of HRC’s Global Alumni Network,” added Gillespie. 

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