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As the public health emergency ends, a humanitarian crisis begins for LGBTQ asylum seekers

Title 42 ended on May 11

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The Rio Grande between Matamoros, Mexico, and Brownsville, Texas, on Jan. 14, 2020. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

LGBTQIA+ people from around the world who come to the U.S. Southern border seeking safety from escalating discrimination and violence are now met with an impossible new system that denies us our human rights. Under Title 42, we struggled to find pathways from persecution in our home countries. When it was lifted on May 11, Biden replaced it with an asylum ban that forces us to stay in unsafe conditions while we try, and fail, to make an appointment on an app that does not work.

A gay asylum seeker myself, I experienced first-hand the challenges of proving my worthiness of protection under Title 42. Homosexuality is criminalized in a third of the world’s countries, forcing LGBTQIA+ people to face violence, harassment and discrimination, sometimes from our own government authorities. The Title 42 policy launched at the beginning of the COVID emergency prevented us from making an asylum case properly, leaving us in a state of vulnerability and without the protection we desperately needed. We faced increasing risks as we navigated detention or processing centers and were forced to return to countries where our lives were in danger.

I am now the client services manager at Lawyers for Good Government’s Project Corazon, where we coordinate legal services for thousands of LGBTQIA+ people fleeing danger, like I once did. Every day, I see how Biden’s new asylum ban makes pleading such claims nearly impossible. One of our clients, Mario, poses the perfect example. 

Mario, a gender non-conforming Guatemalan asylum seeker from the Maya Qʼeqchiʼ community, carries on their late father’s legacy as a traditional herbal medicine expert and human rights advocate. In March 2022, they organized peaceful protests against the country’s homophobic “protection of life and family” bill, which was later passed by the Guatemalan Congress. However, their involvement led to persecution and torture by government-affiliated leaders, who accused them of witchcraft. Expelled from their community under indigenous “laws,” Mario sought refuge within Guatemala but faced ongoing persecution. Surviving two firearm assassination attempts, they fled to the United States’ Southern border to seek asylum.

Arriving at the Matamoros-Brownsville International Bridge, Mario exercised their rights under international law to express their intent to seek asylum directly to a Customs and Border Control asylum officer, the proper process before the U.S. government introduced the notoriously glitchy CBP One app earlier this year. Introduced to create an “orderly” means of arguing an exemption to Title 42, the app instead created yet another barrier to accessing asylum. Instead of accepting their declaration, the officer instructed them to use the app to make an appointment wherein they would check a box claiming they were exempt from the Title 42 public health emergency, and receive an appointment to tell their story and hopefully receive parole so they could begin the asylum process.

Mario managed to get access to a smartphone, but their limited literacy and unfamiliarity with technology posed challenges. The app failed to recognize their darker complexion during the photo capture process, as it did with numerous asylum seekers. Still, Mario did not give up: They struggled to secure an appointment every day, fearing their inability to verify their identity or meet the app’s listed vulnerabilities would hinder their right to request asylum. After 90 days of unsuccessful attempts and increasing dangers in Matamoros, they finally could not wait any longer and chose to instead risk crossing the hazardous river near the International Bridge to enter the U.S. They were intercepted by CBP and processed. Following a 72-hour case review, Mario received one-year parole, enabling them to pursue their asylum case in a safer environment. 

If this new asylum ban had been in place, Mario would not be here today. They would have to prove that they had first sought asylum in Mexico, or figure out how to use an app that is not available in their language, or simply be forced to remain in a place where they had received numerous threats on their life. And had they attempted to cross, they would be deported “home” to a country that is notoriously hostile to LGBTQIA+ people, especially those with darker skin, and prohibited from seeking asylum in the U.S. again for five years. 

This is now how asylum law works. Under existing asylum procedures that have been the law of the land since 1980, when Title 42 lifted on May 11, Mario should have just been able to walk up to an asylum officer and plead credible fear of harm based on their membership in a persecuted group. However, instead, the Biden administration pushed through critical, harsh changes to how asylum seekers on our southern border can seek protection, directly endangering our community and our lives.

It is not too late for the Biden administration to ensure that the new asylum rule does not exclude or discriminate against LGBTQIA+ people seeking protection in the United States. First, the administration should train immigration officials on the specific challenges facing our community, including understanding the laws and situations facing LGBTQIA+ people in different countries; this will guarantee a fair and appropriate evaluation in each individual case, and will avoid the perpetuation of stereotypes and prejudices that can lead to wrong decisions. Second, the administration must put mechanisms in place to provide legal advice and emotional support to people in our community seeking asylum, as we often face additional barriers due to our sexual orientation or gender identity. Third, the administration must fulfill its promise to create alternative pathways for people at imminent risk of harm, including our community members fleeing oppression.

The LGBTQIA+ community deserves an asylum system in the U.S. that recognizes and protects our fundamental human rights. Only then can we build an asylum system that reflects our values of equality and justice for all.

Estuardo Cifuentes is the client services manager at Lawyers for Good Government’s Project Corazon.

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Opinions

Joe Biden, our fiercest ally

Outgoing president leaves powerful legacy for LGBTQ equality

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President Joe Biden (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

President Biden bowed out of the presidential race on Sunday after weeks of pressure following his debate performance in June. He leaves a long record of support for the LGBTQ community as a key part of his powerful legacy and he has raised the bar for future presidents when it comes to fighting for our community. 

We’ve never had a fiercer ally in the White House — a president who pledged to make LGBTQ rights his top legislative priority and described anti-transgender discrimination as the “civil rights issue of our time.” He has celebrated Pride month with us each year as well as the Trans Day of Visibility and taken criticism from the right for it. He includes us in the State of the Union Address and other high-profile speeches. 

Young voters mustn’t get complacent; such sentiments from a sitting president are not the norm. Biden’s leadership on LGBTQ equality means the next Democratic president has big shoes to fill. Vice President Kamala Harris would certainly continue Biden’s work toward equality, specifically by pushing for passage of the Equality Act, which Biden backed and which passed the House but died in a Senate filibuster in 2021.

Biden has changed the game in myriad ways, especially when it comes to LGBTQ inclusion in federal appointments. The country has never had a Senate-confirmed openly LGBTQ Cabinet member before (no, Ric Grenell doesn’t count as he was not confirmed). Pete Buttigieg’s tenure as Transportation Secretary has seen its challenges, but he has proven himself a capable, polished executive unafraid of taking on Fox News antagonists. As the Victory Fund noted this week, “LGBTQ+ people have received a record number of federal appointments, including Cabinet members, judges, and around 14% of the administration.” In addition to Buttigieg, he appointed Dr. Rachel Levine as the first out transgender person to hold an office that requires Senate confirmation. And Biden made more history, naming Karine Jean-Pierre, a Black lesbian, as his press secretary.

It’s outrageous that it took until 2021 for an out Cabinet secretary and thanks to Biden, we can look forward to many more.

Biden also led in advocating for marriage equality, endorsing the idea days before his boss President Obama in 2012 and just six months before the election. It was a bold and brave move that even LGBTQ advocates discouraged. As president, Biden fought successfully to preserve marriage equality in the increasingly likely event that the historic Obergefell ruling is overturned by our discredited MAGA Supreme Court. The Respect for Marriage Act ensures that the federal government and all U.S. states and territories must recognize same-sex and interracial marriages. Biden signed it and held a massive event on the White House lawn bringing together hundreds of LGBTQ advocates from around the country for a truly joyful celebration of the landmark legislation. 

In a historic move just last month for Pride, Biden pardoned veterans who were discharged from the military because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. 

“This is about dignity, decency, and ensuring the culture of our Armed Forces reflect the values that make us an exceptional nation,” he said.

Biden began his term on Jan. 20, 2021, and on that very day, issued an expansive executive order detailing workplace protections for LGBTQ Americans and prohibiting discrimination in education, credit, health care, and housing. And every month since, his administration has ushered in one pro-LGBTQ initiative after another, a list too long to fully recap here. Biden isn’t finished advocating for us. On Aug. 1, new Title IX rules go into effect protecting LGBTQ students from discrimination by expanding existing civil rights law.

It’s a staggering record of support and the LGBTQ community owes Biden and his team a tremendous debt of gratitude. Biden will be remembered fondly and revered by history for taking down Donald Trump, rebuilding our economy, leading us out of a pandemic, and for showing future presidents how to fully embrace and empower the LGBTQ community. He has more than earned our thanks — and a long, healthy retirement in Rehoboth Beach.

Kevin Naff is editor of the Washington Blade. Reach him at [email protected].

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Opinions

Thank you, President Biden, for putting the nation first

Now all decent Americans must unite to defeat Trump

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President Joe Biden (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

We certainly owe a major debt of gratitude to President Joe Biden for putting the nation before himself. Not many politicians would do that. We must thank him for understanding that for the country, the imperative is to defeat Donald Trump and his MAGA vision for the United States. A vision we have seen in his first term, his attempt at staging a coup, and now in his platform, and Project 2025. It is so frightening I believe it is what got President Biden to step aside. I am also thankful President Biden endorsed Vice President Kamala Harris. She is ready, and will make a great president. 

This is a seismic moment for our nation — the first time since 1968 that a sitting president decided not to run for a second term. It is much later in the process than that was. But it is the right thing to do. Biden will continue to be our president for nearly six months. He has work to do. He already has a great legacy of 50 years of service to the nation, and he will only add to it before he leaves the presidency. He will work to end the Israel-Hamas war, and to see that Ukraine has what they need to beat back Putin. He will work to strengthen our ties with all our allies. 

I think Biden’s action will energize American voters, and take the focus away from Donald Trump while Democrats refocus the campaign and their message. The focus must be on the evil that is Trump, and those around him. While time is short, the American people do know Kamala Harris. They now will see more of a feisty former prosecutor, senator, and brilliant woman, who will be able to challenge all of Trump’s BS. 

Harris can proudly run on the successes of the Biden/Harris administration. Those include passing the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package to increase investment in the national network of bridges and roads, airports, public transport and national broadband internet, as well as waterways and energy systems. Stopping a 30-year streak of federal inaction on gun violence by signing the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act. Making a $369 billion investment in climate change, the largest in American history, through the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022. Providing $10,000 to $20,000 in college debt relief to Americans with loans who make under $125,000 a year. Cutting child poverty in half through the American Rescue Plan. Capping prescription drug prices at $2,000 per year for seniors on Medicare through the Inflation Reduction Act. Passing the COVID-19 relief deal that provided payments of up to $1,400 to many struggling U.S. citizens while supporting renters and increasing unemployment benefits. Achieving historically low unemployment rates after the pandemic caused them to skyrocket. Imposing a 15% minimum corporate tax on some of the largest corporations in the country, ensuring that they pay their fair share, as part of the historic Inflation Reduction Act. Recommitting America to the global fight against climate change by rejoining the Paris Agreement. Strengthening the NATO alliance in support of Ukraine after the Russian invasion by endorsing the inclusion of world military powers Sweden and Finland. Authorizing the assassination of the Al Qaeda terrorist Ayman al-Zawahiri, who became head of the organization after the death of Osama bin Laden. Giving Medicare the power to negotiate prescription drug prices through the Inflation Reduction Act while also reducing government health spending. Holding Vladimir Putin accountable for his invasion of Ukraine by imposing stiff economic sanctions. Boosting the budget of the Internal Revenue Service by nearly $80 billion to reduce tax evasion and increase revenue. Creating more jobs in one year (6.6 million) than any other president in U.S. history. Reducing healthcare premiums under the Affordable Care Act by $800 a year as part of the American Rescue Plan. Signing the PACT Act to address service members’ exposure to burn pits and other toxins. Signing the CHIPS and Science Act to strengthen American manufacturing and innovation. Reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act through 2027. And halting all federal executions after the previous administration reinstated them after a 17-year freeze. It’s a record to be proud of. 

It is now time for Democrats, independents, and all decent Americans, to unite to elect the Democratic ticket and a Democratic Congress. If we do, we can try to unite people, instead of dividing them like Trump and his acolytes are doing. We can win on Nov. 5 and then honor President Biden for his selfless act as the government transitions to our 47th President, Kamala Harris, at noon on Jan. 20, 2025.

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

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Commentary

1970-1975: How gay liberation movement grew after Stonewall

Converging with civil rights, women’s liberation, anti-war movements

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Members of the Gay Liberation Front at their communal house, 1620 S St. N.W., Washington, D.C., circa 1971. From left to right: Kashi Rahman, Andy Hughes, Guy Charles, Reggie Haynes, Ronnie, David Aiken, Tim Corbett, unknown, Shima Rahman, unknown, Joseph Covert. (Photo courtesy of the Rainbow History Project, Inc./David Aiken Collection)

In conjunction with WorldPride 2025, Rainbow History Project is creating an exhibit on the evolution of Pride: “Pickets, Protests, and Parades: The History of Gay Pride in Washington.” This is the second of 10 articles that will share research themes for the exhibit. In “Gay and Proud,” we discuss the period between 1970-1975 and how the fledgling gay liberation movement burst on the scenes after the Stonewall Riots, converging with the civil rights movement, women’s liberation, and the anti-Vietnam movement.

Inspired by the Black civil rights movement’s affirmation “Black is Beautiful,” the Mattachine Society of Washington coined the phrase “Gay is Good.” From 1965-1969, the Mattachine Society of Washington coordinated some of the first public demonstrations for LGBTQ equality – pickets on Independence Day called the Annual Reminders. The Gay Liberation Front wanted the 1970 Annual Reminder to be held in New York on the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. Thus, the first Christopher Street Liberation Day March took place in New York City on June 28, 1970. Signs in this first CSLD March read “Gay and Proud,” a motto that would come to label the annual Stonewall celebrations. Gay Pride has evolved into what President Biden just proclaimed “LGBTQI+ Pride Month.”

Despite the power shift from D.C.’s pickets and Philadelphia’s reminders to New York’s march, Washingtonians remained central to planning the march and its political demands, while also fostering a sense of community among homosexuals, who were starting to call themselves gays. In October of 1969, Nancy Tucker and Lilli Vincenz created The Gay Blade as a newsletter to be distributed in bars. Now called the Washington Blade, Tucker said this about its founding in a 1998 oral history with Rainbow History Project:

“Sometime after that last Fourth of July picket, the people in Mattachine must have begun to talk about how Mattachine could reach out to the gay community, as a whole in Washington, which they had never done before.”

The Gay Liberation Front DC formed in August 1970 with a communal house at 1620 S St., N.W. Its purposes, laid out by David Aiken, were “to establish a sense of community among gay people, build gay self-awareness, and educate the straight community.” GLF-DC and another group, the Gay Activists Alliance, participated in the 1971 May Day protests, which were large-scale anti-Vietnam War civil disobedience actions.

The following year on May 2-7, 1972, to commemorate May Day, GLF-DC coordinated Washington’s first Gay Pride Week. “Across the country these past two years, gay people have been getting it on for a gala spring festival celebrating the fact that we’re gay, we’re proud and we’re together,” its Gay Pride Bulletin No. 1 said. “Parties, shows, rap sessions, platform speakers, gala public picnics — all designed around the theme of GAY TOGETHERNESS — are being staged to show that gay is good and gay is here to stay!”

The goal: “rich, poor, black, white, male, female, in business or in school, in leather or in drag, in ‘the movement’ or in the closet: Gay Pride will be a time when everybody who’s gay in Washington can come to meet on common ground.” Oral history recordings and documents in the Rainbow History Archives show the event was a success, however, it was the only one that GLF-DC planned. Another “Pride” in DC didn’t occur for several years.

Between 1970-1975, countless D.C. gay organizations formed, and they showed up gay and proud in other events: the Black Panthers Revolutionary People’s Constitutional Convention, the American Psychology Association’s annual meeting and the Iwo Jima Memorial. They also disrupted conferences at Catholic University and carried anti-Nixon banners at his second inaugural. Our WorldPride 2025 exhibit, “Pickets, Protests, and Parades: The History of Gay Pride in Washington,” centers the voices of the event organizers and includes the critics of Pride and the intersection of Pride and other movements for equal rights and liberation. But we need your help to do that: we are looking for images and input, so look around your attic and get involved.

Vincent Slatt volunteers as the director of archiving at the Rainbow History Project; Elinor Aspegren is a member of RHP. Visit rainbowhistory.org to get involved.

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