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Trump policies prompt calls to move global AIDS conference out of U.S.

Open letter cites White House ‘violation of human rights’

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Protesters at the 2018 International AIDS Conference in Amsterdam urged the International AIDS Society to relocate the 2020 International AIDS Conference that is scheduled to take place in the San Francisco Bay Area. (Photo by Sean Black/A&U)

HIV/AIDS activists in the U.S. and around the world are urging the International AIDS Society to relocate the 2020 International AIDS Conference that is scheduled to take place in the San Francisco Bay Area.

HIPS, a D.C.-based group that advocates on behalf of sex workers, and the Trans [email protected] Coalition in Los Angeles are among the more than 200 HIV/AIDS service organizations and advocacy groups that have signed an open letter to the International AIDS Society and the committee that is organizing the conference.

The letter specifically criticizes the Trump administration’s policies towards people with HIV/AIDS, the LGBTI community, immigrants and other marginalized groups. It also notes the “prohibitively expensive” registration fees that are as high as $1,200, the cost of travel and the lack of affordable accommodations in the Bay Area make the conference “will be unaffordable and inaccessible for the vast majority of U.S. advocates who most need to attend.”

“Hosting AIDS 2020 in the U.S. flies in the face of ample and undeniable evidence that the Trump administration’s violation of human rights, targeting of vulnerable communities for harm, and exacerbating HIV-related stigma worldwide, coupled with drastic budget cuts, threatens the advancements we have made in the domestic and global epidemics,” reads the letter.

The conference is scheduled to take place in San Francisco and Oakland from July 6-10, 2020, roughly four months before the 2020 presidential election.

“We anticipate that the U.S. political climate will only be worse in 2020, in the final months of a presidential election year that, like 2016, may well be marked by heightened violence, intentional promotion of stigma and the need to mobilize to protect our communities,” reads the letter.

The letter says the U.S. “has become increasingly militarized in its approach to immigrants, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is specifically targeting California” because of “its failure to comply with Trump administration policies on undocumented immigrants.” The letter also notes U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on March 7 filed a federal lawsuit against California over its status as a so-called sanctuary state for undocumented immigrants.

The International AIDS Society on March 13 announced the Bay Area would host the 2020 International AIDS Conference. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) — who represent San Francisco and portions Oakland and the East Bay respectively — both applauded the decision in an International AIDS Society press release.

“San Francisco is an inseparable part of the story of HIV/AIDS,” said Pelosi. “It is fitting and deeply inspiring that advocates, researchers and survivors will return to the Bay Area for the 2020 International AIDS Conference.”

Lee in the press release noted the Bay Area “has long been at the forefront of the AIDS epidemic.”

“While San Francisco and Oakland emerged as an early epicenter of the crisis, these cities have also been a hub for AIDS activism, research and community support,” she said.

‘This isn’t just about our personal distaste of Donald Trump’

HIV/AIDS advocates who attended the 2018 International AIDS Conference that took place in Amsterdam last week urged the International AIDS Society to relocate the 2020 International AIDS Conference from the U.S.

Mark King, a Baltimore-based HIV/AIDS activist who publishes the blog “My Fabulous Disease,” attended the 2018 International AIDS Conference in Amsterdam. He also signed the letter that urges the International AIDS Society to relocate the 2020 conference from the Bay Area.

King on Tuesday noted to the Washington Blade during a telephone interview the International AIDS Society relocated the 1992 International AIDS Conference that was to have taken place in Boston to Amsterdam because the U.S. at the time would not allow people with HIV/AIDS into the country.

“This is far worse than the HIV travel ban,” said King.” “This is an environment that is far worse.”

King told the Blade the White House continues to target lesbians, gays, bisexuals, immigrants and those who use drugs. He also said transgender people are “being systematically stripped of their human rights in this country” by the Trump administration.

“This isn’t just about our personal distaste of Donald Trump,” said King. “It is the administration and those policies run deep. They run deep into these agencies that have profound influence over every aspect of what we stand for as activists.”

Trans [email protected] Coalition President Bamby Salcedo echoed King.

“The immigration policies this admin has have been absolutely ridiculous,” Salcedo told the Blade on Wednesday. “There are going to be many people who are the most marginalized who aren’t going to be able to get into the country.”

She also said the conference registration fee is “too costly.”

“It really is the exclusion of the most marginalized,” said Salcedo.

A Pelosi spokesperson on Wednesday declined to comment. The International AIDS Society and Lee’s office did not respond to the Blade’s requests for comment.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) speaks at the U.S. Conference on AIDS at the Marriott Marquis on Sept. 7, 2017. A spokesperson for the California Democrat declined to comment on calls to relocate the 2020 International AIDS Conference from the San Francisco Bay Area. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Daniel Bruner, senior director of policy for Whitman-Walker Health in D.C., on Wednesday said his organization understands the concerns about holding the conference in the U.S. Bruner told the Blade conference organizers and HIV/AIDS advocates should “dedicate ourselves to making sure that everyone can get there and any attempt to raise barriers or keep people out (of the U.S.) is vigorously resisted” if the International AIDS Society decides not to relocate it from the Bay Area.

“There are many reasons to host the 2020 International AIDS Conference in the U.S. — in fact, we think that a big reason is to demonstrate continued opposition to the Trump Administration’s policies on health care, LGBTQ rights and women’s rights,” he said in an emailed statement. “However, the overriding reason to consider relocating the conference outside the U.S. is to ensure that all people can attend and all voices can be heard.  The administration’s hostile immigration policies would likely be a barrier to many people who should attend.”

The 1990 International AIDS Conference took place in San Francisco. The 2012 International AIDS Conference took place in D.C.

A number of HIV/AIDS activists who attended the D.C. conference protested U.S. policy that bans known sex workers and drug users from entering the country. Others urged American officials to do more to combat the domestic epidemic.

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Congress

Hakeem Jeffries makes history as new leader of House Democrats

Reps. Katherine Clark & Rep. Pete Aguilar become the new House Democratic Whip & House Democratic Caucus Chair

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New Democratic leadership team, Reps. Katherine Clark (Mass.), Hakeem Jeffries (D-Ny.) and Pete Aguilar (Calif.) (Photo Credit: Office of Rep. Hakeem Jeffries)

WASHINGTON – With his election on Wednesday to take over as House Democratic minority leader next year, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-Ny.) became the first ever Black lawmaker from either party who will serve in that role in either of the two chambers of Congress.

House Democrats also chose, for the second and third-highest ranking positions, Reps. Katherine Clark (Mass.) and Pete Aguilar (Caif.). All ran unopposed and rather than by formal ballots were elected by voice vote for unanimous consent.

The moves signaled broad consensus among House Democrats in their decision to send the new slate of lawmakers, young and diverse with some progressive bona fides, to serve in the party’s senior leadership positions.

The three lawmakers are all members of the Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus and longtime allies of the community. Jeffries, as chair of the House Democratic Caucus, introduced the Respect for Marriage Act in the House this summer.

The Caucus declined to comment on the House Democratic leadership elections.

When Aguilar succeeds Jeffries in that role next year, it will be the highest-ranking position in House leadership ever held by a Latino member. Clark, meanwhile, will become the second woman to serve as Democratic House Whip after Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the current House Speaker.

Pelosi announced on Nov. 18 her plans to step down from House Democratic leadership after the next Congress is seated. She made history in 2001 as the first woman elected to the second highest-ranking position in the chamber, and then again in 2007 when she took the top slot, becoming the first woman Speaker of the House.

Following her announcement, Pelosi was celebrated for her many legislative accomplishments at the top of her party’s caucus, where she served for two decades under four presidents. A Washington Post column called Pelosi the “best speaker in US. history.”

Considering that Pelosi also presided over some of the biggest legislative milestones in the modern LGBTQ rights movement, such as the 2011 repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Jeffries has a high bar to clear when he’s handed the torch in January.

Jeffries is distinguished for his vocal support of the LGBTQ community

In addition to his leadership on the Respect for Marriage Act, Jeffries has been a major advocate in Congress for other pro-LGBTQ pieces of legislation like the Equality Act and, in 2014, the Hate Crime Reporting Act.

Jeffries has been a vocal champion of measures to make the U.S. Capitol more welcoming for transgender and gender nonconforming people – such as by calling for single-occupancy gender-neutral restrooms on the Hill and rules that would adopt gender-neutral language in the House.

He has also spoken out forcefully against anti-LGBTQ hate from some members of the House Republican caucus, such as the dangerous rhetoric from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.), who has repeatedly tried to link queer people to child sexual abuse.

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Congress

Rep. Raul Ruiz calls for ending IRS rule for same-sex couples 

The letter comes after the Senate passed the Respect for Marriage Act, which requires the federal government to recognize same-sex marriage

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Congressman Raul Ruiz, M.D. (CA-36) meeting constituents (Photo Credit: Office of Congressman Ruiz)

WASHINGTON – In a letter sent to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Thursday, Congressman Raul Ruiz, M.D. (CA-36) led over 50 members of Congress in calling for the IRS to reverse current regulations that prevent some same-sex couples from receiving survivor benefits. 

The Employee Retirement Income Security Act allows qualified retirement plans to establish a one-year marriage duration requirement for survivor’s benefits, and in 2014 the IRS issued guidance clarifying that these rules apply equally to same-sex couples — meaning if a same-sex couple was not married for the required length of time prior to one spouse’s death, the surviving spouse would not qualify for pension survivor benefits.  

However, in many cases, couples were not legally allowed to be married for long enough to meet that requirement, since unconstitutional laws barring same-sex couples from marriage remained in effect until 2015. For same-sex survivors for whom marriage equality came too late, the one-year marriage duration requirement poses a total bar to access their loved one’s benefits.

“It is imperative that the IRS clarify that a qualified retirement plan will be disqualified if it fails to provide these same-sex survivors barred from marrying with an equal path to survivor’s benefits despite their having been unable to meet the one-year marriage duration requirement before the employee’s death,” Dr. Ruiz and the members wrote. While plans would retain discretion regarding whether to have a marriage duration requirement at all, where they do so, such requirements should not be allowed to further penalize those same-sex survivors who already felt the sting of discrimination while their loved ones were still alive.”  

The letter comes after the U.S. Senate passed the Respect for Marriage Act, which requires the federal government to recognize a marriage between two individuals if the marriage was valid in the state where it was performed. The legislation also safeguards against the denial of any benefit, right, or status of an otherwise eligible person or entity – including tax-exempt status, tax treatment, grants, contracts, agreements, guarantees, educational funding, loans, scholarships, licenses, certifications, accreditations, claims, or defenses – provided that the benefit, right, or status does not arise from a marriage. 

Dr. Ruiz’s letter was inspired by a Palm Springs constituent who has faced roadblocks from receiving his survivor benefits for years due to the IRS policy. 

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District of Columbia

Portrait of Matthew Shepard dedicated at National Cathedral

“It’s amazing how similar & what a great job [the artist] has done to make it look like and showing the essence of Matt,” said Dennis Shepard

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Judy and Dennis Shepard stand in front of a portrait of their son, Matthew. Matthew Shepard was honored at a ceremony on Dec. 1, at Washington National Cathedral. (Washington Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

WASHINGTON – Matthew Shepard, the gay University of Wyoming student who was murdered in a 1998 anti-gay hate crime while tied to a fence outside Laramie, Wyo., will be honored at a ceremony on Thursday, Dec. 1, at Washington National Cathedral dedicating a newly commissioned portrait of Shepard.

Officials at the cathedral said the portrait by artist Kelly Latimore and commissioned by LGBTQ members of the Cathedral staff, is the only artistic image of Matthew Shepard created in collaboration with Shepard’s parents, Dennis and Judy Shepard, who were present during the ceremony.

Matthew Shepard’s ashes were interred at the Washington National Cathedral in 2018, 20 years after his death. The Cathedral announced in a statement this week that the Dec. 1 dedication of the Shepard portrait would also take place on what would have been Shepard’s 46th birthday.

A Thanksgiving and Celebration of Matthew Shepard service was held on October 26, 2018 at the Washington National Cathedral. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

“The horrific murders at Club Q in Colorado Springs are a tragic reminder that our LGBTQ friends and family continue to be targeted for who they love, and Matthew Shepard’s legacy reminds us of the urgency to confront bigotry and embrace people of all backgrounds, gender identities and sexual orientations,” said The Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith, dean of Washington National Cathedral, in a statement.

Events surrounding the portrait dedication began with a 7 a.m. online prayer service “to celebrate and recall Matthew Shepard’s life,” the statement released by the Cathedral says. The service was led by Right Rev. V. Gene Robinson, the first openly gay priest to be consecrated as a bishop in the Episcopal Church.

The Cathedral next hosted a preview of the portrait for the news media at 10:30 a.m., where Dennis and Judy Shepard talked about the portrait and their son’s life and the impact his death had on the nation’s understanding of hate crimes.

“It’s amazing how similar and what a great job that Kelly [Latimore] has done to make it look like Matt and showing the essence of Matt,” Dennis Shepard told the Washington Blade while viewing the portrait in the Cathedral’s St. Joseph’s Chapel, where the portrait was on display.

Artist Latimore, who also spoke to reporters during the morning briefing at the chapel, said he was moved in his discussions with Judy and Dennis Shepard while getting ready to begin work on the painting by copies of dozens of letters they sent him that had been sent to the Shepards by people across the country after their son’s death.

Latimore included written excerpts from dozens of those letters as the background to his portrait of Matthew Shepard, which can be seen and read when standing close to the portrait.

Artist Kelly Latimore (Washington Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

“Matthew will not be forgotten,” an excerpt from one of the letters on the portrait says.
Dennis and Judy Shepard created the Matthew Shepard Foundation shortly after Matthew’s death, which has been credited with playing a lead role in advocating for the passage by Congress in 2009 of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. The measure was the first federal hate crime statute that expanded the coverage of the federal hate crimes law to include a victim’s sexual orientation and gender identity as a protected class.

President Barack Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act on Oct. 22, 2009. (Washington Blade archive photo by Michael Key)

The Cathedral was to open its St. Joseph’s Chapel from 2-5 p.m. on Thursday to visitors where the Matthew Shepard portrait was on display. Dennis and Judy Shepard were scheduled to be present to greet visitors.

According to the statement released by the Cathedral, later in the evening at 7 p.m., the portrait was to be officially dedicated in a private service in the Cathedral’s crypt near the site where Shepard’s ashes were interred.

“A longtime supporter of the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the life of the church, the Cathedral considers LGBTQ equality one of the great civil rights issues of the 21st century,” the statement released by the Cathedral says.

One of the two men charged with Matthew Shepard’s murder, Russell Henderson, pleaded guilty to a murder charge in exchange for an agreement by prosecutors not to seek a death sentence. He was sentenced to life in prison.

The other man charged in the murder, Aaron McKinney, pleaded not guilty and went to trial, where he was convicted of murder by a jury. In a dramatic statement before the judge at the conclusion of the trial, Dennis Shepard announced and he and his wife had asked prosecutors and the judge to spare McKinney from being sentenced to death, something he said McKinney did not do while fatally striking his son in the head multiple times with the barrel of a gun after the two men tied him to a fence post in a remote field outside Laramie.

The judge sentenced McKinney to two consecutive life terms in prison without the possibility of parole.

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Federal Government

One million plus same-sex households in U.S., California has most

Data also revealed that roughly 710,000 of the same-sex couple households were married and about 500,000 were unmarried

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US Census Bureau Headquarters, Suitland, Maryland (Photo Credit: Photo by Hubert Dobson, U.S. Census Bureau)

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Census Bureau last week released a report that detailed that there were about 1.2 million same-sex couple households in the United States in 2021. Data also revealed that roughly 710,000 of the same-sex couple households were married and about 500,000 were unmarried.

Since 2005 the number of same-sex households in the U.S. has steadily increased, with about 540,000 reported in 2008 and then in 2019, the last year the Census reported data, there were about 980,000 same-sex households in the country.

The data, based on American Community Survey (ACS), which shows estimates from 2005 through 2021, was not released in 2020 due to the impact of COVID-19 on ACS data collection.

Other highlights from the release:

  • The average age of householders in same-sex married couples (48.9 years) was lower than in opposite-sex married couples (52.8 years). But the average age of householders in same-sex unmarried couples (42.0 years) was higher than in opposite-sex unmarried couples (39.9 years).
  • The share of female-female and male-male couples with both partners employed did not differ significantly, though median household income in female same-sex couple households ($92,470) was lower than in male same-sex couple households ($116,800).
  • Both partners had at least a bachelor’s degree in a larger share of same-sex (29.6%) than opposite-sex (18.1%) unmarried couples.
  • A larger share of same-sex (31.6%) than opposite-sex (18.4%) married couples were interracial.
  • The District of Columbia (2.5%) had the highest percentage of same-sex couple households of any state or state equivalent. California has the most same-sex households at 163,964.
  • States with the highest number of same-sex households include Washington, D.C., Hawaii, Delaware, Oregon, California, Florida and New York, all of which include more than 1 percent of same-sex households in the total household population.

This is the second time the Census Bureau has released ACS estimates of same-sex couple households since revising the survey’s relationship to householder question to more accurately capture same-sex relationships.

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Federal Government

Homeland Security: More attacks against LGBTQ people possible

Some domestic violent extremists who have conducted attacks have cited previous attacks and attackers as inspiration

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Photo Credit: U.S. Department of Homeland Security

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a terror threat bulletin today warning that domestic extremists have posted online praise for the fatal shooting at an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado earlier this month. and have called for copycat attacks.

In its bulletin, DHS officials noted that several recent attacks, plots, and threats of violence demonstrate the continued dynamic and complex nature of the threat environment in the United States:

“Some domestic violent extremists who have conducted attacks have cited previous attacks and attackers as inspiration. Following the late November shooting at an LGBTQI+ bar in Colorado Springs, Colorado—which remains under investigation—we have observed actors on forums known to post racially or ethnically motivated violent extremist content praising the alleged attacker. Similarly, some domestic violent extremists in the United States praised an October 2022 shooting at a LGBTQI+ bar in Slovakia and encouraged additional violence. The attacker in Slovakia posted a manifesto online espousing white supremacist beliefs and his admiration for prior attackers, including some within the United States,” DHS warned.

DHS also asked that Americans report potential threats:

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Colorado

Colorado Governor Jared Polis visits Club Q & memorial to victims

Polis stated Club Q will be back & that the community will be safe adding the perpetrator will be held fully accountable under Colorado law

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Colorado Governor Jared Polis (Screenshot/YouTube The Associated Press Channel)

COLORADO SPRINGS – Accompanied by Club Q owners Nic Grzecka and Matthew Haynes, Colorado’s openly gay Governor Jared Polis visited the growing memorial to the victims of the mass-shooting at the LGBTQ+ nightclub two weeks ago on Tuesday.

In his remarks to reporters, Polis stated that the Club Q will be back and that the community will be safe adding that the “perpetrator will be held fully accountable under the laws of Colorado for the heinous acts committed.”

In response to a question asking if he thought the sharp uptick in anti-LGBTQ hate speech and rhetoric online contributed to the mass shooting, the governor responded saying;

“I mean we certainly don’t know the contribution of the hostile rhetoric that’s out there to this particular case, um but of course there’s no excuse for rhetoric that targets or attacks individuals based on who they are or who they love, and that cannot only be incendiary or um ah inspire acts against the LGBTQ community- but it could also make life harder for those who are dealing with gender identity and sexual orientation issues, and need to see positive role models and get the support they need to be themselves.”

“Five people are lost forever. We celebrate their lives. We mourn them,” Polis said to reporters
(Screenshot/YouTube The Associated Press Channel

Grzecka, a co-owner of Club Q, had told the AP in one of his first interviews after the shooting he believes the targeting of a drag queen event is connected to the art form being cast in a false light in recent months by right-wing activists and politicians who complain about the “sexualization” or “grooming” of children.

Even though general acceptance of the LGBTQ community has grown, this new dynamic has fostered a dangerous climate, he said.

“It’s different to walk down the street holding my boyfriend’s hand and getting spit at (as opposed to) a politician relating a drag queen to a groomer of their children,” Grzecka said. “I would rather be spit on in the street than the hate get as bad as where we are today.”

Later Tuesday afternoon at the Atrevida Brewery owned by one of the three people hailed as heroes for tackling and subduing the shooter until arriving Colorado Springs Police officers were able to arrest him, the governor embraced Atrevida owner Richard Fierro.

Fierro, a former U.S. Army officer and combat veteran was honored with $50,000 from a local credit union as Polis and Colorado Springs Mayor John W. Suthers looked on.

Matthew Haynes, the other co-owner of Club Q, created a verified GoFundMe fundraiser this week to help support staff and performers at the LGBTQ+ venue after a shooting took the lives of five people earlier this month.

“This fund is managed by Club Q directly and will be used to ensure the Club Q staff and entertainers don’t suffer financial hardship due to this horrific act,” Haynes wrote. “This fund will also go towards the total remodel of Club Q, the construction of an appropriate memorial for our victims and a small museum onsite. The goal is to return Club Q as a safe space for the LGBTQ+ community.

Plans for the return of Q are not fully developed yet. There will be many discussions ahead with stakeholders within the community. We are hopeful of making it more than just a bar. We envision a community resource center, state-of-the-art security precautions a gathering place to heal, remember and empower,” Haynes wrote.

GoFundMe (Link)

From the Associated Press:

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