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El Salvador official talks presidential election, LGBTI rights, migrants

Cruz Torres works in country’s Social Inclusion Ministry

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Cruz Torres, director of sexual diversity for El Salvador’s Ministry of Social Inclusion, spoke with the Washington Blade on Feb. 2, 2019, at a church in the country’s capital of San Salvador (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — A Salvadoran government official on the eve of the country’s presidential election acknowledged there is “uncertainty” over how the results will impact efforts to advance LGBTI rights.

Cruz Torres, director of sexual diversity for El Salvador’s Ministry of Social Inclusion, told the Washington Blade on Saturday during an interview at an LGBTI-friendly church in the country’s capital of San Salvador that frontrunner Nayib Bukele, founder of the anti-corruption New Ideas movement who joined the right-wing GANA party in order to run for president, met with LGBTI activists when he was mayor of San Salvador from 2015-2018. Torres said Bukele made promises “that were not met or at a minimum were not what the community expected.”

“This is playing against him,” Torres told the Blade, even though many Salvadoran LGBTI activists publicly support Bukele. “There is a feeling of uncertainty around his election as a result.”

Torres, who is openly gay, advises the Salvadoran government’s executive branch on LGBTI-specific issues.

Then-President Mauricio Funes in 2010 issued a decree that banned discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in government ministries. The mandate also created Torres’ position within the Ministry of Social Inclusion.

The Supreme Electoral Tribunal, which oversees the election, is not expected to immediately release the results of Sunday’s presidential election. A runoff will take place on March 10 if no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote.

Torres told the Blade he is confident former Foreign Minister Hugo Martínez, the candidate for the left-wing FMLN party, will allow his mandate to continue if he succeeds current President Salvador Sánchez Cerén, who is a member of the same party.

Torres added Carlos Calleja of the right-wing ARENA party has not “expressed any promise to the LGBT community. Torres also noted Josué Alvarado’s VAMOS party has adopted a strong position against LGBTI rights.

“VAMOS has declared a holy war against the LGBT community, for the defense of the family, for the defense of Christian values,” said Torres.

“Salvadoran conservatism specializes in being the victim,” he added. “The discourse it has built around us is religious people, heterosexuals, cisgender people are victims of you who are coming to take our children to rape them, who are coming to take away our rights, who are coming to take away our institutions.”

‘Entrenched conservatism’ a barrier to LGBTI rights

The election is taking place against the backdrop of rampant violence and a lack of economic opportunities that has prompted thousands of Salvadorans to leave the country, including those who have joined migrant caravans that have traveled to the Mexico-U.S. border. Torres said widespread discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is another factor that has prompted LGBTI Salvadorans to migrate to Costa Rica and other countries.

“The discrimination situation in El Salvador is very (bad) and it has been very serious for the LGBT community,” he said.

Salvadoran lawmakers in 2015 added an amendment to the country’s legal code that enhances penalties for hate crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity, but activists with whom the Blade has previously spoken insist authorities remain reluctant to use the provision.

El Salvador does not allow trans people to legally change their name on identification cards. Reports indicate trans Salvadorans have, as a result, been unable to vote because the name listed on their ID does not correspond with their gender identity.

A banner for the left-wing FMLN party hangs on a street light in San Salvador, El Salvador, ahead of the country’s presidential elections that took place on Feb. 3, 2019. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

A group of international election observers from several Christian denominations were speaking to LGBTI Salvadoran voters on Saturday at the same church where Torres spoke with the Blade. The Supreme Electoral Tribunal hired 14 LGBTI people — including several trans women — to help oversee the election.

Torres throughout the interview stressed El Salvador has made progress on LGBTI-specific issues over the last decade, but he acknowledged his mandate is limited to ministries that fall under the president’s jurisdiction. Torres said “entrenched conservatism” among public sector employees and “inaction” on the part of the Salvadoran government are among the challenges to expanding rights to LGBTI Salvadorans.

“There are no concrete actions,” he said.

Salvadorans ‘justified’ to demand government end violence

Torres spoke with the Blade less than 13 months after reports emerged that President Trump called El Salvador a “shithole” country.

The White House in January 2018 announced it plans to end the Temporary Protected Status program for up to 200,000 Salvadorans who have received temporary residency permits that allow them to stay in the U.S. Trump has also threatened to cut U.S. aid to El Salvador and to neighboring Honduras and Guatemala if their governments did not do more to stop the flow of migrants who are leaving their countries because of violence and a lack of economic opportunities.

Torres told the Blade he remains confident the U.S. will continue to fund economic development and crime reduction initiatives in El Salvador despite Trump’s threat.

“Diplomatic relations between El Salvador and the U.S. will continue,” said Torres. “Relations between the U.S. and El Salvador will continue exactly as they are.”

Torres acknowledged, however, the Salvadoran government needs to do more to address the issues that are prompting migrants to leave the country.

“It definitely is something that the population (in El Salvador) is demanding,” said Torres. “It is justified to demand it.”

Ernesto Valle contributed to this story.

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Virginia

Virginia Governor silent on parents reporting teaching of LGBTQ+ topics

First executive order issued ended “use of” “critical race theory” which is not taught in VA public schools & other “divisive concepts”

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Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

RICHMOND – A spokesperson for Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin has yet to clarify whether the governor is encouraging parents to report educators who are teaching LGBTQ+-specific topics.

The Washington Post reported Youngkin on Monday during an interview with John Fredericks on “Outside the Beltway with John Fredericks” referenced a tip line that parents can use to report the teaching of “divisive” subjects.

“We’re asking for folks to send us reports and observations [to] help us be aware … of their child being denied their rights that parents have in Virginia, and we’re going to make sure we catalogue it all,” Youngkin told Fredericks, according to the Post.

Fredericks co-chaired former President Trump’s 2016 campaign in Virginia.

Youngkin spokesperson Macaulay Porter on Tuesday did not respond to the Washington Blade’s request for comment on the tip line.

The first executive order that Youngkin, who is a Republican, issued after he took office on Jan. 15 ended “the use of” so-called “critical race theory” (which is not taught in Virginia public schools) and other “divisive concepts” in the state’s classrooms.

Youngkin during his campaign against Terry McAuliffe expressed support for Tanner Cross, a gym teacher at a Leesburg elementary school who was suspended from his job after he spoke out against Virginia Department of Education guidelines that are designed to protect transgender and non-binary students. Youngkin has also said he does not support allowing trans children to play on sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity.

Youngkin has named Elizabeth Schultz, an anti-LGBTQ+ former member of the Fairfax County School Board, to his administration.

Republicans control the House of Delegates by a 52-48 vote margin. Democrats have a 21-19 majority in the state Senate.

State Sen. Travis Hackworth (R-Tazewell County) has introduced Senate Bill 20, which would eliminate the requirement that school districts must implement the Department of Education’s trans and non-binary student guidelines.

State Sen. Jennifer Kiggans (R-Virginia Beach) has put forth Senate Bill 766, which would ban Trans students from school sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity.

State Del. John Avoli (R-Stanton) has sponsored House Bill 1126, which would restrict the ability of transgender students and school board employees to use bathrooms and other facilities in public schools.

Democrats have vowed to block any anti- LGBTQ+ bill in the General Assembly.

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Los Angeles County

LA County Youth Commission, Centering voices in mental health panel

Panel will be Youth Commissioners, mental health experts- DMH & UCLA Public Partnership for Wellbeing & community mental health advocates

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Photo Credit: County of Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES – Symptoms of depression and anxiety have doubled during the pandemic for youth across the country, according to the United States Surgeon General. During the past two years, 25 percent of youth experienced depressive symptoms and 20 percent experienced increased anxiety.

To help center youth voices in mental health reform and programming in Los Angeles County, The Youth Commission is hosting a “Centering Youth Voice in Mental Health” panel event, in partnership with the Board of Supervisors and the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health.

The panel will consist of Youth Commissioners, mental health experts from the DMH + UCLA Public Partnership for Wellbeing, and community mental health advocates.

“Young people in LA County are resilient and strong. By seeking their feedback for improving mental health and wellbeing services across the County, we can help youth-serving organizations meet their needs and prevent future mental health crises,” said Commissioner and panelist La’Toya Cooper who represents the Second District.

Youth, community members, agency partners, community-based organizations, philanthropy, and media partners are invited to join and learn more about how to center lived experience and youth voices while responding to the mental health crisis impacting youth in LA County.

Co-Sponsored by Fourth District Supervisor Janice Hahn’s office, this event is in response to a 2004 Board Motion and is designed to center the voices of young people with lived experience, who are all too often left out of the design of programs meant to support them.

“It is imperative that when we consider a path forward in helping LA County’s youth recover from the pandemic, we include them in building solutions. By convening mental health leaders and advocates, the Youth Commission is helping return authority to LA County’s youth in healing their communities.” said Hahn.

“The Department of Mental Health is deeply committed to the wellbeing of youth in LA County” said DMH Director Dr. Jonathan Sherin, M.D., Ph.D. “We are thrilled to partner with the Youth Commission, which is positioned to help amplify the voices of young people who have never had a proper platform for providing input to County systems. It is our belief that the Youth Commission will inspire new and more effective models of mental health care for young people in LA County.” 

“The issues facing youth are more complex than ever before. School closures, our ongoing reckoning with racial injustice present in our systems, and the negative impacts of social media, all represent challenges to youth wellbeing. We must collaborate on solutions that work for the youth we serve,” said Dr. Tyrone Howard, an education expert and panelist from the DMH + UCLA Public Partnership for Wellbeing.

The Youth Commission welcomes suggestions for panelist questions from community members. If you would like to submit a question to the panel, please submit it to the Youth Commission Instagram page @lacounty_youthcommission by February 4.

When: Thursday, February 10th from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. PST

View the event flyer and toolkit

How To Register and Join the Session:

Registration Link: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/Y3LL3G3

Meeting Link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89214673705?pwd=WGlud3pZ NThkY2lXalkyb1VibFF4UT09

You can also RSVP by emailing [email protected] or calling 213-633-5599

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U.S. Federal Courts

Justice Breyer announces his retirement from high court sets up new battle

President Joe Biden told reporters that he would have “more to say later” about Justice Breyer’s retirement

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U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer (Photo Credit: SCOTUS official portrait)

WASHINGTON – U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer, who had joined landmark decisions from the Court in support of LGBTQ rights, announced on Wednesday he’d retire, opening up a new battle over the judiciary and the potential for President Biden to add his first nominee to the high court.

First reported by NBC News, the retirement of Breyer, appointed by former Bill Clinton and confirmed in 1994, fulfills a wish among progressives for him to step down for him to step down to ensure a replacement would be named with Biden in the White House and Democrats in control of the U.S. Senate.

President Joe Biden told reporters that he would have “more to say later” about Justice Breyer’s retirement, but said that he was waiting for the justice’s own statement.

“There has been no announcement from Justice Breyer — let him make whatever statement he wants to make, and I’m happy to talk about it later,” the president remarked.

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