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Transgender Salvadoran woman mourns best friend murdered a year ago

Camila Díaz Córdova deported from US before death

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Camila Díaz Córdova was murdered near the Salvadoran capital of San Salvador on Jan. 31, 2019. The Washington Blade last week spoke exclusively with her best friend, Virginia Gómez. (Photo courtesy of Virginia Gómez)

Camila Díaz Córdova, a transgender Salvadoran woman, left the house in which she lived with relatives of her best friend, Virginia Gómez, on the afternoon of Jan. 30, 2019.

Gómez, who is also a trans woman, on Jan. 25 told the Los Angeles Blade during an exclusive interview in El Salvador that her aunt the next morning realized Díaz had not returned home. Gómez said she was not initially worried, but she became increasingly concerned throughout the day because Díaz had not called or texted her.

Gómez told the Blade she called hospitals and even the morgue over the next few days in an attempt to locate Díaz. Gómez said on Feb. 7, 2019, eight days after Díaz disappeared, she learned an ambulance brought her friend to a public hospital in the Salvadoran capital of San Salvador.

Two trans rights activists were with Gómez when a doctor at the hospital told her she was critically injured when she arrived at around 5 a.m. on Jan. 31, 2019.

Gómez said the doctor told her that Díaz had serious injuries to her liver and other internal organs. Gómez told the Blade the doctor also said Díaz had likely been hit by a car.

“She had to have several surgeries not because she came in with internal bleeding, but because her vital organs were in very bad shape,” said Gómez, recalling what she said the doctor told her. “She told me they operated on her.”

Gómez began to cry when she said the doctor told her Díaz died on Feb. 3, 2019.

“It was very difficult for me when she told me that she had died,” said Gómez as she used a napkin to wipe the tears from her eyes. “I didn’t even want to believe it.”

Friday marks a year since Díaz was found on the side of a highway in Soyapango, a municipality that is just east of San Salvador.

Three Salvadoran police officers have been charged with aggravated homicide as a hate crime and depravation of liberty by an agent of authority in connection with Díaz’s murder. They are expected to go on trial next month.

‘Another killer avalanche has come’

Díaz is originally from a small town in rural El Salvador.

Gómez said Díaz’s deeply religious family disowned her because of her gender identity. Gómez also told the Blade that Díaz was attacked several times because she was trans.

Gómez said Díaz in 2014 fled to Guatemala after she barely survived a brutal attack. Gómez told the Blade that Díaz also sought refuge in Mexico several times, but returned to El Salvador after a few months.

Gómez said Díaz and another trans Salvadoran woman in early 2017 decided to travel to the U.S. Gómez said they spent several months in Mexico City, working in restaurants, before they arrived in the Mexican border city of Tijuana in June of that year, roughly five months after President Trump took office.

Gómez said Díaz on Aug. 8, 2017, asked for asylum in the U.S. Gómez told the Blade that U.S. Customs and Border Protection immediately took her into custody and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detained her at a detention facility in California.

A judge subsequently denied Díaz’s asylum claim and the U.S. on Nov. 7, 2017, deported her back to El Salvador.

Gómez said the U.S. deported Díaz two days before her birthday. Gómez told the Blade she found out about Díaz’s deportation when she called her from El Salvador’s international airport after her flight landed.

“They deported me,” said Díaz, according to Gómez as she recounted the phone call. “She told me that yet another killer avalanche has come.”

Gómez said Díaz arrived in El Salvador wearing the same clothes she wore when she asked for asylum in the U.S. Gómez also told the Blade that Díaz said the staff at the ICE detention center where she was detained discriminated against her and other trans women.

“They told us that we were not women, that we were men,” said Díaz, according to Gómez.

Virginia Gómez is the best friend of Camila Díaz Córdova, a transgender woman who was murdered in El Salvador in January 2019 after the U.S. denied her asylum request and deported her. Gómez spoke exclusively with the Washington Blade on Jan. 25, 2020, in El Salvador. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Díaz on Jan. 29, 2019, met with Mónica Linares, executive director of Asociación Aspidh Arcoiris Trans, a trans Salvadoran advocacy group in San Salvador, and asked for help to leave sex work. Linares told Díaz to return to her office the next day but Gómez said she “disappeared.”

“We are already at one year after her death, and it is outrageous to see how the courts have still not prosecuted her death,” Linares on Thursday told the Blade in a statement.

Ambar Alfaro, an independent trans activist who was with Gómez at the hospital when she learned Díaz had died, echoed Linares.

“A year from the date on which they attacked and practically kidnapped Camila, the only thing that I can really say is that it is clear that our country’s judicial system remains obsolete,” Alfaro told the Blade. “Beyond that there is also the feeling of impunity surrounding hate crimes, as well as with Camila’s murder.”

Díaz was ‘happy and sincere’

The State Department’s 2018 human rights report notes “public officials, including police, engaged in violence and discrimination against sexual minorities.” It also indicates LGBTQ Salvadorans have stated the National Civil Police and the Attorney General’s Office “harassed transgender and gay individuals when they reported cases of violence against LGBTI persons, including by conducting strip searches.”

Karla Aguilar, a trans Salvadoran activist, in 2017 fled to Europe because of threats she and her family received.

Johana “Joa” Medina León, another trans Salvadoran woman who worked as a private nurse, fled El Salvador because she had also been threatened and attacked because she was trans. Medina died at a hospital in El Paso, Texas, on June 1, 2019, three days after ICE released her from their custody.

Briyit Michelle Alas is one of several trans women who have been reported killed in El Salvador in recent months. President Nayib Bukele, who was elected on the same day Díaz died, has yet to publicly condemn these murders or violence based on gender identity that remains rampant in the country.

Gómez herself is in the process of seeking asylum in Canada. She asked the Blade not to publicly disclose the city in which she is currently living because she is afraid for her life.

“It is very dangerous,” said Gómez.

In the meantime, she continues to remember Díaz as “a happy and sincere” person.

“She was noble,” said Gómez. “She wasn’t a bad-hearted person.”

From left: Virginia Gómez and Camila Díaz Córdova (Photo courtesy of Virginia Gómez)
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Anti-LGBTQ Colorado baker loses Trans birthday cake court case

Phillips violated Colorado’s ant-discrimination law citing the fact that at issue was a ‘product’ not freedom of speech or expression

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Screenshot via CBSN Denver

DENVER – A Colorado State District Court Judge ruled against the baker who had previously refused to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding and won at the U.S. Supreme Court a partial narrow victory in that case in 2018.

CBSN Denver reported that Denver District Judge A. Bruce Jones order that Jack Phillips violated Colorado’s anti discrimination law Tuesday citing the fact that at issue was a ‘product’ not freedom of speech or expression.

In court documents, Jones said that Phillips refusal to make the plantiff, Autumn Scardina a cake made with blue icing on the outside and pink on the inside to celebrate her gender transition on her birthday because of her transgender status but without a written message, was in violation of the law. Phillips was ordered to pay a $500 fine.

Jones noted in his ruling that Phillips testified during a trial in March that ‘he did not think someone could change their gender’ and he would not celebrate “somebody who thinks that they can.”

“The anti-discrimination laws are intended to ensure that members of our society who have historically been treated unfairly, who have been deprived of even the every-day right to access businesses to buy products, are no longer treated as ‘others,‘” the judge wrote.

The Scottsdale, Arizona based Alliance Defending Freedom, an anti-LGBTQ legal group that has been place on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hate Watch List for spreading propaganda and lies about LGBTQ people, told CBSN that the group would appeal Jones’ ruling.

“Radical activists and government officials are targeting artists like Jack because they won’t promote messages on marriage and sexuality that violate their core convictions,” ADF’s general counsel, Kristen Waggoner, said in a media statement.

The maximum fine for each violation of Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act is $500. But it was not clear from the ruling if the fine was for the two attempts that Scardina made to order the cake or just one.

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Supreme Court rules for religious agency rejecting LGBTQ families

A key portion of the Roberts decision that could limit its reach is language specific to Philadelphia’s contract with the city

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Blade file photo by Michael Key

WASHINGTON – In a ruling released Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled decided in favor of a religious-affiliated foster care agency seeking to refuse child placement into LGBTQ homes, determining the City of Philadelphia’s enforcement of a contract with non-discrimination provisions violates freedom of religion under the First Amendment.

In a surprise twist, the ruling was unanimous with nine justices on the court agreeing to the result in favor of Catholic Social Services, with Chief Justice John Roberts writing the opinion. As noted by SCOTUSblog, the court seemed much more divided in oral arguments, although inclined to rule for the foster care agency.

“The refusal of Philadelphia to contract with CSS for the provision of foster care services unless the agency agrees to certify same-sex couples as foster parents cannot survive strict scrutiny and violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment,” Roberts writes.

Although Catholic Social Services had also contended a freedom of speech right under the First Amendment to reject same-sex couples, Roberts adds the court didn’t reach a conclusion on that part of the argument.

Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of the Catholic LGBTQ group DignityUSA, condemned the decision in a statement immediately after it was handed down.

“Today, the well-being of our country’s most vulnerable children has been sacrificed to preserve tax-payer funded discrimination for a powerful group of religious institutions,” Duddy-Burke said. “The Supreme Court just decreased the number of homes available to our youth in foster care, making what was already a crisis worse. Same-sex couples are seven times more likely than straight couples to adopt or be foster parents and are more likely to have trans-racial families. This ruling means tens of thousands of children may never have a family to love and support them.”

The Supreme Court reversed and remanded decision of the U.S. Third Circuit of Court of Appeals, which had ruled in favor of City of Philadelphia enforcing its contract with Catholic Social Services. Both the appeals courts and the lower trial court had come to the opposite conclusion of the U.S. Supreme Court.

A key portion of the Roberts decision that could limit its reach is language specific to Philadelphia’s contract with the city allowing for discretion on enforcement, which he says means the measure isn’t generally applicable measure.

“Section 3.21 of the contract requires an agency to provide services defined in the contract to prospective foster parents without regard to their sexual orientation,” Roberts writes. “But section 3.21 also permits exceptions to this requirement at the ‘sole discretion’ of the Commissioner. This inclusion of a mechanism for entirely discretionary exceptions renders the non-discrimination provision not generally applicable.”

David Flugman, a lawyer at the New York-based Selendy & Gay PLLC whose practice includes LGBTQ rights, said in a statement the technical nature of the Fulton is “sure to invite even more litigation.

“Today the Supreme Court held, on narrow, technical grounds, that the City of Philadelphia’s attempt to ensure that Catholic Charities abide by the same non-discrimination provisions applicable to all other city contractors could not withstand Catholic Charities’ religious right to refuse to screen loving same-sex couples to act as foster parents,” Flugman writes. “The Court did not take up Catholic Charities’ invitation to scuttle the 30 year-old test for free exercise claims that was announced in Smith v. Employment Division, which held that a neutral law of general applicability could survive even if it burdens religious practice.”

Notably, although the City of Philadelphia in addition to the contract it struck with Catholic Social Services has in a place LGBTQ non-discrimination ordinance, the Supreme Court determines that measure doesn’t apply in the context of foster care services because it’s limited to the services “made available to the public.”

“Certification is not ‘made available to the public’ in the usual sense of the words,” Roberts writes. “Certification as a foster parent is not readily accessible to the public; the process involves a customized and selective assessment that bears little resemblance to staying in a hotel, eating at a restaurant, or riding a bus.”

Fatima Goss Graves, CEO of the National Women’s Law Center, said in a statement the decision from the Supreme Court is a harmful loss to the children in the foster care system in Philadelphia as well as the countless LGBTQ parents.”

“Weakening the government’s ability to protect their civil rights is hardly in their best interest, and we’re committed to ensuring this loophole is not stretched to further justify hatred or prejudice,” Graves added. “We must protect the right of every person to live without fear of discrimination because of who they are or who they love, and we must hold that value particularly close when it comes to the best interest of LGBTQ youth and the families who love them.” 

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U.S. Senate to consider apology for past anti-LGBTQ discrimination

Report shows 70-year history of gov’t persecution, purges of ‘sex deviates’

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Pioneering activist Frank Kameny, who was fired from his government job for being gay, received an apology from the government decades later, but that apology did not extend to the thousands of other LGBT Americans persecuted by their government. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) and Tim Kaine (D-Va.) are preparing to introduce a first-ever resolution calling on the Senate to acknowledge and apologize for the federal government’s discrimination against LGBTQ federal workers and members of the military over a period of at least 70 years.

The two senators have agreed to introduce the proposed resolution at the request of the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C., an LGBTQ group that specializes in archival research into the federal government’s decades-long policy of banning LGBTQ people from working in federal jobs and serving in the U.S. military and purging them when found to be in those positions.

The Mattachine Society, in partnership with the international law firm McDermott Will & Emery, prepared a 28-page white paper reporting in extensive detail the U.S. government’s history of what it calls discrimination and persecution of LGBTQ federal workers and LGBTQ military service members.
The white paper is entitled, “America’s Promise of Reconciliation and Redemption: The Need for an Official Acknowledgement and Apology for the Historic Government Assault on LGBT Federal Employees and Military Personnel.”

In a statement, the Mattachine Society says the paper is the product of a two-year research project involving a team of five attorneys with the McDermott Will & Emery firm and Mattachine Society.

“Over many decades, the United States government, led by teams within the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), and nearly every agency and branch of government, began the process of investigating, harassing, interrogating, court-martialing, terminating, hospitalizing, and, in some cases, criminally prosecuting LGBT Americans for no other reason than their sexual orientation or gender expression,” the paper says.

“This wholesale purging left tens of thousands in financial ruin, without jobs, with personal lives destroyed, and, in many cases, completely estranged from their own families,” the paper states.

“A straightforward acknowledgement of the mistreatment of these military and civilian employees and an official apology is overdue,” the paper continues. “Both the Congress and the Executive Branch were complicit in this pervasive mistreatment of LGBT citizens.”

The paper points out that over the past 30 years Congress has officially acknowledged and apologized on six different occasions for U.S. mistreatment of other marginalized groups.

Among the subject areas of those apologies were the enslavement of African Americans, the failure to enforce anti-lynching laws to protect African Americans, the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, the mistreatment of Native Hawaiians, the mistreatment of Native Americans, and government polices of exclusion of Chinese immigrants.

The paper says the time has come for the federal government to issue its own “acknowledgement and apology” to the LGBT community by following the precedent established by Congress with respect to apologies to the other marginalized groups.

Jeff Trammell, a Mattachine Society board member who led the project to prepare the white paper, said Baldwin and Kaine were in the process of lining up other senators to sign on as co-sponsors of the resolution.

Baldwin is the Senate’s only out lesbian member. Kaine is a longtime supporter of LGBTQ rights.
Trammell said Mattachine of Washington considers the Senate resolution the first step in an ongoing effort to obtain a similar resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives and a possible similar statement of acknowledgement and apology from the executive branch, including the Biden administration.

He said he and the resolution’s supporters were hopeful that most senators, including Republicans, would view it as non-controversial and as a nonpartisan measure because it seeks only the acknowledgement of historical facts. Trammell noted that unlike other resolutions of apology pertaining to other minorities approved by Congress in the past, the LGBT apology resolution does not call for any financial reparations.

The eight-page proposed resolution addresses that question by stating, “Nothing in this resolution…authorizes or supports any claim against the United States or serves as a settlement of any claim against the United States.”

Trammell noted that under the Obama administration, John Berry, the director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, issued an official government apology for the firing of D.C. gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny from his government job in the late 1950s. But Trammell said the apology to Kameny, which was considered important and groundbreaking, did not extend to the thousands of other LGBTQ employees fired or harassed in the years before and after Kameny’s firing.

The white paper also points out that at least seven U.S. allied nations have issued apologies for past mistreatment of their own LGBTQ citizens. Among them are Spain, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, Brazil, and The Netherlands.

“We believe the time has come to understand and acknowledge the historical animus that LGBT federal employees and military personnel faced for generations from their own government to ensure it can never happen again,” Trammell said.

The white paper can be accessed here.

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