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ICE releases two gay Cuban men with HIV

Immigration Equality and Lambda Legal called for asylum seekers’ release

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Immigration Equality and Lambda Legal say U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Thursday released from their custody two gay Cuban men with HIV.

The men — who Immigration Equality and Lambda Legal identified as Ramón and Iván — asked for asylum in the U.S. because they suffered persecution in Cuba “because of their political activism and sexual orientation.” The two men had been in ICE custody since last October.

Immigration Equality and Lambda Legal on Monday requested ICE release them from the privately-run IAH Secure Detention Facility in Livingston, Texas. The groups, along with Vinson and Elkins LLP, a Houston-based law firm, in their letter to ICE wrote the coronavirus pandemic put the two men at increased risk.

“We are relieved that Iván and Ramón don’t have to spend one more day in the dangerous conditions of ICE detention, terrified of contracting COVID-19,” said Immigration Equality Legal Director Bridget Crawford in a press release their organization and Lambda Legal released on Friday.

“We are happy they are now safe and free, but lament the fact they were not released months ago,” added Crawford. “ICE has a moral obligation to free other asylum seekers like Iván and Ramón. They can and should release every single one of them today.”  

Yariel Valdés González, a Los Angeles Blade contributor from Cuba, spent nearly a year in ICE custody in the Deep South before his release from the River Correctional Center, a privately-run detention center in Ferriday, La., on March 4. Immigration Equality, Lambda Legal and other advocacy groups have demanded ICE release people with HIV and other detainees who are at increased risk for the coronavirus.

ICE on its website says there are 522 detainees with confirmed coronavirus cases. ICE also says it has tested 1,073 detainees for the virus.

A federal judge in California late last month ordered ICE “to identify and track all ICE detainees with risk factors” and consider whether they should be released.

ICE earlier this week told the Blade it has released “nearly 700” detainees “after evaluating their immigration history, criminal record, potential threat to public safety, flight risk and national security concerns.”

ICE’s website notes there were 29,675 people in their custody on April 25. ICE told the Blade the number of detainees in its facilities has dropped by more than 4,000 since March 1.

The Trump administration during a March 20 press conference announced the closure of the U.S.-Mexico and U.S.-Canada borders as part of its response to the pandemic. Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf also said undocumented immigrants will no longer be allowed into the U.S.

President Trump on April 22 issued an executive order that effectively stops immigration into the U.S. for 60 days. Activists and their supporters sharply criticized this directive, in part, because border closures and the suspension of international travel had already brought immigration to a halt.

“We are thrilled that Iván and Ramón can pursue their asylum claims without the fear of unnecessary and inevitable exposure to the coronavirus in ICE detention facilities,” said Lambda Legal Staff Attorney Puneet Cheema in Friday’s press release. “There are too many people who continue to be detained in detention centers, prisons and jails, who are not being given sufficient means and ability to protect themselves. These facilities have a responsibility to release as many people as they can, and keep those in their custody safe.” 

ICE on Monday defended its response to the pandemic.

“In March, ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) convened a working group between medical professionals, disease control specialists, detention experts and field operators to identify additional enhanced steps to minimize the spread of the virus,” ICE told the Blade. “ICE has since evaluated its detained population based upon the CDC’s guidance for people who might be at higher risk for severe illness as a result of COVID-19 to determine whether continued detention was appropriate.”

Congress

Senate passes Respect for Marriage Act with 61 votes

President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, the Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus, and LGBTQ groups celebrated Tuesday’s victory

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U.S. Senate floor vote on Nov. 29 2022 for the Respect for Marriage Act (Screen capture via CSPAN)

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Senate voted 61-36 on Tuesday to officially pass the Respect for Marriage Act, a historic piece of legislation that is expected to soon become law after members in the U.S. House of Representatives sign off on a bipartisan amendment added by their Senate colleagues.

Designed as a vehicle to mitigate the fallout if the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative supermajority guts the constitutional protections for marriage equality, the bill was narrowly construed – in part to help guarantee that it withstands potential challenges from conservative legal actors.

Nevertheless, the Respect for Marriage Act is a landmark bill that has been backed by virtually every LGBTQ advocacy organization in the country. The legislation repeals the Clinton-era Defense of Marriage Act while enshrining into law substantive protections for same-sex couples.

Regardless of whether or how the high court might decide to revisit the marriage question, the Respect for Marriage Act will protect the federally ordained rights and benefits that have long been enjoyed by married gay and lesbian couples. And should the court pave the way for conservative states like Texas to renew their bans on same-sex marriage, the law will require them to officially recognize and honor those that are performed in jurisdictions where they remain legal.

Despite earning broad bipartisan support from lawmakers in the U.S. House, which passed its version of the bill this summer with an overwhelming majority – including votes from 47 Republican members – the Respect for Marriage Act faced an uncertain future in the Senate.

Conservative members in the chamber’s Republican caucus argued the bill would jeopardize religious freedoms, concerns that a group of five bipartisan senators sought to allay with an amendment that, among other provisions, clarifies the right of religious nonprofit organizations to refuse “any services, facilities, or goods for the solemnization or celebration of a marriage.”

Writing the amendment were Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), who was considered the driving force behind the bill’s passage through the Senate.

Several Republican senators proposed additional amendments that – per a narrow procedural vote before and another shortly after the Thanksgiving break – were not put up for debate, thereby allowing the Respect for Marriage Act to clear the Senate with Tuesday’s vote.

Barely surpassing the 60-vote filibuster-proof majority with one extra “yea,” the Senate’s passage of the bill came despite the best efforts of conservative opponents who had run coordinated campaigns to erode support among GOP members.

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris each issued statements shortly after Tuesday’s vote.

The President celebrated the “bipartisan achievement” by Congress, writing: “For millions of Americans, this legislation will safeguard the rights and protections to which LGBTQI+ and interracial couples and their children are entitled. It will also ensure that, for generations to follow, LGBTQI+ youth will grow up knowing that they, too, can lead full, happy lives and build families of their own.”

Harris wrote: “The Respect for Marriage Act ultimately stands for a simple principle: all Americans are equal and their government should treat them that way. Today, we are one step closer to achieving that ideal with pride.”

The Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus also praised the victory. “Today, a bipartisan group of 61 Senators made clear that this country will not roll back the clock on marriage equality,” said Congressman David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Chair of the Equality Caucus. “The Respect for Marriage Act is a crucial safeguard for LGBTQ+ people whose lives have been forever changed by Obergefell v. Hodges and Americans who are in interracial marriages thanks to Loving v. Virginia. On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court declared marriage equality as the law of the land. Today, the Senate ensured those marriages will continue to be protected.”

LGBTQ groups celebrate the win

“Diverse faith traditions across the nation came together to demand respect for LGBTQ+ Americans – we staked our ground and refused to let this opportunity slip away, ” said Rev. Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, president and CEO of Interfaith Alliance, in a statement Tuesday.

“The  LGBTQ+ community has faced ongoing deadly violence, legislative assaults and constant threats – including the deadly shooting in Colorado Springs barely one week ago,” said Kelley Robinson, president of the Human Rights Campaign, in a statement from the organization.

“Today, with the passage of the Respect for Marriage Act in the Senate — a historic moment that marks the first federal legislative win for LGBTQ+ equality in over ten years, since the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell — the 568,000 same-sex married couples in this country can breathe a sigh of relief that their marriages will be protected from future attacks,” said Robinson, who yesterday began her tenure as the first Black queer woman to lead America’s largest LGBTQ organization.

GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis responded on Twitter and in a statement, writing: “As so many LGBTQ people face uncertainty and harm on the state level and extremists on the Supreme Court vow to reconsider the landmark Obergefell decision, this victory will provide comfort and security to millions of people and their families.”

“Today’s bipartisan vote in the Senate to pass the Respect for Marriage Act is a proud moment for our country and an affirmation that, notwithstanding our differences, we share a profound commitment to the principle of equality and justice for all,” reads a statement from National Center for Lesbian Rights executive director Imani Rupert-Gordon.

LGBTQ Victory Institute President and CEO Annise Parker said, “This landmark piece of legislation protects the marriages of millions of LGBTQ Americans who have not slept well for months, wondering if our marriages would be dissolved by an activist court. While the Respect for Marriage Act is undoubtedly one of the most important pro-LGBTQ laws ever passed, it does not require states to grant marriages to LGBTQ couples. Until then, our fight is not over.”

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Federal Government

Nonbinary Dept. of Energy official replaced after felony charges

Extreme right-wing Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) published an offensive tweet yesterday targeting their nonbinary identity

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Sam Brinton addressing Trevor Project gathering in 2018. Screenshot/YouTube The Trevor Project

WASHINGTON – The Department of Energy replaced a nonbinary senior official who had served as the agency’s deputy assistant secretary for spent fuel and waste disposition after they were charged with a felony over an incident at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport on Sept. 16.

Sam Brinton, whose departure from the Energy Department was confirmed by a spokesperson to the New York Post, did not immediately respond to the Washington Blade’s request for comment via Facebook Messenger.

Brinton, who has dual degrees from MIT and years of experience in nuclear waste management and climate change work, is also an LGBTQ activist who made history this year with their appointment as the first openly gender-fluid person to serve in a senior government post.

A 2018 column in the Los Angeles Times argued there was a cultural shift afoot towards greater acceptance of transgender and gender fluid people — using, as an introductory anecdote, Brinton’s appearance at the Academy Awards. According to the author, Brinton spoke passionately about their suicide prevention work for the Trevor Project and was embraced by Hollywood icons like Jane Fonda.

They also encountered some hateful backlash from anti-LGBTQ figures on the right, which was renewed on Monday with the news about Brinton’s dismissal pursuant to the felony charges filed against them, which conservative-leaning outlets were among the first to report.

Extreme right-wing Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) published an offensive tweet yesterday targeting Brinton and their nonbinary identity:

According to reporting in the New York Post, during an initial conversation with police, Brinton allegedly denied that they had stolen another passenger’s suitcase. Subsequently, Brinton told investigators they accidentally grabbed the wrong bag at the luggage carousel by mistake out of exhaustion.

Court filings indicate that Brinton, upon realizing they had mistakenly taken someone else’s bag, emptied its contents into dresser drawers in their hotel room, anxious about the prospect of facing accusations of property theft.

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Congress

U.S. Senate vote sets up passage of same-sex marriage act

Coordinated campaign by anti-LGBTQ groups fails to weaken support among GOP Senators as the bill sees clear path to near-certain passage

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U.S. Capitol Building (Photo Credit: Rev. Brandan Robertson)

WASHINGTON – Passage of the Respect for Marriage Act became all but certain with the U.S. Senate’s procedural 61-35 vote on Monday night to forego additional debate in the chamber over the landmark legislation.

From here, the bill will return to the U.S. House of Representatives, which will consider — and is expected to approve — an amendment that was added by a bipartisan group of Senators led by Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.). Then, it will reach President Joe Biden’s desk.

The president has repeatedly urged lawmakers to pass the bill so he can sign it into law. His administration, along with Congressional Democratic leadership, has made the Respect for Marriage Act a top legislative priority in the weeks before the new Congress is seated in January.

Today’s move by the Senate came on the heels of a coordinated campaign by conservative and anti-LGBTQ advocacy groups that wield considerable influence on Capitol Hill and marshaled their efforts to peel off support from Republican senators in the days leading up to Monday’s vote.

Republican Sens. Todd Young (Ind.) and Cynthia Lummis (Wyo.), who were among the 12 Senate Republicans who supported advancing the legislation in a procedural vote taken before Thanksgiving, cast the final two votes on Monday allowing the measure to clear the 60-vote majority threshold to pass. Axios reports the two lawmakers faced particular pressure from conservative activists who sought to erode their support for the legislation.

The Respect for Marriage Act will repeal the Clinton-era Defense of Marriage Act, adding legal protections for same-sex couples, many of whom would otherwise face devastating consequences if the U.S. Supreme Court reverses or substantially weakens the constitutional right to marriage equality.

Notwithstanding criticism from some progressives who feel the bill is too conservative in scope, the Respect for Marriage Act — along with the bipartisan amendment that was introduced in the Senate to enshrine protections for religious liberty — is supported by major LGBTQ organizations including the Human Rights Campaign, GLAAD, Lambda Legal, the National Center for Transgender Equality, GLSEN and PFLAG National, among others.

The bill’s aim, narrowly tailored, was to gird against the possibility that the high court would revisit its precedential decisions in United States v. Windsor (2013) and Obergefell v. Hodges (2015).

Justice Clarence Thomas signaled his intention to do so with his concurring opinion earlier this year in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization — a case that revoked Americans’ constitutional right to abortion, overturning the Court’s historic rulings in Roe v. Wade (1973) and Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992).

Over the summer, the House passed the Respect for Marriage Act with an overwhelming majority, including votes from 47 Republican members. Dozens of religious denominations and groups that represent a broad spectrum of beliefs have endorsed the legislation, including the Mormon church, which took pains to reaffirm its position that same-sex relationships are sinful. Scholars representing a similarly diverse range of opinions on germane legal questions have also publicly backed the bill.

Still, the opposition remained steadfast.

“Religious Americans will be subject to potentially ruinous litigation, while the tax-exempt status of certain charitable organizations, educational institutions, and non-profits will be threatened,” said Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) in a statement opposing the legislation as written and proposing an additional amendment to the bill.

Organizations like the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, echoed Lee’s concerns about the Respect for Marriage Act vis-à-vis protections for religious liberty. Others, like the Liberty Counsel, designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an anti-LGBTQ hate group, peddled outrageous arguments including the lie that the Respect for Marriage Act would normalize or facilitate child sexual exploitation and abuse.

Even in the aftermath of the deadly shooting on Nov. 19 at a Colorado Springs, Colo., LGBTQ nightclub, these attacks from conservative groups continued apace and even increased as the Senate’s vote on Monday drew nearer.

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U.S. State Department

Negotiations to release Griner stalled for now diplomat says

“We have made a serious proposal to free American prisoners. We did not see a serious response from the Russian side to our proposal”

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Elizabeth Rood, the U.S. chargée d’affaires in Moscow (Photo Credit: Embassy of the United States, Russia)

MOSCOW – In remarks published Monday, Elizabeth Rood, the U.S. chargée d’affaires in Moscow, told Russia’s state-owned RIA news agency that talks to free jailed Americans Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan were continuing through the “designated channel.”

During the long ranging interview covering a variety of subjects, Rood was asked if she intended to visit the imprisoned WNBA star who is serving time in a Mordovian prison.

“Of course, we are going to do this as soon as the Russian authorities give us permission to visit Brittney Griner in the new colony where she was recently transferred,” the American diplomat responded and in answer to a follow-up question regarding Griner’s status Rood answered; “As far as we understood from talking to her, she is healthy and doing as well as can be expected in her difficult circumstances.”

RIA then focused on the negotiations asking for some of the details including the possibility of convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout being included in the “exchange list” in the potential prisoner swap deal between the Russian and American authorities.

“I can say that the United States continues to discuss with the Russian authorities through special channels the issue of the release of Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan.  As we have already said, the United States has submitted a serious proposal for consideration. We finalized this proposal and offered alternatives. Unfortunately, the Russian Federation has so far received no serious response to these proposals, ” the U.S. chargée d’affaires answered.

“However, I would like to emphasize that the main concern and the first priority of the US Embassy is to ensure the well-being of the American citizens who are here. And the situation is not limited to the names of those who are mentioned in the media headlines – a number of American citizens are kept in Russian prisons. We are extremely concerned about the condition of each of them, and we continue to follow their affairs very closely and support them in every possible way,” she added.

RIA then asked: “What did you mean by “serious response” from Russia? Moscow has repeatedly stressed that the negotiations are being conducted through professional channels… What does the American side mean by “serious response”?

Rood answered telling RIA; “I mean, we have made a serious proposal that reflects our intention to take action to free American prisoners. We did not see a serious response from the Russian side to our proposal.

By “serious answer” do you mean consent? RIA asked in a follow-up question.

“I mean an answer that would help us come to an agreement,” she answered.

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Colorado

USN’s Club Q hero who helped tackle gunman issues statement

“I simply wanted to save the family I found- If I had my way, I would shield everyone I could from the nonsensical acts of hate in the world”

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U.S. Navy Information Systems Technician Petty Officer Second Class Thomas James (Photo Credit: U.S. Navy Public Affairs)

COLORADO SPRINGS – One of the three persons who charged and then disarmed the suspect in the LGBTQ+ nightclub shooting in Colorado Springs last weekend issued a statement Sunday.

“I simply wanted to save the family I found,” James said. “If I had my way, I would shield everyone I could from the nonsensical acts of hate in the world, but I am only one person.”

“To the youth, I say be brave. Your family is out there. You are loved and valued. So when you come out of the closet, come out swinging,” U.S. Navy Information Systems Technician Petty Officer Second Class Thomas James said through a Centura Penrose Hospital spokesman Sunday.

This the first public comments by James since he, U.S. Army veteran, Major Richard Fierro, and another Club Q patron, a trans woman, all joined in the courageous takedown, disarming the 22-year-old suspect and holding him until the arrival by responding Colorado Springs police.

James is recovering from unspecified injuries at Centura Penrose, where a number of the Club Q shooting victims were sent. The hospital spokesman releasing the statement added that James is now in stable condition.

In a statement released this past Tuesday, the U.S. Navy confirmed that James was in hospital but added that “is currently in stable condition and we remain hopeful he will make a full recovery.”

CBS Colorado reported Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers had called out and identified James as one of the heroes whom had charged and helped subdue the shooter. Details as to each person’s role in subduing the shooter are still under investigation.

Colorado Springs Police Chief Adrian Vasquez said that James was one of two people who helped to stop the suspected shooter who walked into Club Q late on Nov. 19 with multiple firearms and is accused of killing five people. At least 17 others were injured.

James reportedly pushed a rifle out of the suspect’s reach while Fierro repeatedly struck the shooter with a handgun they brought into the bar, officials have said.

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New York

New bills to prevent hate crimes in New York signed by Gov. Hochul

“New York belongs to the good, not those with hate in their hearts – we’re taking bold action to reclaim our city and state from the haters”

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New York Governor Kathy Hochul (D) (Screenshot/YouTube)

NEW YORK – On the same day that a 34-year-old man was arrested for allegedly throwing bricks at the window of a gay nightclub in Hell’s Kitchen, New York Governor Kathy Hochul (D) announced new measures to stop hate crimes in the Empire State.

Speaking to reporters last Tuesday at an emotional press conference, the governor called on New Yorkers to reclaim the state from “bigots who have butchered communities’ sense of security.”

“New York belongs to the good, not those with hate in their hearts – we’re taking bold action to reclaim our city and state from the haters, bigots and white supremacists,” Hochul said.

The governor’s actions comes after comes after the NYPD arrested two men for allegedly plotting to shoot synagogues and wreak havoc on the Jewish community, targeted attacks on the Asian community, and the recent mass-shooting at an LGBTQ nite club in Colorado Springs.

NYPD detectives arrested Sean Kuilan Tuesday afternoon and charged him with criminal possession of a weapon, criminal mischief and reckless endangerment for allegedly throwing bricks and a rock at the window of a gay nightclub in Hell’s Kitchen three times last week in what a NYPD spokesperson characterized as a potential hate crime.

Hochul, who led the state through the racist Buffalo massacre last spring, said that a horrifying mass shooting at an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado and a sinister anti-Semitic plot foiled in New York over the weekend offered “painful reminders that there is a rising tide of hate in our country,” the New York Daily News reported.

“This is our defining moment, New Yorkers,” the governor declared.

“Every one of us has a role to play,” Hochul said. “From this day forward, ask yourself: Did I do something to help spread the love that should be part of who we are as New Yorkers?”

After delivering her remarks, Hochul then signed two bills, Senate/Assembly Bill (S.6570/A.1202) to “Require individuals convicted of hate crimes to undergo mandatory training in hate crime prevention and education.”

Legislation (S.6570/A.1202) amends the penal law to establish that in addition to other penalties, individuals convicted of hate crimes shall undergo mandatory training in hate crime prevention and education as part of their sentence. The programs, training sessions, or counseling sessions must be authorized by the court or local agencies in cooperation with organizations serving the affected community.

The second measure, (S.123A/A.5913A) establishes a statewide campaign, developed and run by the New York State Division of Human Rights to promote the acceptance, inclusion, tolerance, and understanding of the diversity of the people of New York.

Legislation (S.123A/A.5913A) amends the executive law to establish and implement a statewide campaign for the acceptance, inclusion, tolerance, and understanding of diversity. The campaign, which will be developed and implemented by the Division of Human Rights, will coordinate and cooperate with public and private organizations, including, but not limited to, local governments, community groups, school districts, places of worship, charitable organizations, and foundations and will develop educational materials to be published on the internet, social media, and other platforms to reach the public.

“Our hearts are broken after a weekend during which LGBTQ Americans were massacred and Jewish New Yorkers were targeted in horrific acts of hateful violence,” Hochul said. “New York belongs to the good, not those with hate in their hearts – we’re taking bold action to reclaim our city and state from the haters, bigots and white supremacists. Domestic-based violent extremism is the greatest threat to our homeland security, and that is why we continue to remain laser-focused on combatting hate and keeping New Yorkers safe.”

Governor Hochul Announces Actions to Prevent Hate Crimes and Protect New Yorkers:

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