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Joaquin Castro discusses asylum seekers on border, immigration reform bill

Texas Democrat would ‘break up’ ICE

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U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) (Photo courtesy of the Office of Congressman Joaquín Castro)

SAN ANTONIO — Texas Congressman Joaquin Castro on Friday said the situation for asylum seekers on the U.S.-Mexico border remains perilous, even though President Biden has begun to reverse some of the previous administration’s hardline immigration policies.

“There is a real humanitarian need among the people who are seeking asylum at the Southern border,” Castro told the Blade during a telephone interview. “And unfortunately, over the past few years Donald Trump created a bubble of very desperate people who were unable to have their asylum claims processed and now are anxious to have their day in court, to have their asylum cases heard.”

Biden in January suspended enrollments in the Trump administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols program, which forced asylum seekers to pursue their cases in Mexico. The first asylum seekers with active MPP cases began to enter the U.S. through ports of entry in Brownsville and El Paso, Texas, and San Ysidro, Calif., last month.

“MPP is dangerous for many folks … and that includes LGBTQ and trans folks,” said Castro. “These folks have sometimes become targets on the other side of the border.”

The U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 that Democrats introduced in Congress last month would, among other things, create a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants who are in the country.

The Biden administration shortly after it took office directed ICE, CBP and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to stop the deportation of “certain” undocumented immigrants for 100 days, but a federal judge in Texas last month blocked the moratorium. The White House earlier this week announced it would request $4 billion in aid to mitigate the causes of migration from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.

“MPP of course was lifted by the Biden administration, but you still have a lot of people who are in and around the border cities in Mexico,” said Castro. “And for all folks what we are seeking to do is put people on a path to citizenship.”

Castro acknowledged Congress has debated immigration reform for years, but he said, “we finally have an opportunity with this president and this Congress to get it done.”

“It’s still going to be tough because of the numbers in the Senate, but I think there is a greater window here now than there has been in a very long time,” he said.

U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), right, meets residents of a migrant camp in Matamoros, Mexico, on Jan. 17, 2020. (Photo via Castro’s Facebook page)

Another issue Castro discussed with the Blade is the treatment of transgender men and women and people with HIV/AIDS in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody.

Immigration activists with whom the Blade has previously spoken say trans people in ICE detention centers have suffered physical and psychological abuse and do not have access to adequate health care. People with HIV/AIDS who have also in ICE custody have made similar allegations.

Roxsana Hernández, a trans Honduran woman with HIV who had briefly been detained at the Cibola County Correctional Center, a privately-run ICE detention center in New Mexico, died at a hospital in Albuquerque, N.M., on May 25, 2018. Johana “Joa” Medina León, a trans Salvadoran woman with HIV, passed away at an El Paso hospital on June 1, 2019, three days after ICE released her from the Otero County Processing Center in Chaparral, N.M.

Castro told the Blade that he and other members of Congress between 2018-2020 “had conversations” with ICE about the treatment of detainees in their custody.

“We were banging our head against the wall about how they are treating everybody,” he said.

Castro, along with U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and other Democratic lawmakers, in 2019 visited a U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing center in El Paso and met with a group of women who had fled Cuba. Castro recorded the meetings; even though the agency prohibits visitors from taking pictures, filming videos or recording inside its facilities.

“The conditions were bad,” Castro told the Blade. “People were being prayed upon for different reasons, including their sexual orientation.”

Castro would ‘break ICE up’

ICE has repeatedly defended the treatment of those who are in its custody. Castro said ICE, “especially during that time, hardly ever responded in a satisfactory way to us on anything.”

“Their standard response is we’re doing everything we can to make sure people in our facilities are treated humanely and respected and so forth,” he told the Blade. “That was the case not only with ICE, but with the CBP facilities and also of course the HHS facilities which hold unaccompanied minors, for example.”

Castro said he would “break ICE up” as opposed to abolish it.

“The enforcement function should go somewhere else,” he told the Blade. “There have been too many scandals, too much corruption, too much dishonesty over the years that it’s just not working.”

Castro told the Blade that ICE should no longer use privately-run detention centers. He also said he supports an end to mandatory detention under the Immigration and Nationality Act.

“I have pushed pretty, pretty rigorously for alternatives to detention and placing folks with sponsors,” he said.

“Despite the rhetoric, you have a very high percentage of people that come back for their court dates and we should be able to respect that and the overwhelming majority of these folks — LGBTQ individuals and others — are folks who just want their day in court and want to be considered for asylum,” added Castro. “The systems that we set up should be consistent with that.”

River Correctional Center, a privately-run U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center in Ferriday, La., on Feb. 1, 2020. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Castro told the Blade he has “confidence in” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. Castro also reiterated his calls for a commission or a Congressional committee “that specifically takes up the issue of what happened at the border over the past four years.”

“There’s a temptation in every administration to turn the page and leave the past behind and also because you don’t want to be seen as an administration that’s just going after your political adversaries, which makes sense,” Castro told the Blade. “But there are some cases and some administrations that have just been so terrible in their actions that you have to go and review those things and hold them accountable, otherwise I think it just encourages another president eight years from now or 12 years from now or some other time to perhaps engage in the same thing.”

“There is going to be another Stephen Miller in this country who’s encouraging the president to do bad things and it’s a matter of whether that person thinks they’re going to be able to get away with it or not,” he added.

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Leaders of 17 EU countries urge bloc to fight anti-LGBTQ discrimination

Hungary lawmakers last week passed another homophobic, transphobic bill

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(Photo by Håkan Dahlström via Flickr)

BRUSSELS — The leaders of 17 European Union countries have signed a letter that urges the EU to fight anti-LGBTQ discrimination.

Politico reported Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, Irish Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, French President Emmanuel Macron, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades, Latvian Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš, Luxembourgish Prime Minister Xavier Bettel, Maltese Prime Minister Robert Abela, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin and Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven signed the letter ahead of an EU summit in Brussels. Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz is also a signatory.

The EU heads of state signed the letter a week after Hungarian lawmakers approved a bill that would ban the promotion of homosexuality and sex-reassignment surgery to anyone under 18.

The European Commission on Wednesday said it would seek to block the measure. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen described it as a “shame.”

“This bill clearly discriminates against people on the basis of their sexual orientation and it goes against all the values, the fundamental values of the European Union and this is human dignity, it is equality and is human fundamental rights, so we will not compromise on these principles,” she said.

“I will use all the powers of the European Commission to ensure that the rights of all EU citizens are guaranteed, whoever you are and wherever you live,” added von der Leyen.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán rejected the criticisms.

“The recently adopted Hungarian bill protects the rights of children, guarantees the rights of parents and does not apply to the sexual orientation rights of those over 18 years of age, so it does not contain any discriminatory elements,” his government said in a statement, as France 24 reported.

Orbán and members of his ruling Fidesz party in recent years have moved to curtail LGBTQ rights in Hungary.

Hungarian lawmakers late last year approved bills that effectively banned same-sex couples from adopting children and defined marriage as between a man and a woman. A measure that bans transgender and intersex people from legally changing their gender passed in the Hungarian Parliament in April 2020.

Munich’s Allianz Arena sought to illuminate the stadium in rainbow colors during a Euro 2020 match between Hungary and Germany as a way to protest the latest anti-LGBTQ bill to pass in the Hungarian Parliament. The Union of European Football Associations, which is European soccer’s governing body, rejected the request.

ILGA-Europe in a statement it sent to the Los Angeles Blade on Thursday notes both Hungary and Poland, another EU country in which lawmakers have sought to restrict LGBTQ rights in recent years.

“For quite some time now, we’ve been informing EU ministers about systematic breaches of EU law committed by Hungary and Poland, which impact on LGBTI rights and the lives of LGBTI people,” says ILGA-Europe. “This week’s developments seem to suggest that the European Commission and a number of member states finally heard that call. Time to keep up the action and follow through on its values and responsibilities as guardians of EU law, keeping the important commitments made this week.”

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San Francisco

The Memorial at Harvey Milk Plaza; preliminary design revealed

“The balance between Harvey’s history and the movement’s history feels correct- Harvey would have liked it”

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Harvey Milk in front of his 'Castro Camera' shop (Photo by Dan Nicoletta)

SAN FRANCISCO – The Friends of Harvey Milk Plaza (FHMP) revealed a new vision for the Memorial at Harvey Milk Plaza Thursday, which is located at the iconic intersection of Castro and Market Streets  commemorating the visionary civil and human rights leader.

“The balance between Harvey’s history and the movement’s history feels correct to me. Harvey would have liked it,” shared photographer Dan Nicoletta, who was close friends with Harvey and worked at his Castro  Camera store on Castro Street.  

In alignment with San Francisco’s Pride Month celebrations, the design is being shared with the  public for feedback via two virtual town hall meetings on June 23 and 24 and via a broader continued online  engagement effort available here, [Link].

“We believe the redesign captures the public’s desire to better honor Harvey Milk and creates one of the United  States’ first ‘next generation’ memorials: one that will continue to represent the values of the local community  through growth and change. The Memorial at Harvey Milk Plaza will interweave the past and the present so that  it serves as a call to action for generations that follow,” explained FHMP Interim Executive Director Brian  Springfield. 

Included in the design are features dedicated to visibility and representation of the wide spectrum of people  encompassed by the LGBTQ+ community. Public art and interactive elements celebrate LGBTQ+ culture and  history while also promoting a call to action in support of social justice movements, making the Memorial at  Harvey Milk Plaza a place where hope and action live on forever.

The design is anticipated to be finalized this year, and the project’s initial phase of transit station improvements  is expected to break ground in 2022. Springfield emphasized that the new design being shared is still  preliminary, and that FHMP and SWA continue to seek input from the community – at the two upcoming design  presentations and through ongoing input gathered through an interactive online community engagement portal available.

Four core elements will characterize the renewed plaza: The Pedestal, the Beacon, the Grove, and the Gallery. More details about each design element, along with high resolution images, can be found here. 

Public feedback collected since 2017 has been incorporated into the new design, reflecting the community’s  desire for an unconventional and inclusive design process and assurance that Milk’s qualities and legacy remain  front-and-center. Discussions among FHMP, local landscape architecture firm SWA, local Castro-based  organizations, and the general public will continue as the designs are refined.

“Harvey Milk Plaza can be a space that both honors the history of the LGBTQ+ rights movement and lifts up the  voices and struggles of today’s queer community, all while functioning as an inviting gateway to the Castro and  Muni,” said District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who represents the Castro neighborhood and is currently  the Board of Supervisors’ sole LGBTQ+ member. “The concepts being shared today are an exciting step forward  in achieving that vision.”

Initial funding for the project has been provided through private and public sources, including a $1 million grant  from the State of California, earmarked specifically to “support construction of LGBTQ space in Harvey Milk  Plaza.”

The project team’s next steps include continued design refinements in response to ongoing community  input, coordination with various city agencies, and progress through the approvals process, with a goal of being  prepared to begin construction in Summer/Fall 2022.

The new design is inspired by Harvey’s words, intersectional activism, and community input, with a keen eye for current and future transit needs. California State Senator Scott Wiener said, “Harvey Milk Plaza is at the heart of the  Castro community — a place to gather, to go about our lives, and to remember Harvey’s many contributions.  Our community deserves a plaza worthy of Harvey’s memory — one that educates and allows us to organize and  enjoy our amazing neighborhood. The Harvey Milk Plaza redesign is a long overdue effort to make this great plaza all it can be.”

To see the new design and provide your input, please visit the website.

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California

California Legislative LGBTQ Caucus to Honor 12 Leaders in Online Event

Honoring our state’s LGBTQ+ leaders and commemorate the vibrant community’s strengths during an unprecedented year

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California Capitol Building Dome (Photo by Nune Garipian 2021)

SACRAMENTO – In celebration of Pride Month, the California Legislative LGBTQ Caucus will host a virtual event at 6 p.m. Thursday to honor our state’s LGBTQ+ leaders and commemorate the vibrant community’s strengths during an unprecedented year.

On Monday, the Caucus introduced Senate Resolution 39 and House Resolution 51 to proclaim June as LGBTQ+ Pride month in the state of California. During that floor ceremony, the Caucus honored a dozen LGBTQ+ Californians for their outstanding work in the community.

The list of honorees, who will also be featured in the online event, included: Roberta Achtenberg, Luis Alfaro, Larry Baza, Robert Gentry, Dr. Lloyd Holmes, Drew Lloyd, Lange Luntao, Connor Maddocks, Gary McCoy, George Murphy, Dennis Sonney, and Kim Tran. Mr. Baza and Mr. Murphy were honored posthumously. Later that night, the celebration continued with the illumination of the Capitol Dome in rainbow colors for just the second time in state history. 

Thursday’s Pride celebration will be streamed here.

The intimate virtual ceremony will be dedicated to the 12 honorees and allow both Caucus members and honorees to speak about their unparalleled achievements and contributions to California’s LGBTQ+ community.

Below is more information on each honoree:

Roberta Achtenberg (she/her)
Roberta Achtenberg has served in many roles during her extensive government and legal career, including the position of Fair Housing Assistant Secretary in 1993. She made history as the first openly LGBTQ+ person to be presidentially nominated and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.


Luis Alfaro (he/him)
Luis Alfaro is a Los Angeles-based author, poet and performer whose work has won numerous awards, including a MacArthur Fellowship. He is currently an Associate Professor at the University of Southern California.

Larry Baza (he/him) – Posthumous
Larry Baza was a dedicated LGBTQ+ activist who devoted his life to advancing civil and worker rights. He passed away in February, but his legacy continues to reverberate across California, especially in San Diego where he tirelessly advocated for the arts and greater access to education.

Robert Gentry (he/him)
Robert Gentry is a devoted public servant who became the first openly gay mayor in California for the City of Laguna Beach. Before and after his three consecutive terms as mayor, Gentry has worked tirelessly to increase equality and address issues impacting the LGBTQ+ community.

Dr. Lloyd Holmes (he/him)
Dr. Lloyd Holmes is a lifelong educator and community advocate who currently serves as President of De Anza College in Cupertino. He is the first openly gay Black man to hold this title, and he has dedicated his career to increasing student success and retention.

Drew Lloyd (he/him/his)
Drew Lloyd’s work in the tech and legal industry has made him one the most influential communications consultants in Silicon Valley. He is the board President of BAYMEC, the oldest nonpartisan LGBTQ+ Political Action Committee in California.

Lange Luntao (he/him)
Lange Luntao has an extensive background in education and currently serves as the Director of External Relations for the Education Trust-West. In 2016, he became the first openly gay man elected to public office in Stockton. 

Connor Maddocks (he/him)
Connor Maddocks is a transgender activist and recipient of the Harvey Milk Civil Rights Award. He has worked for numerous organizations to promote civil rights and equality, including the San Diego LGBTQ Center and the San Diego TRANS Masculine Discussion group. 

Gary McCoy (he/him)
Gary McCoy is the Director of Public Affairs for HealthRIGHT 360, which focuses on mental health and substance abuse treatment. He has dedicated his career to public service, and he has worked in the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in addition to serving as Co-President of the Alice B. Toklas LGBTQ Democratic Club.

George Murphy (he/him) – Posthumous
George Murphy was an icon in San Diego’s LGBTQ+ community and a founding member of the San Diego LGBTQ Community Center. He worked as an academic counselor at Grossmont College and was heavily involved in his church.

Dennis Sonney (he/him)
Dennis Sonney is a Marine Corps veteran whose work with California’s Manufacturing Network has led to numerous technological advancements in the Inland Empire. He has dedicated much of his career to advancing diversity and currently serves on the boards of The Science and Technology Education Partnership Foundation and The Garner Holt Foundation. 

Kim Tran (she/her)
Kim Tran is a grassroots organizer, researcher and writer whose work has sparked social change through a unique approach to combating injustice and oppression, particularly with respect to Asian American solidarity and the Black Lives Matter movement. 

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