An 18-year-old man in Jamaica remains hospitalized in critical condition after he was targeted on a gay dating app.
The Jamaica Gleaner reports the victim on Oct. 11 went to a neighborhood in Montego Bay, a resort city that is the capital of Jamaica’s St. James Parish, to meet the man with whom he was speaking.
The newspaper reports the man and two other men abducted the victim, robbed him and partially severed his penis before they set him on fire. Officials said the three men took his cell phone and used his bank card to withdraw money from his account.
“He is a very lucky young man because although they left him in a critical condition, he managed to make his way to a security checkpoint in the community where they assisted him to the hospital, where he was admitted in critical condition,” a local police officer told the Jamaica Gleaner.
The Jamaica Gleaner reported a 43-year-old man in St. James Parish disappeared in January 2020 after he went to meet someone with whom he had spoken on a gay dating website. Authorities later found the man’s body, and two men have been charged with his murder.
Violence against LGBTQ Jamaicans remains commonplace. Consensual same-sex sexual relations also remain criminalized in the country.
J-FLAG, a Jamaican LGBTQ rights group, has condemned the latest attack.
“Like all well-thinking Jamaicans at this time, JFLAG is outraged at the recent attack on an 18-year-old man in St. James,” tweeted J-FLAG on Sunday. “His attackers must be brought to justice.”
The U.S. on Thursday regained a seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council, three years after the previous administration withdrew from it.
The U.S. won election to the council alongside Argentina, Benin, Cameroon, Eritrea, Finland, Gambia, Honduras, India, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Montenegro, Paraguay, Qatar, Somalia and United Arab Emirates.
The council in recent years has emerged as a champion of LGBTQ rights around the world, even though Cuba and other countries with poor human rights records are among the 47 countries that are currently members. Venezuela and Russia are also on the council.
Russia’s crackdown on LGBTQ rights and the Kremlin’s close relationship with Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov continue to spark criticism around the world.
Then-U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley during a 2018 press conference that announced the U.S. withdrawal from the council noted Cuba and other countries “with unambiguous and abhorrent human rights record” are members. Haley also said the council has a “chronic bias against” Israel.
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield on Thursday in a statement said LGBTQ rights will be one of the U.S.’s focuses once it officially rejoins the council on Jan. 1.
“Our initial efforts as full members in the Council will focus on what we can accomplish in situations of dire need, such as in Afghanistan, Burma, China, Ethiopia, Syria and Yemen,” she said. “More broadly, we will promote respect for fundamental freedoms and women’s rights, and oppose religious intolerance, racial and ethnic injustices, and violence and discrimination against members of minority groups, including LGBTQI+ persons and persons with disabilities. And we will oppose the council’s disproportionate attention on Israel, which includes the council’s only standing agenda item targeting a single country.”
President Biden in February issued a memorandum that commits the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ rights abroad.
The previous White House tapped then-U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell to lead a campaign that encouraged countries to decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations, but many LGBTQ activists in the U.S. and around the world have questioned its effectiveness. The Washington Blade in August filed a federal lawsuit against the State Department that seeks Grenell’s emails around his work on the decriminalization initiative.
“The President and Sec. Blinken have put democracy and human rights—essential cornerstones of peace and stability—at the center of our foreign policy,” said State Department spokesperson Ned Price on Thursday after the U.S. regained a seat on the council. “We have eagerly and earnestly pursued these values in our relationships around the world.”
“We will use our position to renew the council’s focus on the core human rights principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the U.N. Charter, which undergird the council’s founding,” added Price at the beginning of his daily press briefing. “Our goal is to hold the U.N. Human Rights Council accountable to the highest aspirations of its mandate and spur the actions necessary to carry them out.”
Edgar García and his partner, Dannys Torres, on Oct. 3, 2018, used a canoe to cross the Arauca River that marks the Venezuela-Colombia border.
García was a member of the board of directors of Alianza Lambda de Venezuela, a Venezuelan LGBTQ rights group, before he fled Venezuela. Torres worked as a hairdresser in Caracas, the Venezuelan capital.
The couple now lives in Rafael Uribe Uribe, a working-class neighborhood in Bogotá, the Colombian capital.
Torres continues to work as a hairdresser. García most recently worked for a telecommunications company.
“We are settled here in Bogotá,” García told the Washington Blade on Sept. 21 during an interview with him and Torres that took place at a shopping mall near their home. “You have your life here.”
García and Torres are two of the more than 5.4 million Venezuelans who the Coordination Platform for Migrants and Refugees from Venezuela say have left their country as of November 2020 because of its ongoing economic and political crises.
Statistics from the Colombian government indicate there are currently more than 1.7 million Venezuelans in the country. More than 50 percent of them live in Bogotá and the departments of Norte de Santander, Atlántico and Antioquia.
Colombian President Iván Duque in February announced the country would legally recognize Venezuelan migrants who are registered with the government.
Sources in Colombia with whom the Blade has spoken say there are likely many more Venezuelan migrants in the country than official statistics indicate. Venezuelan migrants who are LGBTQ and/or living with HIV remain disproportionately vulnerable to discrimination and violence and often lack access to health care and formal employment.
A report the Red de Movilidad Humana LGBTI+—a network of advocacy groups in Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Brazil, Argentina, Guatemala and Mexico—published with the support of the U.N. Refugee Agency notes sex trafficking and even death are among the myriad threats that LGBTQ migrants from Venezuela face once they enter Colombia. The report indicates they also face discrimination in shelters because of their sexual orientation and gender identity, sexual violence and a lack of access to the Colombian judicial system.
Trans woman left Venezuela ‘in search of a better quality of life’
Vanesa, a 25-year-old transgender woman from the Venezuelan city of Maracaibo, came to Colombia eight years ago “in search of a better quality of life.”
She told the Blade on Sept. 14 during an interview at Fundación de Atención Inclusiva, Social y Humana (FUVADIS)—an organization in Barranquilla, a city in Atlántico department that is near the mouth of the Magdalena River in northern Colombia, that serves Venezuelan migrants—she entered Colombia near Maicao, a city in La Guajira department via an informal border crossing known as a “trocha.” Vanesa said she was nearly kidnapped.
“The people who were standing on the sides (of the “trocha”) who ask you for money were supposedly security,” she said. “There was no security. They left me there because I was trans. They said a lot of ugly things. They assaulted me, including one (man) who was not going to let me go. They wanted me to kidnap me or have me there to do whatever they wanted to me.”
Vanesa said a woman helped her escape.
“The experience was horrible,” she said.
Vanesa traveled to Cartagena, a popular tourist destination that is less than two hours southwest of Barranquilla, and began to work at her friend’s hair salon. Vanesa told the Blade that her friend’s mother “never liked me because … she is a Christian.”
Vanesa now lives in Barranquilla and supports herself through video chats. Vanesa also competes in local beauty pageants and is able to send money to her mother in Venezuela.
“I work here,” she said. “I am relatively well off.”
Andy, a trans man from Venezuela’s Maracay state, left Venezuela four years ago with his partner and their daughter. Andy, like Vanesa, entered Colombia via a “trocha” near Maicao.
“I migrated because the situation was becoming worse and worse each day,” Andy told the Blade on Sept. 14 as he attended a workshop that Caribe Afirmativo, an LGBTQ group in northern Colombia, organized at a Barranquilla hotel.
Caribe Afirmativo has opened three “Casas Afirmativos” in Barranquilla, Maicao and Medellín that provide access to health care and other services to Venezuelan migrants who are LGBTQ and/or living with HIV/AIDS. Caribe Afirmativo also operates several “Casas de Paz” throughout northern Colombia that support the implementation of an LGBTQ-inclusive peace agreement between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia that came into force in 2016.
Andy said his work in Venezuela allowed him to learn how “to sell whatever product,” but he told the Blade he struggled to find a job once he arrived in Colombia.
Andy told the Blade that he, his partner and their daughter now have stable housing in Barranquilla. Andy said he also has received a job offer in Medellín, the country’s second-largest city that is the capital of Antioquia department.
Jesús Gómez is a 33-year-old gay man from Venezuela’s Trujillo state in the Venezuelan Andes that are close to the country’s border with Colombia.
He previously worked with Venezuela Diversa, a Venezuelan LGBTQ advocacy group, and accepted a position with the municipality of Chacao that is part of Caracas. Gómez, whose mother was born in Colombia, also joined a student protest movement against the government.
Gómez fled to Colombia and is pursuing his asylum case with the help of UNHCR.
“I feel bad emotionally, but I am well-off compared to other people,” he told the Blade on Sept. 16 during an interview at a hotel in Cúcuta, a city in Norte de Santander department that is a few miles from the country’s border with Venezuela. “I am working to help other people who are in the same situation.”
Gómez in December is scheduled to graduate from nursing school. He also works with Fundación Censurados, a Cúcuta-based HIV/AIDS service organization that works with Venezuelan migrants, and has supported other organizations in the area that serve them.
FUVADIS Executive Director Luis Meneses, like Gómez, was an LGBTQ activist in Venezuela.
Meneses, who is from Venezuela’s Zulia state, in 2010 unsuccessfully ran for Venezuela’s National Assembly. Meneses in February 2018 fled to Colombia because of the “political persecution” he said he suffered.
“Discrimination and prejudice against me began when I came out to defend LGBTI rights,” Meneses told the Blade on Sept. 14 during an interview at his office.
Meneses in August 2018 launched FUVADIS, which receives support from groups that includes UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration. FUVADIS provides health care, antiretroviral drugs and a host of other services to Venezuelan migrants with HIV/AIDS and other populations that include sex workers. Vanessa and nearly 900 other FUVADIS clients are LGBTQ.
“We cannot work for the migrant population by only giving them humanitarian assistance,” said Meneses. “It’s also about guaranteeing access to their rights.”
Venezuelans with HIV/AIDS die because of lack of medications
The New York-based Aid for AIDS International estimates more than 10,000 Venezuelans with HIV have left the country in recent years. Activists and health care service providers in Venezuela with whom the Blade has spoken in recent years have said people with HIV/AIDS in the country have died because of a lack of antiretroviral drugs.
The Venezuelan government has also targeted HIV/AIDS service organizations.
Members of Venezuela’s General Directorate of Military Counterintelligence in January raided the offices of Azul Positivo, an HIV/AIDS service organization and arrested President Johan León Reyes and five other staff members. Venezuelan police on Feb. 15, 2019, raided the offices of Fundación Mavid, another HIV/AIDS service organization in Valencia, a city in Carabobo state, and arrested three staffers after they confiscated donated infant formula and medications for people with HIV/AIDS
Deyvi Galvis Vásquez, a doctor who is the manager of prevention and testing for AIDS Healthcare Foundation Colombia on Sept. 17 during an interview at AHF’s Cúcuta clinic showed the Blade pictures of Venezuelans with HIV/AIDS in Colombia who had cases of Kaposi’s sarcoma.
“The conditions are of extreme vulnerability,” said Galvis.
Andrés Cardona, director of Fundación Ancla, a Medellín-based group that works with migrants and other vulnerable groups, during a Sept. 13 interview with the Blade in his office echoed Galvis. Cardona added stigma specifically against Venezuelans with HIV/AIDS is one of the myriad issues he and his colleagues confront.
“The issue of the elimination of HIV also implies not only an issue of communication and prevention, but also an issue of effective attention,” said Cardona. “We have our conservative culture, an idea that the Venezuelans who are coming are going to give us HIV.”
“This is totally discriminatory,” he added.
Cardona, like those inside Venezuela with whom the Blade has spoken, said there are no services in the country for people with HIV/AIDS.
“There are many Venezuelan migrants with HIV who enter Colombia, because they are going to die if they don’t,” he said.
AHF operates clinics throughout Colombia
AHF operates other facilities in Bogotá and in the cities of Bucaramanga, Yopal, Valledupar and Ríohacha. The organization, along with the Colombian Red Cross and the government of Santander department, in March began to distribute condoms, food and water and offer rapid HIV tests to Venezuelan migrants who travel through Páramo de Berlín, a high plateau in the Colombian Andes through which a highway between Cúcuta and Bucaramanga passes.
AHF, among other things, offers migrants rapid HIV and syphilis tests and counseling for people who test positive. AHF also provides lab tests, formula for children of mothers with HIV and health care with an “interdisciplinary health care team.”
AHF Colombia Country Program Manager Liliana Andrade Forero and AHF Colombia Data Manager Sandra Avila Mira on Sept. 20 noted to the Blade during an interview at AHF’s Bogotá clinic that upwards of 2,000 migrants currently receive care from the organization. They also pointed out that 1,952 of them are taking antiretroviral drugs the Brazilian government donates.
Galvis noted to the Blade that many of AHF’s patients also have access to mental health care and social workers.
“AHF’s policy is to reach out to everyone,” he said.https://www.youtube.com/embed/yJBrbPEkilw?feature=oembed
Pandemic has made migrants even more vulnerable
Galvis, Fundación Censurados Director Juan Carlos Archila and other Colombian HIV/AIDS service providers with whom the Blade spoke say the pandemic has made Venezuelan migrants with HIV/AIDS in the country even more vulnerable.
Lockdowns prevented sex workers and others who work in the informal economy from earning money. A “pico y género” rule implemented by Bogotá Mayor Claudia López that allowed women to leave their homes on even days and men to leave their homes on odd days sparked criticism among trans activists.
Archila, who is a nurse, on Sept. 16 told the Blade during an interview at a Cúcuta hotel the pandemic has also left Censurados in a precarious situation.
“We endured practically two years with the doors closed, with expenses increasing,” he said. “The need of people who come to us for the issue of HIV remains, and yet we are all trying to cope with the situation.”
Andrade noted AHF’s Bogotá was closed for several months at the beginning of the pandemic because of the city’s strict lockdown.
The pandemic also forced FUVADIS to close its offices in March 2020, but Meneses told the Blade the organization was able to see a handful of patients at a time. He said “basic humanitarian assistance” that included hygiene kits and food were among the things that FUVADIS was able to provide its patients during the pandemic.
“Understanding how the situation for the LGBTI community, people with HIV, the migrant population and the refugee population is, we could not allow (our services) to shut down,” Meneses told the Blade.
Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel on Friday met with more than a dozen LGBTQ activists.
Tremenda Nota, the Washington Blade’s media partner in Cuba, reported the meeting took place at Havana’s Palace of the Revolution. Francisco Rodríguez Cruz, a gay man living with HIV who writes under the pen name Paquito el de Cuba, and Malú Cano, coordinator of Transcuba, a transgender organization that is affiliated with the National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX), are among those who participated.
“I see it as a political will to advance the recognition of the rights of LGBTIQ+ people, an outstanding debt that the revolution has always had with us,” Cano told Tremenda Nota.
The Cuban government tweeted pictures of of the meeting. Rodríguez in a blog post notesCENESEX Director Mariela Castro, the daughter of former President Raúl Castro, was sitting next to Díaz-Canel.
Former President Fidel Castro, who was Mariela Castro’s uncle, in the years after the 1959 revolution that brought him to power sent gay men and others to work camps known by the Spanish acronym UMAP. The Cuban government until 1993 forcibly quarantined people with AIDS in state-run sanitaria.
Mariela Castro and Díaz-Canel both publicly support marriage rights for same-sex couples. Friday’s meeting took place less than a month after Cuba’s Justice Ministry released a draft of a proposed new family code that would allow gays and lesbians to tie the knot.
Yoan de la Cruz, a gay man from San Antonio de los Baños in Artemisa province who live-streamed the first of a series of anti-government protests that took place across Cuba on July 11, and hundreds of others who participated in the demonstrations remain in custody.
14ymedio, an independent website founded by Yoani Sánchez, a prominent critic of the Cuban government, earlier this week reported the country’s attorney general is seeking an 8-year prison sentence for De La Cruz. 14ymedio also notes Cuban authorities continue to hold De La Cruz “somewhat incommunicado” in a prison east of Havana.
U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Samantha Power on Oct. 7 met with LGBTQ activists in the Dominican Republic.
Diversidad Dominicana Executive Director Rosanna Marzán, Amigos Siempre Amigos Director Leonardo Sánchez, Sirana Dolis of Movimiento de Mujeres Dominico Haitianas (MUDHA) and Bridget Wooding of the Caribbean Migration and Development Observatory (OBMICA) are among those who met with Power in Santo Domingo, the Dominican capital. Power in a tweet said she also met with human rights activists who are working to “restore legal documentation” for the more than 100,000 Dominicans of Haitian descent who live in the country.
The Dominican Republic borders Haiti on Hispaniola.
The Dominican House of Representatives in June approved a bill that would remove sexual orientation from the country’s Penal Code. The Dominican Senate has yet to consider the measure that has sparked outrage among the country’s LGBTQ activists.
Power traveled to the Dominican Republic two months after Haitian President Jovenel Moïse’s assassination.
Members of France’s National Assembly on Tuesday unanimously approved a bill that would ban so-called conversion therapy in the country.
Têtu, a French LGBTQ magazine, reports conversion therapy practitioners would face two years in prison and a €30,000 ($34,652.55) fine. Those who administer the widely discredited practice to a minor would face three years in prison and a €45,000 ($51,978.82) fine.
Practitioners could also lose their medical license for up to 10 years.
The bill, which a member of President Emmanuel Macron’s party introduced, now goes to the French Senate.
Malta is one of the handful of countries that ban conversion therapy.
Fifty-two countries have signed a statement that urges the U.N. Human Rights Council to protect the rights of intersex people.
“We call on all member states to take measures to combat violence and discrimination against intersex persons, develop policies in close consultations with those affected, ensure accountability, reverse discriminatory laws and provide victims with access to remedy,” said Amb. Elisabeth Tichy-Fisslberger, Austria’s permanent U.N. representative in Geneva, in a statement she read to the council on Monday. “We also call on the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and on the Special Procedures of this Council to continue addressing and to scale up action against violence and discrimination based on sex characteristics within their mandates and in their work.”
The U.S., India, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Fiji, Brazil, the Marshall Islands, Namibia and Uruguay are among the countries that have signed the statement.
“Discrimination, stigmatization, violence, harmful practices in medical settings and several other human rights violations continue to occur around the world for people born with diverse sex characteristics. Actions have to follow those statements,” reads a statement that interACT: Advocates for Intersex Youth, Intersex Asia Network, Intersex Human Rights Australia, Brújula Intersexual, SIPD Uganda, Organisation Intersex International (OII) Europe, OII Chinese, GATE and ILGA World released on Monday.
“States need to take strong and urgent action to uphold their obligation to ensure that intersex people live free from all types of violence and harmful practices, including in medical settings,” they added. “Irreversible medical interventions (such as genital surgeries, hormonal interventions and medical procedures intended to modify the sex characteristics of infants and children without their full, prior, and informed consent) continue to be the rule — not the exception — in the majority of U.N. member states.”
The U.S. in 2018 withdrew from the council. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in February announced the U.S. will “reengage” with it.
The director of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Colombia mission says he and his colleagues remain committed to the implementation of the country’s LGBTQ-inclusive peace agreement.
“The entire portfolio that we have and all of our work here in Colombia is really to support a durable and an inclusive piece,” Larry Sacks told the Washington Blade on Sept. 21 during an interview in Bogotá, the Colombian capital. “The core principles of what we do are based on equality, inclusion, rights and justice.”
The agreement then-President Juan Manuel Santos and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia Commander Rodrigo “Timochenko” Londoño signed in Cartagena on Sept. 26, 2016, specifically acknowledged LGBTQ Colombians as victims of the decades-long conflict that killed more than 200,000 people. The accord also called for their participation in the country’s political process.
Wilson Castañeda, director of Caribe Afirmativo, an LGBTQ group in northern Colombia with which USAID works, is one of three activists who participated in the peace talks that took place in Havana.
Colombian voters on Oct. 2, 2016, narrowly rejected the agreement in a referendum that took place against the backdrop of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric from religious and conservative groups. Santos and Londoño less than two months later signed a second peace agreement — which also contains LGBTQ-specific references — in Bogotá.
“That was a very progressive move,” said Sacks in describing the inclusion of LGBTQ Colombians in the agreement.
President Iván Duque, who campaigned against the agreement ahead of his 2018 election, spoke to the U.N. General Assembly hours before the Blade interviewed Sacks. Duque described it as “fragile.”
“Peace accords worldwide tend to be made or broken within the first five years of implementation, and Colombia is right at that point,” Sacks told the Blade when asked about Duque’s comments. “There are certain people deep in the territories and others and high governments who are really helping and making sure that it’s successful, and that there’s continuity, and that the gains that have been made are irreversible. And there’s others who may question, but at the end of the day, I think that from our analysis, it’s on pace with what we’ve seen of the implementation of other peace accords worldwide.”
“At least from USAID’s perspective, we’re doing everything that we can to help support the implementation on multiple chapters of the peace accord,” he added.
USAID specifically supports the implementation of rural development programs through the agreement, efforts to reintegrate former child soldiers into Colombian society and expand the government’s presence into “violence-affected areas.” USAID also works with the Truth Commission, the Unit for the Search of Disappeared Persons, the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, the government’s Victims’ Unit and NGOs that support the conflict’s victims.
USAID’s fiscal year 2021 budget for Colombia is $212.9 million. Upwards of $50 million of this money is earmarked for human rights work that specifically focuses on indigenous Colombians and Colombians of African descent, security, access to the country’s justice system and victims of the conflict.
More than 200 LGBTQ Colombians reported murdered in 2020
Sacks said USAID’s LGBTQ-specific work in Colombia focuses on four specific areas.
“The first is really to kind of shine a light on, raise the visibility, raise the profile on issues of discrimination and violence and stigma and all the issues that this population is facing,” he said.
Colombia Diversa, a Colombian LGBTQ rights group, on Sept. 15 issued a report that notes 226 LGBTQ people were reported murdered in the country in 2020. This figure is more than twice the number of LGBTQ Colombians — 107 — who Colombia Diversa said were known to have been killed in 2019.
Sacks acknowledged anti-LGBTQ violence is increasing in Colombia.
He said the mission works with Ombudsman’s Office of Colombia, an independent agency within the Colombian government that oversees human rights protections in the country, to provide additional support to LGBTQ rights groups. Sacks noted USAID also works with the Interior Ministry to “support the development of their LGBTQI-plus policies” and the country’s attorney general “to hold those accountable.”
Sacks told the Blade that USAID also works to provide “technical and legal support to help” LGBTQ Colombians and other vulnerable groups “access public goods, services and justice.”
USAID-supported groups assist Venezuelan migrants
The Colombian government earlier this year said there were more than 1.7 million Venezuelan migrants in the country, although activists and HIV/AIDS service providers with whom the Blade has spoken say this figure is likely much higher. Duque in February announced it would legally recognize Venezuelan migrants who are registered with the country’s government.
The Coordination Platform for Migrants and Refugees from Venezuela notes upwards of 5.4 million Venezuelans have left the country as of November 2020 as its economic and political crisis grows worse. The majority of them have sought refuge in Colombia, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru and Chile.
Venezuelan migrants are among the upwards of 570,000 people who have benefitted from a USAID program that provides direct cash assistance — between $49-$95 per family — for six months in order to purchase food and other basic needs. USAID also supports Americares, a Connecticut-based NGO that operates several clinics along the Colombia-Venezuelan border and in northern Colombia that specifically serve Venezuelan migrants with the support of the Colombian Health Ministry.
Sacks noted USAID has an “agreement with” Aid for AIDS International, a New York-based group that serves Venezuelans with HIV/AIDS. Aid for AIDS International has used this support to conduct a survey of 300 sex workers in Maicao, Medellín and Cali.
USAID is also working with the Health Ministry to provide health care to Venezuelan migrants with HIV/AIDS, among others, who are now legally recognized in Colombia.
Caribe Afirmativo has opened three “Casas Afirmativos” in Maicao, Barranquilla and Medellín that provide access to health care and other services to Venezuelan migrants who are LGBTQ and/or living with HIV/AIDS. Medellín officials have also invited Caribe Afirmativo staffers to speak with LGBTQ migrants in the city’s public schools.
“Colombia has shown a generosity that you don’t see in many other countries with regard to migrant populations,” Sacks told the Blade. “They really open their borders, their homes, their hearts, to migrants, including the LGBTI community.”
Biden global LGBTQ rights memo is ‘tremendous benefit’
Sacks said the memo “gives us the political framework with which to operate and obviously sends a message from the highest levels of the U.S. government about LGBTQI-plus rights and equality and inclusion.”
“So for us, it’s a tremendous benefit,” he told the Blade.
USAID Administrator Samantha Power — a vocal champion of LGBTQ rights — has yet to visit Colombia, but Sacks said she has spoken with Vice President Marta Lucía Ramírez.
Sixteen transgender and intersex activists from around the world on Tuesday participated in a White House listening session.
A State Department spokesperson told the Washington Blade the meeting was one of “a series of listening sessions that State is organizing on the human rights of transgender individuals” through the Interagency Working Group on Safety, Inclusion and Opportunity for Transgender Americans, which the White House Domestic Policy and Gender Policy
The Departments of Justice, Housing and Urban Development, Health and Human Services, Education, Homeland Security, Labor, Interior and Veterans Affairs participate in the working group. The State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development are, according to the State Department spokesperson, “also participating to strengthen efforts to protect transgender individuals from violence and discrimination around the world.”
“These listening sessions will inform the working group’s review of policies that drive violence and poverty for transgender individuals at home and around the world, including homelessness, employment discrimination, violence and abuse, and bullying and rejection at school,” said the State Department spokesperson.
“She looks forward to learning from transgender and intersex human rights defenders what their most pressing priorities are for continued U.S. engagement,” said the State Department spokesperson.
Alexus D’Marco, executive director of the D’Marco Organization in the Bahamas, is among those who the White House invited to participate in one of Tuesday’s sessions.
“It is timely and important that the Caribbean region is included in this discussion,” D’Marco told the Blade. “As a region, we are often left behind. LGB and trans citizens in the Caribbean are becoming more visible; their access to healthcare, housing, justice, education and a decent quality of life are often impeded and fuel by stigma and discriminations.”
“I am grateful to be apart of theses discussion to move the Caribbean region forward,” added D’Marco.
Some of the 50 human rights activists that a Columbia University researcher has helped evacuate from Afghanistan since the Taliban regained control of the country are LGBTQ.
A press release the Washington Blade received notes Taylor Hirschberg — a researcher at the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health who is also a Hearst Foundation scholar — has worked with Belgian Sen. Orry Vandewauwer to help 50 Afghan “activists leave the country.”
“The refugees included those who identify as LGBTQI+ or gender non-conforming and their families,” notes the press release.
The Blade has seen the list of names of the more than 100 people that Hirschberg and Vandewauwer are trying to evacuate from Afghanistan. These include the country’s first female police officer, the independent U.N. expert on Afghanistan and a number of LGBTQ activists.
“There are many more human rights advocates we are still trying to get out of the country,” said Hirschberg.
Hirschberg has previously worked in Afghanistan.
He and Vandewauwer were also once affiliated with Skateistan, an NGO that works with children in the Middle East and Africa. The documentary “Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone” features it.
The Taliban entered Kabul, the Afghan capital on Aug. 15 and toppled then-President Ashraf Ghani’s government.
A Taliban judge over the summer said the group would once again execute gay men if it were to return to power in Afghanistan.
The U.S. evacuated more than 100,000 people from the country before American troops completed their withdrawal from the country on Aug. 30. It remains unclear whether the U.S. was able to successfully evacuate LGBTQ Afghans from Kabul International Airport, but Immigration Equality earlier this month said it spoke “directly” with 50 LGBTQ Afghans before the U.S. withdrawal ended.
The Human Rights Campaign; Immigration Equality; the Council for Global Equality; Rainbow Railroad; the International Refugee Assistance Project and the Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration have called upon the Biden administration to develop a 10-point plan to protect LGBTQ Afghans that includes prioritizing “the evacuation and resettlement of vulnerable refugee populations, including LGBTQI people.” Canada is thus far the only country that has specifically said it would offer refuge to LGBTQ Afghans.
Hirschberg on Monday told the Blade that he and Vandewauwer have charted an airplane to evacuate Afghans, but they have not secured a “third country” to which they can bring them.
“Currently, we are working towards a multi-country collaboration for resettlement,” he said. “Our work has now expanded to include election officials and women activists, including those from the LGBTQI+ community.”
Hirschberg also urged the U.S. and humanitarian organizations to do more to help evacuate LGBTQ people, human rights activists and others from Afghanistan
“I understand that this is complicated and that I do not have all the working pieces but why does the United States ignore those who helped in building their agenda in Afghanistan. The same goes for multilateral organizations,” he told the Blade. “Why are neither funding charters and creating agreement with partnering states? If they are why have the not contacted the countries that we are creating collaborations with?”