An immigration judge on Monday granted asylum to a lesbian woman from Cuba who has been in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody for 10 months.
Judge Pedro J. Espina, who is based in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, via videoconference granted asylum to Yanelkys Moreno Agramonte, 36, based on the harassment and discrimination she suffered in Cuba because of her sexual orientation. Espina said Moreno would face future persecution if she were to return to her country.
Moreno, in an article the Washington Blade published on June 18, said her family and neighbors never accepted her. Moreno also said Cuba’s National Revolutionary Police in Zulueta, a small town in the center of the country where she lived with her girlfriend, Dayana Rodríguez González, 31, subjected her to homophobic treatment.
The context of rights for the LGBTQ community on the island is extremely limited, because same-sex couples cannot legally marry and they do not have the right to adoption. Cuba’s Labor Code does not protect transgender people and only those who undergo sex-reassignment surgery can change their gender and photo on their identity document, a process that can take several months.
Rodríguez and Moreno entered the U.S. together on Nov. 3, 2019, through a port of entry in El Paso, Texas, but were separated as soon as they began the asylum process.
Rodriguez was released from the El Paso Service Processing Center on Feb. 4, 2020, on parole and a $7,500 bond. Moreno was transferred to the South Louisiana ICE Processing Center in Basile, La., where she remained until her final immigration hearing.
Rodríguez, who now lives in Arizona, in a message she sent to the Blade said she was very happy when Moreno called her and told her she had won her case.
“I felt a lot of emotion in my heart,” Rodríguez declared. “I couldn’t help it. I still can’t stop crying. We will be together again soon.”
Liza Doubossarskaia, a legal assistant for Immigration Equality, which assisted Moreno with her parole petitions, welcomed the decision with joy.
“We are all extremely happy for Yanelkys and Dayana,” said Doubossarskaia. “It has been a difficult journey for her, but fortunately it has a happy conclusion.”
Moreno won asylum without legal representation and she will be released soon, according to Rodríguez. who added her girlfriend will first move to Houston and then meet her again after 10 months of forced separation.
The Washington Blade, the nation’s oldest LGBTQ newspaper, today announced it has filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration over its refusal to turn over emails related to a rule change allowing federal contractors to discriminate against LGBTQ workers.
The Blade filed a FOIA request for emails within the Department of Labor related to the Trump administration’s proposed rule change allowing a religious exemption in employment non-discrimination requirements for federal contractors. The request sought to shed light on the motivation behind the proposal and whether it was to enable anti-LGBTQ discrimination in the name of religious freedom. The Department has so far ignored the FOIA request, forcing today’s action after more than a year of waiting.
“We’re committed to our mission of holding the Trump administration accountable for its actions affecting LGBTQ people and marginalized communities,” said Chris Johnson, Washington Blade White House reporter. “Our readers deserve to know the motivation for the Department of Labor’s proposal to undercut President Obama’s 2014 executive order, which brought long-sought protections for LGBTQ people working for federal contractors.”
The suit was filed by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, which is representing the Blade in the case.
“We are glad to be representing the Washington Blade as it seeks access to records that could shed light on whether government officials took steps to undermine regulations intended to protect LGBTQ individuals from employment discrimination. Federal FOIA can only promote greater transparency and accountability if agencies comply with their statutory obligations to release information, which we fully expect the Department of Labor to do in this case.”
“This is another example of the Trump administration obfuscating and shirking its responsibilities to transparency,” said Blade editor Kevin Naff. “Thank you to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press for joining us in this effort to hold the administration accountable and to get answers to these important questions.”
The owner of the Baltimore Eagle, an LGBTQ leather-Levi bar that has been in business for 30 years, has raised strong objections to what he says was an Aug. 7 raid on his establishment by a dozen representatives of city regulatory agencies who claimed they were investigating a complaint that the Eagle was violating COVID-19 social distancing rules.
Eagle owner Ian Parrish told the Washington Blade the raid came shortly after he alerted officials with the Baltimore Board of Liquor License Commissioners that he learned that people associated with a competing LGBTQ establishment filed complaints against the Eagle with the liquor board and the city Health Department falsely claiming the Eagle was violating social distancing requirements.
He said his attempt to alert the liquor board and health department about the false complaints apparently did not reach the people who conducted the raid.
Parrish said one of the officials in charge of the agents that conducted the raid, all of whom wore “black body armor,” became angry when he asked to take their temperature as they arrived at the Eagle’s door. Parrish said taking people’s temperature “is part of our COVID-19 protocols for all people entering the premises.”
“’We’re the f[**]king liquor board,’ was their answer to my request,” Parrish said in an email to Maryland State Sen. Mary Washington (D-Baltimore), a copy of which he sent to the Blade. “Then, the horde of the agents in body armor walked through me. I was ping-ponged from side to side as each agent physically pushed me from left to right and back about ten feet as they forced their way past me,” he said in his email to Washington.
“Not only did those agents abuse their authority by assaulting me, they put our patrons at risk by willfully ignoring State of Maryland COVID protocols, and some of them weren’t even wearing masks!” Parrish said in his email message.
“The SWAT style show of force put upon us was grossly out of proportion for the circumstances, it frightened our patrons to the point of them leaving, and the worst part of it was that we were subjected to this gross abuse of authority for absolutely no valid reason,” said Parrish in the email.
Adam Abadir, a spokesperson for the Baltimore City Health Department, responded by email to a Blade inquiry about the concerns raised by Parrish that the Health Department was part of an unnecessary raid on the Baltimore Eagle.
Abadir characterized the visit to the Eagle by the various city agents as an “inspection” that was conducted by members of the Baltimore Social Club Task Force, which consists of several city agencies, including the Health Department, liquor board, and the police and fire departments. He said the inspection visit was prompted by complaints received from citizens that the Eagle was allegedly in violation of social distancing orders issued by Baltimore Mayor Barnard Jack Young to address the COVID pandemic.
Abadir said that at least one of the individuals that filed a complaint against the Eagle sent the Health Department a flier issued by the Eagle advertising a “foam party” scheduled to take place Aug. 7 and 8. The flier, a copy of which Abadir sent the Blade, states: “Throw on your harness and get naughty under piles of safe, antibacterial foam on our social distance patio. Thank you for respecting our COVID-19 guidelines.”
According to Abadir, the task force members determined through their inspection that the Eagle was in violation of a mayoral order issued on Aug. 7 just hours before the Eagle raid that banned indoor operations at bars and restaurants after 10 p.m. He said that during the inspection visit the Eagle’s management immediately complied with the order by moving all indoor patrons to the Eagle’s outdoor space and no penalty was imposed.
Abadir said that due to threats made against members of the Social Club Task Force during past inspection visits to other establishments, the task force members “unfortunately must wear bulletproof vests/flak jackets for their protection.” He said the “body armor,” as Parrish called it, is worn by task force members on all inspection visits and the inspection visit to the Eagle was handled the same as inspections for all other bars, restaurants and other establishments.
Matt Achhammer, a spokesperson for the Baltimore Board of Liquor License Commissioners, provided the liquor board’s explanation of the raid on the Eagle in a Sept. 2 email to Baltimore City Council member Ryan Dorsey. Dorsey asked the liquor board about the raid after being contacted by Parrish.
Achhammer said in his message to Dorsey that the inspection visit to the Eagle was prompted, among other things, by the Eagle’s flier advertising its foam party as well as two complaints about the Eagle from citizens who called the city’s 311 non-emergency services phone line to report the complaints.
“In this case please note that on August 7, though the location had major COVID violations, it was issued a warning,” Achhammer told Dorsey in his email. Achhammer acknowledged Parrish’s concern that multiple executive orders by the Baltimore mayor have created confusion among businesses required to put in place COVID related restrictions and policies.
Parrish said that he later learned that the mayor’s order banning indoor operations at restaurants and bars was issued at noon on Aug. 7, just hours before the raid took place at the Eagle. He said no one from the liquor board or health department contacted the Eagle to inform the club about the revised order.
“There is no reason why a call, a text, an email can’t be sent out to licensees to keep us informed so that nobody is causing an infraction unwittingly,” Parrish told the Blade. He said that at least one of the task force members participating in the Eagle raid acknowledged that the COVID related orders and rules have changed frequently over the past several months, making it difficult for businesses to keep abreast of the changes.
In his email message to State Sen. Mary Washington, a lesbian, a copy of which he sent to the Blade, Parrish said the Baltimore Eagle has a long record of operating as a responsible bar, restaurant, and retail shop.
“I mention this because in 30 years the Baltimore Eagle has never – not once – never been called before the Liquor Board for any wrongdoing,” Parrish states in his email to Washington. “We are a bar with a very long and verifiable history of community involvement and charitable giving, and we enjoy the formal written support of over 1,200 residential and commercial neighbors of all backgrounds and beliefs, the Charles North Community Association, and the support of 5,000-plus people who follow the Baltimore Eagle on social media,” he said.
Parrish told the Blade the agents participating in the raid never explained to him what the alleged multiple COVID violations were that Achhammer referred to in his email message to Councilmember Dorsey. Parrish said it was possible that Eagle patrons moved closer together than required for social distancing during the confusion that took place during the raid when the agents walked through all of the Eagle’s different rooms and spaces.
“Regarding the presence of foam, that has absolutely no bearing on social distancing or our other COVID-19 protocols,” Parrish said in a follow-up email to Councilmember Dorsey. “[T]he antibacterial soap-based foam has a deleterious effect on the COVID-19 virus, which is one of the reasons why we moved forward with it in the first place,” Parrish told Dorsey.
“So that certainly was not a reasonable impetus for the raid,” he continued. “What was actually relevant about the theme was that it was a threat to a competing venue’s performers to the point they openly discussed in the very same Facebook post their plan to file false complaints – which they did; and again, I personally made the authorities aware of this prior to the raid,” Parrish said in his email.
Parrish said he believes the people who filed what he says were false complaints against the Eagle were drag performers associated with a competing LGBTQ venue. But he declined to identify the competing venue.
“I think this story has a real chance of just touching off more negativity and a bigger problem,” he said. “I’m not trying to point fingers, even though these people really frightened our patrons and affected our business,” Parrish said. “But we’re talking to them since this whole incident. We started talking. We’re really not trying to go backwards and inflame anybody.”
Faced with the Trump campaign’s attempt at LGBTQ outreach — an unprecedented effort from a Republican presidential nominee, especially from an incumbent who has built an anti-LGBTQ record — LGBTQ advocacy groups say they’re staying the course in their efforts to expose the real President Trump.
On the heels on the successful video of Richard Grenell, who’s gay and former acting director of national intelligence, dubiously calling Trump the “most pro-gay president” in history, the New York Times last week reported Trump, after years of anti-LGBTQ attacks in his administration, would make LGBTQ outreach a component of his campaign.
But LGBTQ advocates who spoke to the Washington Blade said Trump’s pivot to LGBTQ outreach hasn’t forced them to rethink strategy. In fact, they say they’re sticking with their plans as initially envisioned, confident the anti-LGBTQ actions from the Trump administration would speak for themselves.
Lucas Acosta, a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, said “we were always going to ramp up our communications to LGBTQ voters and pro-equality voters about LGBTQ issues: this is what that strategy looks like.”
“Ric Grenell, like Donald Trump, is divorced from reality, and their attempts to gaslight pro-equality voters necessitates a response from HRC,” Acosta said. “It’s important that we highlight again for equality voters the reality of this administration’s record, that this is a horrifically anti-LGBTQ administration.”
Barbara Simon, a spokesperson for the media watchdog GLAAD, said highlighting Trump’s anti-LGBTQ record is consistent with its mission “to educate the public and the media about LGBTQ people and issues, and to ensure accurate and respectful coverage.”
“This strategy isn’t new or a response to the Trump administration’s seemingly late in the game outreach,” Simon said. “GLAAD has been holding the Trump administration accountable since day one, when the administration wiped any mention of LGBTQ from the White House website. We have since tracked more than 172 attacks of rhetoric and policy coming from the administration in our Trump Accountability Project. We have been calling out these attacks as they happen and pointing to the cumulative record as needed throughout the last three and a half years.”
Although they disavow they’re rethinking strategy, the response effort from LGBTQ advocates seeking to defend Biden and denounce Trump is apparent. The Human Rights Campaign in response to the Grenell video launched an online video, titled, “Liar, Liar,” asking viewers why they should believe Trump is pro-LGBTQ when he’s lied on so many other issues.
The Human Rights Campaign has also been blasting out to news outlets examples of Trump’s anti-LGBTQ actions in news statements, which culminated last week with a list of 50 attacks against the LGBTQ community and 50 ways Biden will help LGBTQ people.
In terms of Trump attacks, among the items name-checked are the transgender military ban, arguing before the U.S. Supreme Court LGBTQ people shouldn’t be covered under federal civil rights law, opposing the Equality Act and siding with taxpayer-funded religious child welfare agencies seeking to refuse placement into LGBTQ homes.
Also noted is a recent high-profile development: the Trump administration is denying gay couples citizenship for their children born overseas via surrogacy, citing language in the Immigration & Nationality Act restricting U.S. citizenship to biological kids. Asked by the Blade about the Trump administration’s litigation against these couples, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said this week it was about surrogacy and had “nothing to do” with sexual orientation.
For its part, GLAAD bought ad time on Fox News for an ad titled, “The Conversation,” which depicts a Zoom call of a gay youth attempting to convince his Trump supporting mother to vote otherwise in the upcoming election.
“He’s hurting me,” the youth pleads, saying Trump is blocking changes to the federal law that would protect him from discrimination like being evicted because he’s gay. (It should be noted the legal landscape has changed significantly after the Supreme Court’s decision in Bostock v. Clayton County.)
Simon, however, insisted GLAAD’s ad on Fox & Friends was planned well in advance of any news Trump would attempt LGBTQ outreach.
“The ad buy was placed for the week of the Republican National Convention, well before Richard Grenell and the Log Cabin Republicans began their push to pinkwash the Trump administration’s record,” Simon said. “We responded to that as it happened, to loudly and forcefully set the record straight about the administration’s attacks against LGBTQ people.”
But who is actually the target of the Trump campaign’s new LGBTQ outreach? Observers told the Blade they think the audience is not LGBTQ voters, but suburban mothers who are fearful of discrimination against their children and friends.
Casey Pick, a lesbian D.C. attorney and former staffer with Log Cabin Republicans, expressed that sentiment in an email to the Blade.
“Instead of pro-equality policies, the Trump team and their allies are trying to reframe his abysmal record in a transparent attempt to win over LGBTQ Americans’ friends and family, particularly those suburban women polls consistently show they’re hurting with,” Pick said. “If they can neutralize the argument that Trump is hostile to LGBTQ rights, at least among those folks, it may help move the needle for them.”
Acosta said the votes of those suburban moms will be crucial in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Arizona and Wisconsin, which are considered swing states in the upcoming election.
“It’s actually an attempt to gaslight pro-equality voters like the Republican leaning suburban mom outside of Detroit, Philadelphia, Phoenix, or Milwaukee who has an LGBTQ kid and is hesitant about voting for Donald Trump,” Acosta said. “The Trump campaign is targeting conservative media, they’re going on Fox News and talking about this because they want to shore up and reassure those voters.”
Among other things, the Trump e-blast cites a 1974 quote from Biden on gays being a security risk as well as his votes for the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, a defense authorization bill in 1993 that made “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” the law of the land and an amendment in 1993 that barred HIV-positive people from entering the United States.
Samantha Zager, a Trump campaign spokesperson, built on the message that Trump is pro-LGBTQ, but Biden has little to show on his LGBTQ record, in response to a Blade inquiry on whether the Trump campaign thinks LGBTQ voters are persuadable.
“Joe Biden has spent nearly 50 years in politics offering nothing but lip service to the American people, including the LGBT community,” Zager said. “Biden, like so many other Democrats, is content to take voters and certain voting blocs for granted but President Trump ran to make America great for everyone – and he’s delivered for LGBT Americans in just his first term. From protecting and empowering the LGBT community, to appointing the first openly gay Cabinet member, to his commitment to end the criminalization of homosexuality around the globe, President Trump has given LGBT voters a multitude of reasons to support him this November.”
The next day after the e-blast, Outspoken, the newly launched media platform for Log Cabin Republicans, posted a response to the Human Rights Campaign’s list of anti-LGBTQ actions from the Trump administration, seeking to debunk all of them. Log Cabin subsequently tweeted it was the most highly viewed post on Outspoken since its launch.
“For HRC, GLAAD, and their associates, LGBT equality has been redefined to mean overreach, special treatment, and prioritizing one group’s rights over others,” says the post, which has no byline. “For those organizations, gays cannot have equality without state-sponsored persecution of other communities they deem hostile.”
Acosta called the Outspoken post “absurd,” taking particular issue with it minimizing the ongoing violence against Black transgender women, which he said isn’t consistent with the “reality we’re seeing on the ground,” and Trump’s lack of response to the issue.
The Outspoken post asserts based on data Black transgender women “experience violence at a lower rate than biological women nationwide” and much of the violence against them is because they “chose to put themselves in high-risk situations where the potential for violence is elevated, such as engaging in prostitution or drug-dealing.”
At least 26 transgender people have been murdered so far this year, including eight Black transgender women, according to a blog post from the Human Rights Campaign.
The Biden campaign didn’t respond to the Blade’s request for a comment for this article.
At the end of the day, Acosta predicted LGBTQ people wouldn’t waver in support for Biden at the polls, just as they came out strongly for Hillary Clinton in 2016.
“We’ve long known that LGBTQ people have had Donald Trump’s number,” Acosta said. “We’re the only community that performed better for Clinton vs. Trump in 2016 than Obama vs. Romney in 2012. LGBTQ people knew Trump was going to be an anti-equality president before he was even elected.”
Officials with Gay Games Hong Kong 2022, the committee organizing the quadrennial international LGBTQ sports event scheduled to take place in Hong Kong in November 2022, announced at an online webinar on Aug. 27 that a “contingency planning committee” has been created to address potential “risks” associated with the event.
Although those risks include the potential impact of the coronavirus pandemic and ongoing “social unrest” in Hong Kong, organizers stated during the webinar that the Hong Kong government remains highly supportive of the Gay Games. They said a team of more than 100 volunteers is working diligently to safely accommodate the thousands of LGBTQ athletes and spectators expected to arrive in Hong Kong in November 2022.
The webinar took place less than two months after China enacted a highly controversial security law giving the Hong Kong government greater authority in cracking down on pro-democracy protesters who have been holding demonstrations, some of which have become violent, for more than a year.
The Federation of Gay Games, the international governing body that oversees the Gay Games, reaffirmed its decision to select Hong Kong as host for the 2022 Gay Games during its Annual General Assembly meeting in Guadalajara, Mexico last November. One year earlier, the FGG selected Hong Kong over D.C. and Guadalajara, who were the two finalist cities competing with Hong Kong, to become the host city for the games.
FGG officials have predicted at least 12,000 athletes will participate in 36 sports in the 2022 Gay Games, with at least 75,000 spectators expected to turn out in Hong Kong to watch the games and participate in at least 20 accompanying arts and cultural events.
“As mentioned in the webinar, Gay Games Hong Kong 2022 has set up a contingency planning committee and has drawn up a contingency plan to cover specific risks, like the pandemic and social unrest,” said Federation of Gay Games spokesperson Shiv Paul in response to an inquiry from the Washington Blade.
“FGG with GGHK are closely monitoring the health, political, sporting, travel, and international events that could impact the delivery of Gay Games 11 in Hong Kong in November 2022,” Paul said. “Contingency plans are in development to mitigate the potential impact any unfortunate circumstances might cause,” he said.
“The team on the ground in Hong Kong are doing an excellent job in keeping the board up to date with concerns surrounding Hong Kong,” Paul quoted Joanie Evans, co-president of the FGG, as saying.
Paul added, “The GGHK team is composed of a team of 100 passionate LGBTQ+ volunteers and are looking forward to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Gay Games, first in Asia. They happily make Hong King their home, feeling safe in the ability to lead out, productive lives. The organization cannot speculate on sensationalized unconfirmed preconceptions.”
He was referring to a question from the Blade asking whether China might force local Hong Kong officials to arrest Gay Games spectators from Europe, North America or elsewhere if they make statements critical of China during the Gay Games cultural events.
Under the sweeping national security law enacted by China earlier this year, Hong Kong officials have made numerous arrests of dissidents denouncing China for infringing on what dissidents say was China’s 1997 agreement with the United Kingdom to allow Hong Kong to remain a semiautonomous region of China for 50 years after the British handed over its former colony to China.
Paul said the Hong Kong government has been involved in the Gay Games Hong Kong organizers’ application process for holding the Games in Hong Kong beginning in 2016.
“GGHK has been having ongoing and regular communications with multiple departments of the Hong Kong government to ensure that they are kept abreast of the process and support required from the government,” Paul told the Blade.
“In all the interactions GGHK is having with the Hong Kong government, support continues to grow within the Hong Kong government regarding GGHK,” he said. “New allies are offering support as it will be one of the biggest events to take place in Hong Kong during the next few years and stands to positively impact on the city,” said Paul.
The National LGBT Chamber of Commerce, the nation’s premier association for LGBTQ small business owners, has become the latest organization to endorse the Biden-Harris presidential ticket.
“The NGLCC is proud to endorse a champion for inclusion,” Justin Nelson, president of the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce announced Monday in a statement. “We need to elect a president with a commitment to LGBTQ equality, ending racism and racial violence, promoting small businesses and entrepreneurship, and ensuring a safe and equitable society for every American. Joe Biden is that candidate.”
According to the statement, the vote to endorse Joe Biden was unanimous. In its nearly 20-year history, the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce has only endorsed a candidate for president once before, when it endorsed Hillary Clinton in 2016, so the Biden is the second presidential candidate the organization has supported.
Cited by the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce is Biden’s support for the Equality Act, comprehensive legislation to ban anti-LGBTQ discrimination the candidate has pledged to sign into law within the first 100 days of his administration.
Although the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling this year in Bostock v. Clayton County against anti-LGBTQ discrimination in the workforce applies to all laws banning discrimination on the basis, including credit, the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce cited as a concern lenders refusing to give money to LGBTQ-owned businesses, saying the Equality Act would fix that.
Reggie Greer, LGBTQ+ vote director for the Biden campaign, welcomed the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce’s support in a statement to the Washington Blade.
“Our campaign is deeply honored to receive the endorsement of the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce. LGBTQ+ businesses add $1.7 trillion to the economy each year, making LGBTQ+ business owners central to Vice President Biden’s plans to build a stronger, more equitable economy, promote entrepreneurship, tackle structural racism, fight systemic injustice, and end discrimination against LGBTQ+ people once and for all,” Greer said. “NGLCC’s endorsement of the Biden-Harris ticket — the most pro-equality ticket in American history — is a testament to their work to ensure LGBTQ+ people from all walks of life have a real and fair shot at the American dream.”
A group of transgender activists are working to open a shelter for homeless trans and gender non-conforming people in New Orleans.
Milan Nicole Sherry, co-director of House of Tulip, told the Washington Blade on July 27 during an interview at her Uptown New Orleans home that she expects the shelter will open in the city next spring or summer.
“We wanted to create a forever home for our community, a space where there were no barriers, a space where they could actually come and get the resources that they need, get the love and nurturing that they need,” said Sherry as her husband, Za’hair Martinez, listened.
Sherry and Mariah Moore, a trans activist who also lives in New Orleans, first came up with the idea that became House of Tulip — Tulip is an acronym that stands for Trans United Leading Intersectional Progress — earlier this year after the coronavirus pandemic largely shut down the city’s hospitality and tourism industries.
“Many of the folks within our community, specifically transgender and non-conforming people who work in the service industry in New Orleans found themselves at risk of losing their jobs,” said Sherry.
House of Tulip Treasurer Dylan Waguespack is also the president of Louisiana Trans Advocates’ board of directors.
Waguespack and three other activists in March created the TGNC Peoples COVID Crisis Fund of Louisiana to help trans and gender non-conforming people in Louisiana pay for food, medication and housing during the pandemic. The fund has raised more than $20,000, but Sherry told the Blade it soon became clear the lack of housing in New Orleans was a long-term problem.
House of Tulip on its website notes a third of trans people in Louisiana “report experiencing homelessness at some point in their lives.”
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development notes the average rent for an apartment in the New Orleans metropolitan area during the first quarter of this year was $1,110 a month. The U.S. Census notes New Orleans has a 24.6 percent poverty rate.
Sherry noted poverty rates are even higher among the city’s Black trans residents. She also told the Blade they are more vulnerable to discrimination and violence because of their gender identity.
Louisiana’s hate crimes law includes sexual orientation, but not gender identity. Two Black trans women — Draya McCarty and Shakie Peters — were found dead earlier this summer in Baton Rouge and Amite City respectively.
“There’s no reason why, even in 2020, that we are seeing the amount of homelessness that we’re seeing in community,” Sherry told the Blade. “There’s no reason why in 2020 we should still be seeing the amount of violence that we’re seeing in this community, but we’re here and this is where we’re at.”
Sherry said GED and job training programs and access to mental health care are among the additional services to which House of Tulip clients will have access.
“This is not just providing folks with just housing,” she said, noting Tulip in the shelter’s name stands for Trans United Leading Intersectional Progress.
The GoFundMe campaign that House of Tulip has launched has thus far raised $412,995. More than 7,000 people have donated to the effort.
“Community has always taken care of community; we have done it since 50 years ago when Stonewall first started,” said Sherry. “Community has always taken care of community; even through times of pandemic, even through a time of Trump … we’ve always shown up for one another, so I’m not surprised that this community has really shown up once again and yet again.”
‘I have nothing to lose, but everything to gain’
Sherry, 29, grew up on New Orleans’ West Bank with nine siblings.
She told the Blade she grew up in a “dominantly male household.”
“I grew up with dealing with a lot of misogyny, toxic masculinity and things of that nature,” said Sherry.
Sherry in 2009 graduated from high school. Sherry the following year became a founding member of BreakOut!,a group that, among other things, works to end police harassment of LGBTQ youth.
“There was literally a time here in New Orleans where you could not walk down the street as a Black trans woman without literally being snatched off of the streets and then thrown into jail and charged with solicitation of prostitution, crimes against nature,” she said. “It was so easy to target and literally harass our community.”
Sherry further noted “as a trans woman, even in my moments where I could have gotten damn near the dog shit beaten out of me, I will not call the police because I had known just from experience … that calling the police did not work out in our best interests.”
“So police, you know, were just never our friends,” she added.
Sherry celebrated her 29th Birthday on July 23.
She told the Blade she was unable to celebrate previous Birthdays because she either could not afford it or was in jail. Sherry also noted a Black trans woman’s average life expectancy is 35 years.
“I have never envisioned myself where I am today,” she said. “To be honest I didn’t expect myself to be alive.”
Sherry said she lived on Tulane Avenue eight years ago with other trans women and sex workers. Sherry told the Blade she and other tenants paid their rent by the week.
“Literally when I say I have nothing to lose and everything to gain, I have nothing to lose, but everything to gain,” she said.
Sherry, who lives with HIV, told the Blade she has also struggled with addiction and mental health issues.
“If I wanted to be a bitch, I can justify about all of the trauma and just, but when you know better you do better,” she said. “I’m not going to cause the same harm that’s been caused over and over and over again.”
Martinez, a native of St. Augustine, Fla., who describes himself as a “trans masculine man,” praised his wife and Moore for their work on House of Tulip. Martinez also applauded trans women who supported him in his life.
“They are the ones who paved the way for me to be Za’hair,” he said. “It’s only right for me to follow the leadership of my wife and Mariah and to have their back.”
The American Civil Liberties Union in a press release notes the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond ruled the Gloucester County School District’s policies that prohibited students from using bathrooms and locker rooms that did not correspond with their “biological gender” and denied them transcripts that correspond to their gender identity are unconstitutional. The 4th Circuit in its 2-1 decision also said the regulations violate Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.
Gavin Grimm was a sophomore at Gloucester County High School when he filed a federal lawsuit against the district’s bathroom policy.
The 4th Circuit in 2016 ruled in Grimm’s favor.
The U.S. Supreme Court was scheduled to hear oral arguments in his case in 2017, but the justices remanded it to the 4th Circuit after President Trump rescinded guidance to public schools that said Title IX requires them to allow trans students to use bathrooms based on their gender identity.
U.S. District Court Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia last August ruled in favor of Grimm. The Gloucester County School District appealed the decision.
The 4th Circuit issued its decision two months after the Supreme Court in a landmark ruling said Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 bans employment discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation. The Supreme Court in 2019 declined to hear a case that challenged a Pennsylvania school district’s policy that allows trans students to use bathrooms based on their gender identity.
“All transgender students should have what I was denied: The opportunity to be seen for who we are by our schools and our government,” said Grimm in the ACLU press release. “Today’s decision is an incredible affirmation for not just me, but for trans youth around the country.”
ACLU of Virginia Legal Director Eden Heilman also welcomed the 4th Circuit ruling.
“For the last five years, Gavin has been fighting for transgender students to ensure no one else deals with the discrimination he faced in high school,” said Heilman. “The court rightfully stood with him to rule that trans students deserve to go to school with dignity, respect, and equal protection under the law.”
Trevor Project Vice President of Advocacy and Government Affairs Sam Brinton in a statement described the ruling as a “tremendous victory for transgender equality.”
“When transgender and non-binary students are denied access to school facilities or documents consistent with their gender identity, they are not only denied basic dignity and respect, but also fundamental human rights,” they said. “This decision reaffirms that anti-transgender discrimination is, in fact, illegal under the law.”
Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón and former U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) on Monday stressed the fight against HIV/AIDS remains a bipartisan issue.
“This is a health issue,” said González during a Zoom call that AIDS United organized. “This is not about a certain group of the community. This is not about a specific gender. This is about health care. This is about health.”
González is a Republican non-voting member of the U.S. House of Representatives who is a member of Puerto Rico’s pro-statehood New Progressive Party. California Congresswoman Barbara Lee, who chairs the Congressional HIV/AIDS Caucus, late last year named González co-chair of the group.
González on Monday said more than 40,000 people in Puerto Rico live with HIV. She also noted she and Lee in March introduced a bill that would repeal laws that criminalize people with HIV/AIDS and discriminate against them.
“This is something that goes across party lines,” she said. “This is something that affects everybody … we should be doing something about it.”
Ros-Lehtinen, who was born in Cuba, in 1989 became the first Latina woman elected to Congress. She represented portions of South Florida in the House until her retirement in 2019.
Ros-Lehtinen co-chaired the Congressional HIV/AIDS Caucus until Lee named González as her successor.
“Jenniffer understands the issue,” said Ros-Lehtinen on the call, referring to González.
Ros-Lehtinen acknowledged the HIV/AIDS pandemic has “heavily impacted” South Florida.
González herself announced hours after she participated in the AIDS United call that she had tested positive for coronavirus.
Ros-Lehtinen noted she and Lee had vastly different positions on a variety of issues, but “on this subject and on many other subjects, there are no party labels.”
“You have the disease, there’s no discrimination,” said Ros-Lehtinen.
“I believe in equality,” she said. “I’m living in Puerto Rico where 3.2 million Americans are disenfranchised. They cannot vote for president. They cannot vote for their senators. They don’t have equal representation in Congress. I can’t be selecting how equality is going to be defined or what issues are equal or what not.”
“Equality is equality,” added González. “Health care is equality and in that sense I should be representing my island and all the people, including the people with HIV.”
The AIDS United call coincided with the first day of the Republican National Convention.
President Trump in his 2019 State of the Union address vowed to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic within a decade. Advocates with whom the Blade spoke at the time expressed skepticism and noted, among other things, Trump in 2017 abruptly fired all members of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS without explanation.
The Trump administration’s record on LGBTQ rights issues has been sharply criticized. Outgoing Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced, who is a member of González’s party, has also faced intense criticism from activists in the U.S. commonwealth and elsewhere over her administration’s LGBTQ rights record.
Ros-Lehtinen on the call noted former Vice President Biden, like Trump, has also pledged to end the HIV epidemic.
“This is a human issue,” said Ros-Lehtinen. “It’s not a Republican problem or a Democratic problem. We’ve got to come together to solve it.”
AIDS United President Jesse Milan, Jr., who has lived with HIV for 38 years, agreed.
“Ending this epidemic is clearly a bipartisan issue,” he said.
The U.S. Supreme Court has set Nov. 4 as the date when it will hear oral arguments on whether a taxpayer-funded, religious-affiliated adoption agency can lawfully reject same-sex couples — a case that could have significant impact on policies and laws prohibiting discrimination across the board.
The court on Wednesday designated the Nov. 4 date for the hearing on the docket for the litigation, Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, which was filed by Becket Law on behalf of Catholic Social Services. Justices had agreed to take up the case in February.
The case came about after the City of Philadelphia learned in March 2018 that Catholic Social Services, which the city had hired to provide foster care services to children in child welfare, were refusing to license same-sex couples despite signing a contract prohibiting agencies from engaging in anti-LGBTQ discrimination.
When the city said it would terminate the contract, Catholic Social Services sued on the basis it can maintain the contract and refuse placement into LGBTQ homes for religious reasons under the guarantee of free exercise of religion under the First Amendment.
Because the case is based on First Amendment claims, a decision in favor of Catholic Social Services, if granted on those grounds, may have implications on non-discrimination polices and laws across the board — whether at the local, state or federal level — based not just on sexual orientation and transgender status, but also race, religion, national origin, sex and any other protected characteristic.
That means adoption agencies could legally refuse placing children into Black families or families of a minority religion. It’s not just adoption; civil rights laws for employment, housing and health care would also be compromised. Although the Supreme Court ruled in favor of LGBTQ rights in Bostock v. Clayton County, a decision in favor of Catholic Social Services would undermine that in the name of religious freedom.
The case history hasn’t been favorable to Catholic Social Services. A federal judge in Pennsylvania and the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals denied a preliminary injunction in favor of Catholic Social Services. The Third Circuit, which declined to revisit the case “en banc” before the full court, based its decision in part on the 1990 ruling in Employment Division v. Smith.
But in the aftermath of President Trump restructuring the Supreme Court with the appointments of U.S. Associate Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, there’s no telling how the court might rule.
Although the Supreme Court had rejected injunctive relief to the adoption agency in response to an emergency request, Gorsuch as well as U.S. Associate Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas signaled they would have ruled for Catholic Social Services — before any briefing had even taken place in case.
However, the Justice Department brief heavily relies on the Supreme Court decision in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, which was a narrow ruling in favor of a Colorado baker who refused to make a cake for a same-sex couple, in an apparent attempt to link the issues to Catholic Social Services in Philadelphia and avoid a wide-ranging ruling applicable to other scenarios that may compromise the U.S. government’s authority in making contracts.
Acting Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall has made a formal appeal before the Supreme Court for time for the U.S. government to participate in oral arguments. Although justices haven’t yet responded to the request, they’re likely to allow the acting solicitor general to participate given the federal implications of the case.
“[Catholic Social Services] may resume certifying foster parents for the City at any time,” the brief says. “The City “strong[ly] desire[s]” that it will do so. But the Constitution does not entitle CSS to perform those services on the City’s behalf, with City funds, pursuant to a City contract, in a manner that the City has determined would be harmful to its residents and the thousands of children it has a duty to protect.”
Becket Law, in its brief filed in May before the Supreme Court, maintained the City of Philadelphia targeted the adoption agency in violation of the First Amendment “under any standard,” but takes pains to make the case the city didn’t take the right administrative procedure before cutting off Catholic Social Services.
“In its rush to penalize this religious exercise, the City failed to figure out whether CSS actually violated any law, much less a neutral, generally applicable one,” the brief says. “Instead of a law, Philadelphia had a preferred outcome: the Archdiocese of Philadelphia should get with the times, accept that it is ‘not 100 years ago,’ and start endorsing same-sex relationships for foster care.”
The American Civil Liberties Union, which has intervened in the case, argues in a brief filed last week the City of Philadelphia’s contract applies to “all contractors, both religious or secular,” therefore should survive judicial review even under a higher level of scrutiny.
“The requirement imposes no substantial burden on CSS,” the brief says. “It does not require CSS to endorse any same-sex marriages, but merely to certify that families meet Pennsylvania’s statutory criteria.”
The Supreme Court announced the date for oral arguments on the same day the House Ways & Means Committee issued a report on the waiver the Trump administration gave to South Carolina from non-discrimination rules on federal funding. The request was based on Miracle Hill Ministries seeking to place children consistent with its religious beliefs.