Pete Buttigieg, who made waves in the Democratic presidential primary as a gay presidential candidate, made progress on LGBTQ rights a component of his message during his speech Thursday at the Democratic National Convention.
The range of Buttigieg’s remarks was the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which enabled him to serve openly in the military; the Supreme Court ruling for marriage equality, which enabled him to marry Chasten Buttigieg; and this year’s Supreme Court decision barring anti-LGBTQ discrimination in employment.
“Now in 2020, it is unlawful in America to fire anyone because of who they are or who they love,” Buttigieg said. “The very ring on my finger reflects how this country can change. Love makes my marriage real, but political courage made it possible — including that of Joe Biden, who stepped out ahead of even this party when he said that marriage equality should be the law of the land.”
But Buttigieg, speaking at the venue in Indiana where me married his spouse, made the case more change is on the way.
“If so much can change between 2010 and 2020, imagine what 2030 could look like,” Buttigieg said. “Imagine what we could achieve — the coalition we are building this very season, gathering progressives and moderates, independents and even former Republicans, to help build a future where everyone belongs.”
Buttigieg also drew on his own historic candidacy for the White House, which he said couldn’t have happened in the time before he was born.
“The day I was born, close to where I’m standing, here in South Bend, the idea of an ‘out’ candidate seeking any federal office at all was laughable,” Buttigieg said. “Yet earlier this year I campaigned for the presidency, often with my husband at my side, winning delegates to this very convention.”
Watch Buttiigeg’s full remarks here (via NBC News):
HIV/AIDS service providers in Florida say the coronavirus pandemic has further exacerbated health care and economic disparities that many of their clients face.
Tatiana Williams is the co-founder and executive director of Transinclusive Group, a Fort Lauderdale-based organization that serves transgender people in South Florida. Williams is also the co-chair of South Florida FLUX, which advises AIDS Healthcare Foundation on trans-specific issues.
Williams on Aug. 11 told the Washington Blade during a telephone interview from Fort Lauderdale the pandemic “just really highlighted some of the challenges that are happening within the transgender community.”
“A lot of our clients were already dealing with unemployment, dealing with a lack of access to health care, dealing with a lot of these issues,” she said.
Williams said her organization’s Transinclusive Emergency Crisis Fund has been able to provide clients emergency housing and a host of other services that include help paying utility bills and medications.
“You had a lot of our clients working in these nightclubs that were closed down, so a lot of them immediately went into a position of survival mode and not having access to a lot of things,” she said. “With COVID, it just turned their lives upside down.”
Williams said problems with Florida’s unemployment system delayed payments to many Transinclusive Group clients who lost their jobs because of the pandemic. Williams told the Blade they “were behind” once they began to receive unemployment checks, and this delay created “gaps” in their medications.
“A lot of health care providers weren’t working at full capacity,” she said. “A lot of them weren’t even returning calls, so a lot of the clients, especially HIV-positive clients, hadn’t received care, so we had to go into the telemedicine mode and we were linking people back to care.”
Other HIV/AIDS service organizations in Florida have made similar adjustments in response to the pandemic.
Arianna Lint is a Peruvian woman with HIV who founded Arianna’s Center, a Wilton Manors-based organization that serves trans women with HIV.
She told the Blade on Aug. 3 during an interview at her office the pandemic has made her organization’s work “more difficult because we have (had) to invest more time” with teaching clients how to use technology to access health care. Lint said Arianna’s Center has also had to visit clients at their homes.
Stephen Fallon, co-founder and director of Latino Salud, another Wilton Manors-based organization that serves LGBTQ Latinos with HIV, during a July 23 Zoom call with other HIV/AIDS service providers that AIDS Healthcare Foundation organized said the majority of health care providers in his area remained open “to some extent” during the lockdown imposed when the pandemic began. Fallon said testing agencies were closed during this period.
“We were getting deluged with all the folks who needed testing services who couldn’t go anywhere,” he said.
Scott Pridgen is executive director of AH Monroe, an organization that serves people with HIV/AIDS in the Florida Keys.
AH Monroe has offices in Key West, Marathon, Tavernier and Key Largo.
Pridgen on Aug. 12 told the Blade during a telephone interview from Key West the pandemic has forced his organization to operate its offices virtually, “which is new because a lot of our case management, especially our older population that is living with HIV have other co-morbidities that require more of a physical, hands-on type of care versus doing it virtually.”
“We’ve had to take that into consideration,” said Pridgen.
The pandemic began during the height of the Keys’ tourism season, which Pridgen said is “when people make their money to carry them through during the slow season.”
Pridgen told the Blade that AH Monroe has been able to provide short-term mortgage, rent and utility assistance through grants from the CARES Act, the Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA) program and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of HIV Housing.
“The biggest need due to COVID-19 in Monroe County is housing, paying rent for someone or mortgages,” said Pridgen.
Pridgen added Keys residents “who’ve never asked for anything, ever, ever, (are) in line at the food bank or you’re handing them a bag of groceries.”
AIDS Healthcare Foundation Regional Director Dawn Averill is based in Pensacola, but works throughout Florida and the Deep South. Averill on the July 23 Zoom call echoed Pridgen’s observations about the pandemic’s impact.
“We’re actually seeing a lot of fear,” said Averill, referring to people with HIV/AIDS. “They’re fearful to go to the grocery store. They’re fearful to come to the office, to get their blood drawn, to see their families.”
Averill also noted “significant health disparities” in rural and urban areas that factor into health outcomes for people with HIV/AIDS.
State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, who represents portions of Orlando in the Florida House of Representatives, on Aug. 14 noted to the Blade during a telephone interview that HIV rates in Florida are higher among trans people, people of color, undocumented immigrants and other vulnerable groups. Smith said efforts to curb the coronavirus’ spread have had a disproportionate impact on these populations.
“Quarantines and other COVID-related restrictions are also pushing people with HIV who are already vulnerable into isolation away from friends, chosen family,” he added.
South Florida remains state’s coronavirus epicenter
The Florida Department of Health on Tuesday said there have been 579,932 confirmed coronavirus cases in the state. Statistics also indicate the pandemic has killed 9,758 people in Florida.
Miami-Dade and Broward Counties remain the pandemic’s epicenter in Florida, with 25 and 12 percent of the state’s total cases respectively. Statistics indicate the coronavirus has killed 2,126 people in Miami-Dade County and 1,025 people in Broward County.
The Florida Department of Health reported 15,300 new coronavirus cases on July 12, compared to 3,838 new cases on Monday. A press release notes the rate of positive tests in the state on Tuesday were below 10 percent for the sixth consecutive days.
Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis nevertheless continues to face widespread criticism over his response to the coronavirus. Many of the HIV/AIDS service providers with whom the Blade spoke noted he has not imposed a statewide mask order and moved too quickly to reopen Florida.
“He’s shown time and time again that he is a politician over everything,” Equality Florida HIV Advocacy Coordinator Alejandro Acosta told the Blade on Aug. 14 during a telephone interview from Wilton Manors. “He makes health care decisions based on his politics and his personal beliefs and that is not conductive for a good public health outcome.”
Smith, who is also Equality Florida’s Central Florida Outreach Coordinator, told the Blade he welcomed DeSantis’ decision in March to lock down nursing homes and other long-term care facilities in order to curb the pandemic’s spread. Smith was nevertheless critical of the governor’s overall response.
“We’re the world’s epicenter of the pandemic and we still don’t even have a statewide mask order, which costs us nothing,” Smith told the Blade.
Smith also expressed concern over the Department of Health’s decision to reassign employees who worked on HIV and STI-related issues to fight the coronavirus.
The Department of Health on Tuesday declined to make anyone available to the Blade for an interview about efforts to protect vulnerable Floridians with HIV/AIDS during the pandemic.
“COVID-19 requires an unprecedented response at both the state and local level,” said the Department of Health in an email.
The Department of Health has yet to respond to a follow-up email about Smith’s concerns.
“We have an HIV workforce in Florida,” Smith told the Blade. “As a direct result of COVID-19, we’re just kind of seeing this trend of diversion of scientific and public attention away from HIV in Florida. That’s what has me concerned.”
“We could come out of the other end of this pandemic and realize that we have another public health crisis on our hands,” he added. “It’s a recipe for disaster if we don’t focus and if we don’t veer course when it comes to staying committed to HIV prevention.”
Jason Rae, who as the first openly gay secretary for the Democratic National Committee made his national debut Tuesday night reading the roll call for states in the formal nomination of Joe Biden, has a personal anecdote to tell about the presidential nominee.
When Rae was in a different role as a page in 2003 for the U.S. Senate, Biden, then a U.S. senator representing Delaware, introduced Rae to an important visitor.
“Then Sen.-Joe Biden came and said, ‘Hey, hey, come here, I got to show you something. I want you to meet somebody,’” Rae said. “And he came and introduced us to the Dalai Lama. Here’s a 16-year-old kid — fresh in D.C. from Wisconsin for me — and here’s the senator who is wanting to make sure that we get these experiences and having such interest in that.”
In addition to his duties as DNC secretary, Rae is one of 635 LGBTQ delegates to the 2020 Democratic National Convention. An uncommitted delegate representing his home state of Wisconsin, Rae hails from Glendale, Wis., a suburb of Milwaukee and just outside the city where the half-virtual, half-live convention is taking place.
For many Biden supporters across the country, the goal for the election is simple: Defeating President Trump and removing him from the White House. Rae, however, said from his perspective there’s more to it.
Rae, now 33, said the election for him is about making sure “we’re really going to move our country forward on a number of issues, including LGBTQ rights.”
“I know Joe Biden’s still gonna push to pass the Equality Act within his first 100 days, reverse Trump’s ban on transgender military service, really push in a holistic way,” Rae said. “I think the Biden-Harris administration understands that LGBTQ equality is a civil rights issue, and that they are going to take the concerns of our community forward.”
Rae is among LGBTQ delegates who spoke to the Washington Blade and said they don’t just want the election to be about getting ridding of Trump and anticipate results once Biden and his running mate Kamala Harris are elected.
Earl Fowlkes, a D.C.-based gay Black activist and chair of the Democratic Party’s LGBTQ Caucus, said “of course there’s more” than beating Trump and making that case will be a winning element to Biden’s election.
“I think we made a mistake in 2016 of believing saying that I’m not Trump is a winning formula,” Fowlkes said. “People have to have a reason to vote. It’s not just because of Trump and who he is, but because of what we offer in response to Trump’s policies. We’re offering comprehensive inclusive policies that will lift up all Americans, especially those who are most vulnerable, such as our transgender sisters and brothers and people who are poor.”
Fowlkes also said promises from Democrats have to be more than just talking points and must be acted upon swiftly in the next administration.
“It has to be really instituting policy changes, and in the first 100 days of the administration,” Fowlkes said. “It has to happen.”
The 635 delegates at the 2020 Democratic National Convention, which includes 30 transgender delegates, make up a sizable portion of the 3,979 delegates who are part of the event.
It’s also the most LGBTQ delegates ever at a Democratic convention, and by a sizable margin: In 2016, for example, the number was 515, and in 2012 the number was 550.
Fowlkes conceded his interaction with the LGBTQ caucus is limited because of the virtual nature of the convention, but was hopeful it would nonetheless infuse delegates with enthusiasm just before the election.
“We won’t have these huge rallies when you’ll be able to say the candidates all fell flat, or there’s a lot of enthusiasm people are carrying more than they’re sure before,” Fowlkes said. “We don’t have that so we’re gonna have to do really one-on-one and use social networks to really drill down deep and convince queer people to vote.”
The perspective there’s more to electing Biden than getting rid of Trump stands in contrast to the general public, according to a recent survey from the Pew Research Center made public last week.
A majority of Biden supporters — 56 percent — say their top reason for backing the candidate is “He is not Trump.” Other factors, including leadership, personality and policy, didn’t even break 20 percent.
For Trump supporters, the reasons for backing him were more spread out: 23 percent cited leadership, 21 percent cited policy, 17 percent said he’s for American values. “He is not Biden” came in at 19 percent.
Glen Paul Freedman, an Atlanta-based gay delegate for the Democratic convention, said getting rid of Trump is “a top priority,” but “it’s not just so much” that goal, citing among other issues the president’s authority to appoint justices to the Supreme Court.
“There’s other things that are outside LGBTQ rights, whether it be for you know personally for health care, or just in a society that treats people with dignity and respect,” Freedman said.
With Biden continuing to lead in the polls against Trump, LGBTQ advocates are also beginning to pile on the demands they want to see upon election of the Democratic nominee to the White House.
The LGBTQ Victory Institute, which trains LGBTQ political hopefuls and seeks to ensure LGBTQ people obtain appointments in the U.S. government, identified last week four specific goals for the next administration.
• Appoint a Senate-confirmed openly LGBTQ Cabinet member for the first time; • Nominate an openly LGBTQ U.S. Supreme Court justice for the first time; • Appoint openly LGBTQ woman ambassadors, LGBTQ ambassadors of color, and transgender ambassadors for the first time; and • Ensure openly LGBTQ people receive equitable representation among presidential appointees and that they reflect the full diversity of the LGBTQ community.
Annise Parker, former mayor of Houston and CEO of LGBTQ Victory Institute, said in a statement a coalition of 31 organizations will support the effort.
“Presidential appointees have tremendous influence over the policies and direction of federal agencies and the executive branch, so it is essential LGBTQ people are included both in high-level positions and throughout the next administration,” Parker said. “There is an LGBTQ person qualified to fill nearly every position in the next administration and this coalition is determined to help them navigate a complex appointments process to ensure we are well represented.”
Democrats are making promises they plan to deliver. Among them is Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), who was among the high-profile speakers at the convention’s LGBTQ Democratic caucus on Tuesday.
Cicilline in his remarks envisioned passage of the Equality Act, legislation that would update the Civil Rights Act to expand the prohibition on anti-LGBTQ discrimination under the law.
“With Joe Biden as our president, it will become the law of the land, so this is an important election for our count,” Cicilline said. “It is not an understatement to say our very democracy depends on it, but our community has a special interest in this, because we can elect a president and a vice president who have a long record committed to full quality for our community, and we’re fighting against a president who has in every way undermined full equality.”
Other high-profile speakers at the LGBTQ caucus were Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who represents the largest city to elect an openly LGBTQ mayor, as well as lesbian Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.). The virtual caucus had 5,390 page views from 3,050 unique devices, a spokesperson for the Democratic National Committee told the Blade.
It’s not that getting rid of Trump doesn’t have value in and of itself. LGBTQ delegates at the convention drew attention to anti-LGBTQ record to say getting rid of Trump would be a good thing.
Freedman, CFO and CEO of the Stacey Adams-backed Fair Fight Action, didn’t hold back in his assessment of Trump, saying Republicans supporting him are racist.
“I just think that a party with a leader who is a racist, and I believe that some of the people in his party are racists, and now feel that they have over the last four years — and even more going up into the election…been more public about their voice about being racist, and that they would like to see America turned back,” Freedman said. “So, I can’t imagine anyone who is voting does not see this or not understand why it is so important to make a huge change here in America.”
Rae said Biden, as well as his running mate Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), would bring a new day to the White House.
“Right now, we have an administration, right now in Donald Trump and Mike Pence, who have really used all of their power to fight against LGBTQ rights,” Rae said. “So for me, this is a struggle for our community, and this is an opportunity for us to elect two leaders in Joe Biden and Kamala Harris who are going to fight for the LGBT community, each and every day.”
Rae is confident LGBTQ lives would improve under Biden based in part on his interactions with the candidate. Since his time as a Senate page, Rae said he has spoken with Biden, both in his capacity as vice president and 2020 presidential candidate, most recently at the New Hampshire State Party Convention.
“Last fall we had an opportunity to chat for a little bit and I just really find them both to be — genuine is the best word I can find — because it’s real,” Rae said. “They are real people who really care.”
The State Department has appealed a federal judge’s ruling that said it must recognize the U.S. citizenship of a gay Maryland couple’s daughter who was born in Canada via surrogate.
U.S. District Judge Theodore D. Chuang in June ruled in favor of Roee Kiviti and Adiel Kiviti of Chevy Chase, Md., who legally married in California in 2013. Their daughter, Kessem Kiviti, was born in 2019. The State Department on Aug. 13 appealed Chuang’s decision to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va.
Lambda Legal; Immigration Equality and Morgan Lewis, a private law firm, represent the Kivitis. The two advocacy groups also represent Derek Mize and Jonathan Gregg, a gay couple from Atlanta who sued the State Department after it refused to recognize the U.S. citizenship of their daughter, Simone Mize-Gregg, who was born in England via surrogate.
The couples maintain their children are U.S. citizenships under Section 301(c) of the Immigration and Nationality Act that states “a baby born abroad to married parents is a U.S. citizen at birth when both parents are U.S. citizens and one of them has resided in the United States at any point prior to the baby’s birth.”
“It’s sad that we have to continue this legal battle,” said Roee Kiviti in a press release that Lambda Legal issued on Monday.
“Once again, the State Department is refusing to recognize Roee and Adiel’s rights as a married couple,” added Immigration Equality Executive Director Aaron C. Morris. “The government’s attempts to strip Kessem of citizenship are unconstitutional, discriminatory, and morally reprehensible.”
A State Department spokesperson on Monday declined to comment.
“We decline to comment on pending litigation,” the spokesperson told the Washington Blade in an email.
A federal judge issued an order Monday blocking the Trump administration from enforcing a rule allowing health care providers to discriminate against transgender patients — one day before the regulation was set to go into effect.
U.S. District Judge Frederic Block, a Clinton appointee, draws heavily in his decision on the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent landmark decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, which determined anti-LGBTQ discrimination is a form of sex discrimination.
“The Court reiterates the same practical concern it raised at oral argument when the Supreme Court announces a major decision, it seems a sensible thing to pause and reflect on the decision’s impact,” Block writes. “Since HHS has been unwilling to take that path voluntarily, the Court now imposes it.”
The Department of Health & Human Services rule, made final in June, vacated an Obama-era regulation interpreting the ban on sex discrimination in Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act to apply to cases of anti-trans discrimination.
Block takes a swipe at the Trump administration for vacating the rule both before the Supreme Court had a chance to render a decision in the Bostock case and reusing to change course after it was handed down.
“By its own admission, HHS knew that the case was pending and would have ‘ramifications’; it must also have known that a decision would be handed down before the end of the Supreme Court’s term,” Block writes. “It then had an (admittedly brief) opportunity to re-evaluate its proposed rules after the case was decided contrary to its expectations.”
The lawsuit was filed in June by the Human Rights Campaign in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York on behalf of two transgender women of color — Tanya Asapansa-Johnson Walker and Cecilia Gentil — with long histories of discrimination in health care.
Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement the order was a win for both for plaintiffs and marginalized communities suffering from the “impacts of the twin pandemics of COVID-19 and racialized violence.”
“We are pleased the court recognized this irrational rule for what it is: discrimination, plain and simple,” David said. “LGBTQ Americans deserve the health care that they need without fear of mistreatment, harassment, or humiliation.”
Now that an order has been handed down barring HHS from enforcing the law as well to prohibit anti-transgender discrimination it wasn’t immediately clear how the department would implement Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act.
The 2016 order, however, predates the Bostock decision, which Block indicates is the correct guide in reaching the conclusion the Trump administration’s anti-trans exclusion is, in fact, inconsistent with the law and should be reversed.
The Blade has placed a request with the Justice Department and the Department of Health & Human Services seeking comment on the order and implementation.
American Gene Technologies, a Rockville, Md.-based gene and cell therapy company, announced on Aug. 11 that it has received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to begin its first human clinical trial for a unique cell altering treatment that it believes will enable the immune system of people who are HIV positive to permanently eliminate HIV from their body.
“AGT developed a new treatment to repair immune system damage done by HIV and allow natural responses to control the virus,” the company says in a statement announcing the approval for its clinical trial. “From its research, AGT believes a cure is attainable and is now taking the significant step of testing in humans.”
The statement says AGT is conducting its Phase 1 clinical trials at sites in the Baltimore-D.C. area. It says the Washington Health Institute in Northeast D.C., Georgetown University, and the University of Maryland’s Institute of Human Virology in Baltimore will be the three sites for the trials.
According to the statement, the Phase 1 trial will investigate the safety and efficacy of a product the company calls AGT 103-T, “a genetically modified cell product made from a person’s own cells.” It says the product and treatment should work to remove HIV infected cells from the body and “decrease or eliminate the need for lifelong antiretroviral treatment.”
In an online virtual news conference held on Aug. 12, AGT Chief Executive Officer Jeff Galvin explained that the clinical trial involves a multi-step process of extracting blood from an HIV-positive person whose HIV is fully under control through anti-retroviral medication and immediately subjecting the blood to a process of Leukapheresis, which separates a type of white blood cells known as T-cells.
Galvin said the T-cell samples extracted through that process will be sent to a lab, where they will be genetically altered in a process developed by AGT. He said AGT believes the genetically altered T-cells will make them resistant to HIV infection and enable them to do what HIV has prevented human T-cells from doing during the course of the 40-year plus HIV epidemic – to neutralize the virus and prevent it from harming the human body.
Once the gene altering process is completed and an initial waiting period is used to allow the altered cells to multiply in the lab, the cells will be “reinfused” into the body of the person participating in the trial and from whom the original collection of T-cells was obtained, Galvin said.
AGT has said in earlier statements that individuals participating in the clinical trial will initially continue to take their regularly prescribed anti-retroviral medication while testing of their blood continues to determine whether the newly infused T-cells are killing or neutralizing HIV to a degree that will no longer make the anti-HIV medication necessary.
C. David Pauza, AGT’s chief science officer and the company’s lead researcher in the development of the genetically altered, HIV resistant T-cells, stated at the news conference that under FDA protocol, the process must be shown to be safe and not have significant side effects on the first person to undergo the procedure before the procedure is performed on the second person to participate in the clinical trial.
Pauza said he, Galvin and the AGT team consider the FDA’s approval of the clinical trial an important development brought about by years of research and laboratory testing.
“This is momentous news that we have FDA approval to launch Phase 1 and conduct our first human trials,” he said in a statement. “We are beyond excited to reach this milestone. This brings us closer to our goal of transforming lives with genetic medicines,” he said.
“Based on our successful commercial-scale product manufacturing runs and features of the product observed in our labs, this therapy has a high potential to be effective,” Pauza said.
Galvin told the news conference that the current cost for the complete process of extracting cells from an HIV infected person, genetically altering the cells, and reinfusing the HIV resistant T-cells back into the person’s body is about $200,000. But he said he’s optimistic that the cost of the procedure will go down dramatically as it is used more frequently in coming years. Among other things, he said that the extraction of the T-cells and the genetic alternation process can be done through machines in an automated process that can lower costs.
FDA spokesperson Monique Richards told the Washington Blade the FDA is prohibited by law and regulation from commenting on or acknowledging the existence of an “investigational new drug” application, known as an IND, or whether a clinical trial is taking place.
“The FDA supports the safe clinical development of these products and we are committed to continuing to work collaboratively with industry and the medical and scientific communities to provide the information and guidance needed to help foster the advancement of these promising therapies,” Richards said in an email on Friday.
The arrest of a non-binary person on Aug. 7 underscores the growing crackdown against LGBTQ activists in Poland.
Margot Szutowicz, who uses female pronouns, and nearly 50 others were arrested in Warsaw, the country’s capital, while protesting Szutowicz’s imminent arrest for allegedly causing damage to a truck promoting anti-LGBTQ messages and assaulting a pro-life demonstrator on June 2.
She was initially arrested on the charge on July 14, but released after 24 hours. Prosecutors appealed the case, triggering Szutowicz’s current detention.
The advocate is being held for two months awaiting trial on charges that carry multi-year prison sentences. Szutowicz was also arrested on Aug. 2 for draping a rainbow flag over a monument along with two others.
Szutowicz attempted to plan to have her Aug. 7 arrest take place in a public place and in front of the media at the Warsaw offices of the Campaign Against Homophobia, a Polish LGBTQ advocacy group, where fellow protesters and supporters joined her. Szutowicz left the office to turn herself over to the police, but law enforcement told her she would not be arrested.
Plainclothes officers waiting in an unmarked car later this night arrested Szutowicz while she was still among the crowd of 50 people. Protestors attempted to block the arrest, but they, along with bystanders, were arrested and taken into custody.
Lawyers on Aug. 8 and 9 coordinated the release of protestors and bystanders who were arrested alongside Szutowicz, but she remains in custody.
Szutowicz is set to be detained in a male facility. She is currently being held in a single-person cell due to coronavirus restrictions.
Szutowicz had been denied access to a lawyer until Thursday. Some of the 50 other people who were arrested on Aug. 7 cited police violence while in detention, including being beaten in police cars and being deprived of food and water, according to ILGA-Europe.
“The LGBTI community is being denied the right to exist by the leading political party. LGBTI people in Poland live in a situation of constant, repressive pressure with no access to justice or state protection,” said ILGA-Europe Program Director Björn van Roozendaal. “In circumstances like these, where marginalized members of society are being attacked from all sides, protest and activism are inevitable, and may even be considered provoked by the government’s failure to protect their fundamental rights and disproportionate law enforcement responses.”
Campaign Against Homophobia Executive Director Slava Melnyk said these processes carried out by the Polish police can be seen as “scaring tactics.”
“The government, the police and the prosecutors are trying to impose a chilling effect on the civil society, activists, straight allies, LGBT people in general,” he said.
The unrest in Warsaw follows the reelection of President Andrzej Duda, who has been vocally anti-LGBTQ. As part of his presidential election campaign, he publicly signed the Family Charter that outlines no acceptance for same-sex marriages, no adoption of children by same-sex couples, and no education for children on “LGBT ideology” in public institutions, which he described as a being worse than communism.
Melnyk said Warsaw in the past has been a relatively LGBTQ-friendly city,
Mayor Rafał Trzaskowski plans to create a homeless shelter for LGBTQ individuals and increase education on diversity and inclusion, Melnyk said. The city has also been the center of Pride festivals in recent years.
Following Szutowicz’s arrest, many protesters have been displaying rainbow flags across the city, and are subsequently being arrested for those actions. Melnyk said police on Friday arrested a protester who hung a rainbow flag on the gates of Poland’s Justice Ministry.
Organizations such as The European Parliament LGBTI Intergroup, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, and the Council of Europe Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Unit have all called for Szutowicz’s immediate release.
With election season in high gear, Democrats are preparing an unprecedented convention next week that includes a mixture of live and virtual events, including components seeking to highlight the party’s commitment to the LGBTQ community.
The lineup leading up to Joe Biden’s speech accepting the Democratic presidential nomination includes visibility for high-profile LGBTQ Democrats, including Pete Buttigieg and Danica Roem, as well as ratification of a national platform that includes the words “transgender women of color,” “non-binary,” “non-conforming” and “confirmation surgery” for the first time.
Those LGBTQ components will be integrated into the convention, which during the time of the coronavirus has been downsized to a largely virtual event, although operations will remain based in the Wisconsin Center in Milwaukee, Wis.
Buttigieg, who performed well in the primaries, was given a primetime slot for a speech Tuesday night. That’s a high honor in a convention where many participants — with the exception of Biden and his newly selected running mate Kamala Harris — will be given short times to speak as opposed to time for a major address.
Meanwhile, Virginia State Del. Danica Roem (D-Prince William), is set to have a role at the Democratic convention, although the exact nature of her presence is at this time unclear, Democratic officials told the Blade.
Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement choosing Roem to have a role at the convention “was an inspired decision.”
“In 2017, Roem made history beating Virginia’s self-described ‘chief homophobe,’” David said, referring to former State Del. Bob Marshall. “Alongside [Minneapolis City Council member] Andrea Jenkins, she began a revolution for increasing LGBTQ representation in government inspiring a community hungry for a seat at the table.”
Roem won’t be the first openly transgender person to address a major party convention. That distinction belongs to Sarah McBride, a transgender advocate for the Human Rights Campaign now running for a seat in the Delaware State Senate, who addressed the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.
Joe Solmonese, CEO of the 2020 Democratic National Convention, told the Blade the integration of LGBTQ rising stars in the event underscores Biden’s commitment to the community.
“Vice President Biden very clearly sees that LGBT people are part of the fabric, and they will be part of the fabric of the convention,” Solmonese said. “We’re asking lots of people to participate in all sorts of different ways.”
Also during the convention, Democrats are expected to ratify the quadrennial party platform, which includes many planks in support of LGBTQ rights, including a commitment to transgender health and support for the Equality Act, which would comprehensively ban anti-LGBTQ discrimination as a form of sex discrimination under the Civil Rights Act 1964.
Delegates are currently voting on the platform and voting closes Saturday night, a Democratic National Committee spokesperson said. Among them is language making the document the first to recognize transgender women of color, gender non-conforming people and the non-binary community.
Meghan Stabler, a Houston-based transgender advocate and member of the Democratic platform committee, introduced 26 amendments that were adopted as part of the draft platform to make the additions happen.
In an interview with the Blade, Stabler said it was important to create a progressive platform that was “as fully inclusive as possible,” which she said means recognizing different components of the LGBTQ community as well as intersectional issues, such as criminal justice reform.
“It isn’t about one particular issue,” Stabler said. “For trans people in society, we come up against everything from health care discrimination to criminal justice discrimination, and I don’t just mean by law enforcement, but also consider prosecutors, judges and even those that are in the jail system.”
Stabler, who said she expects delegates to the Democratic convention to ratify the platform, said she hopes the 2020 convention will serve as a model on which to base further progress in the 2024 platform.
“A fully functional America is one that is inclusive of everybody, right?” Stabler said. “Whether or not you are transgender, gender non-conforming, non-binary, it is the values that we hold true as Democrats that all Americans should be treated fairly and equally.”
D.C. Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton released a letter last week calling on Michael R. Sherwin, the Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia who serves as the city’s top prosecutor, to step up prosecutions of hate crimes targeting the LGBTQ community.
Norton’s office said her letter follows several public meetings Norton has held to address the issue of prosecuting hate crimes.
“This letter is the latest in my longstanding work to ensure every member of our community is safe from attack and harassment,” Norton said in an Aug. 5 statement. “We must work to protect our LGBTQ community,” she said.
“The U.S. Attorney for D.C., who is not elected by D.C. residents or appointed by D.C. officials, is responsible for prosecuting almost all local crimes in D.C.,” Norton said. “I have continuously pressed the last several U.S. Attorneys for D.C. to prosecute hate crimes and will continue to do so. The office must work to ensure everybody can live in a safe environment.”
D.C. police records show that as of June 30, 2020, in the first half of 2020, there were 15 reported hate crimes targeting the victim because of their sexual orientation and 12 reported hate crimes targeting the victims because of their gender identity. It couldn’t immediately be determined from police records how many of those cases resulted in an arrest and whether the U.S. Attorney’s Office has prosecuted any of the cases.
Norton noted she has introduced legislation in the House of Representatives calling for giving D.C. the authority to prosecute all local crimes. The legislation was not expected to be approved by Congress under the current Republican-controlled U.S. Senate.
A spokesperson for the D.C. U.S. Attorney’s Office couldn’t immediately be reached for comment on Norton’s letter to Sherwin.
A massive explosion that killed more than 200 people in Beirut on Aug. 4 nearly destroyed the offices of Lebanon’s oldest LGBTQ advocacy group.
Helem’s offices are located less than a mile from the city’s port where the explosion took place. Helem Executive Director Tarek Zeidan on Monday told the Washington Blade during a Skype interview the blast damaged buildings up to 10 miles away.
“You can imagine how close we were,” said Zeidan. “Nothing much of inside the center remains: Doors, windows, fixtures, furniture, everything was blown out.”
Zeidan said the explosion injured several Helem staffers.
“They had to be taken to the hospital that night for their wounds to be stitched, but thankfully no one lost their life,” he said.
Helem was founded in 2001.
Its offices are located in Beirut’s Mar Mikhael and Gemmayzeh neighborhoods, which Zeidan described to the Blade as “the most vibrant … most LGBT-friendly neighborhoods in the entire Arab World, much less in Lebanon and in the city.” Zeidan said a lot of bars, coffee shops, art galleries and nightclubs were located in the area.
“All of that has been destroyed,” Zeidan told the Blade. “The entire area has been brought down.”
Zeidan said most of the buildings in the area that remain standing are not structurally sound. Zeidan added “nothing inside” Helem’s offices “is salvageable.”
Zeidan and his partner live more than a mile away from the blast’s epicenter.
Zeidan told the Blade the explosion caused “one entire side of the house to sort of implode inwards with all the glass” and “the living room fixtures blew inside as well.” Zeidan said his partner was in the room “that sort of exploded, but thankfully he wasn’t hurt.”
“I was not in the house,” said Zeidan. “I just came back and saw the carnage and went down and saw the same.”
Initial reports indicate a fire that ignited more than 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate stored in Beirut’s port since 2013 sparked the blast. The explosion took place against the backdrop of Lebanon’s economic and political crises that the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated.
Zeidan on July 22 was in Helem’s offices when he spoke with the Blade in a Zoom call about the impact the crises and the pandemic has had on Lebanon’s LGBTQ community.
“You’re not exaggerating when you say things are really bad,” said Zeidan.
Zeidan noted to the Blade that Helem at the beginning of the pandemic launched food and clothing drives.
Zeidan during the Zoom call also said Helem was working to create what he described as a “community kitchen” to provide people in need with hot, nutritional meals twice a week. Zeidan also said Helem worked with the American University of Beirut to create a clinic within its medical center that would provide free diagnostic services to LGBTQ people.
Helem is among the organizations that participated in last October’s anti-government protests that forced then-Prime Minister Saad Hariri to resign. Prime Minister Hassan Diab and his Cabinet on Monday resigned amid growing outrage over the blast.
Zeidan is among those who police tear gassed on Sunday during anti-government protests in Beirut. Zeidan’s voice was hoarse when he spoke with the Blade on Monday.
“Yesterday it wasn’t outrage,” he said. “It was rage. It was rage against everybody: Not just the people responsible, not just the people that ran the port, not just the political sponsors. It was rage against subsequent governments, of subsequent bad governance and corruption and murder and theft and the deliberate impoverishment of the Lebanese people and the fattening of the pockets of the political elite and ruling class.”
Zeidan told the Blade the Lebanese people have launched their own relief efforts without assistance from their country’s government. Zeidan said Helem volunteers and staff “immediately joined” them.
“Many of our volunteers are out on the streets cleaning up debris or assisting the makeshift community kitchens,” he said. “We’ve dedicated funds to support people who are seeking shelter from the community, particularly because so many places are unlivable, even if they are structurally sound.”
OutRight Action International launches Helem fundraiser
“We are going to survive and the center will survive,” Zeidan told the Blade.
“We’re worried about the community and our friends and neighbors and people in the heart of the city,” he added.
OutRight Action International notes 100 percent of the fundraiser’s proceeds “will be passed on to Helem to use for the support of the LGBTIQ community, the center’s relief efforts, and any other urgent needs on the ground.” OutRight Action International Executive Director Jessica Stern on Monday reiterated her organization’s support of Helem.
“Helem, the oldest LGBTIQ organization in Lebanon, was severely damaged in the recent explosion in Beirut. Helem is working to rebuild, while also struggling to support countless LGBTIQ people who have been left homeless, and engage in city-wide relief efforts,” Stern told the Blade in a statement. “OutRight’s mission is to work with local LGBTIQ organizations around the world to promote LGBTIQ equality.”
“When crisis strikes, it is our duty and honor to do what we can to support local activists,” added Stern.