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LGBT Immigrants Abused in US Custody

13 Apr

13 complaints were filed today alleging human rights abuses against LGBT immigrants in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers. The Heartland Alliance National Immigrant Justice Center is asking the Department of Homeland Security to investigate the treatment of LGBT people in DHS custody, craft policies to address violations and oversee implementation.

Some of the people being held are legal residents who were previously convicted of a crime – in some cases, just a misdemeanor. Some are felons who are transferred to ICE custody after longer prison sentences. Others may be undocumented aliens or people who have overstayed their visas. Regardless, all are held based on civil and not criminal offenses.

The alleged abuses against LGBT individuals include denial of medical care, discrimination and sexual assault. Steve, a gay Peruvian asylum seeker was held in solitary confinement for six weeks “on the sole basis that he is HIV-positive” according to the report. “Officers frequently prohibited Steve from leaving his cell to get his HIV medication. Steve was traumatized when he sought medical treatment and an officer refused to remove the shackles from his feet, waist, and hands despite pleas from his doctor.”

The report goes on to describe sexual assaults by fellow inmates followed by repeated denials for transfer from the victim as well as a transgender inmate being denied her hormone treatment, despite her use of hormones for ten years prior to detainment.

Heartland Alliance has set up a letter campaign to President Obama and DHS. Please take action by signing the letter and tell the President that LGBT immigrants cannot be treated like this in our country.

Gay Ugandan Man Facing US Deportation

9 Apr

Joseph Bocombe (10news.com)

The fight for amnesty from Uganda has come to the United States. Earlier this year – after the gruesome murder of Ugandan gay rights activist, David Kato, a fight to stop the deportation of Ugandan Brenda Namigadde from the UK was successful after a great deal of publicity was brought to the situation.

Uganda’s parliament, after shelving the “Kill the Gays” Bill, is bringing it back to the table. One of the bill’s authors David Bahati gathered 2 million signatures to keep the bill alive. The bill, introduced in 2009, could bring a death sentence to repeat homosexual “offenders,” as well as HIV+ gays and lesbians.

When the news of Brenda’s story reached Bahati, he said:

“Brenda is welcome in Uganda if she will abandon or repent her behaviour. Here in Uganda, homosexuality is not a human right. It is behaviour that is learned and it can be unlearned. We wouldn’t want Brenda to be painting a wrong picture of Uganda, that we are harassing homosexuals.”

Moments before her flight was to depart for Uganda, our work, led by LezGetReal’s Melanie Nathan and ALL OUT, stopped Brenda’s deportation.

Now Joseph Bokombe, an openly gay Ugandan musician who came to the US five years ago on a cultural exchange visa, is now fighting deportation. His visa has long since expired, but friends say he was afraid to go home and decided to stay. Bokombe is now in detention awaiting his deportation.

A friend of Bokombe’s and a Ugandan native, Awichu Akwanya said “Actually I don’t think even past the airport. They just get him and then put him in detention. In detention, he can get poisoned or [they will] hire some people in jail to kill him.”

This led Hector Martinez to start a petition to keep his friend here. Bokombe volunteers at a church and for several local groups, including Mental Health America of San Diego County, which is the mental health non-profit Martinez works at.

A spokeswoman for U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement released this statement to 10News:

“Over the course of the last year, Mr. Bukombe’s immigration case has undergone extensive review by judges at multiple levels of our legal system. In those proceedings, the courts have held that he has failed to establish a legal basis to remain in the United States. ICE is now in the process of seeking to carry out the deportation order handed down by the immigration court.”

I ask fellow activists, bloggers and readers to please forward this story to anyone you know, tell Joseph’s story and get people to sign this petition. This is your opportunity to save someone’s life.


Don’t Deport My Husband: An Update!

27 Mar

As many of you know, a few weeks ago, President Obama made the surprisingly exciting announcement that his Department of Justice would no longer be defending the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in the courts. This decision was made after many lower courts had found DOMA to be unconstitutional. Obama framed his change of tactics around the amount of money the administration would spend on defending a law which judges were ruling against. Obama made sure to say that he would continue enforcing the law until it was overturned, but the court battles would no longer be defended by his administration.

The religious right and the National Organization for Marriage were in an uproar. They lied and claimed that Obama had overturned the law, or that he was no longer enforcing it. And the usual rigamarole ensued.

Now, we’re happy to find that despite the fact that DOMA has not yet been overturned, in at least one instance, it is no longer being used to attack gay and lesbian families. One of the rights we are fighting so hard for, which heterosexual married people frequently take for granted, is that married bi-national couples can stay in this country and that foreign-born citizens married to US citizens will gain citizenship through that marriage.

Joshua Vandiver and Henry Valendia

A few months ago, we told you the story of Josh Vandiver, a graduate student at Princeton, and Henry Velandia, a Venezuelan dance instructor who was facing deportation despite their 2010 marriage in Connecticut.

Now, Newsweek/The Daily Beast has learned that the heads of two USCIS districts—Washington, D.C. and Baltimore—informed attorneys from the advocacy group American Immigration Lawyers Association that cases in their districts involving married gay and lesbian couples would be put on hold. The news could have far-reaching effects. People like Velandia might be safe from deportation while their cases are on hold.

Let’s keep our fingers crossed that Henry and Josh will be together in the US permanently.

Jamaican Gay Murder Advocate Wins Grammy; 28 Gay Jamaicans Win US Asylum

14 Feb

It’s no secret that many Caribbean nations are overwhelmingly homophobic. In fact, just last night, Jamaican Reggae artist, Buju Banton won a Grammy Award – after he advocated burning homosexuals “like an old tire wheel,” and shooting “batty boys” in the head with an Uzi in some of his lyrics.

Gay murder advocate and Grammy Award Winning Jamaican Reggae Artist, Buju Banton

Speaking as someone who also suffered from an anti-gay assault in the Bahamas, it seems that homophobia is deeply rooted in the religious teachings in some Caribbean nations. In recent years, there have been dozens of hate crimes reported in St. Maarten, Jamaica, The Bahamas and others. In fact, in 2006, TIME Magazine dubbed Jamaica “The Most Homophobic Place on Earth.”

The hatred and ignorance is clearly out of control. And considering the recent murder of David Kato in Uganda and the halted deportation of Brenda Namigadde, it’s important to know that you can be safe in countries which don’t criminalize who we are. Immigration Equality is an organization which maintains the largest network of pro-bono attorneys, in addition to its in-house legal staff, dedicated solely to seeking asylum for Lesbians, Gays, Bi-sexual and Transgender (LGBT) asylum seekers. So it was good to hear from our friends at Immigration Equality that “An overwhelming number of the victories, 38, were for clients from the Caribbean, with 28 of those for individuals from Jamaica.”

Congratulations to those who won asylum to a place that at least doesn’t criminalize love. Let’s keep hoping for change in those countries where millions more fear their own murders daily.

DOMA Separates Families

5 Jan

Every day before he left for work, Richard Dennis would kiss his partner on the forehead as he slept, knowing each kiss could be their last.

Let that sink in.

That line comes from an AOL news article about Richard and his partner Jair Izquierdo, who was just deported back to Peru after immigrating to the US legally five years ago.  Every day the couple lived in fear that that day might come despite their having obtained a civil union in New York state. When the day finally came they hauled Jair off in handcuffs like a criminal.

You see, there simply is no civil protection for bi-national same-sex couples. Even in the six states that currently recognize same-sex marriage, for them, the threat of deportation looms large.

Take the story of Joshua Vandiver and Henry Velandia, a married couple in New Jersey fighting to stay together.

These Americans face the most blatant and cruel aspects of a federal government that refuses to recognize their relationships and callously rips them apart, all in the name of “protecting family values”.  For Richard and Jair the Defense of Marriage Act is no abstract concept. Jair might never be coming back to America.  No legitimate path exists under current law to bring them back together on American soil and that tragedy is all due to DOMA.

For many, Marriage Equality is a social justice issue. Many couples desperately need protections under the law such as the right to Immigration Equality.

The next time you have a conversation with anyone, gay or straight, that doesn’t support Marriage Equality tell them these stories. Ask them if their family deserves to be torn apart because of who they are.

Straight to the Gay Bar: Friendfactor Makes a Splash

2 Dec

Most out LGBT people I know, can recall coming out to their best straight friend or their straight brother or sister or even their parents. When we recall that moment, it’s hard not to also remember the awkward questions that followed…

“So…have you ALWAYS been this way?”

“Do you like musicals now?”

and the ever-famous…

“So…how do you…do…it?”

What many of us don’t really notice is just how easy it becomes to communicate with our straight friends and family once the big questions have already been asked. Of course this isn’t ALWAYS the case and some of us are dismissed and disowned outright, and sometimes the conversation never moves past the awkward. But for those relationships that are lucky enough to move beyond that, Brian Elliot and his pals at Friendfactor want you to take the next step.

Having started a Facebook group called “Give Brian Equality,” Brian succeeded in getting 600 of his friends to join – to learn about the inequalities he faces. Brian was shocked to see that in just four weeks, the group had grown to 19,000 people. So he started Friendfactor, a new online platform designed to assist LGBT people in communicating with their straight friends about equality. We announced the launch of the app and website just a few weeks ago.

It’s time to move past “Does this belt go with this dress?” and on to “Did you know I can be fired for being gay in 29+ states?”

Tonight, Friendfactor had it’s first Friendraiser, encouraging LGBT people to attend and bring along a straight friend or two. The event, titled “Straight to a gay bar” was a huge success with over 200 attendees and a little education mixed with a few drinks. The approach was subtle and even featured a gameshow where the straight friend had to guess if the title read by the host was the name of a gay bar or a steakhouse, and the gay friend had to guess between straight bars and day spas. Needless to say, “Mantini” and “Touch” were among the stumpers. Visit www.Friendfactor.org to find out more information. Here’s a few photos from tonight’s event:

Patty Buckley, COO and Brian Elliot, Founder of Friendfactor

 

All photos copyright Jamie McGonnigal; EqualityPhotography.com

Making Progressive Allies

16 Nov

How many times have you heard “We need to make allies in the broader progressive movement” come out of an LGBT activist’s mouth? Well I’ll say it again. Its true. We do need to build stronger ties to other social movements in order to help us identify new pockets of supporters and to link our issues to the broad campaign against injustice everywhere.  Pooling resources, sharing ideas, and trading tips strengthens both the fight for LGBT equality and the progressive movement as a whole.

The New Organizing Institute has created an opportunity for us to do just that.  RootsCamp is an incredible chance for LGBT leaders to meet other progressive organizers and make the connections we need.  The NOI team calls it the “unconference” because we get to set the agenda, drive the conversation, and skip the boring powerpoints.

Details:

What:  RootsCamp – 5th Anniversary

When:  December 11-12

Where: George Washington University, Washington DC

Who: Volunteers, field staff, new media gurus, data geeks, state-based bloggers, campaign managers – anyone and everyone who played a part in the 2010 cycle, with civic engagement campaigns or as a part of issue groups.

RSVP here: http://rootscampdc.eventbrite.com/

Jamie and I will be attending, representing TAE, and sharing what we have learned from all of you.  You should probably join us.

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