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Elton John’s mother Sheila Farebrother dies at 92

Posted: 04 Dec 2017 10:14 AM PST

A post shared by Elton John (@eltonjohn) on

Elton John shared the news on social media on Monday that his mother, Sheila Farebrother, has died. She was 92.

“So sad to say that my mother passed away this morning. I only saw her last Monday and I am in shock,” John captioned a photo of he and his mother. “Travel safe Mum. Thank you for everything. I will miss you so much.”

A cause of death was not revealed.

John, born Reginald Dwight, had a strained relationship with his mother. In 2008 he cut ties with her after she refused to end her relationship with his two oldest friends, Bob Halley and John Reid.

“I told him, ‘I’m not about to do that and drop them. Bob is like a son to me. He has always been marvelous to me and he lives nearby and keeps an eye on me.’ Then to my utter amazement, he told me he hated me,” Farebrother the Daily Telegraph in 2015. “He then banged the phone down. Imagine! To me, his mother!”

In 2017, John told the Daily Mirror he had ended their estrangement.

“Out of respect for my mother’s privacy, I have always shied away from speaking publicly about our relationship,” John told the Daily Mirror. “However, I can say that we are now back in touch and have been so since my mother’s 90th birthday.”



San Juan mayor honored at Miami World AIDS Day concert

Posted: 04 Dec 2017 09:23 AM PST

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, center, speaks at a press conference in Miami on Dec. 1, 2017, alongside Florida state Rep. David Richardson (D-Miami Beach), left, and AIDS Healthcare Foundation President Michael Weinstein, right. AIDS Healthcare Foundation honored Yulín for her efforts in the wake of Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico in September. (Photo courtesy of AHF)

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation on Dec. 1 honored San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz.

The organization honored Yulín in Miami during a concert that marked World AIDS Day. Yulín earlier in the day appeared at a press conference alongside AIDS Healthcare Foundation President Michael Weinstein and David Richardson, a gay member of the Florida House of Representatives who is running to succeed retiring U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.).

Yulín attended the concert less than three months after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico.

More than 30 percent of the U.S. commonwealth remains without electricity. Yulín — a prominent supporter of LGBT rights who remains highly critical of President Trump and his administration's response to Maria — and her government are working with AIDS Healthcare Foundation to provide generators to people with HIV/AIDS in San Juan.

Yulín told the Washington Blade earlier this month during a press conference on Capitol Hill that San Juan officials "stocked up" on medications and other supplies for a clinic for adults and children with AIDS in the Puerto Rican capital before Maria made landfall on Sept. 20.

"We bought a lot of medication which we may or may not be able to get reimbursed for, but who cares," she said. "We would have not been able to keep people alive if we had not done that."

Yulín said the clinic partially reopened two weeks after Maria and was able to dispense medications. She told the Blade patients were able to receive food and water when they came to the clinic to pick up their medications or see their doctor.

Supreme Court won’t review Texas decision against same-sex benefits

Posted: 04 Dec 2017 09:17 AM PST

Kirby v. North Carolina State University, Supreme Court, gay news, Washington Blade

The U.S. Supreme Court won’t take up a Texas decision against same-sex benefits.
(Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to take up review of a Texas Supreme Court decision casting doubt on whether the 2015 ruling for marriage equality nationwide requires municipalities to offer same-sex spousal benefits to employees.

The Supreme Court announced it has denied certiorari, or refused to take up the petition seeking review of the decision, in an order list Monday reflecting decisions justices made during a conference last week Friday. It takes a vote of four justices to take up a case, but the vote on petitions isn’t made public.

The petition was filed in September by Wallace Jefferson, an attorney at the Austin-based law firm Alexander Dubose Jefferson & Townsend LLP.

Jefferson told the Washington Blade after the announcement the rejection of the petition was based on ongoing review in the state judiciary.

“I believe the Supreme Court deferred review because the Texas Supreme Court remanded the case for further consideration,” Jefferson said. “We anticipate that the Texas courts will fully embrace Obergefell's holding, just as the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has done.”

Jonathan Mitchell, a Stanford, Calif., based attorney who represents opponents of same-sex benefits, deferred comment to Jonathan Saenz of the anti-LGBT group Texas Values, who hailed the decision in a statement.

"This is an incredible early Christmas present from the U. S. Supreme Court for taxpayers,” Saenz said. “We're grateful that the U.S. Supreme Court has allowed our lawsuit to go forward. Mayor Annise Parker defied the law by providing spousal benefits to same-sex couples at a time when same-sex marriage was illegal in Texas, and we intend hold the city accountable for Parker's lawless actions and her unauthorized expenditures of taxpayer money."

To the consternation of gay rights advocates, the Texas Supreme Court in June determined the 2015 Obergefell decision "is not the end" of the same-sex marriage issue and state workers have no established right to obtain benefits, such as health insurance, for their same-sex spouses in the same way as other employees.

"The Supreme Court held in Obergefell that the Constitution requires states to license and recognize same-sex marriages to the same extent that they license and recognize opposite-sex marriages, but it did not hold that states must provide the same publicly funded benefits to all married persons, and — unlike the Fifth Circuit in De Leon — it did not hold that the Texas DOMAs are unconstitutional," Justice Jeffrey Boyd wrote in the decision.

The case was filed by Jack Pidgeon and Larry Hicks after former Houston Mayor Annise Parker, a lesbian, instructed her city to provide spousal benefits to city employees in same-sex marriages. Parker cited the Supreme Court's 2013 ruling against the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act as the basis for her decision. Pidgeon and Hicks contended state law, which at the time barred same-sex marriage, prevented Parker from taking that action.

Legal observers found the Texas Supreme Court’s conclusion to be totally off-track with the Obergefell decision.

After all, the Supreme Court made clear in Obergefell the ruling compels states to afford the “constellation of benefits” of marriage to same-sex couples. The Texas decision also came the same week the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed Obergefell by overturning an Arkansas Supreme Court decision upholding a state law against placing both lesbian parents' names on the birth certificates of their children.

Many observers pointed to the makeup of the Texas Supreme Court — justices who are elected, not appointed — as they reason they came to the decision. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and other Republican lawmakers urged the court to take the case after justices initially refused and allowed a lower court decision in favor of benefits to stand.

(Side note: One of the justices in the Texas decision was Associate Justice Don Willett, whom President Trump has nominated to a seat on the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Trump also named Willett to his short list of potential U.S. Supreme Court nominees.

In part because of his decision in the Houston benefits case, LGBT advocates have come out against Willett’s confirmation to the Fifth Circuit. Last month, the LGBT legal group Lambda Legal organized 26 other national, state, and local LGBT groups to express opposition to Willett before the Senate Judiciary Committee.)

The Texas Supreme Court decision fell short of outright denying spousal benefits for married same-sex couples and instead remanded the case to a trial court for reconsideration. The lawsuit remains pending before trial court.

Jefferson said there’s “no telling” when the trial court will reach its determination and the case “will proceed according to the trial court's scheduling.”

Mark Phariss, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit that brought marriage equality to Texas, had filed a friend-of-the-court brief calling on the U.S. Supreme Court to review the Texas decision and expressed disappointment justices wouldn’t take up the case.

“I am very disappointed that the Supreme Court did not grant cert today,” Phariss said. “It means we must continue to fight in the courts in the State of Texas for full marriage equality. Today ‘Equal Justice Under Law’, as promised by the inscription to the front of the Supreme Court building, was not rendered. Ultimately, we will prevail, because history, justice, equality, and fairness are on our side.”

The denial of the petition by the Supreme Court isn’t the first time the federal judiciary has declined to review the Texas benefits decision.

In August, Lambda Legal and the law firm Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP filed a lawsuit in a federal court to affirm the Obergefell decision ensures health coverage and other benefits to the same-sex spouses of city employees. Months later in November, U.S. District Judge Vanessa Gilmore dismissed the case on the basis that plaintiffs’ claims weren’t ripe for review.

However, Gilmore recognized a constitutional requirement to provide spousal benefits on equal terms based on the Obergefell decision.

“In light of this precedent, which the Texas trial court is required to follow, it seems constitutionally impermissible for the city to deny benefits to the same-sex spouses of its employees,” Gilmore wrote.

The U.S. Supreme Court announced it won’t take up the benefits case on the day before it’s set to hear oral arguments in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case in which a Colorado baker is asserting a First Amendment right to deny wedding cakes to same-sex couples.

Sarah Kate Ellis, CEO of GLAAD, said in a statement the denial of certiorari in the Texas is disconcerting, especially on the day before justices are set to consider a major gay rights case.

"With all eyes on tomorrow's oral arguments in the Masterpiece Cakeshop religious exemptions case, the Supreme Court has just let an alarming ruling by the Texas Supreme Court stand which plainly undercuts the rights of married same-sex couples,” Ellis said. “Today's abnegation by the nation's highest court opens the door for an onslaught of challenges to the rights of LGBTQ people at every step."

Transgender rights bill introduced in Guatemala

Posted: 04 Dec 2017 03:00 AM PST

Guatemalan Congresswoman Sandra Moran, third from left, stands with transgender rights advocates on Dec. 1, 2017, after she introduced a trans rights bill in the country’s Congress. (Photo courtesy of Visibles)

Editor's note: Visibles, a Guatemalan LGBTI website and advocacy group, originally published this article.

GUATEMALA CITY — Guatemalan Congresswoman Sandra Moran on Dec. 1 introduced a bill to recognize the right to gender identity and allow for transgender people to amend their birth certificates to coincide with their self-identification. The bill was presented with support from trans organizations, which had worked on initial drafts since 2009.

As the Congress' 2017 session will finish in the coming days, activists expect to mobilize support for initiative. They expect the debate on it will begin in 2018.

In a speech outside of Congress, Moran said the mere introduction of the bill is a "recognition to the brave colleagues who live their lives just as they are, even if this means facing strong discrimination." Activist Stacy Velásquez, who works with OTRANS, dedicated the bill to the victims of transphobia and violence.

While data on the LGBTI population in Guatemala is scarce, a 2015 study estimates that more than 15,000 trans people live in Guatemala. Of these, around 61 percent reported income below the minimum wage, and roughly 53 percent did not finish primary school due to exclusion from the educational system. Between 15 and 20 trans people are killed every year.

"The bill is a step in the right direction," explains Tristán López, advocacy coordinator for Transformación, an organization for trans men, and the LGBT advocacy group Visibles. "But it is only the first step to adapt a system that does not understand and does not recognize the trans population."

Should the bill pass in Congress, "the big step would be to stop being migrants in our own country," Velásquez explained. It also paves the way for trans Guatemalans to access more rights because it instructs the appropriate dependencies to adopt measures to guarantee the right of trans people to decent work, housing and education.

Presentan ley de identidad de género en el Congreso

Nota del editor: Esta nota fue publicada originalmente por Visibles, un sitio web y grupo LGBTI guatemalteco.

Guatemala tiene una población de alrededor de 15 mil personas trans. Pero el país no reconoce su identidad de género y no les permite ajustar sus documentos oficiales para reflejar la identidad con la que se identifican. Para remediar esta situación, las organizaciones trans y la diputada Sandra Morán presentaron una iniciativa de ley de identidad de género.

La propuesta permitiría que las personas trans puedan solicitar la rectificación de la partida de nacimiento, mediante un trámite administrativo ante el Registro Nacional de las Personas (RENAP) y reconoce el derecho de todas las personas a ser reconocidas de acuerdo con su identidad de género. La propuesta tiene su origen en un borrador que las organizaciones iniciaron en 2009 y que, con el acompañamiento de la congresista, retomaron el año pasado hasta elaborar esta propuesta.

En su discurso, Morán señaló que la sola presentación de la iniciativa reconoce a las valientes "compañeras y compañeros, que aun enfrentando discriminación y rechazo, todos los días se presentan tal y como son ante la sociedad." Stacy Velásquez de OTRANS le dedicó la propuesta a las compañeras víctimas de la violencia y la transfobia — en el país mueren entre 15 y 20 personas trans al año, pero sus casos son abordados de acuerdo a su sexo asignado al nacer y en la mayoría de los casos continúan impunes.

La ley "es un buen primer paso. La mayoría de países donde tienen ley de identidad de género se comienzan a reconocer los derechos de las personas trans," explicó Tristán López, miembro de Visibles y coordinador de incidencia política en el colectivo de hombres trans Transformación. Pero añadió que hace falta otra serie de medidas para "ir adaptando el sistema para atender a personas que hoy no entiende ni reconoce."

Si la ley llegara a pasar, Velásquez señaló que el gran triunfo sería dejar de ser migrantes en nuestro propio país" y que se delega a los ministerios correspondientes trabajar en medidas para garantizar el acceso en igualdad de condiciones al trabajo digno, la vivienda, la educación, entre otros derechos de los que hoy se excluye a la población trans por completo.

Un 61 por ciento de la población trans reporta ingresos por debajo del salario mínimo y un 53 por ciento no finalizó la escuela primaria debido a la exclusión del sistema educativo.

La ley aporta en generar un mecanismo para reconocer la identidad de género de todos los ciudadanos. Pero para tener un diálogo de respeto y empezar a atender las otras vulnerabilidades de las personas trans, hay que partir de "comprender que este es un anhelo por construir una sociedad más justa y que respete los derechos humanos," explicó López. "Todo se reduce a que somos seres humanos," añadió, por lo que cree que la ley formular una demanda igualitaria.

El trámite administrativo para rectificar los documentos de los ciudadanos guatemaltecos es la base para garantizar los derechos según la identidad de género de todas las personas.