Thousands Rally in Washington D.C. for Gay Rights

Todd Heywood

Thousands of Americans are in the nation's capitol today to demand full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. The National Equality March which is the brain child of San Francisco organizer Cleve Jones and media mogul David Mixner, will feature a march through the nation's capitol, past the White House and conclude at the lawn of the Capitol building.

Todd A. Heywood, a freelance journalist living in Michigan and a member of the Center for Independent Journalism is on assigment to Rewire for the National Equality March in  Washington. You can
follow Todd reporting from the march on twitter @rhrealityCheck. Heywood also has
interviews with Cleve Jones as well as HIV activist and author Shawn
Decker and will be cornering many others for interviews on Sunday so
check back regularly to see what the movers and shakers are saying
about gay America and the equality movement. 

Thousands of Americans are expected to flood the streets the nation’s capitol Sunday to demand full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

The National Equality March which is the brain child of San Francisco organizer Cleve Jones and media mogul David Mixner, will feature a march through the nation’s capitol, past the White House and conclude at the lawn of the Capitol building. The event has been in over drive planning since this past June when Jones and Mixner called for the march.

While the original call to action was initially met with skepticism by the country’s leading LGBT rights organizations, including the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and Human Rights Campaign, most have since signed on and endorsed the event.

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Openly gay Congressman Barney Frank, D-Mass., has been vocal in recent days about his opposition to the march which he has dubbed a "waste of time," and called on LGBT Americans to stay home because "[President Barack] Obama doesn’t need pressure."

Obama addressed the annual HRC dinner Saturday night, laying out his vision of full equality for LGBT citizens. He has taken much criticism for not acting fast enough to repeal the military’s exclusion of gay soliders, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) and for a brief filed by his Justice department earlier this year which supported the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which allows the states to choose whether or not to recognize same-sex marriages. It also prohibits the federal government from recognizing marriages of same-sex employees by providing health benefits and other benefits of marriage.

Frank and other LGBT activists are not the only ones upset with the event. Fred Phelps and his clan of God hates fags family members have announced they will be in Washington to protest the rally and march and Terry Randall, head of Operation Rescue an antichoice organization, has announced he too will protest the march and rally.

In an interview Saturday, Jones said the march had a very important goal– sending energized activists back to all 435 Congressional districts to organize, lobby and fight for equality for LGBT Americans. He said the current trend of winning muncipality by muncipality and state by state was failing, and that the only way true equality will come is through the federal government. He noted as an example the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Jones also said it was time for gay Americans and their allies to create acts of civil disobedience.

In preparation for the march, NEM and sponsors such as Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, a media monitoring group; HRC; NGLTF and Soulforce held workshops all day Saturday for participants. Among the topics covered were nonviolent, civil disobedience, youth organizing, protests against DADT, discussions about transgender issues and laws, and the intersection of the battle for LGBT equality and the battle for racial equality in America. Many of the programs were directed at youth. Hundreds attended sessions across Washington.

Featured speakers at Sunday’s rally include pop icon Lady GaGa, Judy Shepard, mother of hate crime victim Matthew Shepard; Lt. Dan Choi, who was recently discharged from the U.S. Military for disclosing his sexuality on the Rachel Maddow Show; Julian Bonds, head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and Oscar winning screen writer Dusting Lance Black who authored the script for the film Milk. 

Analysis Human Rights

ICE Releases Reports for 18 Migrants Who Died in Detention, Medical Neglect Is Suspected

Tina Vasquez

Though the death reviews released by ICE provide further insight into the conditions inside detention centers, the bigger concern among researchers and advocates is what they don't know.

A new report from Human Rights Watch (HRW) documents the deaths of 18 migrants in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody from mid-2012 to mid-2015. In some cases, the deaths were likely preventable and the result of “substandard medical care and violations of applicable detention standards.”

These are not the only deaths that occurred, however. ICE acknowledges on its website that 31 deaths have occurred between May 2012 and mid-June of this year. It is unclear whether ICE intends to release information about the additional 13 deaths that have occurred.

Even so, these new findings add to a growing body of evidence showing what HRW calls “egregious violations” of medical care standards in detention centers. A February report found such violations contributed to at least eight in-custody deaths over a two-year period.

The public is just beginning to learn more about the deeply rooted problem, Clara Long, a researcher with Human Rights Watch and the lead researcher on the report, explained to Rewire. Long referenced an ongoing investigation by reporter Seth Freed Wessler at the Nation, which explores the numerous deaths that have occurred inside immigrant-only prisons.

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Though the death reviews released by ICE provide further insight into the conditions inside detention centers, the bigger concern among researchers and advocates is what they don’t know. For example, HRW worked with two independent medical experts to review the 18 death reviews released by ICE. The experts concluded that substandard medical care “probably contributed to the deaths of seven of the 18 detainees, while potentially putting many other detainees in danger as well.” Long told Rewire that the information provided by ICE simply wasn’t enough for their independent medical experts to determine that all 18 deaths were related to inadequate medical care, but that it was “likely.”

So there is the larger, systemic issue of inadequate medical care. Researchers at HRW also don’t know exactly how ICE collects information or why the agency releases information when it does. There’s also the core of the issue, as Long noted to Rewire: that the United States “unnecessarily” detains undocumented immigrants in “disturbing conditions” for prolonged periods of time.

Major Failures Lead to Death

The new HRW report identified two of the most dangerous ways ICE is failing migrants in detention: not following up on symptoms that require assistance and not responding quickly to emergencies. Both failures are illustrated by the case of 34-year-old Manuel Cota-Domingo, who died of heart disease, untreated diabetes, and pneumonia after being detained at the Eloy Detention Center in Eloy, Arizona.

ICE’s death review for Cota-Domingo suggests there was a language barrier and that Cota-Domingo was worried about having to pay for health care, which isn’t surprising given that detention centers make migrants pay for things like phone calls to their attorneys and family members. HRW asked Corrections Corporation of America, the company that runs the Eloy Detention Center, about potential fees for medical care, and it said there are no fees for such services at Eloy. For whatever reason, Cota-Domingo was not aware he had a legal right to access the medical care he needed.

When it became clear to his cellmate that Cota-Domingo was in serious need of medical attention and was having trouble breathing, the cellmate “banged on a wall to get a guard’s attention. His cellmate said he did that for three hours before anyone came to help,” Long said. The researcher told Rewire the death report outlines how investigators checked to see if the banging would have been audible to correctional officers.  It was. “Once [the cellmate] got their attention, our medical experts said this was something that should have been followed up on immediately, but the nurse decided to wait several hours before doing anything. All of these sluggish responses went on for eight hours. This is not how you treat an emergency,” Long said.

As Human Rights Watch noted in the report, “When officers finally notified medical providers of his condition, they delayed evaluating him and finally sent him to the hospital in a van instead of an ambulance. Both medical experts concluded that the combination of these delays likely contributed to a potentially treatable condition becoming fatal.”

In other death reviews by ICE, the agency’s own records show “evidence of the misuse of isolation for people with mental disabilities, inadequate mental health evaluation and treatment, and broader medical care failures.” Tiombe Kimana Carlos, Clemente Mponda, and Jose de Jesus Deniz-Sahagun all committed suicide in ICE detention after showing signs of “serious mental health conditions.” HRW’s independent experts determined that “inadequate mental health care or the misuse of isolation may have significantly exacerbated their mental health problems.”

It’s important to note that none of the death reviews released by ICE admit any wrongdoing, and that’s primarily because they don’t seek to examine whether medical negligence was at play. The reports simply present information about the deaths.

“There is no conclusion drawn, really,” Long told Rewire. “There’s one [report] in particular that even goes beyond that; it doesn’t even take into account the quality of care that led to the death, even though it’s clearly an issue of quality of care. That raises the question: What is the report for? ICE doesn’t conclude the cause. If you read [the death reviews], you can see there’s a lot of detailed information included in them that allows someone with expertise in correctional health care and who is familiar with how these systems should work, to make an assessment about whether care contributed to death, but that’s not something ICE doesat least not in the information we are able to access.”

ICE’s Murky Death-Review Process 

In a statement to Rewire, ICE explained that when a person dies while in the agency’s custody, their “death triggers an immediate internal inquiry into the circumstances.” The summary document ICE releases to the public is “the result of exhaustive case reviews conducted by ICE’s own Office of Detention Oversight (ODO), which was established in 2009 as part of the agency’s comprehensive detention reforms,” Lori K. Haley, a spokesperson with ICE, told Rewire in a prepared statement.

In fact, the ODO was created as a direct result of a series of reforms from the Obama administration after reports of human rights abuses and deaths in detention centers. The death review it produces includes a mix of findings from ICE’s own investigators and from a Beaumont, Texas-based company called Creative Corrections.

According to its website, Creative Corrections serves “local, state and federal government agencies,” offering “training, advising, professional management and consulting services” in “correctional, law enforcement, rule of law, and judicial systems.” The company contracts include the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

“From what we can see from the documents, both ICE and Creative Corrections interview various people involved, check records, do what seems to be a pretty robust investigation for the death review,” Long said. “Unfortunately, in the set of death reviews that we used for this investigation, [the public doesn’t] have access to the Creative Corrections reports or any of the exhibits that go along with them.”

As the ICE spokesperson noted, the summary documents are typically written by ICE staff. The documents released to the public do not include medical records, full reports from Creative Corrections, or any exhibits that would provide more insight into the apparent medical neglect resulting in an estimated 161 people dying in ICE custody since October 2003. Six migrants have died in ICE custody since March 2016, two of whom died at two different detention centers in the same week. The causes of these most recent deathsand whether they can be attributed to medical neglect—is still unknown.

“If we had access to all of the information gathered during these investigations, including the reports from Creative Corrections, they would be very rich sources of information,” Long said.

Long and other researchers are also hoping for more information regarding the deaths that happen just after migrants are released from ICE custody. Teka Gulema, an Ethiopian asylum seeker detained at Etowah County Detention Center in Gadsden, Alabama, was released from ICE custody in November 2015 while in the hospital after becoming paralyzed from a bacterial infection acquired in detention. He died in January.

“One concern we have, and it’s a very big fear, is that there are multiple reports of folks who are released from ICE custody while in critical condition,” Long said. “When they die, they are no longer counted as in-custody deaths [by ICE]. We’re worried that’s a loophole being exploitedand for obvious reasons, we don’t have a number in terms of how often this is happening.”

The researcher said she has “no idea” when or why ICE decides to release information, including death reviews.

ICE did not respond to Rewire‘s request for information about its schedule or process for releasing such information.

“Maybe they released the 18 reports because they were cleared for release. Maybe a congressional office asked for them. Maybe they decided to be transparent. It could have been a [Freedom of Information Act] request from the ACLU. I wish I knew, but we really have no idea who decides—or why they decide—to release information, especially without making anyone aware that it’s been released,” the researcher told Rewire.

In April, ICE posted a series of spreadsheets about the inner workings of the detention system on their website that Long said provided a lot of information about how detention operates. The spreadsheets were removed from the site in a matter of days, too soon for many researchers—including HRW—to download them all.

“It’s a big system. We still don’t totally know how it works, which in itself is a major problem,” Long said. “One of the biggest lessons we’ve learned is to always check the ICE website. You never know what you’ll find.”

Rethinking Detention

DHS secretary Jeh Johnson is engaging in what some advocates are calling an “enforcement overdrive,” by funneling more undocumented immigrants into an already overcrowded detention system thanks to the detention bed quota established in 2009. This quota requires 34,000 undocumented migrants be locked up each day. It is in place to ensure more people get deported, though it’s costing taxpayers $2 billion a year while also creating “a profitable market for both private prison corporations and local governments,” the National Immigration Forum has said.

Reporting for the Nation, Michelle Chen recently noted that “migrants are warehoused under convoluted partnerships involving private vendors and state, local, and federal agencies. Homeland Security may contract out security duties to, or use facilities owned by, private vendors—dominated by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and GEO Group—with preordained headcount distributions ranging from 285 in Newark to more than 2,000 in San Antonio.”

Long told Rewire that 80 percent of migrants currently in detention are in what is considered “mandatory detention,” which, according to the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, means that “non-citizens with certain criminal convictions must be detained by ICE. People who are subject to mandatory detention are not entitled to a bond hearing and must remain in detention while removal proceedings are pending against them.” This also means that those in mandatory detention aren’t allowed to have an individual assessment by ICE of their case, “so they just sit in immigration detention indefinitely,” Long said.

“This system doesn’t work. We’re detaining far too many people for far too long and not determining on an individual level if they should be detained in the first place, taking into account all of the options available,” Long said. Options include being monitored by ICE using telephonic and in-person reporting, curfews, and home visits.

Long joins a long list of undocumented community members, researchers, organizers, activists, and other advocates pushing for the Obama administration—and whoever comes after it—to see detention as a last resort, rather than the only resort.

“We spend a lot of time talking about the disturbing conditions in detention centersthat’s what our report is about. But step one requires taking a step back and rethinking this system and how it’s unnecessary and also abuses vulnerable peoples’ rights,” Long said. “In terms of the legality of treating people this way, under U.S. and international law, people who are detained are entitled to medical treatment. The state has an obligation to provide care to this population. They are failing, and people are dying.”

Analysis Abortion

Data Shows Surge in Texans Traveling Out of State to Get an Abortion

Teddy Wilson

A Rewire analysis has found that while Texas data shows there has been a decline in the number of abortions in the state, data from other neighboring states suggests there has been a dramatic increase in the number of Texans traveling out of state to access abortion care since the passage of HB 2 in 2013.

Last week, the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) was accused by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Texas of deliberately attempting to conceal abortion statistics from 2014, the first full year provisions of the state’s omnibus abortion law were in effect.

DSHS has yet to respond to a letter from the ACLU of Texas demanding that the agency make those statistics available to the public.

The news comes as the Supreme Court is set to issue a ruling on Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, which challenges provisions of the abortion law, HB 2, which lawyers of the abortion clinics argue place an undue burden on patients and providers in the state, impeding their ability to provide or access constitutionally protected health care.

DSHS officials finalized the statistics in March, according to the ACLU in a statement, but they have yet to release the full statistics to the public.

“The details are being reviewed for accuracy,” Carrie Williams, director of media relations for DSHS, told Rewire. “We did release the provisional total several months ago but can’t release the underlying details until they are final.”

Even without those details, a Rewire analysis has found that while DSHS data shows there has been a decline in the number of abortions in the state, data from other neighboring states suggests there has been a dramatic increase in the number of Texans traveling out of state to access abortion care since the passage of HB 2 in 2013.

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The number of abortions in Texas has been steadily decreasing since 2008, according to data from DSHS: Over the six-year period, the number has declined by nearly 22 percent. There were 81,591 abortions in 2008, 77,850 in 2009, 77,592 in 2010, 72,470 in 2011, 68,298 in 2012, and 63,849 in 2013.

Around that time, the number of Texans who traveled out of state to have abortions also steadily decreased, by nearly 57 percent from 2008 to 2012. There were 225 patients who had abortions out of state in 2008, 220 in 2009, 129 in 2010, 138 in 2011, and 97 in 2012, according to DSHS.

In 2013, the year Gov. Rick Perry (R) signed HB 2 into law, the number of Texans who traveled out of state to have an abortion increased to 681more than the previous four years combined. Prior to the implementation of HB 2, there were 41 facilities providing abortion services in the state, and 16 of those facilities had either closed or stopped providing abortion services by the end of 2013.

Trisha Trigilio, staff attorney at the ACLU of Texas, told Rewire that the statistics for out-of-state abortions for Texans are concerning. “This is more evidence of what was already proven in court: Texas’ onerous regulations unnecessarily block access to safe, legal abortion in our state,” Trigilio said in an email to Rewire.

Specifically, a study from the Texas Policy Evaluation Project showed the implementation of HB 2 has increased travel distances to clinics, out-of-pocket costs, and overnight stays.

At least 400 more patients traveled outside of Texas to have an abortion in 2014 than did in 2013, according to Rewire‘s analysis. Data collected by the state health departments of Arkansas, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana shows that at least 1,086 patients traveled to those states from Texas to obtain an abortion after portions of HB 2 took effect.

“Based on this [analysis from Rewire], it’s clear that this law doesn’t make women safer, it forces them to travel across the Texas border to get the care they need—and for women who can’t afford to leave the state, Texas law may prevent them from seeing a doctor at all,” Trigilio continued.

Texas Patients Seeking Out-of-State Abortions

In the wake of HB 2, more than half of the clinics that provide abortion services in Texas have been forced to close, leaving large swaths of the state without access to legal abortion care. The majority of the clinics that have remained open are located in major metropolitan areas: Austin, Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston, and San Antonio.

As clinics that once served rural areas have closed, patients have been forced to drive hundreds of miles away from their homes to one of the state’s major cities or cross the border into neighboring states. 

Arkansas has seen a slight increase since the passage of HB 2 in the number of patients from Texas seeking abortion care.

Arkansas’ Health Statistics Branch of the state health department tracks the number of patients from out of state who have abortions. There were 21 from Texas in 2012, 25 in 2013, 41 in 2014, and 33 in 2015.

Kansas has also seen a slight increase in the number of Texas patients seeking abortion care, according to statistics published by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. There were two patients from Texas who traveled to Kansas to obtain an abortion during 2012, 13 in 2013,  23 in 2014, and 24 in 2015.

Oklahoma saw a noticeable increase in the number of patients from Texas seeking abortion care there after the passage of HB 2, according to data from the Oklahoma State Department of Health annual abortion surveillance report.

There were 21 patients from Texas who had an abortion during 2012 in Oklahoma, 59 in 2013, 136 in 2014, and 131 in 2015.

Based on Rewire‘s analysis, it seems as if no other state has seen a larger increase in patients from Texas seeking abortion care than Louisiana.

The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) publishes data on abortions performed there collected by the State Center for Health Statistics (SCHS), but has typically not published data on the number of patients who live outside the state who have an abortion in Louisiana.

Preliminary SCHS figures for 2015 provided to Louisiana Right to Life, a state affiliate of the anti-choice organization National Right to Life Committee, included data on patients from out of state who obtained abortions in Louisiana.

There were 9,311 abortions performed in Louisiana during 2015, and patients from out of state accounted for 1,362 of all abortions performed in the state, according to DHH data published by Louisiana Right to Life.

The data did not include the states of residency for the patients from out of state, which the organization noted is “not available at this time.”

However, preliminary SCHS figures for 2014 provided to the Louisiana Right to Life did include details on the states of residency for patients who had an abortion in Louisiana. There were 10,211 abortions performed in Louisiana during 2014, and patients from out of state accounted for 1,432 of all abortions performed in the state.

Out of the 1,432 abortions had by residents from out of state, 886 were from Texas.

More and more pregnant people are traveling to New Mexico to access abortion care. About 20 percent of the roughly 4,500 abortions performed there in 2014 involved out-of-state patients, according to state health department data reported by the Albuquerque Journal.

Brittany Defeo, program manager with the aid group New Mexico Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, previously told Rewire that the people she assists represent a wide range of ages and backgrounds. “They’re ages 18 to 40. It’s all walks of life,” Defeo said.

Defeo estimates that approximately one third of those seeking abortion services in New Mexico from out of state are from Texas. If estimates are correct, that would suggest that approximately 300 patients traveled from Texas to New Mexico to obtain abortion care in 2014. 

Natalie St. Clair, who assists patients seeking abortion care with nonprofit Fund Texas Choice, told the Texas Observer that she helps about ten clients per month travel to New Mexico to access abortion care. St. Clair explained to the Observer that clients often express shock over the barriers in Texas to accessing  abortion care.

“I hear a lot of ‘I had no idea that the laws were this way. I have to go out of state?’ There’s a lot of shame and guilt because people think it’s their fault, or they weren’t prepared enough,” St. Clair said. “I explain that [Texas laws] are set up this way on purpose … [They’re] making abortion inaccessible on purpose.”

Trigilio told Rewire that this data shows that HB 2 was never about protecting patients’s health and safety as proponents have claimed. “When a woman makes the deeply personal decision to have an abortion, she needs access to safe medical care and respect for the decision she has made. HB 2 impedes that,” the ACLU of Texas staff attorney said.