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D.C. police chief assailed at hate crimes hearing

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Representatives of the LGBT community and the head of the D.C. police union told a City Council hearing on Nov. 20 that District Police Chief Cathy Lanier has failed to take adequate steps to curtail hate crimes targeting gays and transgender people.

Kris Baumann, chair of the Fraternal Order of Police, and officials with five local LGBT organizations said Lanier has turned down their repeated request to assign more officers to the department’s highly acclaimed Gay & Lesbian Liaison Unit, whose ranks have been reduced from seven to two members since Lanier became chief in 2007.

“What the chief has done is decimate that unit,” said gay activist Peter Rosenstein.

Lanier took strong exception to that assessment, telling the Council’s Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary that she is expanding the GLLU and other special liaison units in the department by assigning officers “affiliated” with the units to each of the department’s seven police districts.

She said her plan calls for assigning a total of 57 officers or supervisors to all four of the special liason units, including the GLLU. She said about 20 of the 57 would be assigned to the GLLU, making it far more responsive to the community than a seven-member centralized unit.

Lanier told the committee she would keep her promise to LGBT activists to retain a small, centralized GLLU office.

But Baumann and Chris Farris, co-chair of Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence, each said Lanier has “systematically” dismantled the GLLU’s operations under the promise of replacing it with a decentralized unit that she has yet to produce more than two years after she first proposed the reorganization.

“I am unfortunately significantly less optimistic today about this city’s willingness to tackle the difficult issue of hate crimes than I was a year ago,” Farris told the committee.

“I do not see what I think is needed – most importantly, leadership at the top, and a firm commitment to roll up our sleeves and treat the issue as it must be treated – holistically,” he said. “This means the MPD, the U.S. Attorney’s office, the D.C. Public School system, the mayor, and this City Council must all be unequivocally committed to the fight.”

Farris questioned recent police data showing the number of LGBT-related hate crime has decreased since 2006. He said he believes the decrease is due to a lack of reporting that came about as a result of GLLU’s reduction in staff and its inability to push more aggressively for reporting hate crimes.

Lanier and Assistant Chief Diane Grooms testified that a long-awaited training course for prospective GLLU officers would begin shortly. Lanier said she has found from her own conversations with LGBT officers that they prefer to remain in their regular units in the police districts rather than be “pigeonholed” in a special gay related unit.

She angered some of the activists attending the hearing when she said she didn’t believe they represent the views of LGBT people in the neighborhoods across the city.

Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large), who chairs the committee, said he would continue to monitor the department’s response to hate crimes against all city residents. He and the LGBT representatives that testified at the hearing noted that anti-LGBT hate crimes in the city far outnumber hate crimes targeting other groups.

A report released last week by Mayor Adrian Fenty and Lanier, “Bias-Related Crime in the District of Columbia,” shows that “sexual orientation” related hate crimes comprised more than 70 percent of the total number of hate crimes in the city each year from 2005 through 2009.

So far this year, out of a total of 36 reported hate crimes, 30 were classified as “sexual orientation” related hate crimes.

Alison Gill, an official with the D.C. Trans Coalition, and Julius Agers, a transgender activist, told the committee they were pleased that Fenty and Lanier published the bias-related crime report – three years after the report was due under rules set by the City Council.

But the two said they were troubled that the report did not break down the statistics to show the number of hate crimes specifically targeting transgender people in the city. They noted that a number of widely reported anti-trans hate crimes have occurred in the District in recent years.

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District of Columbia

Nex Benedict honored at D.C. candlelight vigil

Upwards of 100 people paid tribute to nonbinary Okla. student at As You Are

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A candlelight vigil is held outside of the LGBTQ café and bar As You Are on Feb. 22, 2024, for 16-year-old nonbinary student Nex Benedict. (Washington Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

Nearly 100 people turned out on Feb. 22 for a candlelight vigil hosted by the D.C. LGBTQ café and bar As You Are to pay tribute to 16-year-old nonbinary student Nex Benedict.

Benedict died Feb. 8 at a hospital in Owasso, Okla., one day after family members say Benedict was beaten up by three older female students in an Owasso High School bathroom after a fight broke out. Owasso police have said they are investigating the circumstances surrounding Benedict’s death but said preliminary autopsy findings do not show the death was caused by physical injuries.

Family members, including Benedict’s mother, told news media outlets that Benedict suffered severe bruises to their face and head and the family believes the injuries from an assault caused their child’s death. Family members have also said Benedict had been targeted for bullying at school because of their status as a nonbinary person.

People who spoke at the As You Are candlelight vigil said they considered the death an anti-LGBTQ hate crime.

“Today we are brought together to mourn the loss of Nex Benedict,” As You Are co-owner Rachel “Coach” Pike told the gathering, which was held on the As You Are outdoor patio and surrounding sidewalk. “Nex Benedict, your life matters. It will always matter, and more than that your life was precious,” Pike said.

“You had the right to live as you were and all parts of your identity were beautiful and should have been celebrated, supported, and safe,” Pike added.

Pike and other speakers, some of whom identified as nonbinary and transgender, pointed out that Benedict’s family are members of the Choctaw Nation, a Native American community. A speaker at the vigil who identified himself as Bo and said he identified as a two-spirit individual called on the gathering to pay tribute to Benedict’s role as one of the Choctaw people.

“When I first heard the news of Nex Benedict’s murder I was shocked,” Bo said. “I thought of how young. I thought about how much life was taken from this child.”

Another speaker, native American advocate Shiala King, whose family are members of the Sicangu Lakota Nation in South Dakota, arranged for her father, Frank John King, a faith leader and medicine man, to speak to the gathering by phone hookup from his residence in South Dakota. After greeting the gathering and expressing his condolences over the death of Benedict, Frank King further honored Benedict by singing a spiritual song in the Lakota language as part of a tradition of uplifting the spirit of beloved people who pass away.

Jo McDaniel, the other co-owner of As You Are whose also Pike’s spouse, said they were pleased with the response to their announcement of the vigil on social media. 

“To see this child taken from us this way, it’s chilling and it’s horrible and it’s not right and it’s not fair,” McDaniel told the Washington Blade after the vigil ended. “And so, we knew that the only thing we could do to help our community heal was to gather. And we wanted to do that in as honorable and wonderful a way as possible as that kid deserves,” she said.

Sue Benedict, Nex Benedict’s mother, told the British newspaper The Independent that Nex was a “courageous, smart teenager who had simply been living their true identity.” The Independent reports that Sue Benedict said Nex had been subjected to taunts, insults and bullying due to their gender fluid identity for over a year. 

Owasso police officials have said detectives were interviewing school officials and students to obtain more details on how the fight started and whether charges will be brought against those who allegedly assaulted Benedict. A police spokesperson told The Independent police were awaiting the findings of toxicology and autopsy reports from the Oklahoma Medical Examiner’s Office to determine whether anyone will be charged with a criminal offense.

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District of Columbia

New gay bar on 14th Street to open in April

Owners say Crush to offer ‘cozy, inclusive space’

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Exterior of Crush. (Photo courtesy of Crush)

A new D.C. bar catering to the LGBTQ community called Crush is expected to open for business in April in a two-story building with a roof garden at 2007 14th St., N.W., in the center of one of the city’s bustling nightlife neighborhoods. 

A statement released by co-owners Mark Rutstein and Stephen Rutgers says the new bar will provide an atmosphere that blends “nostalgia with contemporary nightlife” in a building that once was home to a popular music store and radio supply shop.

“This new venue, catering especially to the LGBTQ+ community, offers a cozy, inclusive space that reminisces about the times of record stores and basement hangouts with friends,” the statement says. “In its past life as a music store and radio supply shop, Crush transforms its legacy into a modern-day haven,” the statement continues. “It features top-notch DJ booths, a dance floor and a summer garden, alongside a premium sound system to ensure every night is memorable.” 

Rutstein told the Washington Blade the new bar will have a capacity of accommodating 300 people on its two floors. He notes that the name ‘Crush” stems from the romantic crush that people often have for one another and his and Rutgers’ new bar is aimed at providing a friendly space for people to meet and socialize. 

“We’re looking to be inclusive to everyone,” Rutstein said. “It’s certainly going to be heavy on the LGBT community” because he and Rutgers have been part of that community for many years. But he added, “We want to be inclusive to gays and lesbians being able to bring their friends and allies in along with them and not feel weird about it.” 

Crush will be located across the street from the Reeves Center D.C. municipal building where government agencies and community groups, including the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community, has its office. 

“Crush isn’t just our name,” the statement issued by Rutstein and Rutgers says. “It’s the essence of our space. We aim to create an atmosphere where everyone can celebrate life and love.”

Editor’s note: Stephen Rutgers is the Blade’s Director of Sales and Marketing.

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Maryland

Are Md. prisons out of bounds with federal requirements for trans prisoners?

Department of Correctional Services says transgender prisoners ‘housed according to physical genitalia’

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BY BEN CONARCK | Nearly a year after formerly incarcerated transgender people testified to Maryland lawmakers about the troubling conditions they faced in state prisons and Baltimore jails, the agency in charge of their care continues to violate federal standards in how it houses trans prisoners, according to a coalition of trans rights advocates.

The Trans Rights Advocacy Coalition, bolstered by policy experts and attorneys, contends that while the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services has made some strides towards improving conditions, its policy of housing trans prisoners “according to physical genitalia” violates the federal standard that those individuals should be housed on a case-by-case basis determined by health and safety and any security problems, among other factors. The group laid out its argument in a 15-page memo presented to the department and lawmakers this week.

The rest of this article can be read on the Baltimore Banner’s website.

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