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Local news in brief: Feb. 25

Gray creates new AIDS commission, Pannell runs, Cheatam plans move and more

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Gray creates new HIV/AIDS commission

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray was scheduled to announce on Wednesday that he has created a new Mayor’s Commission on HIV/AIDS “to help end the HIV epidemic in the District of Columbia, according to a statement released by the mayor’s office.

“The commission will focus on treatment, the needs of people living with HIV and expanded prevention to stop new infections,” the statement says.

“The objectives include the best way to achieve ‘Treatment on Demand,’ examining emerging trends and needs, developing evidence-based policies, improving access to critical support services (mental health, substance use, housing), recommending organization changes and improved citywide coordination, [and] maximizing research opportunities,” according to the statement.

It adds that the new commission would also advise Gray on the best ways the city can adopt President Obama’s National HIV/AIDS Strategy for D.C.’s AIDS programs.

The initial statement announcing the creation of the commission did not include a list of the names of the commission’s members. Visit washingtonblade.com for an update.

LOU CHIBBARO JR.

Pannell runs for Ward 8 school board seat

Veteran gay and Ward 8 community activist Phil Pannell has emerged as one of nine candidates competing for a vacant seat on the D.C. State Board of Education for Ward 8 in the city’s April 26 special election.

Pannell, a recognized expert on issues and problems related to city neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River, said he is running on a platform to address such issues as school truancy, improved reading skills and ways to curtail an “epidemic” of youth violence in schools.

He said anti-LGBT bullying and harassment at schools is also an issue he plans to address if elected to the school board.

Races to fill vacancies for the Ward 8 and Ward 4 seats on the Board of Education have received far less media coverage than the competition for an at-large City Council seat vacated by Democrat Kwame Brown, who won election in November as Council Chair. The Council race will also be decided in the April 26 special election.

Ten candidates are competing for the Council seat. The Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city’s largest LGBT political group, is scheduled to hold a candidates forum and vote on an endorsement in the Council race at a meeting on March 14, to be held at Town nightclub.

The club voted at its monthly meeting Tuesday night to hold a separate forum for school board candidates on March 28, at which time the club will vote on endorsements in those two contests.

Pannell, a longtime member of the club, is expected to be among the frontrunners for a Stein Club endorsement at the March 28 meeting. He is the only out gay running in any of the three races in the April 26 election.

The other candidates competing with Pannell for the Ward 8 school board seat are Eugene Dewitt Kinlow, Anthony Muhammad, Tijwanna Phillips, Larry Pretlow II, R. Joyce Schott, Cardell Shelton, Trayon White Sr., and Sandra Williams.

LOU CHIBBARO JR.

Carlene Cheatam (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Longtime lesbian activist  Carlene Cheatam leaving D.C.

Veteran lesbian activist Carlene Cheatam, who helped form the D.C. Coalition of Black Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Men and Women in 1978, will be honored at a March 19 farewell party following her announcement that she will be moving to New Jersey later that month.

Cheatam said she is joining her partner, who resides in New Jersey, shortly after Cheatam retires from her job with the D.C. government, where she has worked at various city agencies as an administrator for more than 30 years.

The Rainbow History Project, which has designated Cheatam as an LGBT community pioneer, describes her as a highly acclaimed community organizer who has “actively expanded opportunities for Washington, D.C.’s gay and lesbian community, particularly for African Americans.”

The farewell tribute to Cheatam is scheduled for 8 p.m. March 19 at the Dupont Circle gay bar Fab Lounge at 2022 Florida Ave., N.W.

LOU CHIBBARO JR.

Gay youth gang linked to assaults, robberies in Chinatown

A gang or “crew” of gay male teenagers based in the city’s Trinidad neighborhood has been linked to thefts, fights with other gangs, and some robberies over the past year or more, according to D.C. Deputy Police Chief Diane Groomes.

Groomes and Ron Mouten, co-founder of the D.C. group Peaceoholics, which works to discourage youth participation in gangs and acts of violence, said the gay gang calls itself the “Check It” crew. Mouten said Check It has as many as 100 active members.

“Most of them act in an effeminate way, but they are tough, very tough,” said Mouten. He said the Check It crew got into a violent altercation with a rival crew last month outside the Potomac Gardens public housing complex on Capitol Hill, which is located about five blocks from the headquarters and drop-in center of the Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League (SMYAL), which offers programs for LGBT youth.

Groomes said a number of Check It members have been arrested for thefts and fights in the Chinatown-Gallery Place area near the Verizon Center.

Gay and community activist Phil Pannell, who is running for a seat on the city’s school board from Ward 8, said he would push for stepped up action by the city to address the youth gang problem in the city if elected to the board.

LOU CHIBBARO JR.

Gay man accused of hate crime pleads guilty

A gay man charged with assaulting a panhandler and threatening him with a chain during an altercation outside the 17th Street, N.W. gay bar JR.’s in January pleaded guilty on Feb. 14 to two of three charges filed against him as part of a plea bargain agreement.

D.C. police initially charged Kevin “Jaden” Perry, 35, with assault, possession of a prohibited weapon (a chain), and threats to do bodily harm at the time of his arrest on Jan. 23. Police designated the incident as a gay-related hate crime.

The following day, the United States Attorney’s office dropped the hate crimes designation at the time of Perry’s appearance in court for an arraignment. A police report said officers listed the incident as “biased related” because the panhandler and an unidentified witness said Perry repeatedly called the panhandler a “faggot” at the time he allegedly assaulted him by punching him in the back. The police report says the panhandler was not injured in the incident.

Perry disputed those allegations, telling the Blade following his arraignment in D.C. Superior Court that the panhandler started the incident by calling Perry a “faggot” and lunging at Perry with his fists raised after Perry refused his request for money. Perry said he repeated the word faggot in the form of a question, saying he raised his own fists and waved a chain he carries to attach his wallet to his pants at the panhandler in self-defense.

According to the police report, the witness quoted Perry as saying to the panhandler, “I will kill you. You’re a faggot…I’m a real faggot, bitch. You don’t want to fuck with a real faggot, bitch. I will fucking kill you.”

Perry disputed that account, saying no one was on the street to witness the incident except the panhandler and two friends of Perry’s, who left JR.’s with Perry minutes before the altercation started. The two friends backed up Perry’s version of what happened.

According to court records, Perry pleaded guilty to charges of threats to do bodily harm and simple assault in exchange for the government dropping the charge of possession of a prohibited weapon.

Perry was sentenced by Superior Court Judge Marisa Demeo to 90 days in jail on each of the two charges to which he pleaded guilty. But the judge suspended the jail time and placed Perry on nine months of unsupervised probation. He is also required to pay $100 to the court’s crime victims fund.

LOU CHIBBARO JR.

Transgender woman found dead in Baltimore

A transgender woman was found dead Saturday in a vacant building in Northwest Baltimore, according to a report in the Baltimore Sun. An autopsy revealed that Anthony Trent, known as Tyra, died of asphyxiation.

Trent, 25, had been reported missing two weeks earlier. Homicide detectives are investigating.

A family member told the Sun that Trent was a vibrant person who loved animals and worked with people with disabilities.

Trent had been arrested dozens of times between 2003-2008 on charges of loitering and prostitution but had not been arrested since 2008.

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Commentary

Asian American and LGBTQ: A Heritage of Pride

May is Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

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Glenn D. Magpantay (Photo courtesy of Glenn D. Magpantay)

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (APIs) are the nation’s fastest growing racial minority group by 2040, one in 10 Americans will be of Asian ancestry. And, while many Americans think that anti-Asian hate and racism towards Asian Americans has disappeared, the community disagrees.

The Asian American Foundation which found that Asian Americans are continually subjected to hate, violence, and discrimination, baldly reveals that disparity. 

  • 33 percent of Americans think hate towards Asian Americans has increased in the past year, compared to 61 percent of Asian Americans themselves.
  • In the past year, 32 percent of Asian Americans across the country reported being called a racial slur; 29 percent said they were verbally harassed or verbally abused.
  • Southeast Asian Americans report even higher incidences of being subject to racial slurs (40 percent), verbal harassment or abuse (38 percent), and threats of physical assault (22 percent).
  • Many Asian Americans live in a state of fear and anxiety with 41 percent of Asian American/ Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander (AANHPI) believing they will likely be the victims of a physical attack due to their race, ethnicity, or religion. These numbers are disturbing.  

I serve as the only Asian American Pacific Islander member on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. And, I am the first and only queer AAPI on the U.S. commission. I am deeply honored to both serve my country and represent my Asian Americans and Pacific Islander community.    

Last year, the commission investigated the Federal Response to Anti-Asian Racism in the United States. With congressional authorization, the report documented the experiences of AANHPIs in the U.S. since the dubbing of COVID-19 as the “China Virus” infecting people with the “Kung Flu” by government leadership. Words matter, as this report shows.

This report has a deep personal connection for me. I am the survivor of a hate crime of 25 years ago for being gay, and the victim of a hate crime for being Asian 25 months ago 

The Stop AAPI Hate Coalition reported that bias incidents against individuals who are Asian and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer (LGBTQ) were most prominent between 2019 and 2022, highlighting the intersectional nature of these incidents. For example, two transgender Asian women stated: 

“I was with my new boyfriend at a restaurant. When we walked in the server started calling me names … a b—h, ch—k, tra—i.e. … He said I have a big fat p—s, and told me to go back to China. Then my boyfriend proceeded to walk in the restaurant and when I took a step forward, the server hit me, so I left.” 

“Left a restaurant with friends in the Asian district of town. A man began to follow me calling out ‘Hey you f—got c—k!’ and ‘Come here you virus!’ I began to walk fast towards a crowd until he stopped following me.”

To address these and other equally appalling experiences, I helped shepherd the bipartisan Commission on Civil Rights recommendations to the president, Congress, and the nation that: 

  • Prosecutors and law enforcement should vigorously investigate and prosecute hate crimes and harassment against Asian Americans, as well as Asian Americans who are LGBTQ.
  • First responders should be trained to understand what exactly constitutes a hate crime in their jurisdiction, including the protections of LGBTQ people.
  • Federal, state, and local law enforcement and victim services should identify deficiencies in their programs for individuals with limited English proficiency

Greater language access will make an enormous impact for the Asian American community as one in five Asian individuals speak a language other than English at home. A third (34 percent) is limited English proficient. The most frequently spoken languages are Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Tagalog, Thai, Khmer, Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, and Punjabi.   

For me, this report comes full circle. Since 1988, I’ve lobbied for passage of LGBTQ-inclusive federal and state laws to prevent hate crimes. Since 2001, I’ve supported South Asian and Muslim victims of post 9/11 violence. In response to the shootings at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla, in 2016; Atlanta Spa in Georgia in 2021; and Club Q in Colorado Springs, Colo., in 2022, I‘ve trained over 3,000 lawyers, law students, and community leaders on hate crimes law.  

And yet, our work is not yet done. 

May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. June is LGBTQ Pride Month. Despite these challenges, we are resilient. Let us join together in celebrating our Heritage of Pride 

Glenn D. Magpantay, Esq., is a long-time civil rights attorney, professor of law and Asian American Studies, and LGBTQ rights activist. Glenn is a founder and former Executive Director of the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA). He is principal at Magpantay & Associates: A nonprofit consulting and legal services firm. In 2023, the U.S. Senate (majority) appointed Glenn to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights to advise Congress and the White House on the enforcement of civil rights laws and development of national civil rights policy. 

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Health

CDC issues warning on new ‘deadlier strain’ of mpox

WHO says epidemic is escalating in Congo

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JYNNEOS mpox vaccine (Photo courtesy of the CDC)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a health advisory regarding a deadlier strain of the Mpox virus outbreak which is currently impacting the Democratic Republic of Congo.

According to the CDC, since January 2023, DRC has reported more than 19,000 suspect mpox cases and more than 900 deaths. The CDC stated that the overall risk to the U.S. posed by the clade I mpox outbreak is low.

The risk to gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men who have more than one sexual partner and people who have sex with men, regardless of gender, is assessed as low to moderate the agency stated.

While no cases of that subtype have been identified outside sub-Saharan Africa so far, the World Health Organization said earlier this week that the escalating epidemic in Congo nevertheless poses a global threat, just as infections in Nigeria set off the 2022 outbreak according to a WHO spokesperson.

The spokesperson also noted that as Pride Month and events happen globally, there is more need for greater caution and people to take steps at prevention including being vaccinated.

The CDC advises that while there are no changes to the overall risk assessment, people in the U.S. who have already had mpox or are fully vaccinated should be protected against the type of mpox spreading in DRC. Casual contact, such as might occur during travel, is not likely to cause the disease to spread. The best protection against mpox is two doses of the JYNNEOS vaccine.

The CDC also noted the risk might change as more information becomes available, or if cases appear outside DRC or other African countries where clade I exists naturally.

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Journalists are not the enemy

Wednesday marks five years since Blade reporter detained in Cuba

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The Hungarian Parliament in Budapest, Hungary, on April 4, 2024. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his government over the last decade has cracked down on the country's independent media. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Wednesday marked five years since the Cuban government detained me at Havana’s José Marti International Airport.

I had tried to enter the country in order to continue the Washington Blade’s coverage of LGBTQ and intersex Cubans. I found myself instead unable to leave the customs hall until an airport employee escorted me onto an American Airlines flight back to Miami.

This unfortunate encounter with the Cuban regime made national news. The State Department also noted it in its 2020 human rights report.

Press freedom and a journalist’s ability to do their job without persecution have always been important to me. They became even more personal to me on May 8, 2019, when the Cuban government for whatever reason decided not to allow me into the country.  

Washington Blade International News Editor Michael K. Lavers after the Cuban government detained him at Havana’s José Marti International Airport on May 8, 2019. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

‘A free press matters now more than ever’

Journalists in the U.S. and around the world on May 3 marked World Press Freedom Day.

Reporters without Borders in its 2024 World Press Freedom Index notes that in Cuba “arrests, arbitrary detentions, threats of imprisonment, persecution and harassment, illegal raids on homes, confiscation, and destruction of equipment — all this awaits journalists who do not toe the Cuban Communist Party line.” 

“The authorities also control foreign journalists’ coverage by granting accreditation selectively, and by expelling those considered ‘too negative’ about the government,” adds Reporters without Borders.

Cuba is certainly not the only country in which journalists face persecution or even death while doing their jobs.

• Reporters without Borders notes “more than 100 Palestinian reporters have been killed by the Israel Defense Forces, including at least 22 in the course of their work” in the Gaza Strip since Hamas launched its surprise attack against Israel on Oct. 7, 2023. Media groups have also criticized the Israeli government’s decision earlier this month to close Al Jazeera’s offices in the country.

• Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, Washington Post contributor and Russian opposition figure Vladimir Kara-Murza and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Alsu Kurmasheva remain in Russian custody. Austin Tice, a freelance journalist who contributes to the Post, was kidnapped in Syria in August 2012.

• Reporters without Borders indicates nearly 150 journalists have been murdered in Mexico since 2000, and 28 others have disappeared.

The Nahal Oz border crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip on Nov. 21, 2016. Reporters without Borders notes the Israel Defense Forces have killed more than 100 Palestinian reporters in the enclave since Hamas launched its surprise attack against Israel on Oct. 7, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Secretary of State Antony Blinken in his World Press Freedom Day notes more journalists were killed in 2023 “than in any year in recent memory.”

“Authoritarian governments and non-state actors continue to use disinformation and propaganda to undermine social discourse and impede journalists’ efforts to inform the public, hold governments accountable, and bring the truth to light,” he said. “Governments that fear truthful reporting have proved willing to target individual journalists, including through the misuse of commercial spyware and other surveillance technologies.”

U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Samantha Power, who is a former journalist, in her World Press Freedom Day statement noted journalists “are more essential than ever to safeguarding democratic values.” 

“From those employed by international media organizations to those working for local newspapers, courageous journalists all over the world help shine a light on corruption, encourage civic engagement, and hold governments accountable,” she said.

President Joe Biden echoed these points when he spoke at the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner here in D.C. on April. 27.

“There are some who call you the ‘enemy of the people,'” he said. “That’s wrong, and it’s dangerous. You literally risk your lives doing your job.”

I wrote in last year’s World Press Freedom Day op-ed that the “rhetoric — ‘fake news’ and journalists are the ‘enemy of the people’ — that the previous president and his followers continue to use in order to advance an agenda based on transphobia, homophobia, misogyny, islamophobia, and white supremacy has placed American journalists at increased risk.” I also wrote the “current reality in which we media professionals are working should not be the case in a country that has enshrined a free press in its constitution.”

“A free press matters now more than ever,” I concluded.

That sentiment is even more important today.

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