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Once homeless, gay youth is college bound

‘There are still good people in the world’



Last November, Kadeem Swenson posed in shadow for this Blade photo, homeless and fearful of being recognized.

Today, Swenson is off the streets, interning in Mayor Gray’s office and preparing to start college full time in the fall. (Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

Kadeem Swenson, a 19-year-old gay man, is far more interested in talking about his future than he is about his past.

Last week, at the Blade’s request, Swenson talked about what his activist friends and city officials are calling an extraordinary journey over the past two years from his status as a homeless youth to his current role as a college student and intern in the office of D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray.

“There are still good people in the world,” he said, when asked what lessons he learned from his recent experiences.

Swenson is taking summer courses at the Community College of the University of the District of Columbia. He will begin a full-time class schedule at the community college as a freshman in September.

He’s doing his internship under a city youth leadership program in the Mayor’s Office of GLBT Affairs, with the office’s director, Jeffrey Richardson, acting as his supervisor and mentor.

Richardson said he was pleased to allow Swenson to take a few days off two weeks ago to attend a student leadership camp on the campus of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn. The event was organized by Campus Pride, a national LGBT organization working with students that invited Swenson to attend through a scholarship.

“I got a lot out of it,” Swenson said. “There were a lot of workshops and some real great keynote speakers. They work on action planning to build relationships and bring about change, not only on campuses but just in general.”

Shane Windmeyer, founder and executive director of Campus Pride, said he invited Swenson to attend the event after reading about Swenson’s plight as a homeless gay youth in the Blade last November.

“I was quite inspired by his story,” Windmeyer said.

Those who know Swenson in the LGBT community in D.C. have said they’ve been impressed by how he made the best of the circumstances he faced, including the circumstances that led to his becoming homeless.

That two-year period began when his parents kicked him out of their house in Waldorf, Md., after he told them he’s gay. He responded by coming to D.C., where he temporarily moved in with a student friend and persuaded his mother to enroll him in D.C.’s Ballou STAY High School.

A short time later, his friend and her family moved to another city, leaving him without a place to live. Without telling his teachers and schoolmates at Ballou, he moved into an abandoned apartment building in the city’s Congress Heights neighborhood near the school.

“I never really told anybody because I didn’t want anybody to have pity on me,” he told the Blade in an interview last November.

He managed to get through his junior and part of his senior year at Ballou with some financial help from his grandmother while living a secret life as a homeless person. He said he stayed most of the time in the abandoned apartment building, with no electricity or running water. He used nearby fast food restaurants and his school for eating and cleaning and other personal needs. He used a nearby self-service laundry to clean his clothes.

Last October, running low on money and deciding he wanted to find a safer and more stable place to live, Swenson confided in a school administrator that his parents “kicked me out” and he was looking for a place to live.

The administrator put him in touch with activist Earline Budd, whom the administrator met through Budd’s work in LGBT youth homeless programs. Budd, an outreach official with Transgender Health Empowerment, took immediate steps to find Swenson a temporary place to stay at a private shelter.

She and Brian Watson, another official at T.H.E., then arranged for Swenson to move into the Wanda Alston House, which T.H.E. operates with the help of city funding. The multi-bedroom house in Northeast D.C. was opened to provide a place for homeless LGBT youth to live while they seek a more permanent living arrangement.

Swenson said he stayed at the Alston House from November of last year until shortly after his graduation in June from Ballou, when he moved into a dormitory on the UDC campus to take summer courses in English, math and philosophy.

He says he has big plans for his education, with an eye on eventually landing a career in the international media industry.

“I haven’t decided what I want to do within international media, but I want to do something that deals with music, television and movies – on the business side,” he said.

He’s starting his studies at the UDC community college in the liberal arts area, with a plan to transfer to a four-year college in another state.

“I’m looking at UCLA among other schools,” he said.

His college plans will depend on a means of obtaining financing, hopefully through a scholarship, he said.

Windmeyer of Campus Pride said his organization helps promising LGBT students find scholarships and financial aid, and he plans to work with Swenson on that front.

Swenson said his discovery that good people exist in the world has come about through what he says has been the help he has received from people he’s met over the past year through a network of contacts in the LGBT community and the D.C. government.

He received a scholarship from an association representing Korean grocers through a contact he met from D.C. gay activist and Ward 8 community leader Phil Pannell that is helping him pay his tuition at UDC.

Through other local activists, Swenson met education advocate and local community philanthropist Peggy Cooper Cafritz, who has provided him with a grant to help him with his education and living expenses.

In September, Swenson will be featured in a report on the LGBT public television series In the Life, which is scheduled to air on D.C.’s WETA-Channel 26 at an as yet to be announced date. A camera crew from In the Life followed Swenson around in the mayor’s office and traveled to Vanderbilt University in Nashville to follow him as he attended seminars and other events at the Camp Pride.

“I can say I’ve learned a lot in the last year,” he said. “I’ve done a lot of stuff in the community, I spoke at Youth Pride. I was a speaker at Black Pride.”

Among the highlights of his activities associated with his internship at City Hall, Swenson said, was the opportunity to march in the city’s Capital Pride Parade with the mayor and his contingent of city officials.

“I made a lot of connections and I’ve had a lot of help on the way and I know that I’ll be OK because I have so many resources that I can turn to,” he said. “And I’m in a position now that I can help other people by telling them about these resources.”




What it means to be an active ally to your LGBTQ+ co-workers TEST

Five easy tips to help you avoid common risks



Be sure to install baby gates if you have stairs in your home with young children. (Photo by Kasia Bialasiewicz/Bigstock)

Your home is more than just a place to eat and sleep; it’s your safe haven. As much as you might cherish your home, you should probably also recognize the potential hazards within its familiar walls. Accidents can happen in an instant, yet with a little foresight and some simple adjustments, you can transform your house into a safer haven. 

Accidents can happen anywhere, and with a few simple tweaks, you can lower risks in your space. Below you’ll find five tips for each room in your home to help prevent injuries, falls, and other mishaps. In short, home safety. 

This article was inspired by a shower in a rental we managed that began leaking through the kitchen ceiling below. If only the landlord had installed grab bars, right!? Below, we’ll guide you through the steps to fortify your bathroom, making it a place of relaxation without the fear of slips and falls. Then, we’ll venture into the room where the magic happens, where proper planning can ensure great nights and peaceful mornings. We’ll show you how to prevent accidents while you experiment becoming the next Gordon Ramsey. And we’ll include a few surprising solutions for those other rooms that hold their own unique hazards, offering solutions to safeguard against unexpected mishaps.

Bathroom Safety

Install Grab Bars: Adding grab bars near the shower and toilet can provide essential support for family members of all ages. Not only can they help with getting in and out, but they can help provide stability when washing. Make sure they are securely anchored to the wall.

Non-Slip Mats: Place non-slip mats inside the shower and bathtub to prevent slips. They’re a small investment that can save you from falls and head injuries.

Adjust Water Temperature:  Ensure your hot water is set to a safe temperature to avoid scalding. The hot water heater should be set to around 120°F (49°C)l, the middle setting on many water heater settings. 

Medicine Cabinet Locks: If you have young children, use childproof locks on your medicine cabinet to keep harmful substances out of reach.

Proper Lighting: Ensure there’s adequate lighting in the bathroom to avoid trips and falls during nighttime visits. Nightlights can be a simple and effective solution. 

Bedroom Safety

Clear Pathways: Keep pathways in the bedroom clutter free to prevent tripping. Ensure there’s enough space to move around comfortably, particularly getting around the bed.  Be aware where all furniture is when walking around to avoid stubbed toes, particularly at night.

Secure Rugs: If you have throw rugs, use rug grippers or double-sided tape to keep them from slipping. Loose rugs are a common trip hazard. 

Bed Rails: For anyone at risk of falling out of bed, consider installing bed rails to provide extra support and prevent falls.

Nightstands with Drawers: Opt for nightstands with drawers to keep essential items.  This reduces the need to get out of bed at night, minimizing the risk of falls, as you race to grab what you need and not lose a moment’s rest.

Fire Safety: Install battery-operated smoke detectors in the bedrooms if there are none. Make sure to install them 36 inches away from an air vent or the edge of a ceiling fan.  Also six inches away from the joint between the wall and ceiling.  And test smoke detectors regularly.

Kitchen Safety

Non-Slip Flooring: Choose slip-resistant rugs in the kitchen, especially in areas where spills are common. Mats near the sink and stove can also help and you can often buy them fairly cheaply at Costco.

Childproof Cabinets: If you have little ones, use childproof latches on cabinets and drawers to prevent them from accessing potentially hazardous items.

Anti-tip brackets: Install an anti-tip bracket behind the range. These are often used when children are in the home. Although they are less likely to open the oven door and use it as a step stool to get to the stove-top, adults can also benefit from installing these. 

Adequate Lighting: Proper lighting is crucial in the kitchen to avoid accidents. Under-cabinet lighting can illuminate work areas effectively.

Secure Heavy Items: Ensure heavy pots and pans are stored at waist level to prevent straining or dropping them from high shelves.

Sharp Object Storage: Keep knives and other sharp objects in a secure drawer or block. And handle all sharp items with extreme care, even when washing and drying. These steps reduce the risk of accidental cuts.  

Other Safety Tips

Furniture Anchors: Secure heavy furniture, like bookshelves and dressers, to the wall to prevent tip-overs, especially if you have young children.

Adequate Outlets: Check for damaged outlets and replace them promptly. Avoid overloading circuits with too many devices. Install placeholder plugs in outlets to prevent young curious fingers (or tongues?) from going inside an electrical outlet.

Stair Gates: If your home has stairs, install safety gates at the top and bottom to prevent falls, especially if you have toddlers or pets to keep them off of the stairs when you cannot monitor them.

Emergency Escape Plan: Develop and practice an emergency escape plan with your family, including a designated meeting place outside.

Carbon Monoxide Detector:  If your home burns any fossil fuels for heating or appliances, install carbon monoxide detectors in common areas of your home to detect this odorless gas. The D.C. building codes require this if you use a fireplace or if you have an attached garage. In essence, if there is any potential source of carbon monoxide in the home, be sure to install these detectors.

Remember, a safer home not only prevents accidents but also provides peace of mind for you and your family. Implement these simple tips to create a secure environment in every room of your house.

With these practical tips and a few adjustments, you can significantly reduce the risk of injuries and falls in your home. Enjoy peace of mind in your now much safer haven.

Scott Bloom is owner and senior property manager of Columbia Property Management.

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Celebrity News

Lizzo makes $50K donation to Marsha P. Johnson Institute

Singer is vocal LGBTQ ally



Lizzo at the 65th Grammy Awards (Screenshot from the Grammy Awards)

When Lizzo sings “If I’m shinin,’ everybody gonna shine,” in her hit song, “Juice,” she means it. Proof of that came this week on Instagram when the LGBTQ ally announced the first winner of her annual Juneteenth Giveback Campaign is the Marsha P. Johnson Institute, a national nonprofit based in Richmond, Calif., dedicated to the protection and defense of Black transgender people. 

And she did so in song: “On the first day of Juneteenth, Lizzo gave to me,” she sang in her video, posted Tuesday, as she revealed her $50,000 gift to MPJI.

“That’s right, we know who Marsha P. Johnson is. We know what Marsha P. Johnson has done for the LGBTQ, emphasis on that ‘T,’ Q community,” said Lizzo to her 13.5 million followers. “Thank you so much to the people at the Marsha P. Johnson Institute. You deserve this, and I hope this helps you so much as you help protect our Black trans family.” 

“What the Marsha P. Johnson Institute does is protects and defends the rights of Black transgender people. They do this by organizing community, advocating for the people, and creating an intentional healing community, developing transformative leadership and promoting collective power,” she said. 

“We are overjoyed for the shoutout from Lizzo today, the generosity of her sharing her platform and the recognition of MPJI and its work,” said Elle Moxley, MPJI’s executive director. “The resources from this campaign will ensure the protection and defense of Black transgender people continue at a time where it is so vitally needed. We are so grateful for the support of Lizzo and her fans.”

As one of Time Magazine’s Persons of the Year for 2019 and a 2023 Grammy winner, Lizzo is more than a pop star but an inspiration to millions of fans for her body-positive attitude, her self-confidence on stage and in her videos, her empowering music and her activism. She’s also the founder of her own clothing line, Yitty. In 2021, she made headlines when she publicly corrected a paparazzo for using “she/her” pronouns and misgendering Demi Levato.

As part of her campaign, now in its 4th year, Lizzo recognizes Black-led grassroots organizations and businesses and encourages her fans to join her in supporting each of the five organizations she highlights this week. Fans who take action by donating are  entered into a drawing for an all-expenses paid trip to see her perform at Fuji Rock in Japan later this year. 

This week’s other nonprofits receiving gifts are: Black Girls Smile, Sphinx Music, the University of Houston and Save Our Sisters United.

Find out more about Lizzo’s 4th annual Juneteenth Giveback Campaign by clicking here.

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Celebrity News

Anne Heche dies after removal from life support

Actress dated Ellen DeGeneres in late 1990s



(Screenshot/YouTube Inside Edition)

Actress Anne Heche died after she was removed from life support on Sunday, nearly two weeks after her Mini-Cooper crashed through a two-story house in Los Angeles’ Mar Vista neighborhood. Investigators with the Los Angeles Police Department believe she was intoxicated at the time.

She sustained a severe anoxic brain injury along with severe burns and was being treated at the Grossman Burn Center at West Hills Hospital, near Chatsworth in the San Fernando Valley.

The 53-year-old actress who was a star of films like “Donnie Brasco,” the political satire “Wag the Dog” and the 1998 remake of “Psycho,” had been declared legally dead under California law on Friday, however, her family kept her alive long enough to be an organ donor.

In a statement Friday, the LAPD announced that: “As of today, there will be no further investigative efforts made in this case. Any information or records that have been requested prior to this turn of events will still be collected as they arrive as a matter of formalities and included in the overall case. When a person suspected of a crime expires, we do not present for filing consideration.” LAPD detectives had previously made public that investigators into the crash found narcotics in a blood sample taken from Heche.

The actress’s family released a statement on Friday:

“Today we lost a bright light, a kind and most joyful soul, a loving mother, and a loyal friend. Anne will be deeply missed but she lives on through her beautiful sons, her iconic body of work, and her passionate advocacy. Her bravery for always standing in her truth, spreading her message of love and acceptance, will continue to have a lasting impact,” the statement added.

Heche was married to camera operator Coleman Laffoon from 2001 to 2009. The two had a son, Homer, together. She had another son, named Atlas, during a relationship with actor James Tupper, her co-star on the TV series “Men In Trees.”

Laffoon left a moving tribute on an Instagram reel in which he also gave an update on how their 20-year-old son Homer Laffoon is coping with the loss of his mother.

“I loved her and I miss her, and I’m always going to,” he said adding: “Homer is okay. He’s grieving, of course, and it’s rough. It’s really rough, as probably anybody can imagine. But he’s surrounded by family and he’s strong, and he’s gonna be okay.”

“Rest In Peace, Mom, I love you, Homer,” the actor’s 20-year-old son, Homer, said in a statement after Heche was declared legally dead on Friday.“ My brother Atlas and I lost our Mom,” read the statement. “After six days of almost unbelievable emotional swings, I am left with a deep, wordless sadness. Hopefully, my mom is free from pain and beginning to explore what I like to imagine as her eternal freedom. Over those six days, thousands of friends, family, and fans made their hearts known to me. I am grateful for their love, as I am for the support of my Dad, Coley, and my stepmom Alexi who continue to be my rock during this time. Rest In Peace Mom, I love you, Homer.”

Tupper, a Canadian actor who starred alongside Heche in “Men in Trees,” had a 13-year-old son, Atlas, with her. “Love you forever,” Tupper, 57, wrote on his Instagram post’s caption with a broken heart emoji, which shared an image of the actress from Men in Trees.

Between 1997 and 2000, Heche was also in a relationship with talk show host Ellen DeGeneres.

“This is a sad day,” DeGeneres posted on Twitter. “I’m sending Anne’s children, family and friends all of my love.” The year after her break-up with the comedian, in September 2001, Heche recounted in her memoir “Call Me Crazy,” about her lifelong struggles with mental health and a childhood of abuse.

KTLA’s entertainment reporter Sam Rubin noted that over the past two decades, Heche’s career pivoted several times. In 2017, she hosted a weekly radio show on SiriusXM with Jason Ellis called “Love and Heche.”

In 2020, Heche made her way into the podcast world. She launched “Better Together” which she cohosted alongside Heather Duffy Boylston. The show was described as a way to celebrate friendship. 

She also worked in smaller films, on Broadway, and on TV shows. She recently had recurring roles on the network series “Chicago P.D.,” and “All Rise” and was a contestant on “Dancing with the Stars.”

People magazine reported that several of Heche’s acting projects are expected to be released posthumously.

These include “Girl in Room 13,” expected to be released on Lifetime in September, “What Remains,” scheduled to be released in 2023, and HBO Max TV series “The Idol,” created by Abel Tesfaye (The Weeknd) and Euphoria creator Sam Levinson.

In her Instagram post from earlier this year Heche stands between her sons Atlas, 13 and Homer, 20.

From KTLA:

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