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Still mourning a friend, 10 years later

A beautiful morning gives way to tragedy and grief

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“It’s no secret that the stars are falling from the sky

The universe exploding ’cause of one man’s lie

Look, I gotta go – yeah, I’m running out of change

There’s a lot of things, if I could, I’d rearrange”

-Bono on U2’s “The Fly”

 

My college roommate, Chris, died on Sept. 11, 2001, when American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the 95th floor of the North Tower of the World Trade Center.

Chris, just 28 at the time of the attacks, worked in technical support for Marsh and McLennan in Tower 1. Marsh and McLennan is a U.S.-based global professional services and insurance brokerage firm. What follows is a description of how I came to learn that he was missing on the evening of 9/11.

The color of the sky on the morning of Sept. 11 was probably the most beautiful blue I can remember. No humidity. No clouds. Living in Georgetown and working in Bethesda at the time, I spent about a half-hour in the car on the way to work in the mornings. At the time, I listened to CDs while driving so I was unaware of any activity in New York. I arrived before 9 a.m. at the office with my boss telling me she’d just heard on the radio that a plane had struck the World Trade Center. In my mind, I did not think much of it. Probably a Cessna that flew off course, I thought. An accident.

I went about my business. My boss continued to pay attention to what she was hearing on the radio. After she heard that the second plane had struck the World Trade Center, we all agreed to go across the street to Rock Bottom. We needed to see what we could not believe was happening at the towers. We were not the only office workers who had this idea. The bar was filled and the restaurant had lowered large viewing screens tuned to CNN.

As I watched the horrifying images from New York, I could not even grasp the magnitude of this event. What was playing out before me was indeed the most violent act that I had ever seen. And, it was all happening on U.S. soil—we were being attacked.

I went outside of the bar to make some calls to my friends in New York. Many of them were traders in the financial district. And I knew that Chris also worked at one of the firms on or near Wall Street. I was not sure at the time who among them actually worked in the Trade Center. It had never been important to know in which building they worked.

I pulled out my cell phone and made a couple of calls. The calls failed. As the morning progressed and the news of the planes crashing at the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pa., emerged, people drifted out into the street and began to contact loved ones. Texts soon started to come through on my phone. Everyone in my family that worked in downtown Washington was safe and in the process of putting together plans to get to their homes. I received a text from a guy that I was dating in Rehoboth. We had planned dinner that night as he was coming into town for business. He was at the train station in Wilmington: “All trains cancelled. Talk later.”

I tried getting through to New York. Same rapid busy signal. Texts to my friends in Manhattan were not returned.

I eventually found my way home that afternoon and sat in front of the television—as most Americans did. As night fell, I sent out a text to my college friend that I knew did not work on Wall Street, but out on Long Island. Maybe he had heard some news. “Is everyone OK?” To this day, I will never forget the wave of sadness that overcame me as a result of the one-word response that I would soon receive. The text read: “Chris.” Nothing else needed to be said for me to realize that my college roommate, my friend, was among the missing.

In the days that followed, my friends and I would talk on the phone periodically. We had hope. Chris would turn up. I wore a picture of him on a string around my neck. In hindsight, I think it was my way of telling people that I was in shock. Chris was the last person that I would have imagined to be in the middle of this awful attack. He was innocent.

I sat in my room one night looking at my caller ID and remembering the phone call that Chris made to me at 11:30 p.m. one night the week prior. I had just brushed my teeth and was getting into bed. I saw his number come up and I didn’t want to answer. Given the time of night, I thought he would probably have been out to happy hour and would be annoying. I wasn’t in the mood. “Hello Foxy! Pick up your phone. Pick up your phone, it’s Chris. Well, alright, I will talk to you later. Bye Foxy!” Yeah, he had gone to happy hour alright. This was my last communication with him. It was one-sided. I wish to this day that I had answered.

In the ensuing years, when I thought about Chris and that infamous day, I often wondered how the events had played out for him. I had hoped it was quick and that he was quietly humming a U2 song while doing some busy work. He was a huge U2 fan and the idea that he could be playing back a U2 song in his head was not a stretch. Chris was musically inclined and would often play guitar and sing songs from “Achtung Baby” in college.

In preparation for writing this piece, I sat down at my computer and read the Wikipedia entry that outlines the timing of events for the day of 9/11. As I navigated my way through some linked sites, I discovered that Flight 11 had struck the IT center for Marsh and McLennan — the exact office where Chris worked. It was fast. But now, 10 years later, the memories are fresh, and it’s still painful.

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Opinions

Stop donating to groups like Fight for Reform this election cycle

Give directly to local Democratic candidates instead

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If you ever gave to a political candidate, or group, you are now inundated with emails and texts from every group and every candidate running. This column is a reminder to be careful when you are asked for money. A group like Fight for Reform is very close to the line of lying to you. In their endless email requests for money, they give you two choices in their ask. And they keep asking over and over. I find their requests offensive. The choices they claim you have are: “Choice #1: Sit on our hands and hope the Electoral College doesn’t hand extremist Trump another corruption-riddled presidency. Choice #2: Chip in $7 to help fund our ads to abolish the Electoral College, strengthen our democracy, and save the country from Trump.” 

There is, of course, a third choice: delete all of their emails. The simple fact is, to get rid of the Electoral College, which is something I support, you need a constitutional amendment. It is clear such an amendment would never pass this Congress, and even if by some miracle it did, it would not be ratified before the 2024 election. Therefore, in no way will it have an impact on whether Trump, God forbid, wins. So to me it is clear, you are better off giving your money in this election cycle directly to candidates who would even consider pushing for this. Remember, Fight for Reform doesn’t support federal candidates. But even at the state level only Democrats would support this. 

Fight for Reform, is a state level project of a larger organization, End Citizens United, which has a large staff. Clearly, some of your money will go to pay staff and the administrative costs of the organization. So, much of your donation won’t necessarily go to the ads they are asking you to fund. Fight for Reform says it endorses only non-federal candidates at the local level, and that is great. But if you go to their website trying to find out who they endorsed you see only one name, Janet Protasiewicz, for Wisconsin Supreme Court. That election is over, and yes, she won. Wisconsin Republicans are now looking to impeach her before she has even ruled on anything.  

I only use this group as an example of what you should look for before you turn over your hard-earned money. When you get a request for a donation by email, look at where the email is coming from. Usually, you will find that in the very small print at the bottom of the email. If it’s not directly from the candidate the email is asking money for, I would think twice about donating through the email. Now if it is a candidate you like, just go to their campaign website and make your donation. That will ensure all your money goes to the candidate without anyone else taking a portion of it. Most of us are getting lots of emails for political candidates running in 2024, even for those still running in primaries, who want our help to be on the general election ballot. Again, if it’s someone you like, go find their website and donate there. 

There are crucial elections in November 2023, and there is still time to give money to some of those candidates and make a difference. This is especially true of those running in Virginia trying to win the state legislature. There are two great things that would happen if Democrats win. One, they will have the votes to control what gets done in Virginia; and two, it will be a very public setback to their MAGA Governor Glenn Youngkin. He is a wolf in sheep’s clothing who may talk pretty, but is a Trumper at heart. You can donate to the incredible Danica Roem for State Senate to make a real difference,  and to Russet Perry for State Senate, to help her defeat MAGA Juan Pablo Segura, who sounds like Youngkin, but is also clearly a Trumper. There are others in Virginia that make a difference for every decent person. One representing the best of Virginia and the LGBTQ community is Adam Ebbin for State Senate.

It is interesting most Democratic candidates in Virginia have been matching, or exceeding, their Republican challenger’s fundraising. But recently Youngkin has contributed millions of dollars from his PAC to Republican legislative candidates for last minute commercials. We need to make sure Democratic candidates can continue to match them, or even exceed their spending. All our lives will be better if Democrats win.

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

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Is Nigeria’s anti-LGBTQ crackdown only meant for the poor?

Wealth and fame can shield one from prosecution in the country

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(Bigstock photo)

The Nigeria Police Force in Delta State a few weeks ago arrested more than 67 suspected gay men for attending an alleged gay wedding. Authorities received a tip, they interrogated those arrested and suspicions were cemented on the basis that some of these young men crossed-dressed. 

“We’re bringing this out to the world to note, especially Nigerians, that we’re in Africa and Nigeria. We cannot copy the Western world,” Deputy Police Supt. Bright Edafe said. “We’re in Nigeria, and I can guarantee that the suspects will be charged to court.” 

Although these young men have since been released, this situation in Nigeria underscores a glaring paradox: A country that boasts a growing number of queer celebrities — many of whom have embraced crossdressing as part of their persona — maintains harsh legal actions against less privileged queer youths who express their identities. This unequal treatment sends a damaging message to the broader queer community; perpetuating a cycle of discrimination, fear and inequality.

In a nation marked by its vibrant culture and diversity, Nigeria’s anti-gay laws stand as a stark contradiction to the principles of tolerance and inclusivity. These laws not only criminalize same-sex relationships, but have also given rise to a troubling disparity in their enforcement. It has disproportionately targeted the poor, transgender individuals and crossdressers, while seemingly ignoring high-profile celebrities who freely express their identities.

Bobrisky, one of Nigeria’s most popular crossdressers who built a large following off of this lifestyle, went on their social media to probe the arrested crossdressers for openly presenting that way. 

“I strongly believe you guys can learn from those A-list,” they wrote. “Firstly, there’s a law passed against you guys that you can’t marry yourselves in this country, why the hell did you call yourselves together to organize a wedding?”

“That is the dumbest news I have ever read this week. You all deserve how you all were treated, sad truth. If you feel you are in love with your partner and you want to be together, why not relocate to where you are welcome,” they continued. 

One would think that they were able to make comments like this because they didn’t crossdress; but when you have enough financial and social privilege to wriggle your way out of situations for which your counterparts would otherwise be prosecuted, you would think that the law doesn’t apply to you. 

Then-President Goodluck Jonathan in February 2014 passed the Same-Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act, which legalized the prosecution of anyone who shows sexual relations with the same sex. Nigerian MPs in April 2022 pushed to update the SSMPA with a bill that would essentially criminalize crossdressers and force them to face six months in prison, or pay a fine of $1,200. 

The measure has yet to become law.

This targeting of transgender people and crossdressers by the Nigerian government is a distressing reality. These individuals often find themselves marginalized, not just socially, but also legally. Raids, arrests and harassment are commonplace for them, making it a daily struggle to live authentically. In a nation where gender expression should be celebrated as a testament to its cultural diversity, it is disheartening to witness these citizens ostracized and penalized for embracing their true selves.

On the other hand, the celebrities who have made crossdressing a part of their public image appear to exist in a different realm. They enjoy a level of visibility and fame that grants them an element of protection. Whether it’s due to their financial resources or their connections, they often escape the legal consequences that ordinary queer Nigerians face. This glaring contrast between the treatment of high-profile celebrities and everyday individuals exposes the systemic inequalities that persist in Nigeria’s legal system.

The implications of this disparity are profound. It sends a troubling message that wealth and fame can shield one from persecution, while those without such privileges bear the brunt of discriminatory laws. This perpetuates a culture of fear and silence among the less privileged queer community, preventing them from fully expressing their identities and participating in society without the constant threat of persecution.

Nigeria must engage in a profound societal dialogue surrounding the unequal treatment of its queer citizens to address this issue. It is crucial to question the legitimacy of laws that infringe upon the fundamental human rights of individuals based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. By sparking these meaningful conversations, we can begin to dismantle the harmful stereotypes and prejudices that fuel this disparity in treatment.

Nigeria’s anti-gay laws not only defy the principles of tolerance and inclusivity, but also expose a disconcerting imbalance in their enforcement. The stark contrast between the leniency shown to high-profile celebrities who embrace crossdressing and the harsh legal actions taken against less privileged queer youths sends a damaging message to the broader queer community. It is time for Nigeria to address this injustice, fostering a more inclusive and equitable society where all its citizens can embrace their identities without fear of persecution.

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Medicaid cuts will lead to an uptick in STIs

Move threatens progress to end HIV epidemic

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We have come a long way from the days when HIV was an almost certain death sentence. But our work is far from over. The COVID-19 pandemic led to an uptick in rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV, and low-income communities, LGBTQ+ communities, and communities of color continue to be impacted at alarming and disproportionately high rates.

These communities are also more likely to be served by Medicaid. Medicaid is the largest source of insurance coverage for people living with HIV in the United States, covering an estimated 40 percent of nonelderly adults with HIV, and Medicaid accounted for 45 percent of all federal HIV spending in 2022. During September, Sexual Health Awareness Month, it is worth examining the crucial ways Medicaid works to keep people healthy — and what threatens our progress today.

In recent weeks, we have seen a troubling trend develop. Five million Americans have been removed from Medicaid rolls, and many millions more are on the verge of losing coverage as a result of the Medicaid enrollment cuts. This represents the single greatest threat to our progress toward ending the HIV epidemic in years.   

During the pandemic, Medicaid enrollment grew by an estimated 20 million people, contributing to the uninsured rate dropping to the lowest level on record in early 2022. But, after a three-year period during which states provided continuous enrollment in exchange for enhanced federal funding, some states resumed dis-enrolling people from Medicaid on April 1. A recent KFF survey found that 17 million people could lose Medicaid coverage as a result of this process, referred to as the Medicaid “unwinding.”

Many states are not doing enough to ensure that Medicaid-eligible residents don’t lose their coverage. While some have been removed from the rolls because they are newly ineligible, procedural issues account for 74 percent of people losing coverage. An unacceptably high number of FloridaTexas, and Virginia residents who are still eligible for Medicaid are losing coverage because of procedural reasons, such as failing to confirm proof of income or household size.

Our goal should be to ensure that no one who qualifies for Medicaid loses their coverage. The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) gave states the option to use a 12-month grace period, along with other flexibilities, to prepare for the unwinding and make sure residents had what they needed to recertify. So why are some states so eager to remove their residents from Medicaid rolls?

New York, on the other hand, has made equity a cornerstone of recertification work and provides a template for what states can do to help their residents remain covered. The state maximizes the flexibilities offered by CMS and works directly with providers, health plans, and recipients to minimize procedural disenrollments and ensure that people retain health care coverage, either through Medicaid, the state’s health exchange, or private insurance. New York is among the nation’s top-performing states in terms of call center wait times, call drop rates, and average time it takes to make an eligibility determination, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. New York’s call center is also able to produce materials in 26 languages. In June 2023 alone, New York State certified renewals for more than 400,000 residents.

At Amida Care in New York, we know firsthand that gaps in care for people living with or placed at elevated risk of contracting HIV can be especially devastating. When people lose access to PrEP medication to prevent HIV, they are left vulnerable to contracting HIV, and when people living with HIV lose access to antiretroviral therapy, they risk becoming seriously ill and transmitting HIV to others. We support and guide our members through the recertification process with dedicated outreach efforts that include phone calls, mailings, text messages, and home visits to limit loss of coverage and interruptions in life-saving treatments. 

We cannot begin to address health inequity or end the HIV epidemic without strengthening Medicaid. The recent moves by some states to strip their residents of Medicaid coverage will undermine the progress we’ve made.

Doug Wirth is president and CEO of Amida Care, a Medicaid Special Needs Health Plan for people affected by HIV.

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