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Gay engineer’s death ruled a homicide

Cause of death was ‘impact head trauma’



The D.C. Medical Examiner disclosed on Tuesday that gay engineer Gaurav Gopalan, who was found dead Sept. 10 on a sidewalk in Columbia Heights at 5:20 a.m., died of blunt force trauma to the head and that the death has been ruled a homicide.

News that Gopalan’s death was due to an act of violence came after D.C. police initially announced there were no obvious signs of injuries on Gopalan’s body and that a final determination on the death would have to wait for results of toxicological tests.

Gopalan, a native of India, was found dead on the 2600 block of 11th Street, N.W. in a location less than two blocks from where he lived. He was dressed in women’s clothes with some facial makeup, prompting police to initially describe him as a transgender woman.

With no identification on him, it took police three days to track down his identity following the release of a post mortem photo taken by the Medical Examiner’s office.

It could not be immediately determined why the Medical Examiner’s office didn’t disclose last week its findings released today that Gopalan suffered a “subarachnoid hemorrhage,” or internal head bleeding, due to “blunt impact head trauma.”

Beverly Fields, a spokesperson for the Medical Examiner’s Office, said the latest findings were based on the autopsy conducted last week.

Bob Shaeffer, Gopalan’s partner, told the Blade Monday that he didn’t know where Gopalan had been on the night before his death but said police told him they obtained video footage of Gopalan near the corner of Florida Avenue and U Street, N.W. The gay nightclub Town and the gay sports bar Nellie’s are located in that area.

Police last week said they had contacted the management of several gay clubs in the city to ask whether Gopalan had been seen in the clubs in the hours prior to his death. At a news conference last week, Homicide Branch Capt. Michael Farish said representatives of the clubs weren’t certain whether Gopalan had visited the clubs.

Gopalan received a doctorate degree in aeronautical engineering at the University of Maryland and later worked with the university on research projects related to sound suppression of helicopter rotor blades, a technology deemed important for U.S. military applications.

Officials with the University of Maryland’s school of engineering and D.C.’s South Asian LGBT group Khush D.C., to which Gopalan had ties, this week continued to mourn Gopalan’s death.

He also served as president of the Fred Schmitz Group, an aeronautical engineering consulting firm, which he operated out of the home that he and Shaeffer shared in Columbia Heights.

Rehan Rizvi, a member of Khush D.C., said Gopalan attended a number of the group’s events during the past few years.

Rizvi said Khush D.C. planned to coordinate a possible memorial service for Gopalan with the University of Maryland’s engineering school, which was expected to host a memorial at the campus.

People who knew Gopalan said he also served as an assistant director and stage manager for Shakespeare plays produced by a the WSC Avant Bard theater group formerly known as the Washington Shakespeare Company.

The ruling of his death as a homicide is certain to further alarm LGBT activists. Gopalan’s death followed shootings and an attempted shooting of at least five transgender women since July. One of the women, Lashai Mclean, 23, was shot to death on July 20th on the 6100 block of Dix Street, N.E.

Police have said they have no evidence so far to indicate any of the incidents are linked to the same perpetrator.

Gay D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who represents the area where Gopalan lived and died, said he is closely monitoring the police investigation.

“Now our determination must be to get the killer because somebody killed this fine young man who had such a great life and was loved by so many people,” he said. “We have got to get this killer”



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  1. laurelboy2

    September 20, 2011 at 7:29 pm

    Does it seem odd/peculiar to anyone that, assuming Lou is correct in asserting that Gaurav was in a relationship and living with his partner, why Gaurav wouldn’t have shared with/the partner known about Gaurav’s “activities” the night Gaurav was in drag and then murdered? To not know the whereabouts/activities of my partner or vice-versa seems unfathomable to me. Do the police need to investigate the “partner’s” activities/whereabout the night Guarav was murdered?

  2. Amit

    September 20, 2011 at 8:17 pm

    This is indeed sad and shocking. He was one of the brightest guys I knew. How can people kill just like that.

  3. jaime grant

    September 20, 2011 at 11:32 pm

    “the same perpetrator” is the palpable indifference to LGBT people’s lives — and especially the lives of transgender people of color in DC. this is the ‘serial killer’ among us — the widespread dehumanization of trans people in our daily lives in this city.

    • Chris

      September 21, 2011 at 2:33 pm

      I would be curious to know the ratio of violent crimes against ALL people as it relates to the level against transgendered people of color. I have known numerous drag queens, transvestites, cross dressers and transgendered people, both of color and caucasian. I can’t help but believe that the disproportionate ratio, as you are eluding to, is in direct corrolation to the level of risk and personal responsibility one takes with their life. Nothing bad should happen to anyone, but when leaving home as a young adult, my parents imparted on me some very wise and sage advice. “Be careful out there, it’s a rough world where you’re going.” They had no clue I was Gay, they simply recognized that everyone needs to conduct themselves with the utmost care and concern for their personal safety.

  4. Jeri Hughes

    September 21, 2011 at 4:53 pm

    Guarav lived his life as a gay male, but she died as a transgender woman. It is my understanding that Guarav was experimenting with, and embracing, a transgender identity. Her death is yet another example that anyone who visibly crosses gender boundaries is at extreme risk – they do not have to be prostitutes or lawbreakers. Transgender women are murdered for essentially one reason – they exist. Guarav is our sister…she will be mourned. Tony Hunter was our brother … we still are mourning his passing. Hate is what killed them both. It must end. And the killers must be brought to FULL JUSTICE. enough really is ENOUGH.

  5. brian

    September 22, 2011 at 5:26 am

    DC’s LGBT residents and stakeholders should keep a critical eye on the investigatory practices of MPD and its GLLU unit. Unnecessary delay is never good for criminal investigations.

    MPD/GLLU has been pokey — with missteps on this case, too. Conflicting, confusing information about the cause of death circulated for too many days. It does appear that discovering and announcing the cause of death as a homicide has been too late. Let’s hope that the few days when Mr. Gopalan’s identity was unknown had nothing to do with the confusion and delay in announcing the cause of his death.

    MPD’s GLLU needs more focus and a full-time sergeant to handle LGBT-related crimes. GLLU also needs a fundamental understanding of, as well as a commitment to, promptly enforcing all crimes perpetrated on DC’s many LGBT residents and visitors. Sweeping hate crimes (or other crimes) against them under the rug is wholly unacceptable.

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Gay attorney’s plans to run for Del. Senate foiled by redistricting

Activists say move will ‘dilute’ LGBTQ vote



Mitch Crane, gay news, Washington Blade
Gay Democratic activist Mitch Crane. (Photo courtesy Crane)

Plans by Delaware gay attorney and Democratic Party activist Mitch Crane to run for a seat in the Delaware State Senate in a district that included areas surrounding the town of Lewes, where Crane lives, and Rehoboth Beach ended abruptly this week when state officials approved a redistricting plan that removes Crane’s residence from the district.

The seat for which Crane planned to run is in Delaware’s 6th Senate District which, in addition to Lewes and Rehoboth, includes the towns of Dewey Beach, Harbeson, Milton, and surrounding areas, according to the state Senate’s website. 

The seat is currently held by Ernesto “Ernie” Lopez, a moderate Republican who became the first Hispanic American elected to the Delaware Senate in 2012. Lopez announced in July that he would not seek re-election in 2022. 

The redistricting plan, which was approved by leaders of the Democratic-controlled Delaware General Assembly, places the section of the Lewes postal district where Crane lives into the 19th Senate District. Crane said that district is in a heavily Republican and conservative part of the state dominated by supporters of President Donald Trump who remain Trump supporters.

Under Delaware law, changes in the district lines of state Senate and House districts, which takes place every 10 years following the U.S. Census count, are decided by the Delaware General Assembly, which is the state legislative body.

Crane told the Washington Blade that neither he nor any other Democrat would have a realistic chance of winning the State Senate seat next year in the 19th District.

“Jesus could not win in that district if he was a Democrat,” said Crane.

Crane said a Democratic candidate could win next year in the reconfigured 6th Senate District now that incumbent Lopez will not be seeking re-election.

The Cape Gazette, the Delaware newspaper, reported in an Oct. 22 story that Crane was one of at least two witnesses that testified at a two-day virtual hearing held Oct. 18-19 by a State Senate committee, that the proposed redistricting would dilute the LGBTQ vote in the 6th District and the draft proposal should be changed.

 “The proposed lines remove a significant percentage of the LGBTQ residents from the current 6th District where most of such residents of southern Delaware live and place them in the 19th District which has a smaller such population,” the Cape Gazette quoted Crane telling the committee. “By doing so, it dilutes the impact of the gay community which shares political beliefs,” the newspaper quoted him as saying.

“The proposed lines dilute the voting power of the LGBTQ community in addition to others who respect diversity,” the Cape Gazette quoted 6th District resident Sandy Spence as telling the committee. 

In an Oct. 10 email sent to potential supporters before the redistricting plan was approved, Crane said he believes he has the experience and record that make him a strong candidate for the state Senate seat. He is a former chair of the Sussex County Democratic Party, where Rehoboth and Lewes are located; and he currently serves as an adjunct professor at Delaware State University’s graduate school, where he teaches American Governance and Administration.

He is a past president of the Delaware Stonewall PAC, a statewide LGBTQ advocacy group, and he’s the state’s former Deputy Insurance Commissioner.

 “I intend to focus on smart growth in Sussex County; work on the problems of homelessness and the need for affordable housing; and assuring that this district receives its fair portion of tax dollars,” he said in his Oct. 10 email message announcing his candidacy.

Crane said he posted a Facebook message on Oct. 26 informing supporters that the redrawn district lines removed him from the district, and he is no longer a candidate.

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MSNBC’s Capehart to host SMYAL’s Fall Brunch Nov. 6

Ashland Johnson to serve as keynote speaker



Gay journalist Jonathan Capehart will host SMYAL’s Fall Brunch. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Pulitzer Prizing-winning gay journalist Jonathan Capehart, the anchor of MSNBC’s “Sunday Show with Jonathan Capehart,” will serve as host for the 24th Annual SMYAL Fall Brunch scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 6, at D.C.’s Marriott Marquis Hotel.

The annual Fall Brunch serves as one of the largest fundraising events for SMYAL, which advocates and provides services for LGBTQ youth in the D.C. metropolitan area. 

“Each year, a community of advocates, changemakers, and supporters comes together at the Fall Brunch to raise much-needed funds to support and expand critical programs and services for queer and trans youth in the DMV area,” a statement released by the organization says.

The statement says attorney and former Division I women’s collegiate basketball athlete Ashland Johnson will be the keynote speaker at the SMYAL Fall Brunch. Johnson founded the sports project called The Inclusion Playbook, which advocates for racial justice and LGBTQ inclusion in sports.

Other speakers include Zahra Wardrick, a SMYAL program participant and youth poet; and Leandra Nichola, a parent of attendees of Little SMYALs, a program that SMYAL says provides support for “the youngest members of the LGBTQ community” at ages 6-12. The SMYAL statement says Nichola is the owner and general manager of the Takoma Park, Md., based café, bar, retail, and bubble tea shop called Main Street Pearl.

According to the statement, the SMYAL Fall Brunch, including a planned silent auction, will be live streamed through SMYAL’s Facebook page for participants who may not be able to attend in person. For those attending the event in person, proof of COVID-19 vaccination will be required, and masks will also be required for all attendees when not actively eating or drinking, the statement says.

The statement says that for attendees and supporters, the Fall Brunch is “a community celebration of how your support has not only made it possible for SMYAL to continue to serve LGBTQ youth through these challenging times, it’s allowed our programs to grow and deepen.”

Adds the statement, “From affirming mental health support and housing to fostering community spaces and youth leadership training, we will continue to be there for queer and trans youth together.”

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McAuliffe: Youngkin ‘most homophobic’ candidate in Va. history

Former governor spoke with Blade on Oct. 21



Terry McAuliffe (Photo courtesy of Terry McAuliffe for Governor)

Terry McAuliffe described Republican Glenn Youngkin as the “most homophobic” and most “anti-choice candidate” in Virginia history during an Oct. 21 telephone interview with the Washington Blade.

“I’m running against the most homophobic, anti-choice candidate in Virginia history,” said McAuliffe. “I ran against Ken Cuccinelli. That’s saying something.”

McAuliffe, a former chair of the Democratic National Committee, in 2013 defeated Cuccinelli, Virginia’s then-attorney general who vehemently opposed LGBTQ rights, in that year’s gubernatorial race. Youngkin, the former co-CEO of the Carlyle Group, a private equity firm, is running against McAuliffe in the race to succeed current Gov. Ralph Northam.

State Del. Hala Ayala (D-Prince William County) is running for lieutenant governor, while Attorney General Mark Herring is seeking re-election. They are running against Republicans Winsome Sears and Jason Miyares respectively.

The entire Virginia House of Delegates is also on the ballot on Nov. 2. The outcome of those races will determine whether Democrats maintain control of the chamber.

Youngkin remains opposed to marriage equality

The Associated Press a day after McAuliffe spoke with the Blade published an interview with Youngkin in which he reiterated his opposition to marriage equality, but stressed it is “legally acceptable” in Virginia and he would “support that” as governor.

The anti-LGBTQ Family Research Council, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has categorized as an extremist group, earlier this month endorsed Youngkin. The Human Rights Campaign and Equality Virginia’s political action committee are among the groups that have backed McAuliffe.

Youngkin earlier this year said he does not support allowing transgender children to play on sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity. Youngkin has also expressed support for Tanner Cross, a gym teacher at a Leesburg elementary school who was suspended in June after he spoke against the Virginia Department of Education guidelines that are designed to protect trans and non-binary students.

HRC in 2019 named the Carlyle Group as a “Best Place to Work for LGBTQ Equality” in its annual Corporate Equality Index. McAuliffe scoffed at this recognition.

“They should have checked with their co-CEO who’s against marriage equality,” he told the Blade. “That would have been the first place I would have gone to ask.”

‘I’ve always been out front fighting to protect everybody’

McAuliffe’s first executive order as governor after he took office in 2014 banned discrimination against LGBTQ state employees. He also vetoed several anti-LGBTQ religious freedom bills, created Virginia’s LGBTQ tourism board and became the state’s first governor to declare June Pride month.

McAuliffe noted to the Blade that he is also the first governor of a southern state to officiate a same-sex wedding. The lesbian couple whom he married has recently appeared in one of his campaign ads.

“I spent four years vetoing every single legislation Republicans brought forth and came across my desk that would have discriminated against the LGBTQ community,” said McAuliffe. “I’ve always been out front fighting to protect everybody.”

McAuliffe noted that CoStar, a D.C.-based commercial real estate company, moved more than 1,000 jobs to Richmond from Charlotte after then-North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory signed House Bill 2, which banned trans people from using public restrooms consistent with their gender identity and prohibited municipalities from enacting LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination measures. McAuliffe described HB 2 to the Blade as the “anti-gay bill.”

“There’s real consequences … to discriminatory actions and I will not tolerate any of it,” he said.

Former President Barack Obama campaigns with Terry McAuliffe in Richmond, Va., on Oct. 23, 2021. Obama is among the prominent Democrats who have traveled to Virginia in recent weeks to campaign on behalf of McAuliffe. (Photo courtesy of Terry McAuliffe for Governor)

McAuliffe last month said during his first debate against Youngkin that local school boards “should be making their own decisions” with regards to the implementation of the Virginia Department of Education guidelines for trans and non-binary students. McAuliffe during his second debate against Youngkin stressed “locals” should provide input on the policy, but added “the state will always issue guidance.”

McAuliffe told the Blade he has “been so offended about how many folks have tried to really demonize our children here in this state.” McAuliffe referenced children with “self-identity issues” during the interview, but he did not specifically cite those who identify as trans or non-binary.

“We’ve got to help our children … we got to help our children who are desperately in need today,” he said. “And we got to show them that we’ll be there for them, as I say, no matter how they identify or who they love.”

Youngkin on Saturday during a campaign event in Henrico County said he would ban the teaching of critical race theory in Virginia schools. McAuliffe criticized his opponent on this issue when he spoke with the Blade.

“Critical race theory is not taught in Virginia, nor has it ever been taught,” said McAuliffe. “These are dog whistles that are used, and especially in the CRT, it’s a racist dog whistle and it just fits into this whole pattern of using our children as political pawns and I hate it.”

Youngkin ‘would drive businesses out of’ Va.

McAuliffe has continued to portray Youngkin as an extremist on other issues that range from abortion and vaccine mandates as polls suggest the race between the two has grown tight. McAuliffe also continues to highlight former President Trump’s support of Youngkin.

McAuliffe told the Blade that Youngkin is “100 percent against abortion” and said his opponent would “bring those Texas-style type abortion” laws to Virginia.

The law, which bans almost all abortions in Texas and allows private citizens to sue doctors and anyone else who helps a woman obtain one, took effect last month. The U.S. Supreme Court on Nov. 1 will hear oral arguments in a case that challenges the law.

“We always knew that the Supreme Court would be a backstop on women’s rights issues: Roe v. Wade. That is gone. It’s over,” said McAuliffe. “Donald Trump’s Supreme Court is going to overrule the basic tenants of Roe v. Wade.”

McAuliffe added the Supreme Court “is going to allow these states to roll back women’s reproductive rights, so that’s no longer a talking point.”

“This is reality,” said McAuliffe. “Every woman in Virginia needs to understand it.”

Terry McAuliffe has said Glenn Youngkin poses a threat to abortion rights in Virginia. (Photo courtesy of Terry McAuliffe for Governor)

Youngkin, for his part, has said he would not have signed the Texas law.

Trump on Oct. 13 described Youngkin as a “great gentleman” when he called into the “Take Back Virginia Rally” in Henrico County that John Fredericks, host of “Outside the Beltway with John Fredericks” who co-chaired the former president’s 2016 campaign in Virginia, organized.

Participants recited the Pledge of Allegiance to an American flag that was present at the U.S. Capitol insurrection. Youngkin in a statement his campaign released said he “had no role” in the event and said it was “weird and wrong to pledge allegiance to a flag connected to January 6.”

“As I have said many times before, the violence that occurred on January 6 was sickening and wrong,” he said.

McAuliffe told the Blade that Youngkin would make Virginia “a dangerous place to live and work.”

“His governorship, if he were to be elected, would roll back individual liberties,” said McAuliffe. “He doesn’t support gay marriage, he is for eliminating abortion here in the commonwealth of Virginia and he will drive businesses out of our state and finally it is dangerous for people.”

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