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Dupont Circle vigil for slain engineer, theater director draws over 200

Friends read from Shakespeare plays to honor life of Gaurav Gopalan

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Gopalan memorial march

Participants of a candle light vigil for slain aeorspace engineer and theater director Gaurav Gopalan arriving at a memorial site in Columbia Heights near where his body was found after they walked from Dupont Circle. (Washington Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro)

More than 200 people turned out Sunday night in Dupont Circle for a candle light vigil in honor of Gaurav Gopalan, a 35-year-old gay aerospace engineer and theater director who was found dead Sept. 10 on a sidewalk near where he lived in the city’s Columbia Heights section.

Police have ruled the death a homicide and said Gopalan died from blunt force trauma to the head. Police say they have no suspects and no known motive for the murder.

Transgender activists have expressed concern that Gopalan might have been targeted for his gender identity because he was found dressed in women’s clothes and wearing facial makeup.

Nearly a dozen friends and community activists spoke at the vigil, with most reading excerpts from Shakespeare plays and sonnets to pay tribute to what they said was Gopalan’ love of Shakespeare’s works.

Many of the friends said they met Gopalan through various theater companies and groups, and worked with him on productions of Shakespeare plays, where he served as an assistant director.

“Gaurav touched so many souls in D.C.,” said Jason McCool, who collaborated with Gopalan on the production of Shakespeare plays. “He was a bright ray of positive energy and I will never, ever forget what he contributed to my life. To me, his spirit will remain forever alive and present.”

Gopalan’s partner, Bob Shaeffer, thanked organizers of the vigil and those who attended for their support of him during a trying time.

“This would have pleased Gaurav,” he said. “Gaurav changed my life. There wasn’t a day we were together that we didn’t say we loved each other.”

Shaeffer called on the community to apply pressure on D.C. police to “do more” to find out who killed his partner and bring that person to justice.

Other speakers included D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who represents the Columbia Heights neighborhood where Gopalan was found dead; transgender activist Earline Budd; Shiva Subbaraman, director of Georgetown University’s LGBTQ Resource Center and a friend of Gopalan’s; and a representative of the South Asian LGBT group Khush D.C., who didn’t identify himself. McCool read a letter from D.C. Congressional Delegate Eleanor Homes Norton praising Gopalan for his contribution to D.C. both as an aerospace engineer and a theater director.

“We are determined to get to the bottom of this,” Graham told the gathering. “We are determined to bring this killer to justice and to support everyone in the District of Columbia affected by this.”

At the conclusion of the vigil, participants marched from Dupont Circle to Columbia Heights, where they gathered on the 2600 block of 11th Street, N.W., at the site where Gopalan was found unconscious shortly after 5 a.m. on Sept. 10.

The site is marked by a large photo of Gopalan that friends attached to a tree and by flowers placed at the foot of the tree. Virgil participants, who had walked more than two miles from Dupont Circle, placed lit candles next to the flowers, creating a glowing memorial on the sidewalk.

With the candles flickering before him, McCool read from a theater program note that Gopalan wrote in connection with one of the Shakespeare plays that Gopalan played a role in producing in the D.C. area:

“There is no judgment…only light and dark, only truth and ignorance,” McCool quoted Gopalan as saying. “What is true is good; evil is quite simply ignorance.”

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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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