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Police, fire officials meet community

Pledge of support after spate of anti-LGBT crimes

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GLLU

Members of the GLLU and affiliate officers joined fire and EMS officials in meeting the LGBT community at a public forum on Wednesday. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

More than a dozen affiliate members of the D.C. Police Department’s Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit joined police and Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department officials Wednesday night for a Public Safety Open House for the LGBT community.

The event, organized by the Mayor’s Office of GLBT Affairs, gave activists and community members a chance to mingle with the GLLU’s full-time and affiliate officers before the start of a discussion, where police and Fire Department officials answered questions about community concerns.

Activists attending the open house at the city’s Reeves Municipal Building at 14th and U streets, N.W., praised police and fire officials for establishing policies calling for reaching out to the LGBT community and prohibiting anti-LGBT discrimination against police officers, firefighters and EMS workers as well as against members of the public.

But several attendees, including transgender activists Ruby Corado and Jason Terry and gay activist Rick Rosendall, said the supportive actions and attitudes of high-level police officials often don’t filter down to the behavior and actions of rank and file officers.

They pointed to a number of recent incidents involving police officers that have shaken the LGBT community. In one case, several officers refused to take a report of an incident in which four lesbians were assaulted by two male attackers who called them anti-gay names. The incident occurred outside the Columbia Heights Metro station.

D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier said the incident is under investigation and the officers could be fired depending on the findings of the investigation.

In another incident that shocked LGBT activists, an off-duty D.C. police officer fired his service revolver at three transgender women and two male friends who were sitting in a car in Northwest D.C. Two of the women and one of the men suffered non-life-threatening gunshot wounds. The officer was arrested and charged with assault with a dangerous weapon.

Transgender activist Jeri Hughes said at the open house that police have not adequately investigated other assaults against transgender women, including one recent case where a trans woman was attacked on a Metro Bus.

Hughes said that while the rate of closing homicide cases in D.C. by making an arrest is 80 percent, the rate of solving homicides involving transgender victims is 20 percent.

On hand to answer questions about these and other concerns were Paul Quander, the D.C. Deputy Mayor for Public Safety, who oversees the Police and Fire and EMS departments; D.C. Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe; Deborah Hassan, an EMS technician who serves as the Fire and EMS Department’s LGBT community liaison; Capt. Edward Delgado, director Police Department Special Liaison Division, which oversees the GLLU; and Sgt. Carlos Mejia, supervisor of the GLLU.

Also speaking at the event was Melissa Hook, director of the city’s Office of Victim Services, which assists crime victims.

Quander opened the discussion by inviting the LGBT community to inform him about issues of interest.

“I work for you,” he said. “I work for the citizens of the District of Columbia. And I need to meet your needs. I need to know what your issues are…and I have to ensure that everyone is treated equally, that everyone has a voice.”

With D.C. gay activist Peter Rosenstein serving as moderator, several LGBT activists responded by reiterating what they said were longstanding concerns. Among them is the view that Lanier weakened the GLLU by reducing the number of officers at its headquarters office, making it less responsive to the community at a time when anti-LGBT hate crimes are on the rise.

Lanier has said a police funding reduction made it necessary to reduce the GLLU headquarters staff from seven officers and a full-time sergeant to four officers and a part-time sergeant. But she has said the affiliate GLLU officer program she started has resulted in the designation of 46 GLLU affiliate officers, who work out of each of the department’s seven police districts. According to Lanier, the affiliates have greatly expanded the reach of the GLLU, enabling it to respond to all sections of the city at all times of the day and night.

Most LGBT activists and the local group Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence say they support the affiliate program but believe the direction and leadership of the GLLU must be set by the full-time officers working out of the unit’s headquarters, which is located in Dupont Circle.

Under Lanier’s officer affiliate program, the affiliate members of the GLLU and separate liaison units working with the Latino, Asian, and deaf and hard of hearing communities devote most of their time to their regular patrol duties in the police district to which they are assigned. Upon receiving special training for liaison unit duties, the affiliates are on call to respond to LGBT-related crimes in their respective districts.

Mejia serves as supervisor of the GLLU and the Latino Liaison Unit. Although activists have praised his work in managing the GLLU they say the unit’s effectiveness is diminished by not having a full-time supervisor.

Fire and EMS Department’s LGBT community liaison Deborah Hassan (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Hassan, the Fire and EMS Department’s LGBT liaison, is less known in the LGBT community than GLLU officers.

In an interview before the start of the open house forum, she told the Blade that all firefighters and EMS workers receive diversity training that includes information about the LGBT community. She said she is unaware of any recent complaints by members of the LGBT community about discriminatory treatment by firefighters or EMS workers.

Hassan said she is out as a lesbian at work. She noted that at her request, she was given an official name badge for her uniform that identifies her as an EMS worker and “LGBT Liaison.”

“We’re here for the community, whether you’re straight or gay,” she said during the open house discussion.

Rosenstein, in introducing Delgado at the open house, said he was pleased that Delgado returned to his job as director of the Special Liaison Division. Rosenstein was referring to a decision by Chief Lanier earlier this year to transfer Delgado to another division and replace him at the liaison division post with a civilian police official who had no direct experience in police work such as investigating crimes.

Some activists criticized Lanier for making the change, saying Delgado had worked well with the LGBT community and appeared more knowledgeable on issues likely to come up in the operation of the Special Liaison Division.

“I’m not going to sit here and say we’ve done everything correctly because we’re all human and we all have faults,” Delgado said. “But you can rest assured that the Metropolitan Police Department stands behind the members of the LGBT community because we actually believe that all members of the community should be protected.”

Jeffrey Richardson, director of the Office of GLBT Affairs, said his office plans to hold more public safety open house events for the LGBT community in the future. He and Rosenstein thanked the GLLU officers for attending the event, including those who came during their off-duty hours.

Richardson noted that the names of all affiliate GLLU officers are posted on the Police Department website on the GLLU page. The listing includes e-mail contact information for each of the officers and shows the police district to which they are assigned, enabling members of the LGBT community to identify the GLLU affiliate officer serving the area where they live.

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1 Comment

  1. brian

    September 29, 2011 at 6:42 pm

    Face-time and public relations exercises by EOM/GLBT and MPD/GLLU are OK, but only as far as they go. Such events are only one small aspect of LGBT community policing. PR is no substitute for solid police work and community patrols.

    MPD/GLLU’s performance is far from matching its public rhetoric. Closing hate crimes cases by sweeping them under the rug — or ignoring DC’s criminal codes altogether — only invites perps to commit more serious hate crimes. Victims and their friends should be especially wary of promises made by today’s MPD/GLLU.

    LGBT activists and residents alike need to keep a skeptical eye on today’s GLLU and its MPD bosses. That goes for their rhetoric and PR, too.

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Virginia

Va. businessman apologizes for burning of rainbow flag poster

‘Shocked and horrified’: Ashburn incident caught on video

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Organizers of an event where a Pride symbol was burned say the incident was a misunderstanding.

The owner of a Virginia technology company that hosted a private Veterans Day party on the grounds of an Ashburn, Va., brewery in which a company employee used a flame-throwing device to ignite a rainbow flag poster said the selection of the poster was a mistake and he and his company have no ill will toward the LGBTQ community.

The Washington Blade learned about the poster burning from a customer of the Old Ox Brewery in Ashburn, where the incident took place on its outdoor grounds. The customer made a video of the incident with his cell phone and sent a copy of the video to the Blade.

The video, which includes an audio recording, shows a man using a hand-held flame-throwing device to ignite the rainbow poster, which was hanging from a cable and appeared to be mounted on cardboard or a thin sheet of wood. Bystanders can be heard laughing and cheering as the poster is set on fire.

The poster consisted of a variation of the LGBTQ Pride rainbow flag that included the word “love” configured from an upper white stripe on the rainbow symbol.

The customer who took the video, who has asked not to be identified, thought the decision to set the poster on fire was a sign of disrespect if not hatred toward a longstanding symbol of LGBTQ equality and pride.

Chris Burns, Old Ox Brewery’s president, shared that view, telling the Blade he and his staff were “shocked and horrified” when they learned later that a rainbow flag poster had been burned on the brewery’s grounds. Burns said Old Ox supports the LGBTQ community and participated in LGBTQ Pride month earlier this year.

He said the company that held the private party paid a fee to hold the event on the brewery’s grounds, but the brewery did not know a rainbow poster would be burned.

“I’m mortified that our event was interpreted in this way,” said Nate Reynolds, the founder and partner of Hypershift Technologies LLC, the Falls Church, Va.-based technology company that organized the Nov. 11 party at Old Ox Brewery. “I can assure you that ZERO ill-will or offense was meant,” Reynolds told the Blade in a Nov. 24 email.

“We held a small private party for a few clients, which included a demonstration of Elon Musk’s Boring Company ‘Not a Flamethrower,’” he said in his message. He was referring to one of billionaire businessman Elon Musk’s companies that specializes in boring through the ground to create tunnels for cars, trains, and other purposes. 

“After so many being isolated during COVID, we wanted to have an event that was lighthearted and to some small effect, silly,” Reynolds said in his message to the Blade.

According to Reynolds, in thinking about what should be used for “fodder” for the flame-thrower, he went to a Five Below discount store and purchased items such as stuffed animals and posters, including a “Space Jam” movie poster as well as what he thought was a poster of the British rock group The Beatles.

“When I pulled the Beatles poster out of the tube it was instead the ‘Love’ poster,” he said, referring to the rainbow flag poster the Blade asked him about in an earlier email.

“All I focused on was the ‘Love’ wording and not the rainbow and did not draw the conclusion that the poster was an icon that represents the LGBTQ community,” Reynolds said. “It was my own ignorance of not connecting the symbolism of the poster. If I had realized it was a symbol of the LGBTQ community, I would not have used it,” he said.

“I feel terrible, and I want to emphasize that I am solely responsible for this mistake – not the Old Ox Brewery,” he wrote in his message. “Nobody at Old Ox had anything to do with this activity.”

Reynolds added, “Hate has no place in my heart, and I sincerely apologize for any offense that could have been drawn from what I now realize was poor judgement on my part. I simply didn’t correlate this poster with the LGBTQ pride symbol.”  

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Before Reynolds issued his statement of apology, Burns, the Old Ox Brewery co-owner, told the Blade in an email he was “saddened and upset” over the rainbow poster burning on the grounds of his brewery.

“We do not wish to benefit from this event,” he said in his email message. “Therefore, Old Ox is donating 100% of the revenue generated from the private event to GLSEN.”

GLSEN is a national LGBTQ advocacy group that focuses on education and support for LGBTQ youth. Burns said Old Ox Brewery also donated proceeds from a Pride month event it organized earlier this year to GLSEN.

LGBTQ activists and organizations contacted by the Blade said they were unfamiliar with the variation of the rainbow flag with the word “love” that was the subject of the poster burning incident. The poster is available for sale at Five Below stores in the D.C. metropolitan area for $5.

Small print writings on the poster show it is produced by Trends International LLC, which describes itself on its website as “the leading publisher and manufacturer of licensed posters, calendars, stickers and social stationery products.” The Blade couldn’t immediately determine who designed the poster.

 The video of the poster burning incident can be viewed here:

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Fairfax schools returns LGBTQ-themed books in high school libraries

Review found ‘no pedophilia’ in texts as critics claimed

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(Book cover insert courtesy of Amazon)

The Fairfax County Public Schools announced on Tuesday that following a detailed review by two committees appointed by school officials it has returned two LGBTQ themed books to its high school libraries that had been temporarily withdrawn after being challenged by critics who claimed they included sexually explicit content inappropriate for students.

The two books, “Lawn Boy,” a novel by author Jonathan Evison, and “Gender Queer: A Memoir,” which is described as an illustrated autobiography by non-binary author Maia Kobabe, each contain descriptions of sexual acts.

But supporters of the books have argued that they have won praise by literary critics and, while describing intimate relationships, they tell stories that do not fall into the category of pornography.  

Fairfax County Public Schools, the name used for the county’s public school system, on Tuesday said in a statement that a thorough review of the books by two committees consisting of educators, school officials, parents and some students found that neither book contained content that could be considered to depict pedophilia as claimed by some parents and others opposing the two books.

School officials announced they had temporarily withdrawn the two books from school libraries following a Sept. 23 meeting of the Fairfax County School Board where strong objections to the two books were raised by parents.

“Two books that were subject to formal challenge have been deemed appropriate for high school readers following a two-month review process and will be reinstated to Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) libraries,” Tuesday’s statement by the school system says.

“The decision reaffirms FCPS’s ongoing commitment to provide diverse reading materials that reflect our student population, allowing every child an opportunity to see themselves reflected in literary characters,” the statement continues. “Both reviews concluded that the books were valuable in their potential to reach marginalized youth who may struggle to find relatable literary characters that reflect their personal journey,” the statement says.

The statement says the final decision to reinstate the books was made by Noel Klimenko, the Fairfax County Public Schools’ assistant superintendent for its Instructional Services Department.

The two books have received favorable reviews in various literary publications. Both have received the American Library Association’s Alex Award, an annual award that recognizes the year’s 10 books written for adults that the association says have a special appeal to young adults ages 12 through 18.

“The robust committee process took place over several weeks and considered whether the books flouted regulations by being obscene or harmful to juveniles as defined by the Code of Virginia,” the school system statement says. “The members also considered the work in line with an excerpt from the FCPS Student Rights and Responsibilities Handbook pertaining to possessing obscene visual imagery as defined in the Code of Virginia,” the statement says.

“After careful consideration, neither books were deemed to have fallen foul of these regulations,” it concludes.

The decision by Fairfax school officials to reinstate the two books came about six weeks after more than 425 LGBTQ students and allies from over 30 Fairfax County public high schools sent a letter to the school board and the school system’s superintendent urging them to reinstate the two books.

The Pride Liberation Project, a coalition of LGBTQ and allied students in Fairfax County, organized the joint letter.

“Student representatives from over 30 schools, including nearly every high school in Fairfax County Public Schools, have signed this letter, and many of us are students of color, low-income, gender expansive and not out to our families and communities,” the letter states.

“We are writing to ask you to reject calls to remove Maia Kobabe’s ‘Gender Queer’ and Jonathan Evison’s ‘Lawn Boy’ from Fairfax County Public Schools libraries,” the letter says.

It points out that “hundreds of books in our schools already depict heterosexual relationships and physical intimacy,” and says singling out LGBTQ themed books with similar stories of intimacy for rejection is unfair.

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Transgender Zimbabwean woman in Md. wins asylum case

Mattie Tux Horton lives in Rockville

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Mattie Tux Horton, right, with her lawyer Ankush Dhupar in Los Angeles. (Photo courtesy of Mattie Tux Horton/Facebook)

A transgender woman from Zimbabwe who lives in Rockville won her asylum case in late October after living in the U.S. for the past five years. 

Mattie Tux Horton was represented by Ankush Dhupar from the Los Angeles law firm Paul Hastings LLP.

“I feel at ease,” said Horton. “Although a lot is going on in the [United States], it’s [significantly] different compared to where I’m coming from.”

Horton said that she now considers the U.S. to be her home. 

Although she has been living in Maryland for a while now, receiving asylum stripped away the anxiety associated with returning to Zimbabwe had the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency denied her request. 

With protection from the U.S. government, Horton gets to live in a safe environment and without the vile treatment she encountered in Zimbabwe because of her transness.

In her hometown of Bulawayo, Horton faced constant public humiliation and was once fired from her job as a graphic artist because of her dress presentation, according to an interview she did with Medium. 

She was attacked by a violent group of men in 2014, and was outed later that year following a holiday trip to South Africa, according to the interview. 

This incident garnered media attention and The Sunday News, a Zimbabwean newspaper, published an article in which it misgendered Horton throughout the entire piece. 

This prompted Horton to apply for a U.S. visa so she could attend an LGBTQ leadership conference in D.C. and remove herself from the cacophony in her town.

The Sunday News later ran a story about Horton’s departure in which they misgendered her again and referred to her as a “transgender man” and “alleged gay.”

Horton arrived in D.C. in December 2016 and began her asylum process there. 

While visiting a friend in Los Angeles, she connected with the city’s Human Rights First chapter that referred her to Dhupar, who represented her pro bono. 

Dhupar is a labor and employment law attorney at Paul Hastings LLC and he volunteered to work on Horton’s case as part of his firm’s partnership with Human Rights First to do pro bono LGBTQ advocacy work.

Horton’s asylum was his first ever immigration case.

While the legal underpinnings of immigration were new to him, Dhupar did not struggle to situate his modus operandi because of how compelling Horton’s case was.

“I always referred to the facts of the case because the law is geared towards helping situations like [Horton’s] where someone fears for their life in their home country,” said Dhupar. 

Dhupar also added that Horton’s case was a prime example of why the asylum process exists.

Horton submitted a psychological evaluation in February 2021 that would expedite her asylum case and grant her an interview notice sooner than usual. 

At that point she had lived in the U.S. for more than four years, but she still had to wait a couple more months before she was called for an interview. This caused Horton to feel trepid about whether her case was strong enough. 

“I went through depression and had psychological breakdowns,” said Horton. “I have friends who were called in for an interview months after moving here and didn’t have to wait five years [like I did].”

This hurdle, however, gave Horton and Dhupar adequate time to build an indisputable case. The two built a personal relationship that kept them vigilant despite the abounding uncertainty. 

“She was a perfect advocate for herself and took the initiative to make sure the case did not fall on the backburner,” said Dhupar. 

Now that she has won her case, Horton is taking time to relish on her recent success. 

“I’m going to take a breather,” she said.

She also plans to secure full-time employment in 2022 and build a makeup brand. Horton currently works part time as a steering committee member — a role she says is fulfilling — at the Black LGBTQIA+ Migrant Project- Transgender Law Center.

There, she links Black trans and gender nonconforming individuals to education, employment, legal and healthcare resources.

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