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Gay N.J. activist: Sandy left behind ‘massive destruction’

Superstorm brought widespread devastation to both New Jersey and New York

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Gay News, Washington Blade, Gay Fire Island, Sandy
Gay News, Washington Blade, Gay Fire Island, Sandy

Bay water inundates the harbor in Fire Island Pines, N.Y., on Oct. 29 (Photo courtesy of Karen Boss)

The head of New Jersey’s statewide LGBT advocacy organization on Wednesday said Superstorm Sandy devastated his state.

“Hurricane Sandy has left massive destruction in her aftermath,” said Garden State Equality Chair Steven Goldstein in a YouTube video shot on a street in Teaneck in Bergen County with down trees and power lines in the background.

Goldstein urged his organization’s members and supporters to keep in regular contact with the elderly, young people and those with disabilities directly impacted by the storm who may need someone to pick up their prescriptions or buy them other basic supplies.

“On behalf of our entire Board of Directors, I extend to you our love, our prayers and most profound gratitude for being there for one another during this time of need.”

Sandy’s storm surge inundated large swaths of the New Jersey coastline, New York City, the South Shore of Long Island and Fire Island as it made landfall near Atlantic City, N.J., on Monday night. The storm killed at least 90 people in the United States and dozens of others in the Caribbean.

Villas, N.J., residents Vince Grimm and Will Kratz, whom the Washington Blade interviewed in August shortly after they celebrated their 51st anniversary, rode out Sandy in their bay front home north of Cape May. The couple lost power and water during the storm, but Grimm told friends in an e-mail he and Kratz have been able to run a generator and their gas-powered fireplace.

The storm did not damage the couple’s home and property.

“Our beach is a disaster and we lost our sand fences, but the dune is intact considering we got hit [during] a high tide with a full moon,” said Grimm. “Actually our street, 11 blocks long, has virtually no damage considering we are sitting on a sand dune along the bay.”

Sandy’s winds ‘unlike anything I’ve heard’

The storm killed at least 37 people in New York City, while a fast-moving fire destroyed more than 100 homes in the flooded Breezy Point neighborhood of Queens late on Monday.

A record storm surge that nearly topped 14 feet in lower Manhattan inundated large swaths of the five boroughs, subway tunnels under the East and Hudson Rivers and the Queens-Midtown and High L. Carey Tunnels that link Manhattan with Queens and Brooklyn respectively.

A limited number of subway and commuter train lines are once again running in portions of the city and metropolitan area, but bus service below 23rd Street in Manhattan remains suspended at night because the lack of electricity has created dangerous driving conditions. More than a quarter of a million customers in Manhattan remained in the dark as of 4:30 a.m. on Thursday.

“It’s been a crazy, crazy few days here,” gay New York City Council candidate Corey Johnson told the Blade on Wednesday. His apartment on West 15th Street in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood is close to the Eighth Avenue building that lost its facade during the height of the storm. “All I could hear was howling winds. It was unlike anything I’ve heard in my 12 years in New York.”

Cindi Creager, the former communications director of the LGBT Community Center in Greenwich Village, was inside her West Village apartment with her wife during the storm. The couple is currently staying with a friend who lives on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, but Creager told the Blade she feels fortunate she and her wife escaped the storm unscathed.

“The wind was howling and whipping [outside] the window. And it was scary,” she said. “We had power and we didn’t and it was total darkness outside the window. And that’s when it felt very scary. You just start to realize how fleeting life can be. We did very well considering.”

Cathy Renna of Renna Communications rode out Sandy in her centuries old farmhouse on Shelter Island between Long Island’s North and South Forks. She told the Blade local utility crews restored the electricity to her home roughly 24 hours after the worst of the storm had passed.

Sandy brought several large trees down across Shelter Island, but Renna stressed she feels she and her family “were really lucky.”

“I grew up on Long Island,” she said, noting her sister’s friend who lives in Lindenhurst along the Great South Bay in southwestern Suffolk County lost everything to the storm. “I have never, ever seen winds like that. It was terrifying, but it was only for a few hours.”

Storm devastates Fire Island, forces LGBT groups to close

Sandy caused widespread flooding and severe beach erosion throughout Fire Island. Dozens of oceanfront homes in Fire Island Pines sustained damage from the storm surge. The high tides also damaged bulkheads and bay front board walks in the hamlet and neighboring Cherry Grove.

The storm also forced the Empire State Pride Agenda, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission and other LGBT advocacy groups to close their lower Manhattan offices because of the power outage and in some cases flooding.

“Our New York-based staff members are safe and working from home with limited resources,” said GLAAD spokesperson Seth Adam on the organization’s website on Tuesday. “Today, our thoughts are with all those families affected by Hurricane Sandy, as well as first responders working to keep us safe.”

Officials cancelled the city’s annual Halloween parade in Greenwich Village. The storm also derailed Splash Bar and other lower Manhattan gay bars and clubs’ holiday festivities because of the blackout. Restaurants and other businesses in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood west of Times Square that did not lose electricity during Sandy remain open.

“Day 3 of no power,” said Gym Sports Bar, which is on Eighth Avenue in Chelsea, in a message to patrons. “Our thoughts are with you out there. As soon as our lights are back on we will be back on the field. Stay safe out there Gym peeps.”

Restoring power and full subway service remain New York City officials’ top priorities.

“The subway lines are really the veins, arteries and lifeblood of the city,” said Johnson. “People are basically stuck unless they’re going to work or are able to get on a bus.”

Lesbian New York City Council candidate Yetta Kurland, who said her building has run out of the water because of the lack of electricity, said the closure of New York University Langone Medical Center and Bellevue Hospital because of flooding has left lower Manhattan residents more vulnerable. Kurland also pointed out people with disabilities and others who are unable to leave their apartments are unable to obtain food, water and ice at Union Square and other distribution points.

“There’s a large relief effort,” she said. “The city’s doing a great job at this point, but there are a lot of homebound people who cannot get to Union Square.”

Gay City Councilmember Daniel Dromm said the situation in his Queens district that includes the neighborhoods of Jackson Heights and Elmhurst “is pretty much okay” outside of downed trees. Overcrowded subway stations and gas shortages have become a problem, but Dromm said the gay bars and other businesses along bustling Roosevelt Avenue that were closed during the storm have since re-opened.

“Everything is back up and operational in Jackson Heights itself,” said Dromm. “We were very lucky.”

Gay New Yorkers persevere in spite of Sandy

Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, which is the country’s largest LGBT synagogue, will hold its weekly Shabbat service by candlelight at a Manhattan church later on Friday. Its group for older congregants will meet at a nearby diner beforehand for dinner.

Elmo, a restaurant on Seventh Avenue in Chelsea, on Wednesday served drinks in spite of the lack of electricity.

Even as New Yorkers try to return to some sense of normalcy, they continue to reflect upon the storm that devastated their city.

“You go from this thriving city uptown to just a ghost town downtown, which is really scary,” said Creager, who briefly returned to her apartment on Wednesday to pick up more clothes and other belongings. “There was a lot of traffic yesterday going up and down the West Side Highway because there’s no subway. There’s that feeling in the air, even on the Upper West Side like something major has happened.”

Dromm, who taught in the city’s public schools for 25 years until his 2009 election to the City Council, said he has “never seen anything like” Sandy “in my life in Queens.” He also applauded New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo for raising the issue of climate change during the storm’s aftermath.

“It’s a very important question,” said Dromm. “It’s really scary when you think about lower Manhattan—areas of lower Manhattan being flooded out like that. Government wasn’t even able to really operate in this storm. It’s very, very scary.”

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National

Activists demand ICE release transgender, HIV-positive detainees

Protest took place outside agency’s D.C. headquarters on Wednesday

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Jessycka Ckatallea Letona, an indigenous transgender woman from Guatemala who spent nearly two years in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody, participated in a protest in front of ICE's headquarters in Southwest D.C. on Oct. 27, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Jessycka Ckatallea Letona is an indigenous transgender woman from Guatemala who fled persecution in her homeland because of her gender identity.

She asked for asylum in the U.S. in 2016 when she entered the country in Eagle Pass, Texas.

Ckatallea on Wednesday told the Washington Blade that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials placed her in a pod with 70 men at a privately-run detention center in Florence, Ariz. She also said personnel at another ICE detention center in Santa Ana, Calif., ridiculed her because of her gender identity and forced her to strip naked before she attended hearings in her asylum case.

Ckatallea spent a year and eight months in ICE custody before her release. She won her asylum case and now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

“It was a very traumatic experience,” said Ckatallea as she spoke with the Blade in front of ICE’s headquarters in Southwest D.C. “I came to a country thinking that it would take care of me, that it would protect me because of my gender identity.”

Ckatallea is one of the more than a dozen immigrant rights activists who participated in a protest in front of ICE’s headquarters that Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, Immigration Equality and the End Trans Detention campaign organized. Ckatallea, Immigration Equality Executive Director Aaron Morris and other protest participants demanded ICE immediately release trans people and people with HIV/AIDS from their custody.

The groups placed on the sidewalk in front of the building a Day of the Dead “ofrenda” to honor three trans women—Victoria Orellano, Roxsana Hernández and Johana “Joa” Medina León—who died in ICE custody or immediately after their release. The “ofrenda” also paid tribute to Pablo Sánchez Gotopo, a Venezuelan man with AIDS who died in ICE custody on Oct. 1.

Immigrant rights activists on Oct. 27, 2021, placed a Day of the Dead “ofrenda” outside U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement headquarters in Southwest D.C. that honored three transgender women and a man with AIDS who died while in ICE custody or immediately upon their release. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Ckatallea, Morris and the other protesters approached the building’s entrance and presented security personnel with a petition that calls upon President Biden and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to “immediately release all transgender people, people living with HIV, and people with medical conditions from ICE custody.”

ICE has repeatedly defended its treatment of trans people and people with HIV/AIDS who are in their custody.

The Blade in July 2020 interviewed a person with HIV who was in ICE custody at the Adams County Detention Center, the same privately-run facility in which Gotopo was held until his hospitalization. The person with whom the Blade spoke described conditions inside the detention center as “not safe” because personnel were not doing enough to protect them and other detainees from COVID-19.

Congressman Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) is among the dozens of lawmakers who have called for the release of all trans people and people with HIV/AIDS from ICE custody. The Illinois Democrat on Tuesday reiterated this call during a virtual briefing that Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, Immigration Equality and the End Trans Detention Campaign organized.

“ICE’s clear inability to do better leads me to seek to end of ICE’s detention of all trans migrants,” said Quigley. “During both the Trump and Biden administration I led dozens of my colleagues to demand that ICE release transgender detainees and end its practice of holding trans migrants in custody. We had hoped that things would change with the new administration, so far I’m disappointed.”

Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) also participated in the briefing alongside Immigration Equality Legal Director Bridget Crawford and Sharita Gruberg of the Center for American Progress and others.

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Texas

Texas GOP Governor Greg Abbott signs anti-Trans youth sports bill

“Despite the powerful testimony of trans kids & adults- the emails to the Governor to veto this harmful piece of legislation it is now law”

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Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott (Blade file screenshot)

AUSTIN – Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law Monday H.B. 25, an anti-Transgender youth sports bill banning Trans K-12 student-athletes from playing on sports teams consistent with their gender identity. 

H.B. 25 is the 9th statewide bill signed into law this year banning transgender youth from participating in school sports and the 10th in the country. This bill also comes during a year when Texas lawmakers have proposed nearly 70 anti-LGBTQ bills, including more than 40 bills that specifically target transgender and nonbinary youth — far more than any other state.

“We are devastated at the passage of this bill. Despite the powerful testimony of trans kids and adults, families and advocates, and the many emails and calls our community placed to the Governor’s office to veto this harmful piece of legislation it is now law,” Ricardo Martinez, CEO of Equality Texas, said.

“Most immediately, our focus is our community and integrating concepts of healing justice to provide advocates who have already been harmed by this bill with spaces to refill their cup and unpack the acute trauma caused by these legislative sessions. Our organizations will also begin to shift focus to electing pro-equality lawmakers who understand our issues and prioritize representing the vast majority of Texans who firmly believe that discrimination against trans and LGB+ people is wrong,” he added.

Earlier this month, the Texas state government was criticized for removing web pages with resources for LGBTQ youth, including information about The Trevor Project’s crisis services. The Trevor Project the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ+ young people.

“Transgender and nonbinary youth are already at higher risk for poor mental health and suicide because of bullying, discrimination, and rejection. This misguided legislation will only make matters worse,” Amit Paley, CEO and Executive Director of The Trevor Project said in a statement released Monday afternoon.

To every trans Texan who may be feeling hurt and attacked by this legislation and months of ugly political debate — please know that you are valid, and you are deserving of equal opportunity, dignity and respect. The Trevor Project is here for you 24/7 if you ever need support, and we will continue fighting alongside a broad coalition of advocates to challenge this law,” Paley said.

********************

Additional resources:

Research consistently demonstrates that transgender and nonbinary youth face unique mental health challenges and an elevated risk for bullying and suicide risk compared to their peers.  

  • The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that more than half (52%) of transgender and nonbinary youth seriously considered suicide in the past year, and 1 in 5 attempted suicide. 94% of LGBTQ youth reported that recent politics negatively impacted their mental health. 
  • A newly published research brief on “Bullying and Suicide Risk among LGBTQ Youth,” found that 61% of transgender and nonbinary (TGNB) students reported being bullied either in-person or electronically in the past year, compared to 45% of cisgender LGBQ students. TGNB students who were bullied in the past year reported more than twice the rate of attempting suicide in the past year compared to those who were not. And TGNB students who said their school was LGBTQ-affirming reported significantly lower rates of being bullied (55%) compared to those in schools that weren’t LGBTQ-affirming (65%).
  • A 2020 peer-reviewed study found that transgender and nonbinary youth who report experiencing discrimination based on their gender identity had more than double the odds of attempting suicide in the past year compared to those who did not experience discrimination based on their gender identity.
  • Trevor’s research has also found that a majority of LGBTQ young people (68%) had never participated in sports for a school or community league or club — with many citing fear of bullying and discrimination as a key factor for not participating.

If you or someone you know needs help or support, The Trevor Project’s trained crisis counselors are available 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386, via chat at TheTrevorProject.org/Help, or by texting START to 678678.

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National

Ohio high school cancels play with Gay character after Pastor complains

The School’s fall production of “She Kills Monsters” was scheduled to open in less than one month until the play was canceled

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Hillsboro High School (Screenshot via Cincinnati ABC affiliate WCPO-TV)

HILLSBORO, Oh. — A Southwest Ohio high school’s play was abruptly canceled after Jeff Lyle, a local pastor from Good News Gathering, complained of a gay character. 

Hillsboro High School’s fall production of “She Kills Monsters” was scheduled to open in less than one month, until students learned the play would be canceled last week, reports Cincinnati’s ABC affiliate WCPO

The story follows a high school senior as she learns about her late sister’s life. It is implied throughout the play that her sister is gay, according to the news station.

The play’s cancellation comes a week after Lyle, a long-time voice of the anti-LGBTQ+ religious-right in Ohio, and a group of parents confronted the production’s directors at a meeting, according to Cincinnati CBS affiliate Local 12. Lyle denies pressuring school officials, but tells WCPO he supports the decision.

“From a Biblical worldview this play is inappropriate for a number of reasons, e.g. sexual innuendo, implied sexual activity between unmarried persons, repeated use of foul language including taking the Lord’s name in vain,” Lyle said. 

Some families say they believe Lyle did influence the school’s decision. 

“I think that’s wrong,” Jon Polstra, a father of one of the actors, told WCPO. “All they would have had to do if they objected to something in the play was not go to the play.”

In a statement to Local 12, Hillsboro City Schools Superintendent Tim Davis said the play was canceled because it “was not appropriate for our K-12 audience.”

The Lexington Herald Leader reports that the school planned to perform a version intended for audiences as young as 11 years old. 

Students were “devastated” and “blindsided” by the news, according to WCPO. 

“It felt like we had just been told, ‘Screw off and your lives don’t matter,'” Christopher Cronan, a Hillsboro High student, said. “I am openly bisexual in that school and I have faced a lot of homophobia there, but I never expected them to cancel a play for a fictional character.”

Cronan’s father, Ryan, also voiced his frustration. 

“They want to say the town is just not ready, but how are you not ready? It’s 2021,” Ryan Cronan said.

Students have started a GoFundMe in hopes of putting on the production at a community theater in 2022.

“If we do raise enough money, I am going to be genuinely happy for a very long time, because that means people do care,” Cronan told WCPO.

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