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Gray, Ellerbe attend Transgender Day of Remembrance event

D.C. fire chief apologized for EMS’ refusal to treat Tyra Hunter after 1995 car accident



Kenneth Ellerbe, FEMS, Transgender Day of Remembrance, gay news, Washington Blade
Jessica Xavier, Transgender Day of Remembrance, Washington Blade, gay news

Transgender Remembrance Day was observed at the Metropolitan Community Church of D.C. on Tuesday. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Hundreds of people gathered at the Metropolitan Community Church in Northwest Washington on Tuesday to commemorate the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance.

“It is a special day today that we think about our transgender brothers and sisters, those that are no longer on this planet and those who remain in this room who stand on the front lines fighting every day,” said Rev. Abena McCray of Unity Fellowship Church D.C. “We honor you.”

Brian Watson of Transgender Health Empowerment honored Mayor Vincent Gray and Lisa Mallory, director of the D.C. Department of Employment Services, for their work on behalf of trans Washingtonians. He specifically applauded the Gray administration for nominating Earline Budd and Alexandra Beninda to the city’s Human Rights Commission, launching the country’s first publicly-funded campaign to combat anti-trans discrimination and implementing the Project Empowerment employment initiative for trans Washingtonians.

More than 70 people have graduated from the program since it began in Sept. 2011.

Vincent Gray, Transgender Remembrance Day, gay news, Washington Blade

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

“It is the right thing to do,” said Gray after he and Mallory accepted their awards. “This symbolizes too that it is time, it is time for us to make sure if we’re going to call ourselves one city, than everybody in the District of Columbia will have a place to be able to enjoy life in one city in the District of Columbia.”

Gwendolyn Ann Smith organized the first Transgender Day of Remembrance as a way to honor Rita Hester, a trans woman murdered inside her Boston apartment in Nov. 1998.

The D.C. event was one of dozens of Transgender Day of Remembrance commemorations, candlelight vigils and other gatherings held across the United States and around the world.

A group of trans activists gathered at the White House earlier in the day to discuss what Budd described as “the crisis and issues of discrimination facing the transgender community.” Gray also declared Nov. 20, 2012, as Transgender Day of Remembrance in D.C.

“We come to remember and honor the life and love of those loved ones and friends and family that we’ve lost,” said Jeffrey Richardson, director of the Mayor’s Office of GLBT Affairs. “The sorrow’s still with us. The pain stays with us, but we also must celebrate the resilience, the connectedness, the love that exists within our community. We continue to get up and rise over and over and over and over again despite the challenges and circumstances that so many in our community and all of us collectively face.”

Metropolitan Police Department statistics indicate there have been nine reported bias-related crimes based on gender identity and expression in D.C. from January through October, compared to seven during the same period in 2011.

A jury late last month convicted off-duty D.C. police officer Kenneth Furr of assault with a dangerous weapon and solicitation for prostitution after prosecutors contend he shot at three trans women and their two male friends while they were sitting in a car. The D.C. Superior Court panel acquitted him with assault with intent to kill while armed and five other charges in connection with the Aug. 2011 incident.

A Human Rights Watch report in July criticized D.C. police for confiscating condoms from trans prostitutes and other sex workers.

Those who gathered at Metropolitan Community Church also paid tribute to Deoni Jones, who was stabbed to death at a Northeast Metro bus stop in February. Her mother, Jadean Jones, noted she became a receptionist at a Southeast D.C. hair salon after graduating from Project Empowerment.

“That was his title, but JaParker (Deoni Jones’ birth name) always did their hair and make-up,” said Jadean Jones. “I’m going to support y’all all the way to the end because I knew what my son stood for and what he meant.”

D.C. Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe used the Transgender Day of Remembrance commemoration to apologize on behalf of the department for the emergency medical personnel who declined to treat Tyra Hunter after a 1995 car accident once they discovered she was trans. Hunter subsequently died from her injuries.

“I want to say on behalf of the department, I’m truly sorry for what happened,” said Ellerbe. “Tyra Hunter’s case forced us to take a serious look at how we view and address this city’s very diverse population. Under Mayor Gray’s leadership, the District of Columbia continues to grow and flourish. And before this message gets lost in the words, I want to say again on behalf of the entire Fire and EMS Department I’m sorry for what happened and we are committed to doing better for this community throughout the city.”

Trans activist Geri Hughes said Hunter’s case has “always bothered me” as she introduced Ellerbe.

“He’s here tonight because he is a responsible man and he’s a good man,” she said. “He wants to take responsibility and apologize on behalf of the fire and emergency medical services for that lapse in service.”

The mother and siblings of NaNa Boo Mack, who stabbed to death in 2009, also attended the Transgender Day of Remembrance commemoration. Co-organizer Xion Lopez placed Mack’s ashes onto a table on the stage at the beginning of the event.

Kenneth Ellerbe, FEMS, Transgender Day of Remembrance, gay news, Washington Blade

Fire Chief of the District of Columbia Fire & EMS Department Kenneth Ellerbe (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)



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  1. Laura

    November 24, 2012 at 8:18 am

    The Trans-community is STILL treated worse than dogs. The M.P.D. treats transgender people like criminals anytime they’re seen after sunset. The Metropolitan Police assume that every trans-woman is a sex-worker no matter where they are or what they’re doing. Confiscating condoms should be a felony, especially when it’s done by the Police.

    Our community will fight forward into the future in spite of the fact that we’re treated like second – class citizens. Until we receive the rights we deserve there will be no equality for Trans people here or around the globe. No peace, no justice, no way!

    Even the GLB community views trans people with suspicion and unless you pass perfectly ALL the time we can’t hide in the shadows like the gay, lesbian and bi members of our community. So we’re discriminated against regularly and more viciously than the gays and lesbians and IT”S LEGAL! It’s time to pass ENDA!

  2. Harry Johnson

    November 28, 2012 at 12:22 am

    “Confiscating condoms should be a felony”? I’m sure the Human Rights Watch could care less about straight prostitutes and sex-workers getting their condoms confiscated though. Only when it is relevant to their interests. The confiscation of property used to commit a crime, prostitution, is just as subject to forfeiture as a drug dealer’s money or product. Your ignorance and subjective thinking while reading this article is very obvious. I find it disheartening that the gestapo-like tactics from the few tend to sully the good work done by the many to advance positive changes for the community.

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Howard County activists and allies hit back at censorship, hate

More than 100 people attended ‘We ARE the People’ rally



(Photo by Bob Ford)

A diverse crowd of 100 to 200 folks gathered at the Columbia Lakefront on Saturday to attend a rally to push back against censorship in the county’s public schools as well as homophobia and transphobia emanating from a group of conservative parents.

The rally called “We ARE the People” was organized in response to the comments and actions by members of a Maryland-based conservative group “We the People 2” that among other things are anti-masks, anti-vaccinations and are opposed to teaching racial history in the schools. They also oppose two books that are in Howard County Public Schools library shelves: “Gender Queer” and “Lawn Boy.”

Speakers at a We the People 2 rally last month at an Elkridge warehouse condemned the books, which contain LGBTQ characters, as sexually explicit. The group later filed police reports against the Board of Education alleging the books constitute pornography with “graphic sexual content and materials being used and disseminated in public schools,” according to the group’s press release.  A flier announcing this action used the loaded terminology, “We must not allow our children to be abused and victimized.”

Among the speakers at the Elkridge rally was Republican Gordana Schifanelli who is running for lieutenant governor on the ticket with Daniel Cox. Another speaker, George Johnson, a teacher from Baltimore City, was heard on a video of the event saying, “We’re doing God’s work because Marxism, homosexuality and transgenderism is the devil.”

In response, the pro-LGBTQ rally in Columbia announced the following:

We are taking a stance against hate in the community as we raise our voices in support of equity in our schools. Attacks on teachers and school staff have prompted us to stand united and drown out the noise.

In addition, We ARE the People states:

We stand for LGBTQ+ students and educational professionals

Teaching accurate history to our students

Supporting equitable practices in our schools

Providing students with relevant LGBTQ+ media through their school libraries

The two-hour rally, which was attended by several county council members, featured speakers representing a wide swath of community, educational, religious and political organizations. They included: Community Allies of Rainbow Youth (CARY), Black Lives Activists of Columbia (BLAC), Absolutely Dragulous, Howard County Schools, PFLAG-Columbia/Howard County, IndivisibleHoCoMd, Columbia Democratic Club, Howard Progressive Project, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia (UUCC), HoCo Pride, Progressive Democrats of Howard County, and the Columbia United Christian Church.

Many of the speakers denounced the censorship of materials that are needed by many LGBTQ students. Genderqueer and non-binary students, they point out, are most vulnerable and need affirming literature to help with their development and self-acceptance. The speakers also decried hate speech, which has surfaced again, as well as the opposition to teaching history as it relates to race.

Others argued that the community must not sit back and take it from extremist groups.

“You are all defenders,” said Cynthia Fikes, president of the Columbia Democratic Club, in a fiery speech. “But to succeed a strong defense also needs a strong offense.”

The two books in question were recently the center of controversy in the Fairfax County (Va.) school system. The books were removed in September from the shelves of the high schools pending a comprehensive review following opposition from a parent at a school board meeting. It should be noted that both books were previous winners of the American Library Association’s Alex Awards, which each year recognize “10 books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults, ages 12 through 18.”  

The board established two committees consisting of parents, staff and students to assess the content of the books and make recommendations to the assistant superintendent of instructional services who would make the final determination.

One committee found that “Lawn Boy” includes themes that “are affirming for students” with marginalized identities. “There is no pedophilia in the book,” the committee added. The other committee found that “Gender Queer” depicts “difficulties non-binary and asexual individuals may face.” The committee concluded that “the book neither depicts nor describes pedophilia.” The books were restored to the shelves.

“As this backlash against LGTBQ+ literature demonstrates, we must be ready to stand up and defend the progress we have made,” said Jennifer Mallo, member of the Howard County Board of Education, expressing her own point of view. “We must ensure our elected officials understand and share our values and will fight for our marginalized students.”

The enthusiastic crowd was clearly pleased with the event.

“Today’s rally was meant to inspire our community to take action,” said Chris Hefty, who was the lead organizer of the rally and the emcee. “Action that protects our youth. Action that protects our educators and admins. This action comes in the form of advocacy, communication with elected officials so they know your voice, and through well informed voting to ensure those who represent us are those we know will support us. We shared a message of love, acceptance, and warmth.”

Hefty adds, “The unity we facilitated through this rally was a sight to behold. As the lead organizer I couldn’t have been more pleased! In the future we will be sure to better meet the needs of all our community members. We thank all those in our community for their support and feedback and look forward to accomplishing great things together moving forward.”

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Comings & Goings

Nathanson takes role at Outright Action



Rikki Nathanson

The Comings & Goings column is about sharing the professional successes of our community. We want to recognize those landing new jobs, new clients for their business, joining boards of organizations and other achievements. Please share your successes with us at: [email protected] 

The Comings & Goings column also invites LGBTQ+ college students to share their successes with us. If you have been elected to a student government position, gotten an exciting internship, or are graduating and beginning your career with a great job, let us know so we can share your success. 

Congratulations to Rikki Nathanson on her new position as Senior Advisor – Global Trans Program with OutRight Action International in New York. Nathanson will be based in D.C.  

 “I am absolutely thrilled to be taking on this new role as Senior Advisor in OutRight’s Global Trans Program,” said Nathanson. “I have finally found the perfect fit for me: as a trans woman who has been fighting for equality not only for myself, but for others globally, this position is not only a job, it’s intrinsically part of who I am. So, what better way to live, nurture and grow myself.” 

Nathanson will be working closely with all program staff to ensure a cohesive and intentional approach to gender issues throughout OutRight’s programs, including its approach to gender ideology movements. She will lead new initiatives on gender advocacy and policy change, focused but not limited to legal gender recognition and anti-discrimination legislation and policies.

Prior to this Nathanson was director of housing programs at Casa Ruby in D.C. She has also held a number of other positions including: founder/executive director of Trans Research, Education, Advocacy & Training (TREAT), Zimbabwe; chairperson Southern Africa Trans Forum, SATF, Cape Town, South Africa; executive director, Ricochet Modeling Agency, Zimbabwe; and company secretary for Dunlop Zimbabwe Limited, Zimbabwe. 

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SMYAL Director Shakir to step down Dec. 31

Board to launch Executive Search beginning in January



SMYAL Executive Director Sultan Shakir addresses the crowd at the 2021 Fall Brunch. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Sultan Shakir, who has served as executive director of D.C.’s LGBTQ youth advocacy organization SMYAL since August 2014, announced on Friday that he will be stepping down from his position effective Dec. 31.

In a Dec. 3 announcement, SMYAL said details of Shakir’s future career plans would be announced in the coming weeks.

“While we are sad to see Sultan leave, we wish him nothing but the same success in his new endeavor as he had at SMYAL,” said Rob Cogorno, SMYAL’s board chair. “His leadership and vision enabled SMYAL to expand greatly needed services to LGBTQ youth in the DC metro area throughout his tenure,” Cogorno said.

“I am immensely proud of the work we have been able to accomplish together in my time at SMYAL,” Shakir said in a statement released by SMYAL. “SMYAL has been an integral and vital resource in the DMV community for over 37 years, and while we have come a long way in combating homophobia, transphobia, racism, sexual health stigma, homelessness, violence against the LGBTQ community, and oppression, we have a long way to go,” he said.

“This work has never been about one person,” said Shakir. “SMYAL was founded by our community and we’re still around because of our community,” he said. “I leave knowing that the commitment and passion of the SMYAL Board, staff, volunteers, and youth leaders have created a solid foundation from which our work will continue to grow until LGBTQ youth no longer need us.”

The SMYAL statement says that under Shakir’s tenure, SMYAL, which stands for Supporting and Mentoring Youth Advocates and Leaders, expanded its programs and services for LGBTQ youth. Among other things, in 2017 SMYAL opened its first of several housing facilities for homeless LGBTQ youth that include culturally competent case management, education and employment assistance.

“The Youth Housing Program now comprises five programmatic models that serve a combined 61 youth residents,” the statement says.

It points out that also under Shakir’s leadership, SMYAL expanded the age range of the youth its programs serve under a new Little SMYALs program, which welcomes LGBTQ youth ages 6-12. And earlier in 2021 under Shakir’s guidance, SMYAL began a new Clinical Services Department “which provides affirming and accessible mental health counseling,” the statement says.

“The SMYAL Board of Directors will officially launch an Executive Search beginning in January 2022 and expects to have named a new Executive Director by summer 2022,” the statement says. It says the board will soon name an interim executive director to work with SMYAL’s Deputy Executive Director, Jorge Membreno, and the organization’s leadership team to oversee the day-to-day activities until a new executive director is named.

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