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AIDS group NAPWA declares bankruptcy

Source says Md. prosecutor investigating after funds go missing

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Frank Oldham, NAPWA, National Association of People With AIDS, National Gay Men's HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, gay news, Washington Blade

Former President of the National Association of People with AIDS Frank Oldham, Jr. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

With creditors owed more than $750,000, the National Association of People with AIDS filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy on Thursday and announced it is going out of business 30 years after it was founded in 1983.

“The National Association of People with AIDS (NAPWA) – the largest, oldest, and most trusted voice for the 1.2 million people living with HIV/AIDS in the U.S. – has ceased operations and has filed a petition in United States Bankruptcy Court to discharge its debts in bankruptcy and liquidate,” the chair of the group’s Board of Trustees, Tyler TerMeer, said in a Feb. 14 statement.

The two-page statement highlights NAPWA’s pioneering work on behalf of the rights and wellbeing of people with HIV and AIDS but provides no further information on how NAPWA’s financial health deteriorated to the point where the group was forced into bankruptcy.

One source familiar with NAPWA and some of its board members said the bankruptcy filing follows reports late last year that as much as $700,000 in NAPWA funds was either missing or unaccounted for.

According to the source, the discovery that funds were unaccounted for prompted the board to ask the Montgomery County States Attorney’s office to investigate the matter.

Ramon Korionoff, a spokesperson for the Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office, would neither confirm nor deny his office was investigating NAPWA’s finances, saying the office never discloses an ongoing investigation.

Questions about the reported missing funds surfaced at a time when NAPWA was facing a financial crisis that, among other things, prevented it from paying the rent for its Silver Spring, Md., offices for several months and prevented it from meeting its payroll.

The bankruptcy filing shows that many of NAPWA’s former employees are listed as creditors who are owed sums of money ranging from several hundred dollars to more than $4,000.

NAPWA’s landlord, Brookfield Properties, is owed $75,000 in back rent, according to the bankruptcy filing.

Last October, Frank Oldham, who served as NAPWA’s president and CEO since 2006, announced his resignation effective Dec. 31. But Oldham left his post in November, one month earlier than expected, sources familiar with the group said, raising speculation that he was forced out by the board.

In what the group called a restructuring initiative to cut costs, the board dismissed NAPWA’s Executive Vice President Stephen Bailous, in November.

In December, NAPWA Board Chair TerMeer told the Blade the board eliminated the positions of executive vice president, vice president for development, and vice president for communications as a “cost cutting measure” in November. He declined to comment on whether Oldham was forced out a month sooner than his announced resignation date, saying the organization never discusses personnel matters.

Oldham and Bailous couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

Among the creditors listed in the bankruptcy filing is the District of Columbia HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, and Sexually Transmitted Disease Administration (HAHSTA), which reportedly is owed $54,000. It couldn’t immediately be determined why NAPWA owes money to the D.C. AIDS administration. However, NAPWA has received grants and contracts from HAHSTA in recent years to provide AIDS-related services.

In a Dec. 5 open letter to the community, TerMeer for the first time mentioned publicly that NAPWA was having financial problems.

“These are difficult times for the nonprofit sector,” he said. “This is no less true for local, state and national AIDS Service Organizations (ASOs), which across the United States are struggling to retain services and keep their doors open. These challenging times present new opportunities to focus on excellence, bring new accountability, promote re-organization for long-term stability and implement strategic vision,” he said.

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National

WATCH: Washington Post grills transphobic Libs of TikTok creator

Libs of TikTok creator Chaya Raichik said she doesn’t believe in gender-affirming care & espouses other anti-LGBTQ+ viewpoints

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Chaya Raichik, founder of Libs of TikTok is interviewed by Washington Post journalist Taylor Lorenz.in California. (Screenshot/YouTube The Washington Post)

Grilled on a range of topics during an interview with Washington Post journalist Taylor Lorenz, Chaya Raichik, spoke about the great replacement theory, the death of Nex Benedict, a 16-year-old nonbinary in high school student in Oklahoma, why she won’t delete her false accusations about the Uvalde shooter and other mass-shooters, her views on gender, feminism and more.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Guilty verdict in first federal murder trial based on gender identity

Dime Doe killed in S.C. in 2019

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Dime Doe (Family photo)

A federal jury on Friday handed down a guilty verdict of a man accused of murdering a Black transgender woman in what is classified as the first in the nation federal trial over a hate crime based on gender identity.

After a 4-day trial in a federal hate crime case, a jury found a South Carolina man, Daqua Lameek Ritter, guilty of all charges in the indictment, which included one hate crime count, one federal firearms count and one obstruction count, all arising out of the murder of Dime Doe.

“Acts of violence against LGBTQI+ people, including transgender women of color like Dime Doe, are on the rise and have no place in our society,” said Acting Associate Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer. “The Justice Department takes seriously all bias-motivated acts of violence and will not hesitate to hold accountable those who commit them. No one should have to live in fear of deadly violence because of who they are.”

According to court documents and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, evidence presented at trial showed that Ritter was upset that rumors about his sexual relationship with Dime Doe were out in the community. On Aug. 4, 2019, the defendant lured Doe to a remote area in Allendale, S.C., and shot her three times in the head. At trial, the government proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Ritter murdered Doe because of her gender identity. Ritter then burned the clothes he was wearing during the crime, disposed of the murder weapon and repeatedly lied to law enforcement. 

This was the first trial under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act for violence against a trans person. The Shepard-Byrd Act is a landmark federal statute passed in 2009 which allows federal criminal prosecution of hate crimes motivated by the victim’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

“A unanimous jury has found the defendant guilty for the heinous and tragic murder of Dime Doe, a Black transgender woman,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The jury’s verdict sends a clear message: Black trans lives matter, bias-motivated violence will not be tolerated and perpetrators of hate crimes will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. This case is historic; this defendant is the first to be found guilty by trial verdict for a hate crime motivated by gender identify under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. We want the Black trans community to know that you are seen and heard, that we stand with the LGBTQI+ community and that we will use every tool available to seek justice for victims and their families.”

Ritter faces a maximum penalty of life in prison. A sentencing hearing will be scheduled at a later date. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering federal sentencing guidelines and other statutory factors.

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Oklahoma

Okla. lawmaker describes LGBTQ people as ‘filth’

State Sen. Tom Woods made comment on Friday

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Oklahoma state Sen. Tom Woods (Photo courtesy of Woods' state Senate website)

Republican Oklahoma state Sen. Tom Woods took part in a public legislative panel forum on Friday, during which the panel was asked by a constituent about the death of Nex Benedict, a 16-year-old nonbinary Owasso High School student who had been attacked and beaten in a school bathroom. 

The Oklahoma Voice reported that Cathy Cott, a 64-year-old semi-retired resident, asked the lawmakers why the Legislature had such an obsession with the LGBTQ citizens of the state, what people do in their personal lives and how they raise their children, according to the Tahlequah Daily Press, which first reported the remarks.

When she got no answer, she asked about the bills targeting the LGBTQ community.

“Why does the Legislature have such an obsession with the LGBTQ citizens of Oklahoma and what people do in their personal lives and how they raise their children?” Cott asked.

Woods replied, “We are a Republican state — supermajority — in the House and Senate. I represent a constituency that doesn’t want that filth in Oklahoma. You know we are a religious state. We are going to fight and keep that filth out of the state of Oklahoma because we’re a Christian state” 

The Tahlequah Daily Press also reported several audience members clapped, while others appeared shocked.

Cott said in an interview with Oklahoma Voice that she was not surprised by Woods’ answer.

Cott said she has many family and friends who are LGBTQ.

“I have dealt with other state representatives and senators and been to lobby day and tried to advocate for the LGBTQ+ community when I can so I am used to it,” she said. “They haven’t said anything like this to me before where they describe citizens of the state as filth, but they let me know they just don’t care.”

She said Woods’ remarks absolutely contribute to the hostile climate in the state for the LGBTQ community.

Prior to his election to his seat to represent Oklahoma’s Senate District 4 in 2022, Woods was a farmer and business owner. He ran a dairy farm, feed store and trucking company. His district runs along the eastern border of Oklahoma from West Fort Smith to Grove, and runs into Tahlequah.

Another Republican, state Sen. Dewayne Pemberton, a former teacher, told the audience he’s always seen educators’ jobs as “to educate students, not indoctrinate students.”

In a statement to the Washington Blade, Human Rights Campaign National Press Secretary Brandon Wolf said:

“The only ‘filth’ here is this vile statement from a sitting state senator. This is the kind of hate speech that incites deadly violence against our communities. This is what we mean when we say that the flames of dehumanization and hate have been fanned in Oklahoma. Enough is enough. There needs to be accountability for this climate of hate — and the damage being done.”

GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis told the Blade:

“Enough is enough. Oklahoma’s Republican leaders are continuing to nurture a climate of anti-LGBTQ animus, modeling disgusting anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, questioning our very humanity, attacking marginalized youth and educators who support them and improperly handling bullying and assaults at school. Leaders with a bully pulpit have the power to inspire empathy and understanding, but they also have the power to inspire hate, bullying and physical attacks. These so-called leaders fomenting hate, Sen. Tom Woods, Supt. Ryan Walters, Gov. Kevin Stitt are failing Oklahoma’s youth in dangerous and myriad ways.”

There has been national outage in reaction to the death of Benedict. Vice President Kamala Harris, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, House Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) are among those in leadership decrying the death and the political climate that LGBTQ advocacy groups say have been contributing factors.

HRC President Kelley Robinson has called for federal investigations by the U.S. Justice and Education Departments.

In her social media post, the vice president said: “My heart goes out to Nex Benedict’s family, friends, and their entire community. To the LGBTQI+ youth who are hurting and are afraid right now: President Joe Biden and I see you, we stand with you and you are not alone.”

Republican Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, who in 2022 signed an anti-trans bill prohibiting students from using public school restrooms that do not match the sex listed on their birth certificates, wrote in his statement that “our hearts go out to Nex’s family, classmates and the Owasso community. The death of any child in an Oklahoma school is a tragedy — and bullies must be held accountable.”

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