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Transgender hairstylist continues to give back

Brandi Ahzionae works as apprentice in Maryland salon

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Brandi Ahzionae, Gay News, Washington Blade
Brandi Ahzionae, Gay News, Washington Blade

Transgender hairstylist apprentice Brandi Ahzionae has been working with Consuella Lopez to pursue her dreams. (Photo courtesy of Brandi Ahzionae)

Brandi Ahzionae of Southeast D.C. was at the official launch of the city’s transgender rights campaign at Mova on 14th Street, N.W., last September when she met Montgomery County hairstylist Consuella Lopez.

Lopez, who appeared in the campaign the D.C. Office of Human Rights created, began speaking with Ahzionae through Facebook and other social media networks.

Consuella Lopez, gay news, Washington Blade

Consuella Lopez at her Bethesda, Md., studio on June 17. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Ahzionae, who had just enrolled in Project Empowerment, a D.C. jobs initiative designed to reduce unemployment and poverty rates among trans Washingtonians, declined Lopez’s invitation to model for a calendar she was producing for Casa Ruby, a multicultural LGBT community center in Northwest Washington. Lopez subsequently invited Ahzionae to become her apprentice at Nivál Salon and Spa in Chevy Chase, Md., where she worked at the time.

She accepted the offer.

“She was like, what do you want to do with your life?” Ahzionae told the Washington Blade during a recent interview. “We talked more about that. She was like, great, I can help you do that. She then pulled me to the salon and then started the apprenticeship thing and it’s been great ever sense.”

Ahzionae now works alongside Lopez in the studio she opened inside an old dance studio near Bethesda Row in Bethesda, Md., in May.

Lopez, who is a licensed senior stylist in Maryland, is able to license Ahzionae as an apprentice for two years. Ahzionae will be able to obtain her own license at the end of her two-year apprenticeship in May 2015 if she passes a test.

In the meantime, Ahzionae is attending classes once a week at Aesthetics Institute of Cosmetology in Gaithersburg, Md., that the school’s director offered to her for free.

“We are working together as a team now,” Ahzionae said, adding she has also begun to build her own clientele. “I am her left hand in the salon.”

Lopez, who transitioned in 1992 when she was 18, began working in hair salons as an assistant when she was a child.

She and a friend in 2006 opened a salon and day spa in Georgetown that closed after 19 months. Lopez subsequently began working at Nivál – formerly the Ted Gibson Salon and Hela Spa – in Chevy Chase in 2008.

Lopez – who has worked with Anna Wintour, Patricia Arquette, Tracy Edmonds, Mila Kunis, Mindy Cohen, the Real Housewives of D.C. and other celebrities – told the Blade during an interview at her studio late last month that she feels it is important to provide trans people opportunities that “most girls don’t have.”

Ahzionae became homeless after her mother died when she was 13. She was also incarcerated for what she described as the “result of lifestyle.”

“I don’t want that to happen to anybody,” Lopez told the Blade. “If I were in that situation I would want someone to help me.”

She further stressed she believes in Ahzionae and “she has shown me.”

“She shows up to work, daily, in and out,” Lopez said. “She is working it right and still having clients in between.”

“I think she’s doing really, really well,” Casa Ruby CEO Ruby Corado, who has worked with Lopez since 2011, told the Blade on Tuesday. “I’m so glad that she found Consuella who’s mentoring her.”

As for Ahzionae, she hopes she will be able to continue to give back to her community.

She had written for VenusPlusX, a website co-founded by D.C. activists Alison Gardner and Dan Massey that advocates for sexual freedom.

Ahzione now produces a newsletter called the DMV Trans Circulator that seeks to create what its website describes as a “trans community inside and outside the prison walls in D.C., Md., and Va.” that is “free from imprisonment, police violence, racism and poverty.” She recently received a grant from the Diverse City Fund, which supports groups that work among communities of color.

Ahzione also looks to continue to give back at the salon and the clients with whom she works.

“My job is to make everything OK,” she said. “If I drop the ball, everything goes wrong. There’s a lot of work to be done, but I welcome the challenge and I think I’m tackling it pretty well.”

Ahzione also remains thankful to Lopez for inviting her to work with her.

“People don’t care about trans women trying to make a difference,” she said.” They don’t care and she does.”

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Virginia

Man who killed one in 2000 Roanoke gay bar shooting dies in prison

One of the worst bias attacks targeting LGBTQ community

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Ronald Edward Gay died while serving life sentences for attacking a Virginia gay bar. (Washington Blade clipping from Sept. 29, 2000)

A man sentenced to four consecutive life terms in prison for the September 2000 shooting at a gay bar in Roanoke, Va., in which one man lost his life and six others were wounded, died of natural causes on Jan. 15, according to the Virginia Department of Corrections.

A spokesperson for the Department of Corrections told WSLA 10 TV News that Ronald Edward Gay died while being treated at a hospital near the Deerfield Correctional Center, a state prison where he had been living as an inmate. He was 75. 

Witnesses and law enforcement officials reported at the time of the shooting that a middle-aged man later identified as Gay arrived alone at Roanoke’s Backstreet Café, a popular gay bar, on the night of Sept. 22, 2000.

According to an account by an eyewitness to the incident who spoke last week with the Roanoke Times newspaper, after ordering a beer and standing next to the bar for a short time, Gay reached into the long trench coat he was wearing, pulled out a 9mm pistol, and fired a round “straight into the chest of 43-year-old Danny Overstreet, before opening fire on the rest of the bar.”

Overstreet, a beloved regular patron at the Backstreet Café, died at the scene of the shooting. Six others, who were wounded by bullets fired by Gay, later recovered, but they and many others who were present and witnessed the shooting were left emotionally scarred, the Roanoke Times reported.

In the weeks following the shooting, news media outlets, including the Washington Blade and the Washington Post, reported findings of an investigation by local police that Gay told police he went to Backstreet specifically to target gay people because he became bitter after years of being taunted and teased for his last name of “Gay.”

The Roanoke Times reported that, among other things, Gay told police “God told him to do it” and that he once wrote that there was an evil inside of him telling him “to shoot or have no rest.”

Gay later pleaded guilty to multiple charges against him, including murder. On July 23, 2001, he was sentenced to four consecutive life sentences in prison for the shooting incident and the murder of Overstreet.

The Backstreet incident in Roanoke was considered by LGBTQ rights advocates and others to be one of the worst incidents in which LGBTQ people were targeted for a shooting until the June 2016 shooting at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., in which 49 people died and 53 more were wounded in a mass shooting by 29-year-old Omar Mateen.

Mateen, who was shot and killed by Orlando police after a three-hour standoff, told police in a phone call from inside the nightclub after the shooting began that he swore allegiance to the leader of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and his attack against the gay nightclub was motivated by the U.S. military intervention in Iraq and Syria. The FBI later classified the incident as a terrorist attack.

The Roanoke Times reported that the shooting incident at Backstreet Café prompted LGBTQ residents and allies to gather in the days and weeks after the incident for vigils and marches. About 1,000 people walked through the streets of downtown Roanoke to honor the life of Overstreet and to urge Congress to pass federal hate crimes legislation, the newspaper reported.

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Va. senator introduces anti-transgender student athlete bill

Democrats have vowed to thwart anti-LGBTQ measures in state Senate

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transgender, Gender Conference East, trans, transgender flag, gay news, Washington Blade
(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A Virginia lawmaker has introduced a bill that would ban transgender students from joining school sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity.

Senate Bill 766, which state Sen. Jennifer Kiggans (R-Virginia Beach) introduced on Friday, would require “each elementary or secondary school or a private school that competes in sponsored athletic events against such public schools to designate athletic teams, whether a school athletic team or an intramural team sponsored by such school, based on biological sex as follows: (i) ‘males,’ ‘men,’ or ‘boys’; (ii) ‘females,’ ‘women,’ or ‘girls’; or (iii) ‘coed’ or ‘mixed.'”

“Under the bill, male students are not permitted to participate on any school athletic team or squad designated for ‘females,’ ‘women,’ or ‘girls’; however, this provision does not apply to physical education classes at schools,” adds the bill. “The bill provides civil penalties for students and schools that suffer harm as a result of a violation of the bill. Such civil actions are required to be initiated within two years after the harm occurred.”

Kiggans introduced her bill less than a week after Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin took office.

Youngkin during his campaign said he does not support allowing trans children to play on sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity. Elizabeth Schultz, an anti-LGBTQ former member of the Fairfax County School Board, has been named the Virginia Department of Education’s Assistant Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The General Assembly’s 2022 legislative session began on Jan. 12 with Republicans in control of the state House of Delegates. Democrats still control the state Senate, and they have pledged to thwart any anti-LGBTQ bills.

“Let’s be clear: This is part of an ongoing, nationwide effort to exclude trans people from enjoying the benefits of sports like their cisgender peers,” tweeted the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia on Friday after Kiggans introduced SB 766. “We won’t tolerate this.”

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Comings & Goings

Hazen inducted into Cooperative Hall of Fame

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Paul Hazen

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 Paul Hazen on his being inducted into the 2022 Cooperative Hall of Fame.  On receiving the honor, he said, “I am very lucky to be given the opportunity to combine my work in international development with my volunteer cooperative development work in Washington DC.”

Hazen is executive director, U.S. Overseas Cooperative Development Council (OCDC) and has devoted his career to elevating the cooperative voice domestically and internationally. U.S. co-ops include Ace Hardware, Land O’Lakes, Inc., Sunkist, REI and the Associated Press. Hazen helped establish federal legislation promoting rural co-op development.  

Prior to joining OCDC, he was CEO of Washington, D.C.-based National Cooperative Business Association CLUSA International. During his 25-year tenure with the organization, he held key positions, including chief operating officer, vice president of public policy, vice president of member services and director of consumer cooperatives.

He worked for Rep. Al Baldus (Wisc.). He was executive director of Rural Housing Inc. in Madison, Wisc., where he developed co-ops and affordable housing projects in rural communities. 

As a volunteer, Hazen formed the Community Purchasing Alliance (CPA) with 12 congregations in D.C.  In 2020, CPA secured more than $18.7 million in contracts resulting in an investment of $13 million in D.C.-based small businesses owned by people of color.

Ben Finzel

Congratulations also to Ben Finzel, who was inducted into the National Capital Public Relations Hall of Fame. Upon receiving the honor, he said “To be recognized by your peers is wonderful; to be honored by them is amazing. I still can’t quite believe I have done enough to be worthy of this recognition, but I know enough to be thankful and appreciative of this high honor. Thank you PRSA National Capital Chapter for including me in such inspiring company; I will be forever grateful.”

Finzel is president of RENEWPR, a D.C.-based public affairs, communications consulting firm. In 2004, he helped launch FH Out Front, the first global LGBTQ communications practice at an international firm, Fleishman Hillard, and served as its first global chair. He started DC Family Communicators, a professional networking group for LGBTQ communications professionals. Finzel served on the Victory Campaign Board of the LGBTQ Victory Fund from 2007 to 2017.

His firm is currently celebrating its seventh year in business. To recognize that accomplishment, Finzel is launching an endowed scholarship at his alma mater, Texas Tech University. His business is certified as an LGBT Business Enterprise by the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce.

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