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D.C. youth report being forced into prostitution

Civil rights panel holds hearing on LGBT sex trafficking

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Ruby Corado, Casa Ruby, gay news, Washington Blade
Rub

Ruby Corado (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Dany, who asked the Washington Blade not to use his last name, came to Virginia from Mexico in 2009 to escape the discrimination and abuse he said he suffered from his classmates and family members because he is gay. Those whom he said kidnapped him after he ran away from the school to which his parents had sent him as a child threatened to kill him because of his sexual orientation.

Dany moved to D.C. last year, but the woman with whom he was living soon told him the money he gave her to live in her home was not enough to pay for food and rent. He said that his landlord forced him to prostitute himself. He made the revelation during a District of Columbia State Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights hearing on trafficking of LGBT youth in Northwest Washington on Tuesday. Dany told the Blade in a follow-up interview she threatened to report him as an undocumented immigrant if he refused.

“I had no guidance because I was very fearful,” he told the commissioners. “I had no direction on what to do.”

A report the State Department issued in June said up to 27 million people around the world are currently victims of labor and sex trafficking. Up to an estimated 300,000 people in the United States are currently involved with human trafficking.

The Polaris Project, an organization that combats human trafficking, estimates 100,000 children are currently in the sex trade in the U.S. The group’s National Human Trafficking Hotline has also received more than 80,000 calls from people who want to report cases as well as victims seeking support.

Those who testified at the hearing said homophobia and transphobia only exacerbate the problem of human trafficking among LGBT youth.

Andrea Powell, executive director of FAIR Girls, an organization that advocates on behalf of exploited girls and young women in the D.C. metropolitan area and elsewhere, highlighted the case of a 17-year-old transgender teenager from Maryland she said had recently been arrested for solicitation.

Powell said the teen has run away 62 times because of the abuse she said she suffered in the foster care system in which she has lived since birth. She said the teen’s boyfriend who is in his early 40s sometimes allows her to live with him in “exchange for sex.” Powell said he has also asked his girlfriend to have sex with others to help him pay the rent.

“The situation was pretty normal to her,” Powell said. “She would prefer not to have sex for money. She really preferred not to have sex with her boyfriend, but she did not want to be sent back to foster care and saw this as the best case scenario.”

A report the Williams Institute published last year indicates 40 percent of homeless youth are LGBT. Nearly 70 percent of service providers who responded to the survey cited family rejection as a major contributing factor to homelessness among this population.

Statistics from the National Coalition for the Homeless in 2009 indicate LGBT youth are more susceptible to victimization and mental health problems once they become homeless. The group said nearly 60 percent of homeless LGBT youth have been sexually assaulted, compared to roughly a third of their heterosexual counterparts. The National Coalition for the Homeless also found homeless LGBT youth are 7.4 times more likely to become a victim of sexual violence than those who are straight.

One person who requested anonymity told the committee a man who lived with his family in Honduras when he was a child began to abuse him because he is gay. He said his family kicked him out of the house after he told local authorities the man impregnated his 13-year-old sister.

The witness told the committee he began selling drugs to make money, but subsequently turned to prostitution. He said the person with whom he currently lives threatens to tell his family about what he is doing.

“This person is kind of a bad person to me,” he told the committee. “He has made me do stuff that I don’t want to do.”

The Polaris Project, the Metropolitan Police Department and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops are among the members of the D.C. Human Trafficking Task Force that formed in 2004 to increase the amount of trafficker prosecutions while identifying and expanding services to victims. It also receives grants from the U.S. Department of Justice and the Bureau of Justice Assistance to combat the issue.

Casa Ruby CEO Ruby Corado, who told commissioners during the hearing she had to work four jobs to pay the family with whom she lived after she moved to the U.S. from her native El Salvador in 1986, said homophobic and transphobic attitudes among some older D.C. police officers remain a barrier to LGBT trafficking victims. She said the situation has begun to improve through the Metropolitan Police Department’s Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit.

“There are open-minded law enforcement out there,” D.C. Police Det. Steven Schwalm told commissioners during his testimony. “If you’re being exploited, by all means give us a call. We’re here to help.”

Powell said another potential solution is to work with law enforcement officials to refer trafficking victims to services under so-called safe harbor laws as opposed to placing them under arrest for solicitation and other crimes.

“Incarceration and detention are not safety planning options,” she said. “They’re not our best case scenarios.”

As for Dany, he began volunteering at Casa Ruby after he said four men beat him up because he is gay last December as he left his apartment to see his psychologist. He has a new place to live and has applied for a U visa that allows crime victims to live in the U.S.

Dany, now 23, told the Blade he no longer prostitutes himself.

“If my story is going to help someone, I’m going to tell it,” he said.

The National Human Trafficking Resource Center’s hotline is (888) 373-7888 or 233733 via text message.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Brooks Austin

    September 26, 2013 at 8:18 pm

    Why isn't Obama doing anything about this? It's his own backyard.

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Howard County activists and allies hit back at censorship, hate

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

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(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

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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

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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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