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Father presents slain trans woman as a man for funeral

Legal experts urge LGBT people to secure a will when estranged from families

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Ashanti Carmon, gay news, Washington Blade
Transgender activist Earline Budd (second from left) joins in singing a hymn at a Celebration of Lives church service for trans woman Ashanti Carmon and four others.

To the dismay of her friends and at least two family members, the father of transgender woman Ashanti Carmon directed a funeral home to change her appearance and dress her body in a man’s suit for a private viewing not long after she was shot to death by an as yet unidentified assailant in Prince George’s County, Md.

“At the end he just wanted to see and remember her as his son because that’s all he knows,” said Deborah Carmon, the father’s sister and Ashanti Carmon’s aunt.

Deborah Carmon and her husband may have been the only family members who supported their niece’s decision to transition as a transgender woman more than 15 years ago, according to D.C. transgender activist Earline Budd.

Budd noted that Deborah Carmon and her husband were the only two family members to accept Budd’s invitation to participate in a “Celebration of Lives” service held on May 11 at D.C.’s Metropolitan Community Church for Ashanti Carmon and four other members of the LGBT community who died unexpectedly in a two-week period following Carmon’s death.

It was Budd who raised the money to pay for the funeral services and subsequent cremation of Carmon’s body and the interment of her ashes at D.C.’s Glenwood Cemetery after learning that the family didn’t have the money to cover those expenses.

Budd said it was not until after the funds were raised and the funeral expense paid directly to the funeral home that she learned of the father’s decision to present Ashanti Carmon as a man in death.

From her conversations with Deborah Carmon, Budd said she learned that the father overruled the recommendation of Capital Mortuary, a D.C.-based funeral home that carried out the funereal arrangements, that the coffin be closed because of the disfigurement of Carmon’s face from one or more bullet wounds.

“But the father insisted on a full viewing supposedly because he wanted closure,” Budd said. “And the closure for him was more about seeing his child in men’s clothes, which is bizarre for me because I don’t believe a one-day change can overcome 27 years of Ashanti’s life,” Budd said.

“They are not going to put my son out there with girl clothes,” Deborah Carmon quoted her brother as saying, according to Budd. “I don’t want my son laid out like that,” Budd said the aunt quoted the father as saying.

Attempts by the Washington Blade to reach the father and other family members sympathetic to the father for comment were unsuccessful.

Amy Nelson, director of Legal Services for D.C.’s Whitman-Walker Health, an LGBT supportive medical services center, called the developments surrounding Ashanti Carmon’s funeral arrangements a “tragedy” that could be prevented for other transgender people through advance legal protections.

Among those protections, Nelson said, are a will and an addendum to a will and last testament known as a Disposition of Bodily Human Remains. According to Nelson, such a document would enable a transgender person to specify exactly how their funeral, burial and other end of life arrangements should be made by designating someone they trust to act on their behalf.

The person they designate is called an agent, said Nelson, who described as “terrible” the outcome of Ashanti Carmon’s funeral arrangements as dictated by the father.

“That’s one reason we make a big effort to push these documents for all of our transgender and gender-nonconforming clients, particularly those whose families are not supportive,” she said. “Now the best case scenario is they draft a document, they pass away, their agent is locally based and available and steps in and runs the show,” Nelson told the Blade.

Nelson said a transgender or LGBT person seeking these legal protections for the time of their passing obviously needs to find someone they can trust to be their agent. She said that in cases where a client cannot find someone to serve as their agent Whitman-Walker recently has made arrangements for carefully screened volunteers to act as someone’s agent.

Budd said a GoFundMe site she created to raise money for Ashanti Carmon’s funeral expenses prior to learning of the father’s actions raised sufficient funds to reimburse the $3,080 Dignity Washington donated to help cover funeral related expenses.

She said the LGBT Catholic group accepted a $2,000 reimbursement to use for other charitable causes and told her to keep the remaining $1,080 for a reserve fund that Budd has created for funeral expenses for transgender people who pass away in the future and whose families and loved ones many not have the means to cover those costs.  

About 50 family members and friends of Carmon and four other members of the LGBT community who lost their lives unexpectedly this year joined four LGBT supportive ministers for a celebration of their lives on May 11 at the Metropolitan Community Church of Washington.

The others whose lives were remembered during the memorial included Robert Chase “Seven,” 55, and Patricia “Cleo” Queen, 57, both of whom died in April of a drug overdose in the midst of the city’s opioid crisis, organizers of the memorial said. Also remembered at the service were Kyrell Kris Morant, 47, who died April 14 of as yet unknown causes; and Keisha Washington, 33, who died May 1 of natural causes, according to the LGBT community services center Casa Ruby, where she worked.

“The truth is no one knows when it is time for our sunset,” said Rev. Elder Akousa McCray Peters, pastor of Unity Fellowship Church of D.C. and one of the four ministers who spoke at the Celebration of Lives service.

Rev. Kenneth King said he was “annoyed and frustrated” over the violence that led to the deaths of Ashanti Carmon and other trans women in recent years.

“Something is about to move us to the next step,” he said. “There is something inside us that can let us turn the table.”

Among the family members who spoke was Deborah Carmon. She told the gathering that not everyone in Ashanti’s family accepted her for who she was.

“People said we don’t want you to look like this. You should look like the way you were born,” the aunt said. “But I know she was not happy until she was Ashanti. I told her no matter what you choose, you choose what makes you happy.”

Budd, the lead organizer of the Celebration of Lives service, said she was disappointed that other family members of Ashanti Carmon, including her father, chose not to attend the service because they disapproved of Ashanti’s transition as a woman.

Budd said the outpouring of love and support shown at the service overshadowed the disapproval that transgender people like Ashanti and others like her encounter in life.

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Bill to ban conversion therapy dies in Puerto Rico Senate committee

Advocacy group describes lawmakers as cowards

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Puerto Rico Pulse nightclub victims, gay news, Washington Blade

 

A Puerto Rico Senate committee on Thursday killed a bill that would have banned so-called conversion therapy on the island.

Members of the Senate Community Initiatives, Mental Health and Addiction Committee voted against Senate Bill 184 by an 8-7 vote margin. Three senators abstained.

Amárilis Pagán Jiménez, a spokesperson for Comité Amplio para la Búsqueda de la Equidad, a coalition of Puerto Rican human rights groups, in a statement sharply criticized the senators who opposed the measure.

“If they publicly recognize that conversion therapies are abuse, if they even voted for a similar bill in the past, if the hearings clearly established that the bill was well-written and was supported by more than 78 professional and civil entities and that it did not interfere with freedom of religion or with the right of fathers and mothers to raise their children, voting against it is therefore one of two things: You are either a hopeless coward or you have the same homophobic and abusive mentality of the hate groups that oppose the bill,” said Pagán in a statement.

Thursday’s vote comes against the backdrop of continued anti-LGBTQ discrimination and violence in Puerto Rico.

Six of the 44 transgender and gender non-conforming people who were reported murdered in the U.S. in 2020 were from Puerto Rico.

A state of emergency over gender-based violence that Gov. Pedro Pierluisi declared earlier this year is LGBTQ-inclusive. Then-Gov. Ricardo Rosselló in 2019 signed an executive order that banned conversion therapy for minors in Puerto Rico.

“These therapies lack scientific basis,” he said. “They cause pain and unnecessary suffering.”

Rosselló issued the order less than two weeks after members of the New Progressive Party, a pro-statehood party  he chaired at the time, blocked a vote in the Puerto Rico House of Representatives on a bill that would have banned conversion therapy for minors in the U.S. commonwealth. Seven out of the 11 New Progressive Party members who are on the Senate Community Initiatives, Mental Health and Addiction Committee voted against SB 184.

“It’s appalling. It’s shameful that the senators didn’t have the strength and the courage that our LGBTQ youth have, and it’s to be brave and to defend our dignity and our humanity as people who live on this island,” said Pedro Julio Serrano, founder of Puerto Rico Para [email protected], a Puerto Rican LGBTQ rights group, in a video. “It’s disgraceful that the senators decided to vote down this measure that would prevent child abuse.”

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Undocumented LGBTQ immigrants turn to Fla. group for support

Survivors Pathway is based in Miami

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Survivors Pathway works with undocumented LGBTQ immigrants and other vulnerable groups in South Florida. (Photo courtesy of Francesco Duberli)

 

MIAMI – The CEO of an organization that provides support to undocumented LGBTQ immigrants says the Biden administration has given many of his clients a renewed sense of hope.

“People definitely feel much more relaxed,” Survivors Pathway CEO Francesco Duberli told the Washington Blade on March 5 during an interview at his Miami office. “There’s much hope. You can tell … the conversation’s shifted.”

Duberli — a gay man from Colombia who received asylum in the U.S. because of anti-gay persecution he suffered in his homeland — founded Survivors Pathway in 2011. The Miami-based organization currently has 23 employees.

Survivors Pathway CEO Francesco Duberli at his office in Miami on March 5, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Yariel Valdés González)

Duberli said upwards of 50 percent of Survivors Pathway’s clients are undocumented. Duberli told the Blade that many of them are survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking and victims of hate crimes based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.

“Part of the work that we have done for years is for us to become the bridge between the communities and law enforcement or the justice system in the United States,” said Duberli. “We have focused on creating a language that helps us to create this communication between the undocumented immigrant community and law enforcement, the state attorney’s office and the court.”

“The fear is not only about immigration,” he added. “There are many other factors that immigrants bring with them that became barriers in terms of wanting to or trying to access the justice system in the United States.”

Duberli spoke with the Blade roughly a week after the Biden administration began to allow into the U.S. asylum seekers who had been forced to pursue their cases in Mexico under the previous White House’s “Remain in Mexico” policy.

The administration this week began to reunite migrant children who the Trump administration separated from their parents. Title 42, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rule that closed the Southern border to most asylum seekers and migrants because of the coronavirus pandemic, remains in place.

Duberli told the Blade that Survivors Pathway advised some of their clients not to apply for asylum or seek visa renewals until after the election. Duberli conceded “the truth of the matter is that the laws haven’t changed that much” since Biden became president.

Survivors Pathway has worked with LGBTQ people in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody in South Florida. American Civil Liberties Union National Political Director Ronald Newman in an April 28 letter it sent to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas called for the closure of the Krome North Service Processing Center in Miami, the Glades County Detention Center near Lake Okeechobee and 37 other ICE detention centers across the country.

The road leading to the Krome North Service Processing Center in Miami on June 7, 2020. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Survivors Pathway responded to trans woman’s murder in 2020

Survivors Pathway has created a project specifically for trans Latina women who Duberli told the Blade don’t know they can access the judicial system.

Duberli said Survivors Pathway works with local judges and police departments to ensure crime victims don’t feel “discriminated, or outed or mistreated or revictimized” because of their gender identity. Survivors Pathway also works with Marytrini, a drag queen from Cuba who is the artistic producer at Azúcar, a gay nightclub near Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood.

Marytrini and Duberli are among those who responded to the case of Yunieski “Yuni” Carey Herrera, a trans woman and well-known activist and performer from Cuba who was murdered inside her downtown Miami apartment last November. Carey’s boyfriend, who had previously been charged with domestic violence, has been charged with murder.

“That was an ongoing situation,” noted Duberli. “It’s not the only case. There are lots of cases like that.”

Duberli noted a gay man in Miami Beach was killed by his partner the same week.

“There are lots of crimes that happen to our community that never gets to the news,” he said. “We got those cases here because of what we do.”

Yunieski “Yuni” Carey Herrera was murdered in her downtown Miami apartment in November 2020. (Photo courtesy of social media)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Patrick O’Connell, acclaimed AIDS activist, dies at 67

Played key role in creating red ribbon for awareness

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Activist Patrick O’Connell was instrumental in creating the red ribbon to promote AIDS awareness. (Photo courtesy of Allen Frame; courtesy Visual AIDS)

Patrick O’Connell, a founding director of the New York City-based AIDS advocacy group Visual AIDS who played a lead role in developing the internationally recognized display of an inverted, V-shaped red ribbon as a symbol of AIDS advocacy, died on March 23 at a Manhattan hospital from AIDS-related causes, according to the New York Times. He was 67.

Visual AIDS said in a statement that O’Connell held the title of founding director of the organization from 1980 to 1995.

During those years, according to the statement and others who knew him, O’Connell was involved in the group’s widely recognized and supported efforts to use art and artist’s works to advocate in support of people with HIV/AIDS and efforts to curtail the epidemic that had a devastating impact on the art world.

Thanks to a grant from the Art Matters foundation, Visual AIDS was able to retain O’Connell as its first paid staff member in 1990, the group said in its statement.

“Armed with a fax machine and an early Macintosh computer, Patrick helped Visual AIDS grow from a volunteer group to a sustainable non-profit organization,” the statement says. “A passionate spokesperson for the organization, he helped projects like Day Without Art, Night Without Light, and the Red Ribbon reach thousands of people and organizations across the world,” the group says in its statement.

“We were living in a war zone,” the statement quoted O’Connell as saying in a 2011 interview with the Long Island newspaper Newsday. “But it was like a war that was some kind of deep secret only we knew about,” O’Connell said in the interview. “Thousands were dying of AIDS. We felt we had to respond with a visible expression,” he told the newspaper.

With O’Connell’s help, Visual AIDS in 1989 organized the first annual Day Without Art in which dozens of galleries and museums in New York and other cities covered art works with black cloths to symbolize the mourning of those who died of AIDS. Among those participating were the Brooklyn Museum, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which replaced a Picasso painting with a “somber informational placard,” according to the New York Times.

In 1990 O’Connell helped Visual AIDS organize the first Night Without Light, which was held at the time of World AIDS Day. New York City’s skyscraper buildings, bridges, monuments, and Broadway theaters turned off their lights for 15 minutes to commemorate people who lost their lives to AIDS, the New York Times reported.

In the kickoff of its Red Ribbon Project in 1991, McConnell helped organize volunteers to join “ribbon bees” in which thousands of the ribbons were cut and folded for distribution around the city, the Times reports. Those who knew McConnell said he also arranged for his team of volunteers to call Broadway theaters and producers of the upcoming Tony Awards television broadcast to have participants and theater goers display the red ribbons on their clothes.

Among those displaying a red ribbon on his label at the Tony Awards broadcast was actor Jeremy Irons, who was one of the hosts. In later years, large numbers of celebrities followed the practice of wearing the red ribbon, and in 1993 the U.S. Postal Service issued a red ribbon stamp.

The Times reports that O’Connell was born and raised in Manhattan, where he attended Fordham Preparatory School and later graduated from Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., in 1973 with a bachelor’s degree in history. According to Visual AIDS, O’Connell served as director of the Hallwalls arts center in Buffalo, N.Y. from 1977 to 1978 before returning to New York City to work for a gallery called Artists Space.

The Times reports that O’Connell learned in the middle 1980s that he had contracted AIDS and began a regimen of early AIDS treatment with a cocktail of over 30 pills a day. His involvement with Visual AIDS, which began in 1989, ended on an active basis in 1995 when his health worsened, the Times reports.

As one of the last remaining survivors of his New York contemporaries who had HIV beginning in the 1980s, O’Connell continued in his strong support for AIDS-related causes through 2000s and beyond, people who knew him said.
Visual AIDS says it is gathering remembrances and photos for a tribute post for O’Connell on its website. It has invited people to share their memories of him by sending written contributions and images via email to: [email protected].

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