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Free Yariel!

Blade writer seeking asylum suffering inhumane treatment in ICE detention

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Yariel Valdés González is a Washington Blade contributor who has asked for asylum in the U.S.

Yariel Valdés González, a Washington Blade contributing writer from Cuba, is enduring inhumane treatment while in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody in Louisiana.

Valdés, a professional journalist who works as a freelancer for the Blade, is seeking asylum based on the very real persecution he has suffered at the hands of the Cuban government. An asylum official who interviewed Valdés at the Tallahatchie County Correctional Center in Tutwiler, Miss., on March 28 determined he had a “credible fear of persecution or torture” in Cuba. His family in Cuba continues to receive death threats from government officials because of his work with “media outlets of the enemy.” Early last year, the Cuban government ramped up its persecution of journalists, even detaining Blade International News Editor Michael Lavers at the airport before denying him entry and sending him back to Miami. The State Department’s Human Rights Report notes Cuba’s persecution of journalists. But those seeking refuge in the United States are finding that under President Trump, they not only won’t be welcomed, they may be imprisoned.

In a 2019 cover story for the Blade, Valdés described the horrific conditions of his confinement at the Bossier Parish Medium Security Facility in Plain Dealing, La. Other Cuban asylum seekers at Bossier — some who have been held for nearly a year —greeted him with, “Welcome to hell.”

Detainees are treated like prison inmates. And remember: Seeking asylum is not illegal. Valdés has followed the legal process and his claims of persecution and fears of torture back home have already been deemed credible by the government. Yet he describes a harrowing life behind bars in which each day is a struggle to survive.

In his own words: “Each day inside of it is a constant struggle for survival that takes a huge toll on my physical, psychological and above all emotional capacities. More than 300 migrants live in four dorms in cramped conditions with intense cold and zero privacy. … My personal space is reduced to a narrow metal bed that is bolted to the floor, a drawer for my things and a thin mattress that barely manages to keep my spine separated from the metal, which sometimes causes back pain. The most painful thing, however, is the way the officers treat us.”

He reports the guards routinely disconnect the microwave, the television and deny detainees ice. When they complain, guards tell them, “This is not your country.”

The day begins at 5 a.m. with a lineup followed by breakfast. Meals are insufficient and dinner is at 4 p.m. leading to hunger pains by bedtime. Soup is used as currency among detainees. Medical services are inadequate or non-existent. As one detainee put it, “One who gets sick is put in punishment cells, isolated and alone, which psychologically affects us. People sometimes don’t say they don’t feel well because they are afraid they will be sent to the ‘well.’ In extreme cases they bring you to a hospital with your feet, hands and waist shackled and they keep you tied to the bed, still under guard. I prefer to suffer before being hospitalized like that.”

This is what the government is doing in our name and with our tax dollars: treating asylum seekers who are fleeing violence and persecution as criminals.

Judge Timothy Cole on Sept. 18 granted asylum to Valdés, but weeks later ICE appealed that decision and kept him in custody. Just last week, ICE transferred him and more than 30 other detainees from Bossier to the River Correctional Center in Ferriday, La. LaSalle Corrections, a private company, operates the facility where Valdés is now held. His case is now before the Board of Immigration Appeals, which is overseen by the Justice Department.

It’s now been four months since a judge deemed Valdés worthy of asylum here. The stories of these asylum seekers are harrowing and I urge our audience to read them and to demand reform. There are several LGBTQ and other advocacy groups that could help, including the Human Rights Campaign, Immigration Equality, the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association and the Southern Poverty Law Center. I urge them to review this case, add their voices to the fight and assist us and his lawyer in freeing Yariel.

In his own words: “I hope that I can continue my career as a journalist from here and continue the fight for a more democratic Cuba for those 11 million Cubans who have resisted and resist this dictatorial regime that has been in power for six decades.”

Kevin Naff is editor of the Washington Blade. Reach him at [email protected].

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Why you should celebrate pride with a musical about GenderCannibalism?

Rose: You Are What You Eat, through June 23 at Woolly Mammoth.

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Photo courtesy of Woolly Mammoth.

Because when I came out as trans my aunt told me it was because I ate my twin in the womb…and that’s what the show is about

Because…remember that time when you decided to dress like exactly like your older sister; or you stole your mothers’ makeup or your brother’s tie; or you decided to dress up like Katherine Hepburn for halloween when you were (i dunno) 10; or you started to look eerily like your lover…..that’s all gender cannibalism

Because because because because because….” because if you know that song this was made for you…and if you don’t…it’s okay, we’ll work on it

Because you can probably find a cute date at the show irl instead of just swiping in your phone…think of theater as an in person dating app without as much drunkenness as the bar

Because maybe that cute date is me

Because you can sing along to music written by a bunch of queers from Philly and D.C. 

Because we are all so hungry and so so thirsty 

Because I guarantee you will leave feeling fed

Because cannibalism puns are tasty

Because it’s a comedy

Because there are pay-what-you-can tickets

Because it plays all of June

Because we are consuming gender all the time but rarely watching what and how we eat it 

Because it’s an anti-assimilationist endeavor: the corporations can’t co-opt “gender cannibalism” for pride month (but there is merchandise available at the show…)

Because it’s only 75 minutes

Because I dance around in tighty whities with socks on my hands

Because there is a free clothing swap and treats in the gallery next to the show

Because why not?

Because you will be cast as my Mother, and that’s the role of a lifetime (or at least my lifetime)

Because you won’t know what will happen; you can’t pause or rewind the show; you will be taking a risk; you will find it’s more than just entertainment; you will feel me talking right to you

Because I’ve been writing this show for 34 years and am finally ready to share it with you

Because I’ll be in the lobby afterwards to say hi, and receive hugs, stories, and phone numbers 

Because I made this piece for you, my dear deviants, trans folx, genderful ones and for the people that care for us. It is a good laugh and a good cry and meant as a gift, a way to end your day feeling loved, nourished and worthy

Because don’t you want to be nourished and reminded that you are loved and worthy? 

And frankly because art needs you to survive and you need art to thrive

Because I took the time to write this letter to you and you took the time to read it, and neither you nor I want to waste that investment

Because you won’t want to miss it

Get tickets to Rose: You Are What You Eat, playing through June 23rd.

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Elon Musk is a danger to society

X has become a warped platform that spews anti-trans hate

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Elon Musk (Photo by shganti777/Bigstock)

Elon Musk is officially a danger to society. As of mid May of 2024, X.com, the platform formerly known as Twitter, has started banning accounts that use the word “cisgender” or “cis,” deriding it as a slur. For those who don’t know, “cisgender” refers to any person whose gender aligns with the genitalia they were assigned at birth. Erasing the word “cisgender” from tweets, or X.com remarks, ensures that gender nonconforming people can’t articulate the bigotry they feel in this world. 

Musk has been notorious for his transphobia. It didn’t just start in mid-May of this year. In June of 2023, during Pride month, Musk liked a bunch of transphobic tweets. For instance, he promoted the Matt Walsh documentary, “What is a Woman?”, which was a film in transmisogyny. 

Moreover, in July of 2022, Musk’s transgender teenage daughter sought separation from her father because he was hateful toward her and bullied her because of her gender identity. In December 2022, Musk tweeted “My pronouns are Prosecute/Fauci,” mocking the words that transgender people need to enunciate who we are. This wasn’t the first time that Musk mocked pronouns. 

Musk is becoming increasingly dangerous toward trans people, especially as X.com takes on a new dimension — turning into a warped platform that spews conspiracy views, including right-wing thoughts that trans people shouldn’t exist, and other ultraconservative opinions. 

What adds heavy weight to the danger that Musk poses is the relative success of his companies and the wealth, measured in dollars, that he carries on his shoulders. SpaceX is valued at around $180 billion, and Tesla is worth approximately $571 billion. The more wealth Musk accumulates, the more power is attached to his transphobia. Already, he is consciously allowing employees within his companies to mock transgender people. Having a CEO who openly teases a marginalized population is a recipe for that company to tease said population as well. 

As a former small business owner, I’m actually a huge fan of Musk’s work. The billionaire is brilliant beyond belief, and, after being bullied in school in South Africa, earned degrees in physics and economics from the University of Pennsylvania. At one point, he was working so hard on one of his first startups that he often slept in the office and showered at a local YMCA. In interviews, it is clear that Musk borders, if not embodies, genius. His intellectual prowess is second to none. 

Additionally, the mogul has been open about his diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome and bipolar disorder. It’s impressive, to say the least, that Musk has racked up all of these accomplishments despite having these diseases of the mind and body. He has vocalized his use of ketamine therapy, for instance, in treating his bipolar, which is a ballsy move to make as CEO. 

Unfortunately, though, Musk just won’t stop with his transphobia. He is making X.com a non-democratic place for sponsored conspiratorial speech, and banning words is the farthest thing from freedom, which is a virtue he claims to embody. 

Many scholars of Elon have noted that he lives in a distorted reality, and I have to agree with that sentiment. Banning “cisgender” from X.com is certainly a distorted thing to do, and should be looked upon as a danger to society. 

Isaac Amend is a writer based in the D.C. area. With two poetry books out, he writes for the Blade and the Yale Daily News. He is a transgender man and was featured in National Geographic’s “Gender Revolution” documentary. He serves on the board of the LGBT Democrats of Virginia. Contact him at [email protected] or on Instagram at: @literatipapi

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Mayor of Salisbury, Md. is the Grinch who stole Pride

Randolph Taylor masks his homophobia with cowardly ‘neutrality’ claim

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Randolph ‘The Grinch’ Taylor, mayor of Salisbury, Md.

Salisbury is a small town on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, probably best known for its university of about 7,000 undergraduate students. It’s also home to a robust and growing Pride celebration.

But this will mark the first time in five years that a Pride flag will not fly at city hall for Pride month, as the Blade reported last week.

“The administration’s position on the PFLAG kick-off is very simple,” Mayor Randolph Taylor said to the Blade. “That is, to be neutral. Neutrality is not to be interpreted as anything else but simply that — being neutral.“ (PFLAG has served as an organizer of Salisbury Pride events.)

Nicole Hollywood, an official with PFLAG Salisbury, told the Blade the group received an email from the city informing them of the change.

“We simply got an email saying that ‘we’re evaluating the use of city assets for cultural events,’ and ‘we don’t feel it’s appropriate moving forward to hang flags that represent special interest groups.’”

So Salisbury’s LGBTQ residents now constitute a “special interest group” rather than a minority community facing growing backlash, hatred, and discrimination in a rural part of the state? This lame, ham-handed excuse barely disguises the cowardice, homophobia, and transphobia at play here. No elected public official should be “neutral” when it comes to the rights, dignity, and equality of their constituents.

We are painfully aware of the growing influence of MAGA-inspired hate groups like the ironically named Moms for Liberty, that are working overtime to bully public officials into banning LGBTQ-themed books, pulling support for Pride events, and otherwise rendering our community invisible again. They want us back in the closet where we can’t disrupt their plans to establish a Christian theocracy. 

Mayor Taylor is merely the latest rube in a pathetic and long line of cowardly public officials to kowtow to this madness, inspired by their Dear Leader Donald Trump, a convicted felon who has validated the worst impulses and bigotry of Americans from coast to coast. What happened to leaders who lead? What happened to the Ronald Reagan Republicans who wanted the government out of our lives, embraced immigrants, and fought Russian aggression? Reagan couldn’t get elected dog catcher in the modern GOP.

But back to Taylor — the Grinch who stole Pride. He is the mayor of a small town and he has the cojones to match. Let’s hope the business community, including the influential local university, speaks out to denounce this hateful attack on Pride — because that’s precisely what it is. By shrinking the public spaces where LGBTQ people feel comfortable and safe, officials like Taylor are playing into the hands and the sick agenda of the MAGA crowd. When LGBTQ people are attacked and “othered,” our queer youth suffer and die. Shame on Mayor Taylor for caving to such hatred and betraying his LGBTQ constituents during the most important month of the year for our visibility. The good people and the LGBTQ residents of Salisbury deserve better.

Kevin Naff is editor of the Washington Blade. Reach him at [email protected].

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