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Man charged in Va. gay murder worked as escort on Rent.Men

Loudoun police decline to disclose which of two suspects fatally shot victim

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Joshua M. Hunter, gay news, Washington Blade
Joshua M. Hunter, 22, advertised his escort services on Rent.Men. Hunter is charged with first-degree murder in the death of a gay Virginia man.

Woodbridge, Va., resident Joshua M. Hunter, 22, one of two men charged with First Degree Murder in the July 8 shooting death of a gay man in Sterling, Va., has worked for at least two years as a male escort who promoted his services on the gay male meeting site Rent.Men, according to one of his former escort customers.

The former customer, who contacted the Washington Blade anonymously, provided a link to Hunter’s page on the Rent.Men website, which was still up and running as of Friday afternoon. Hunter used the name Anthony Adams on the site rather than his actual name of Joshua Hunter.

His Rent.Men page included as of Friday multiple photos of him, some in the nude, in which he is unmistakably the same person whose mug shot photo was released on Wednesday by the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office. The office released the photo when it announced that Hunter and Gavin C. Collins, 21, of Sterling Va., were arrested in connection with the murder of gay Winchester, Va., resident Jose I. Escobar Menendez, 24.

In its announcement, the Sheriff’s Office said Hunter and Collins were also charged with Conspiracy to Commit Robbery and two counts of Using a Firearm while in the Commission of a Felony (Robbery and Murder) in connection with Menendez’s death.

Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Michele Bowman said the investigation into Menendez’s murder was ongoing and the office would not comment on whether or not investigators were aware that Hunter worked as an escort through a meeting site catering to gay men. Bowman would say only that Menendez first met the men charged with his murder “online.”

The Sheriff’s Office has also declined to confirm or deny an assertion by one of Menendez’s friends to a local Loudoun County newspaper that the murder was a hate crime that targeted Menendez because of his sexual orientation.

The former customer of Hunter’s told the Blade he was shocked to learn that Hunter has been implicated in a murder.

“He was a gentle and friendly guest, so this just astonishes me,” he said. “Except maybe he was more of an accessory to the crime (as wrong as that is) rather than the trigger man,” the former customer said.

The announcement of the arrests by the Sheriff’s Office says that during the early morning hours of July 8, Menendez agreed to meet Collins in the area of Emerald Point Terrace and Winding Road in Sterling. It says both Collins and Hunter showed up and in the course of their encounter a “dispute occurred and the victim was shot and killed when Collins and Hunter attempted to rob him.” Collins and Hunter then left the area, taking Menendez’s car, according to the announcement.

Arrest warrants for Collins, Hunter and a third man implicated in the case, Handy N. Colindrez, 24, of no fixed address, who was charged with auto theft, accuse the three men of engaging in a conspiracy to steal Menendez’s car, identified as a 2019 Nissan Sentra. The warrants were filed in court by the Loudoun County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office, which is prosecuting the case.

A Criminal Complaint filed against Hunter by the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office states, “Hunter and Collins communicated with the victim a planned location to meet. Upon meeting in the area of Emerald Point Terrace (Loudoun County), Collins and Hunter used a handgun to demand Menendez’s vehicle. During the commission of the robbery Menendez was shot and killed.”

Neither the Sheriff’s Office nor the charging documents filed in court so far by the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office disclose whether investigators know which of the two men charged with the murder shot and killed Menendez. Under the criminal laws of most states, including Virginia, someone involved in a criminal act such as a robbery that leads to a murder is responsible for the murder even if that person did not shoot, stab, or commit another violent act that led to someone’s death.

In his page on Rent.Men, Hunter, using his escort name Anthony Adams, tells about the services he provided.

“Currently serving the DMV area (Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia),” he stated in a message. “I love meeting new people, and having relaxing and enjoyable meetings with great people! :) All of my photos and statistics are recent, up to date, and accurate,” he wrote.

“I’m a very open person with no hang ups. I’m open to all genders, and am open to meeting with individuals, same sex couples, and heterosexual couples. I‘m also available for travel as well.”

His Rent.Men page states that he is available for, “Escorting, modeling, erotic massage, bodywork” and “available for videos, boyfriend experience, stripping.”

About a dozen former customers posted reviews on his page giving him glowing reviews and saying they would retain his services again.

A spokesperson for the Rent.Men site could not immediately be reached for comment.

The site states in a section describing its purpose that it “is a service for adult gay men to meet each other online and is owned and operated by RM Media GmbH of Hamburg, Germany.

“You understand and acknowledge that your use of the Site is at your own risk and that we are not responsible for any incidental, consequential, special, punitive, exemplary, direct or indirect damages of any kind whatsoever that may arise out of or related to your use of the Site, including any personal meetings or encounters you may engage in that may arise out of or relate to your use of the Site,” an “Assumption Risk” messages on the site says.

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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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