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D.C. trans women remembered at vigil

Nona Conner, Gisselle Hartzog died earlier this month



About 100 people turned out on May 21 for a vigil honoring the lives of Nona Conner and Gisselle Hartzog. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Close to 100 people turned out at River Terrace Park in Northeast Washington for a May 21 vigil to honor the lives of Nona Moselle Conner, 37, and Gisselle Hartzog, 30, two D.C. transgender women who died suddenly and unexpectedly on May 13 and May 18.

Friends and LGBTQ activists who participated in the vigil called on the community to honor the two women by speaking out and taking action to address the struggles that they and many other transgender women of color have endured due to prejudice and discrimination.

People who knew the two women, including Conner’s father, who spoke at the vigil, have said the cause of death for both women had yet to be determined, but there is no evidence of foul play such as physical violence.

Several of the speakers, who did not give their names or used only a first name, described Conner and Hartzog as caring, supportive, and loyal friends who lifted their spirits. They called the two women’s unexpected passing a tragic loss for themselves and for the community.

Transgender advocates Earline Budd, who works for the sex worker advocacy organization HIPS, and Adriana Chichi Carter, an official with the transgender and sex worker advocacy organization No Justice No Pride, were among the lead organizers of the vigil. Both called on the community to rally in support of the rights and wellbeing of transgender people like Conner and Hartzog.

“We need awareness. We need to start speaking,” Carter told the gathering. “We need to stop with the hatred or judging or competing,” she said. “And we need to uplift each other and guide each other and hold each other.”

Added Carter, “And each of you who know me know I give back and I’m here to speak for my community, our community, for all of us regardless of whether you’re trans, gay, straight. It does not matter. We are human…and when we lose somebody we love, we hurt.”

Conner was involved with No Justice No Pride along with other community-based organizations providing support for the trans community, including the organization Collective Action for Safe Spaces (CASS), where she worked as a program manager, according to a tribute to Conner on the CASS website.
Budd said the lives of Conner and Hartzog could have been saved.

“We’re here recognizing the lives of two angels, Nona Conner and Gisselle Hartzog, gone too soon,” Budd said. “We as a community tonight, I’m praying, especially those who are senior and trans, we must do more. We have to do more. We can’t stay silent anymore,” she said.

Terrance Wilson, Conner’s father, drew loud applause from the crowd when he told of how he overcame his own struggle to accept his daughter for who she was and has become an advocate for the trans community.

“First of all, I want to say thank you for your love, patience, donations, and kind words – the love means so much to me and my family,” Wilson told the crowd. “I want to say it’s my prayer that fathers all over the world don’t travel the same road that I traveled, that it took me a while for my heart to soften and for me to open up and really accept my child in this world,” he said.

“I believe that had I done something and opened up sooner, life would have been so much better,” he continued. “But I thank God for it because she did come to my heart,” he said, adding, “I love her, and I hurt every day. And I pray that all of you find love and everything you deserve.”

Wilson concluded by telling the gathering, “I committed myself and I told Miss Budd that I’m going to stand for you all. I’m going to be part of the community. I’ll be out speaking.”

Among the others who spoke at the vigil was Prince George’s County Council member Calvin S. Hawkins, who pledged to push for legislation to support the trans community both in P.G. County and nearby jurisdictions, including D.C.

“As a legislator I want you to understand, today we mourn,” he said. “But there comes a moment when action has to take the place of our mourning. Legislators must know how you feel,” he said, adding that he will work with the community to push for “legislation that makes those who believe it’s OK” to engage in violence or discrimination against the trans community to know they will be held accountable.

Also speaking at the vigil was Ruby Corado, founder and executive director of the D.C. LGBTQ community services center Casa Ruby. Corado has said both Conner and Hartzog had been clients at Casa Ruby. Corado told the Washington Blade last week that she spent time with Hartzog the day before Hartzog passed away, when Hartzog expressed optimism that she was about to be enrolled in a D.C. government housing program for the homeless.

D.C. authorities found Hartzog deceased at the site of a tent in a homeless encampment under a bridge near the intersection of 1st and L Streets, N.E.

Corado told the vigil the D.C. government has failed to take adequate action to provide needed programs to address the issue of housing and jobs for transgender people, especially transgender people of color.

Others involved in organizing the May 21 vigil were Corado of Casa Ruby, Shakita Chapman of HIPS, and JeKendria Trahan of CASS.



Comings & Goings

Movahedi opens virtual law firm



Babak Movahedi

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 Babak Movahedi on the opening of his virtual law firm. “I started a virtual immigration law firm concentrating on family immigration and business immigration,” he said. “I have had the pleasure of representing a number of LGBTQ+ clients. I can apply for permanent residency of the spouse or other family members of a permanent resident, or U.S. citizen. I am licensed to represent clients in all 50 states.”

In 2018, Movahedi opened a boutique law firm with an international client base. It focused on real estate law, with an emphasis on condominium conversion. Prior to that he served as a Special Master/Magistrate in Miami Beach. In that position he ruled on a variety of matters relating to Miami Beach code, served as a fact finder, and issued rulings. He worked closely with the Chief Special Master. Many will know Movahedi from his work as owner/CEO of a chain of cocktail lounges in both D.C. and Miami. He owned MOVA in both places. 

Over the years, he has worked as a solo practitioner managing the law offices of Babak Movahedi PLLC in D.C. and was CEO of Dupont Title and Settlements. He was a partner in Austin & Movahedi in D.C. He served as chief of party in the United States Agency for International Development and was president, Properties International. He currently is a Visiting Professor, International Law and Business, ESERP School of Business and Social Sciences, Barcelona, Spain. 

Movahedi earned his bachelor’s degree in International Politics, State University of New York, Stony Brook, N.Y.; MBA in International Business, Georgetown University; and Juris Doctor, Georgetown University, and Master of Law in International & Comparative Law, Georgetown University.

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District of Columbia

Drag performers join Gays Against Guns to decry nationwide attacks

‘We’re tired and we’re angry and we’re scared’



Gays Against Guns held a news conference and gathering at As You Are bar on Dec. 7. (Washington Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

Three D.C.-area drag performers joined members of the New York City-based group Gays Against Guns at a news conference and gathering at As You Are bar on Dec. 7 to speak out against what they say has been an escalating and alarming number of threats against the LGBTQ community and against drag shows in particular across the country.

The Gays Against Guns members along with local supporters came to D.C. to attend the 10th Annual National Vigil for All Victims of Gun Violence, which took placed that evening at nearby St. Mark’s Episcopal Church. President Joe Biden attended and spoke at the vigil.

Among those present at the press conference and who attended the vigil were Gays Against Guns members wearing white robes and hoods and carrying photos of people who died from gun violence, including victims of the Pulse LGBTQ nightclub mass shooting in Orlando, Fla. in 2016.

Fresh on their minds, they said, was the shooting at the Club Q LGBTQ bar on Nov. 19 that took the lives of five people and injured at least another 17 before the lone gunman was wrestled to the floor by one of the customers and held until police arrived.

“We will represent members of the LGBTQI+ community with these human beings,” said Gays Against Guns organizer Ti Cersely at the press conference, referring to the group members wearing white robes and hoods “They are silent protesters donned in white, holding space for a person that has been killed by gun violence,” he said. “And we’re here to ensure the nation sees these lives and honors and respects them as we do.”

Another speaker at the news conference was D.C.-based drag performer Vagenesis.

“I perform all over the country. And it’s been a privilege to be able to be an artist on this platform as I have been over the past five years,” Vagenesis said, acknowledging two other drag performers standing behind them.

“And we’re tired and we’re angry and we’re scared,” Vagenesis told the gathering. “And I have to be scared walking out of my apartment building. I had to put on a hoodie and sweatpants to get to this event because I was afraid someone would hurt me or bash me for looking like me.”

Added Vagenesis, “As a queer person, as a Black person, as a drag artist, my body has a big target on it. And I can’t feel safe walking anywhere when all I want to do is bring happiness to people.”

The other two drag performers appearing at the press conference and gathering identify as Citrine and Rico Pico, who won the 2021 title of Best Drag King in the Washington Blade’s Best of LGBTQ contest.

“I’m very tired of our community just continuing to be sad in mourning,” Pico Rico told the Blade. “It’s not just our effort but a collective effort from our allies as well,” he said. “Everyone needs to be on the same page to fight what led people to get killed.”

Jay Walker, one of the founding members of Gays Against Guns, said the attacks on drag shows appear to be orchestrated by the same far-right groups and individuals that have long targeted LGBTQ people.

“And there has been, if my estimates are not mistaken, at least 300 separate verbal, physical, intimidation attacks on drag performances, and drag story-telling over the course of the last year,” Walker said.

“Our LGBTQIA2s+ communities are under siege,” he said. “And our federal government and our law enforcement have been ignoring us,” he told the gathering, adding that the sometimes inaction by law enforcement officials “emboldens” groups such as the Proud Boys, Patriot Hunters, and Three Percenters that have been harassing drag shows.  

Walker expressed concern that people not directly impacted by the attacks against drag shows or shootings like those at Pulse nightclub or Club Q in Colorado Springs appear to have the mistaken impression that these anti-LGBTQ attacks won’t put them in danger.

“They need to know that these weak-minded angry small men who commit these atrocities across our country are only going to expand their attacks, believe me,” he said. “It is not going to remain with sexual minorities or performers who wear makeup. It is always going to end up attacking the general public,” he said. “and our law enforcement and our government know that.”

Walker was among those who joined the Gays Against Guns contingent, including the members in white robes, who walked from the As You Are to St. Mark’s Episcopal Church to attend the National Vigil for All Victims of Gun Violence, which began at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 7.

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District of Columbia

DC Center, Capital Pride sign joint lease for new offices

LGBTQ groups to operate in historic Shaw neighborhood building



The Adora is located at 1827 Wiltberger St., N.W. (Washington Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

The DC Center for the LGBT Community and the Capital Pride Alliance, which organizes D.C.’s annual LGBTQ Pride events, announced on Wednesday that they have signed a joint lease to move their operations into a renovated warehouse building in the city’s Shaw neighborhood.

In a Dec. 7 statement, the two organizations said the lease is for a 6,671-square-foot space on the entire first floor of a five-story building at 1827 Wiltberger St., N.W. called The Adora. The building is located steps away from the Howard Theatre and a little over a block from the Shaw-Howard University Metro station.

The new space is more than double the 2,400-square-foot offices the D.C. Center and Capital Pride currently occupy in the city’s Reeves Center municipal building at 2000 14th St., N.W. The Reeves building is slated to be demolished as part of a new development project that will require all its tenants, including the D.C. Center, to move.

The sprawling building, which takes up about half of the narrow, one-block long Wiltberger Street, was built in 1891 as the home of the Holzbeierlein Bakery, according to the online publication Commercial Observer. 

Online real estate listings show it was redeveloped about two years ago with an extension and now includes commercial condominium space on the second and third floors and nine luxury residential condominium units on the fourth and fifth floors.

The statement released by the D.C. Center and Capital Pride Alliance says the first-floor space in the building that the two groups leased currently is un-renovated warehouse space. The statement says the space is being designed for a build out renovation by an architectural firm “with the D.C. Center’s specific needs in mind.” It will include 10 offices and multiple workstations, the statement says.

According to the statement, the renovation is being funded in part by a $1 million grant approved by D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser through the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development and the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs.

Rehana Mohammed, who serves as vice chair of the D.C. Center’s Board of Directors, told the Washington Blade the renovation work was scheduled to be completed by mid-2023. She said D.C. Center officials were hopeful that the Center and Capital Pride would be able to move into the new space in June or early July.

The statement says the new, larger space will enable the D.C. Center to expand its services to include “dedicated therapy rooms, a larger food pantry for the community food distribution program, and dedicated wellness spaces for meditation, yoga, and counseling.”

It says there will also be an expanded state-of-the-art cyber lounge, a larger Community Closet program, which provides free apparel, and that will incorporate a designated dressing area, and individual lockers providing temporary storage for “unhoused/displaced community members.”

“This is an extraordinary opportunity for the D.C. Center to more fully expand our support offerings and provide vital and integral wraparound care to and for our LGBTQIA2s+ siblings,” D.C. Center Executive Director Kimberley Bush said in the statement.

“When community members come to this new space, they’ll see a broader range of support being offered and an enhanced experience for increasing their health, wellness, and personal security,” Bush said.

“We are very excited to support this opportunity and come together in a new space with fellow nonprofits,” said Ryan Bos, the Capital Pride Alliance executive director. “Collectively and collaboratively, we will better serve the LGBTQ+ community and combine resources to provide a much-needed safe space to gather,” Bos said in the statement.

The statement by the two groups says the new larger space will also allow the D.C. Center to sublease office and desk space to other LGBTQ+ nonprofit organizations. As of this week, the Wanda Alston Foundation, Rainbow Families and G3 Associates, an organization operated by local gay activist George Kerr, have confirmed arrangements to sublease space in the new building, the statement says.

“We are proud to reaffirm our support for D.C.’s LGBTQ+ community,” said Mayor Bowser in a statement referring to her office’s awarding a $1 million grant to help fund the D.C. Center’s build out in the new space. “This investment is a reflection of our D.C. values,” the mayor said.

“We know that when we foster community, and when we support organizations that invest in the community, D.C. is stronger and our residents have more and better opportunities to reach their full potential and live happy, healthy lives,” the mayor said. 

‘This is an extraordinary opportunity for the D.C. Center to more fully expand our support offerings,’ said D.C. Center Executive Director Kimberley Bush. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)
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