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National LGBTQ Task Force welcomes new leadership

Mayra Hidalgo Salazar named deputy executive director

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Mayra Hidalgo Salazar is the new deputy executive director of the Task Force. (Photo courtesy Task Force)

Earlier this month, the National LGBTQ Task Force named Mayra Hidalgo Salazar as its new Deputy Executive Director. Hidalgo Salazar joined the then newly appointed Executive Director Kierra Johnson as part of the Task Force’s new and growing leadership team that will continue to advocate for LGBTQ individuals across the country while paying close attention to intersectionality as a crucial component of LGBTQ activism. 

As part of a statement released by the Task Force, Hidalgo Salazar said, “I am overjoyed to stand on the shoulders of the giants, elders in our movement who started the National LGBTQ Task Force over 40 years ago. The seeds that the Task Force has planted in training and developing LGBTQ+ leaders for nearly 5 decades are in full bloom.”

As Hidalgo Salazar embarks on this new journey, it is clearer for her that fighting for LGBTQ rights is important now more than ever. 

Hidalgo Salazar was introduced to LGBTQ activism at age 17. She worked on the Trail of Dreams in 2010, a 1,500-mile walk from Miami to Washington, D.C., in support of immigrant rights. The Trail of Dreams’s goal, according to Amnesty International, was to “[raise] awareness about broken U.S. immigration laws and to demand fair and humane immigration law and policy.” 

During her time working on this campaign, Hidalgo Salazar became more personally acquainted with the concept of intersectionality, in addition to her basic academic understanding of the concept. 

“Before I could really understand what intersectionality meant…this campaign really showed me, in action, a great example of what it looks like to support people and support our community, which is not living single-issue lives,” said Hidalgo Salazar. “Two of the walkers [at the Trail of Dreams] were actually a queer couple: Isabel Sousa Rodriguez and Felipe Matos, and, it’s interesting because all of the demands that the campaign was making people really understood them as solely immigrant rights or immigrant justice issues.”

This realization, showed Hidalgo Salazar that to adequately advocate for the LGBTQ community, activists must recognize that LGBTQ individuals inhabit multiple identities, such as undocumented immigration status, that shape their realities as members of the queer community. 

Being a young activist did not come without its challenges for Hidalgo Salazar. She acknowledges that while passionate about her work, she was not prepared for the emotional baggage that accompanies leadership. 

“I will say that now at 29, I can recognize that I wasn’t emotionally prepared for a lot of things leadership would bring my way,” said Hidalgo Salazar. “I was part of the first generation of undocumented people in Florida that started coming out publicly, and it was a very different time for immigrant justice than it is now.”

Hidalgo Salazar further remarked, “There were so many people who were afraid and even outraged, people who said ‘No don’t do that; you can’t do that; you’re putting yourself at risk; you’re putting yourself and your family in danger’ and, I think so many of us were at a place where our current existence was unbearable.”

Hidalgo Salazar is grateful that she did not let those remarks cloud her vision and stand in the way of the work she was doing. Given this, her main advice to young and upcoming activists is to “actively listen and carve your own path” amid people whose relationship to risk will force them to impose their problems on young activists. Simultaneously, she also believes in practicing self-care as it establishes longevity within the activism world.

“I can’t tell you how many gifted, incredible organizers I know who have burned out before they were even 25. There’s environmental reasons for this and also, it’s about how we hold — or don’t — our boundaries. So, self-care is really important,” said Hidalgo Salazar. 

Spearheading new era of leadership

As Hidalgo Salazar embarks on her new role with the LGBTQ Task Force, one of the goals at the forefront of her mind is to “level-up” the work that has already been done by her predecessors and existing leaders within the LGBTQ activism space. 

“I think [that in] any role I undertake, it’s super important that I’m building a bench, that I am leveling up the existing leaders. That’s just important for me when I think about the longevity of this work and really building a culture of passing on the torch and normalizing it,” said Hidalgo Salazar. 

Hidalgo Salazar will also support Kierra Johnson’s vision to build the Task Force’s organizing efforts, and better train, support, and defend local grassroots power. Having worked with undocumented youth at United We Dream  as the development director, Hidalgo Salazar understands the importance of having an organized front of directly impacted people ready to mobilize and hold those in power accountable.

“The Task Force used to have a field organizing team that was in the double digits in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Right now, our organizing team is three people, and as we’ve seen these past four years, no one advancement and policy is actually ensured unless we have an organized base of grassroots leaders,” said Hidalgo Salazar. “So, part of what Kierra Johnson is wanting to settle down at the Task Force is really building out [our] local organizing arm.” 

In addition to this, Hidalgo Salazar brings a deep understanding of America as it exists today and how integral youth are to mobilizing masses to demand change. She is aware of the power and fervor Generation Z possesses and how this passion has become one of the main driving forces of modern day activism. 

“[Young people] are at the forefront of social change across so many different issues from climate change, to immigrant justice, to uprisings against police brutality, and so many more,” said Hidalgo Salazar. “We are forging a future for ourselves and we’re inviting people to come with us; and we’re going [in full force].” 

Ultimately, Hidalgo Salazar’s work will be aimed at preserving and continuing the tradition at the Task Force of approaching LGBTQ activism and advocacy with a strong consciousness surrounding intersectionality, a tradition that she appreciates. 

“I think the Task Force has done such an amazing job at really focusing not just on how different genders and sexualities are criminalized, but also working from this place of really innovating and creating a space where folks can enter a sex-positive framework really young,” said Hidalgo Salazar. 

Hidalgo Salazar’s modus operandi will focus on participating in an exercise where LGBTQ individuals outline and work toward what they would like their liberation to look like. 

“I think it’s about being able to articulate the alternative worlds we want to live in. And when I think about intersectionality at the Task Force, we have the first-ever Black bisexual woman and the first woman with an undocumented immigrant experience in leadership,” said Hidalgo Salazar. “So, there’s so much opportunity for us to really leverage our own stories so that more people that maybe didn’t see themselves as part of the LGBTQ movement per se, can see this work as relatable.” 

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National

Federal prosecutors declined to prosecute 82% of hate crimes

DOJ report says ‘insufficient evidence’ was main cause

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U.S. Department of Justice

Federal prosecutors, who are referred to as United States Attorneys, declined to prosecute 82 percent of 1,864 suspects investigated for violating federal hate crime laws in all 50 states and D.C. during the years of 2005 to 2019, according to a newly released report by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics.

The 15-page report, released on July 8, cites insufficient evidence as the reason suspects were not prosecuted in 55 percent of the federal hate crime cases. The report says “prioritization of federal resources” was the reason for a decision not to prosecute 15 percent of the suspects. 

It says 13 percent of the suspects were not prosecuted by U.S. Attorneys because the suspect was “subject to the authority of another jurisdiction,” and another 13 percent were not prosecuted because the federal government lacked legal jurisdiction to file a hate crime charge. 

The report, entitled Federal Hate Crime Prosecutions, 2005-2019, does not disclose the category of the victims targeted for a hate crime by the suspects whose cases were or were not prosecuted. 

In its annual hate crimes report as required under the U.S. Hate Crimes Statistics Act, the FBI provides information on hate crimes based on a victim’s race/ethnicity/ancestry; religious affiliation; sexual orientation; gender identity; disability; and gender.

The FBI’s most recent hate crimes report released in November 2020, and which covers the year 2019, shows that hate crimes based on a victim’s sexual orientation represented 16.8 percent the total number of hate crimes reported to the FBI for that year, the third largest category after race and religion. 

The FBI report shows that 4.8 percent of the total hate crimes reported to the FBI in 2019 were based on the victim’s gender identity. 

These figures suggest that at least some of the hate crimes cases that U.S. Attorneys declined to prosecute were cases involving LGBTQ people as victims. 

The Bureau of Justice Statistics report also does not disclose whether or how many of the suspects who were not prosecuted for a hate crime violation were prosecuted for the underlying criminal offense that was investigated by federal prosecutors as a possible hate crime.

Law enforcement officials, including D.C. police officials, point out that a hate crime is not a crime in and of itself but instead is a designation added to an underlying crime such as assault, murder, destruction of property, and threats of violence among other criminal offenses. Most state hate crimes laws, including the D.C. hate crimes law, call for an enhanced penalty, including a longer prison sentence, for a suspect convicted of a crime such as murder or assault that prosecutors designate as a hate crime. 

Tannyr M. Watkins, a spokesperson for the DOJ’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, told the Blade in response to a Blade inquiry that the bureau did not have access to data it received from U.S. Attorney’s offices throughout the country about whether hate crime suspects were prosecuted for an underlying crime when the U.S. Attorney’s declined to prosecute the suspect for a hate crime.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics report released last month says that out of the 17 percent, or 310, of the hate crime suspects who were prosecuted between 2005-2019, 92 percent, or 284, whose cases were brought before a U.S. District Court, were convicted. And 85 percent of those convicted received a prison sentence, the report says. 

“Forty percent of the 284 hate crime convictions during 2005-2019 occurred in federal judicial districts in six states – New York (30), California (26), Texas (19), Arkansas (15), Tennessee (13), and Pennsylvania (12),” the report states. It says that during this 15-year period all but 10 states saw at least one hate crime conviction. In addition, there were two federal hate crime convictions in D.C. during that period, according to the report.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, unlike U.S. Attorneys in the 50 states, prosecutes criminal offenses under both D.C. law and federal law under D.C.’s limited home rule government. In the 50 states, most hate crimes are believed to be prosecuted by state and local prosecutors.

Former D.C. U.S. Attorney Jessie Liu has stated that the D.C. Office of the U.S. Attorney has prosecuted most criminal cases in which a hate crime arrest was made but the office dropped the hate crime designation due to lack of sufficient evidence. Liu said the office has continued to prosecute the suspect for the underlying charge, which often included a charge of assault or destruction of property.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics report says U.S. Attorneys use five federal hate crimes related statutes to prosecute suspects for hate crimes. Among them is the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009, which is the only federal hate crimes law that includes protections for LGBTQ people.

LGBTQ activists hailed the Shepard-Byrd law as an important breakthrough because it authorizes federal prosecutors to prosecute anti-LGBTQ hate crimes in states whose hate crimes laws do not cover hate crimes based on the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

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Threats of violence and death shuts down Nebraska drag queen story hour

After discussions and consultations with Lincoln Police, the museum and the LGBTQ+ group citing safety concerns cancelled the event.

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Screenshot of the Lincoln Children’s Museum, Lincoln, Nebraska. ABC News affiliate coverage

LINCOLN – A private LGBTQ+ event scheduled for after hours this past Saturday at the Lincoln Children’s Museum in Nebraska’s capital city was cancelled after the museum and the event’s organizers received a torrent of abusive violent threats including ones that were simply death threats.

Longtime local drag performer Waylon Werner-Bassen, who is the president of the board of directors of LGBTQ advocacy group OUTNebraska had organized the event alongside Drag Queen Story Hour Nebraska.

Bassen told the Lincoln Star-Journal in an interview last week on Tuesday that the scheduled RSVP only two-hour event, which was accessible through Eventbrite, had garnered a conformed attendee list of approximately 50 people.

Mandy Haase-Thomas, director of operations and engagement for the Lincoln Children’s Museum in an email the Star-Journal confirmed the event was invitation-only private, not sponsored by the museum and to be held after museum’s open-to-the-public hours.

According to Bassen, immediately after the event was announced the threats commenced, some of which included death threats. After discussions and consultations with officials from the Lincoln Police Department, the Lincoln Children’s Museum and Bassen’s group citing safety concerns cancelled the event.

Officer Luke Bonkiewicz, a spokesperson for the LPD said that the matter was under investigation and as such would not comment other than to acknowledge that the threats were found to be credible.

In an Instagram post the museum expressed its dismay over the event’s cancellation.

Community reaction was swift and uniformly in support of OutNebraska and the dreg queen story hour event with the city’s Mayor weighing in along with a supervisor with the Lincoln Police Department.

The ACLU of Nebraska along with other supporters which included state lawmakers Senator Adam Morfeld and Senator Tony Vargas also weighed in.

OutNebraska and the museum have both stated that they will reschedule the event. In a Facebook post Out Nebraska noted: “We look forward to working with Lincoln Children’s Museum to reschedule this as an entirely private event. It’s so sad when hate threatens families with children. All parents want their children to be safe. Because we could not be certain that it would be safe we will cancel this weekend and reschedule for another time — this time without a public portion of the invitation. We will be in touch with the families who have already registered with more information about when we are rescheduling.”

In related news the LPD not only recently celebrated LGBTQ Pride Month, but the designated person nominated at the end of June by the Mayor to be the department’s new Chief, is SFPD Commander Teresa Ewins, the San Francisco California Police Department’s highest-ranking LGBTQ member.

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FBI joins investigation into murder of LGBTQ Atlantan

Atlanta Police continue to search for the suspect in the deadly stabbing of a woman asking that anyone with information to please come forward

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Katie Janness and her dog Bowie via Facebook

ATLANTA – The Atlanta Police Department’s murder investigation into this past Wednesday’s stabbing death of 40-year-old Katie Janness and her dog in Piedmont Park, located about 1 mile northeast of downtown between the Midtown and Virginia Highland neighborhoods, has been joined by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, (FBI).

WXIA 11 Alive news reported that the FBI is assisting the Atlanta Police Department, (APD) however a spokesperson for the APD told WXIA the department wouldn’t provide any specifics about the FBI’s involvement with the investigation, nor did the Atlanta Field Office of the FBI comment. 

The Georgia Voice, the local LGBTQ newspaper, reported that Janness, a member of Atlanta’s LGBTQ community and a bartender at the LGBTQ-owned Campagnolo, was found stabbed to death in the park on Wednesday (July 28) after walking her dog Bowie, who was also killed.

Janness was found by her partner of six years, Emma Clark, after Clark tracked her with her phone’s GPS.

“Today, I lost the love of my life and baby boy,” Clark said in a post shared to a GoFundMe page. “It was tragic. She was the most intelligent, kind, humble, and beautiful person I have ever known. I wanted to spend every second with her. [Bowie] was the sweetest, most loyal companion. My heart is so very broken, my world will never be the same.”

A vigil was held for Janness on Thursday evening at Piedmont Park.

Atlanta Police continue to search for the suspect in a deadly stabbing of a woman in Piedmont Park

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Janness’ murder is believed to be the first homicide inside the park in 12 years and according to family members of Janness’ longtime girlfriend, a security camera at an intersection near the park’s entrance captured the last known picture of Katherine Janness and her dog before the two were killed.

But other cameras in the area weren’t working, including one facing the entrance. As of Friday the AJC also reported, as of Friday afternoon, Atlanta police had released few details about the murder investigation that has left city residents and parkgoers on edge.

Atlanta Police are asking that anyone with information to please come forward, and tipsters can remain anonymous by contacting Crime Stoppers Atlanta at 404-577-8477, texting information to 274637 or visiting the Crime Stoppers website.

APD detectives are also asking those who live in this area to review footage from their security cameras and contact the police if they find anything that may be pertinent to this investigation. The timeframe for review should be between 10:30 p.m. on Tuesday to 1:30 a.m. on Wednesday.

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