A 20-year-old transgender woman was found shot to death in her apartment in the D.C. suburb of Suitland, Md., on Saturday, July 17, shortly before 10 p.m., according to a statement released by Prince George’s County police.
The statement identifies the victim as Taya Ashton, who lived in an apartment on the 2300 block of Brooks Drive in Suitland, where police were called to respond to a shooting.
“The victim was located inside her apartment suffering from a gunshot wound and was pronounced dead on the scene,” the police statement says.
“Detectives are working to identify a suspect(s) and determine a motive,” according to the statement. “Based on the preliminary investigation, at this time, detectives do not believe this was a random crime,” the statement continues.
“At this point in the investigation, we have uncovered no evidence suggesting Taya’s murder was due to her gender identity, but as in all cases, we explore all possibilities,” the statement says.
The statement adds, “We are asking anyone with information that could help detectives to please reach out by calling 301-516-2512. Callers wishing to remain anonymous may call Crime Solvers at 1-866-411-TIPS, go online at pgcrimesolvers.com, or use the ‘P3 Tips’ mobile app.” The statement says callers are asked to refer to Case 21-0032181.
D.C. resident Stuart Anderson, Taya Ashton’s grandfather, told the Washington Blade that her parents and extended family members accepted Ashton’s status as a transgender woman and are devastated over the taking of her life by violence.
Anderson said he arrived at his grandchild’s apartment after being alerted to the shooting by another family member minutes after police arrived. He said he and other family members did not observe any signs of a forced entry into the apartment, leading them to believe Taya Ashton may have known the assailant and possibly invited the person to her home.
“We saw her. It looked like a struggle might have taken place,” Anderson said.
P.G. County police spokesperson Corp. Nicholas Clayton told the Blade on Monday that detectives were actively investigating the case and would be looking for any and all available evidence to identify the person responsible for Ashton’s murder.
He said police could not disclose details related to the condition of the body or other evidence found at the scene, including whether or not there was a forced entry into the apartment, because doing so could jeopardize the investigation.
“Today is a somber and sad day for the Transgender Community as we remember yet another life so precious taken away,” said D.C. transgender advocate Earline Budd in a statement responding to the announcement by P.G. County police on Monday that the murder had occurred.
“This murder only reminds us of the tragic shooting in 2019 of both Ashanti Carmon and Zoe Spears,” Budd said in her statement. “Both were brutally gunned down between March 30 and June 19 of 2019, less than a mile from each other.”
Budd was referring to the location in Fairmont Heights, Md., also in Prince George’s County near the D.C. border, where the two trans women were fatally shot. P.G. County police arrested 33-year-old Baltimore resident Gerardo Thomas later that year for the Spears murder. No arrest has been made in the case of Carmon’s murder.
“Transgender individuals are experiencing violence locally and around the country almost every day,” Budd said in her statement. “D.C. and P.G. County are only separated by a line, and we must come together as one community to address this violence.”
Budd added, “There should be no rest in the LGBTQ community when something as tragic as this happens. Our prayers go out to the family of Taya.”
Anderson said he and other family members were making arrangements for a vigil in Taya Ashton’s honor at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, July 21, at River Terrace Park, which is located in D.C. at Benning Road and Anacostia Ave., N.E. along the Anacostia River. He said the vigil would take place at or near the site of the park’s main gazebo.
Budd said she is helping the family set up the vigil.
A busy July 4 weekend in Rehoboth Beach
Del Shores, Lady Bunny, Pamala Stanley and more set to entertain
As July 4 approaches, another Rehoboth Beach summer is abuzz with possibilities for in-person fun ranging from dinner downtown to live performances featuring local artists.
For starters, stop for dinner at Red, White & Basil. This brand-new restaurant was scheduled open its doors to the Rehoboth community on June 29 after making the move from D.C. to Route 1, where it can be found south of Coldwell Banker and just north of Big Fish. Mark Hunker and Jeff McCracken of Eden and JAM Bistro and Coho’s Market & Grill are behind the new venture.
Diego’s Bar & Nightclub (37298 Rehoboth Ave. Ext.) is entering the July 4 weekend strong. Kick off the new month with a happy hour Friday from 4-8 p.m. On Saturday, don’t miss a Splash Party from 5-7 p.m. or an Independance Party with DJ Steven J from 9:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. all at the same venue.
Come back to the bar on Sunday from 4-8 p.m. for a happy hour followed by a 9:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. Studio 54 Party with DJ Jeff Harrison. Round out your weekend at Diego’s with the show-stopping DJ during the bar’s July 4 Independence Day Dance from 9:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m.
Witness the wonder of local legends Kristina Kelly and Mona Lotts as they perform in a special July 4 drag brunch at The Pines, with doors opening at 56 Baltimore Ave. at 11:15 a.m. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased online. Come back that evening for the Flaming Pianos show featuring local favorites John Flynn and Matthew Kenworthy from 6-9 p.m.
Also at the Pines is Furst Friday happy hour with the Rehoboth Beach Bears on July 1 from 6-8 p.m. That same night, the legendary Del Shores performs “The Tea is Spilled” at 7:30 and 9:30 p.m.
Across the street at Aqua, don’t miss FireWerk with DJ Chord on Friday at 9 p.m.
The Blue Moon (35 Baltimore Ave.) has a robust lineup of entertainment planned, including Show Tunes Sunday on July 3 and Lady Bunny performing on July 4 from 9:30-11 p.m. Tickets are $44. Also at the Moon, don’t miss the talented New York City pianist Nate Buccieri, Monday-Thursday, 6-8:30 p.m.
Freddie’s Beach Bar continues its first summer season with karaoke on Thursdays and Sundays at 8 p.m., Drag Follies show Fridays at 9 p.m., and a DJ dance party on Saturdays at 8 p.m. Freddie’s also hosts the beloved Pamala Stanley on Sunday, July 3 from 6-9 p.m.
Stick around until Friday, July 8 and you can watch local drag star Magnolia Applebottom grace the stage of the Milton Theatre, located at 110 Union St. in Milton, Del. Doors open at 7 p.m., and tickets can be purchased for $20 online.
As visitors from far and wide eagerly await a Rehoboth Beach summer with fewer restrictions, these events will be sure to make everyone’s Independence Day this year is nothing short of spectacular.
Gay, lesbian incumbents, candidates on Md. county ballots
State’s primary is on July 19
The Washington Blade this week spoke with five openly gay and lesbian candidates who are either running for office or are seeking re-election in Montgomery, Prince George’s and Howard Counties.
Montgomery County Councilman Evan Glass
Evan Glass serves as the vice president of the Montgomery County Council and as its first openly LGBTQ member. Previously working for 12 years as a CNN journalist, he was first elected in 2018.
Glass told the Blade that running to continue as a member of the Council was rooted in the change that has been able to be made thus far.
“When I first raised the Pride flag in an official manner in 2019, I received a lot of pushback and hate,” Glass said. “But we persisted and have continued expanding Pride events and celebrating our beautiful diversity.”
Since his election, Glass’ initiatives in Montgomery County have included a host of local legislation aimed at promoting and furthering social justice and LGBTQ equality in the county.
Along with measures, such as the county’s Housing Justice Act and Oversight and Small Business Investment Act, Glass’ efforts led to the Council to pass its Pay Equity Act designed close the gender wage gap by modifying how the county determines salaries for employees. He also worked to spearhead the passage of the county’s LGBTQ Bill of Rights, which expanded its anti-discrimination code to include gender expression and HIV status and ban discrimination in areas such as healthcare facilities, nursing homes and personal care facilities.
As he makes his bid for reelection later this summer, Glass said that he hopes to expand on the accomplishments he has been able to make so far.
“I’m proud of my work to create more affordable housing, to make our buses free for all youth, and to keep our residents healthy and safe during the pandemic,” Glass said. “These efforts haven’t been easy, but they are critical to fostering a more fair and equitable community.”
Montgomery County Circuit Court Clerk Karen Bushell
Karen Bushell grew up in the Midwest before moving to the D.C. area in 1985, where she met her wife in 1995. Bushell had four children and her wife had two children when they met, and according to Bushell, “we had a very, very busy house.”
Bushell started serving in the judiciary in 2001 — as an HR associate, and then as a judicial assistant for many years. When Barbara Michael retired as Clerk of the Court in April 2021, Bushell was appointed to the position, making her the first openly LGBTQ person to hold it.
The Clerk of the Court serves as an independent record keeper of what happens in the courts, and Bushell described the clerk’s role as primarily that of a public servant.
“I love my job; I love being part of the judiciary. Being a public servant, it’s always good to know at the end of the day, that you help somebody,” Bushell said. “I think being a public servant is something that is important to me, so that is one of the reasons that that I’m running.”
Prince George’s County Public Schools Board of Education member Pamela Boozer-Strother
Pamela Boozer-Strother first became involved in LGBTQ and reproductive rights advocacy in the late 1980s as part of what was then called the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association. During the decade she spent working with NLGJA; she worked towards inclusive workplace policies, fair and accurate news coverage of LGBTQ issues, and domestic partner benefits.
After living in Adams Morgan for years, Boozer-Strother moved to Prince George’s County with her spouse Margaret, where they adopted a child and built a life together. Boozer-Strother first became involved in the school system when her son started attending public school in Prince George’s County, and in 2018 she ran for the Board of Education and won.
“I had an opportunity to make a difference by being visible, and finding other gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender families and staff — and ultimately, students — and helping to build that network of support,” Boozer-Strother said. “It’s taken some time; I ran for the board in 2018 as an out candidate and I won, and I am thrilled to live in a community that saw that as an asset.”
Boozer-Strother has worked extensively on school construction, educational equity policy, LGBTQ-inclusive curricula and the board’s climate change action plan.
“Of course, I focused in on the relevance of my representation and my skills and background that I could bring to [my platform.] But really, I got into this because of school construction,” Boozer-Strother said. “I’m really proud to say that, as of today, seven projects that serve District 3 students are fully funded.”
Prince George’s County Council candidate Krystal Oriadha
Krystal Oriadha studied business at Howard University before getting an MBA and working at Hewlitt-Packard. After a few years with HP, Oriadha moved back to the DMV area, where she said that “I wanted to use my skill set to help people and make an impact.”
Oriadha has now been a community organizer and advocate for more than 12 years — she worked with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on human trafficking prevention, reproductive healthcare, domestic violence campaigns and tribal nations issues for about four years before she made her first run for office, for the same seat for which she is running now. Although Oriadha lost that election by 30 votes, she became the new council member’s policy director, which gave her the chance to work on making legislation as a staffer.
“I think I learned that I wanted to be the principal even more, because they had the ability to make deals, cancel what I thought was really good legislation,” Oriadha said. “It’s really different when you’re the person that gets the make that last call — that’s the difference between having a seat at the table and being outside of the room when decisions are being made.”
Oriadha currently serves as the executive director of PG Change Makers, a local nonprofit she co-founded after returning to Prince George’s County to do community work in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder. Although she was not initially planning to run for office again, Oriadha said that she is doing so at the request of her community.
“I was not planning on running again because it is a lot of work and I never really cared about being elected, but the community is asking me to, so I decided to go ahead and give it another try,” Oriadha said.
Oriadha said that proudly representing all aspects of her identity is a crucial part of her campaign.
“When I first ran, there was a lot of talk about how not to talk about the LGBTQ+ part, because I’m straight presenting. And for me, what was so important is that I made it very clear who I am, and that I didn’t shy away or hide that part of myself, because to me, you’re not breaking the [glass] ceiling if people don’t even know the ceiling existed. I think that we’ve never had an openly elected LGBTQ+ person sit on our County Council before,” Oriadha said.
“I think what this will show is that you can run and be yourself and it won’t cost you anything. I think that’s what is so important about this election.”
Howard County Register of Wills Byron Macfarlane
Howard County Register of Wills Byron Macfarlane has served in the position since 2010 and was the first openly LGBTQ person elected in Howard County.
Along with his involvement in a plethora of state and local groups and organizations and being admitted to the state bar association, Macfarlane gained experience working for multiple prominent lawyers and politicians including County Councilman Guy Guzzone, Circuit Court Judge Richard Bernhardt, state Sen. Edward Kasemeyer and the late-U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.)
During his tenure in office, Macfarlane has made supporting the LGBTQ community an integral facet of his identity as a public official and a fellow citizen.
“Queer kids see the hate coming from the dark corners of our community,” Macfarlane wrote on Twitter. “They need to hear from us — from you — that we love and support every one of them.”
Since being elected, Macfarlane has overseen a number of reforms implemented in the Register’s office, including modernization of its technological aspects and a cut on taxpayer expenditures for antiquated procedures. Modernizing the Register’s office and leading on reform, while also being receptive to his constituents, Macfarlane has said, have been some of his top priorities.
“I’ve proven myself as a reliable and responsive figure in our local government, that I’ve been extremely effective delivering meaningful reform, and that now more than ever our community needs steady, forward-looking leadership they can trust,” Macfarlane told the Blade. “I’m running for re-election because representation matters, because I want to continue serving the public with professionalism, compassion, and fairness, and because I want to continue pushing reforms to make probate faster, fairer and less expensive for Marylanders.”
Editor’s note: Somerset Mayor Jeffrey Slavin, who is openly gay, won re-election on May 10.
Eastern Panhandle Pride brings celebration to rural W.Va.
‘Martinsburg is an inclusive city’
Smiling faces spilled into downtown Martinsburg, W.Va., on June 4, welcomed by booths swathed in rainbow colors lining the road.
The historic sight marked the first time that Martinsburg welcomed an official Pride celebration to its streets — but not all residents viewed the new event favorably. As the celebration came into full swing, two protesters marched straight to its center, carrying a sign with homophobic slurs and a seven-foot cross.
The protest quickly turned the heads of passersby. As more and more people approached the demonstration, a group of more than 30 attendees formed a circle around the protesters, separating them from the event. Some joined hands and, attempting to drown out the protesters’ hatred, chanted: “Love wins!”
When Joe Merceruio began working at Eastern Panhandle Pride nine years ago, he set out to help unite the community of West Virginia’s easternmost region, working with fellow organizers to create Pride celebrations in a Shepherdstown park.
But when assuming the role of president in 2019, he never anticipated that just three years later, the organization would be invited by the mayor of the panhandle’s largest city to throw a celebration in the Berkeley County, W.Va. seat. “We’ve never had a city reach out to us and ask us to do Pride, it was always the other way around,” he explained.
Born and raised in Martinsburg, Merceruio was moved by the way his community came together at this year’s Pride celebration. After two years of restricted celebrations due to public health concerns, seeing so many people celebrate in person, including many allies, was deeply meaningful, he noted.
Beth Roemer, who helped organize this year’s festivities, said she was especially proud of the way her community peacefully organized against the protesters — especially those young people she credited with leading the charge. The group was “surrounding them in a very passive way so that they couldn’t do any more damage,” she recalled.
Participating in Pride each year has shown Merceruio and Roemer alike the ways their community is changing, fueled by advocacy from LGBTQ individuals and allies within it.
Berkeley County is known for being more conservative, which meant that Roemer “wasn’t sure” exactly “how far we had come” in accepting the LGBTQ community. But her hopes for inclusivity were quickly realized when she saw how many people supported this year’s celebration.
“We had a local business downtown reach out to Joe and I, and he said he just never believed in a million years that we could have Pride downtown,” she added. “He was super happy.”
According to Merceruio, Pride offers an opportunity for community building especially important to rural West Virginians.
“I think you can let the stereotype of West Virginia interfere with the reality of the West Virginia that’s really out there,” he explained. “There is ignorance, there is hatred, but there’s also a tremendous amount of love and support.”
“It really gives people who want a community a chance to see that there is a community in Martinsburg,” Roemer said. At this year’s celebration, Roemer added that she met an 18-year-old woman who was able to attend Pride for the first time after her parents did not support her desire to go growing up. “She goes, ‘Now I have a community,’” Roemer recalled.
As an organization that serves a primarily rural region, Eastern Panhandle Pride operates differently from many Pride organizations in major cities. Merceruio noted that there are some challenges associated with organizing Pride in a rural area, like receiving less attention from sponsors and having to work harder to find and provide resources.
Still, Merceruio said rural Pride celebrations have a certain charm that major Pride celebrations cannot always replicate.
“I have people that have texted me and said, ‘We’re so excited to do this, our 11-year-old daughter has been waiting for this,’” he explained. “I think you get more of a family atmosphere in rural areas.”
Some of Merceruio’s favorite moments from this year’s Pride included this type of “personal interaction” with community members, he added. “I guess that’s a bit more of what you get from a smaller town for Pride.”
At this year’s Pride, Martinsburg Mayor Kevin Knowles spoke directly to attendees, welcoming the celebration to the city’s streets and reading a proclamation officially recognizing June 2022 as Pride month for the city.
“Martinsburg is an inclusive city. We include everybody, no matter where they come from or what they do,” Knowles said at the event. “The city of Martinsburg is moving forward.”
In the near future, Eastern Panhandle Pride hopes to continue to offer programming for the local LGBTQ community and its allies, and to further support community needs through advocacy. For Merceruio, this work is an important part of giving back to the place he calls home.
“I love being from West Virginia. Our culture and our society and our neighbors,” Merceruio said. “It’s got its problems, but it is awesome.”
See photos from the event here!
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