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Black transgender youth protest treatment at Baltimore jail

BMORE BLXCK hosted Saturday rally

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Josiah Damore participates in a rally against mistreatment of transgender inmates at the Baltimore Central Booking and Intake Center that took place outside Baltimore City Hall on Nov. 13, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Philip Van Slooten)

Maryland LGBTQ rights groups, most of them led by Black transgender youth, rallied in front of Baltimore City Hall on Saturday to protest trans inmates’ complaints of harassment and violence at a state-run correctional facility in Baltimore.

BMORE BLXCK, a Black LGBTQ organization, hosted the event, which was co-organized by FreeState Justice and supported by members of Baltimore Safe Haven. The groups rallied in response to trans detainees’ complaints about harassment and unsafe housing assignments in the Baltimore Central Booking and Intake Center.

“We are here today because we need Baltimore officials to listen to us and hear the fact that we’re dying,” said BMORE BLXCK Co-founder and Executive Director Legacy Forte, who identifies as Black trans woman.

BMORE BLXCK Co-founder and Executive Director Legacy Forte participates in a rally against mistreatment of transgender inmates at the Baltimore Central Booking and Intake Center that took place outside Baltimore City Hall on Nov. 13, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Philip Van Slooten)

Activists at Saturday’s rally also chanted the name of Kim Wirtz, a 43-year-old trans woman who died after being found unconscious in the Baltimore facility in February.

The Human Rights Campaign says 2021 has been the deadliest year for the trans community since it began tracking in 2013. The National Center for Transgender Equality also found prisons are particularly dangerous for trans women, who often aren’t housed according to their gender identity.

“When a trans individual is detained, they need to be put into the facility that they identify as,” Forte said. “If a trans woman is incarcerated, she needs to be placed into the woman’s facility for her safety.”

Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services spokesperson Mark Vernarelli told the Baltimore Sun in October after Kazzy Davis, an 18-year-old trans person, complained about the Baltimore intake facility, that the agency “takes very seriously the preservation of each detainee and inmate’s dignity” and safety. Former inmates with recent experiences at the facility, however, told the Washington Blade that serious problems persist.

Nicole Wells, a trans woman who identifies as both white and Latina, is a case manager with Baltimore Safe Haven.

She described the harassment and misgendering she faced while held at the facility. Despite having an identification with her current name and gender marker, Wells was housed in a male unit, an experience that she still finds traumatic.

“It was terrible,” Wells said. “The staff misgendered me and placed me with the males. They did not put me in protective custody and I was assaulted by one of the inmates.”

Others spoke of similar experiences, including Devine Bey, a Black trans woman who was housed in the male unit, and Josiah Damore, a Black trans man who was housed in the women’s unit. Both reported that staff misgendered them, as well as difficulties receiving their hormone treatments and other forms of abuse.

Devine Bey participates in a rally against mistreatment of transgender inmates at the Baltimore Central Booking and Intake Center that took place outside Baltimore City Hall on Nov. 13, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Philip Van Slooten)

The Blade reached out to the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services for comment, but did not receive a response prior to publication.

It’s Medical Evaluations Manual states correctional facilities will provide medical services, including hormones, for trans detainees. The manual details the medical intake process itself, which includes a review of documents as well as a physical examination of the inmate.

The manual also notes trans women being at “greater risk of sexual violence by other male inmates if they are not placed in protective custody,” but surgical transitioning is used as a basis for gender-affirming housing assignments.

“Incomplete surgical gender reassignment require that the patient be classified according to his or her birth sex for purposes of prison housing, regardless of how long they have lived their life as a member of the opposite gender,” the medical intake policy states.

“These patients are usually offered protective custody,” it adds, but former inmates who spoke with the Blade said this is not always the case despite their safety concerns.

Unfortunately, these incidents in Baltimore are not isolated.

The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey found trans people were 10 times as likely to be sexually assaulted by their fellow inmates and five times as likely to be sexually assaulted by staff compared to other inmates. Trans prisoners also reported other challenges including denial of medical care and lengthy stays in solitary confinement.

National Center for Transgender Equality Executive Director Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen told the Blade that U.S. correctional facilities are dangerous for anyone but being trans makes individuals “particularly vulnerable to attack.”

“Just like with policing, the jail and prison system needs sweeping reforms before trans people can be safe,” Heng-Lehtinen said. “At a minimum they need to be housed how they identify. Often they are placed in a facility based on a strip search in a disrespectful attempt to determine gender and place the person in a facility based on anatomical judgements.”

FreeState Justice Executive Director Jeremy LaMaster told the Blade his organization became involved with complaints surrounding the Baltimore booking center after Baltimore Safe Haven came to them with concerns about the facility.

He said FreeState Justice is looking into the complaints, but is also working with legislators to address a much needed policy update.

“We’re looking into adding a reporting requirement and a timeline for reporting incidents, so families are aware of what is going on,” he said. “We’re also looking at the creation of some type of liaison position or community advisory board to ensure there is conversation about the unique needs of people who are trans or in the LGBTQ community while incarcerated.”

State Sen. Clarence Lam (D-Baltimore County), who chairs the Maryland Senate’s Joint Committee on Fair Practices and State Personnel Oversight, told the Blade he was not aware of issues at the state-run facility, but felt there should be “proper oversight and safeguards in place to make sure the safety and rights of all individuals at the facility are protected and appropriate procedures are followed.”

He added the Maryland Division of Corrections first needs an opportunity to address the issue and ensure they are properly following the policies they have in place for trans detainees before the state gets involved.

Sgt. Kevin Bailey, the LGBTQ Liaison for the Baltimore Police Department, said although he couldn’t speak about how a state-run facility, which is managed separate from the city, operates, he did say there are benefits to having help from the community navigate these stressful interactions.

Speaking from his experience in the Baltimore Police Department, he said community and bias training can help each side understand the history and biases underlying and straining interactions.

“So, as a police department we deal with legal documents,” he explained. “So sometimes having an interaction with a person who is transgender, their legal documents may not line up with who they are as a person. Understanding that helps officers understand the person they are dealing with is not being deceitful. When they give you their name, use that name, and understand their struggle.”

He said while police officers still have to use a person’s legal name in the report, they can use the name the person gives them verbally when interacting with them. This can help the officer understand the community better and deescalate a situation.

While he felt the same training could be useful in correctional facilities, or in any organization that interacts with the LGBTQ community, Heng-Lehtinen pointed out this has to be the first step, not the last.

“The best policy would be for when someone is being booked,” he said. “And that policy should not be an assignment based on genitalia, it should be based on where the person would be the most safe.”

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Virginia

New campaign challenges Va. guidelines for transgender, nonbinary students

Students4Trans planning rallies, walkouts across the state

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Students and Pride Liberation Project supporters hold signs supporting transgender rights at Luther Jackson Middle School in Falls Church, Va., during a Fairfax County School Board meeting in 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A group of Virginia students have launched a campaign that challenges the state’s new guidelines for transgender and nonbinary students.

The Pride Liberation Project on Sept. 20 announced the formation of Students4Trans.

Students4Trans held a rally outside the Virginia Department of Education in Richmond on Sept. 22. Another rally will take place during the Virginia Beach School Board meeting on Tuesday.

The Virginia Department of Education in July announced the new guidelines for which Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin asked. The regulations, among other things, require parents to be informed of a student’s name and pronoun change, with the exception of “imminent risk of suicide related to parental abuse or neglect.” 

Arlington County Public Schools, Fairfax County Public Schools and Prince William County Schools are among the school districts that have refused to implement the guidelines. 

The Spotsylvania County School Board announced last month that students are required to use the bathroom that aligs with their assigned sex, and parents could choose the names and pronouns their children use at school. Two parents in Virginia Beach have filed a lawsuit that seeks to force the city’s school district to implement the new guidelines for transgender and nonbinary students.

Students4Trans has organized a student walkout on Friday to protest the Spotsylvania County School Board’s new policies.

Michael K. Lavers contributed to this story.

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District of Columbia

Dignity Washington holds Catholic mass in honor of woman priest

LGBTQ group celebrates its support for ordination of women priests

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Rev. Ann Penick, center, performs mass on Sunday, Sept. 24 for members and friends of the DC LGBTQ Catholic group Dignity Washington. (Washington Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

The D.C. LGBTQ Catholic group Dignity Washington says it dedicated its weekly Catholic mass on Sunday, Sept. 24, to honor a woman priest who has served as one of its priests since 2017 in a gesture of support for the women’s priest movement.

“This Mass commemorates the ordination of Ann Penick as a Roman Catholic Woman Priest and celebrates the invaluable contributions of women who have served the church in various capacities,” the group said in a statement.

“Rev. Ann Penick’s ordination as a Catholic priest, and the ordination of female priests like her, represents a step forward in the Catholic Church’s ongoing journey towards greater inclusivity and recognition of diverse vocations within its ranks,” the statement says. “Dignity Washington is deeply honored to support her ministry and those of other women priests,” it says.

The fact that the Dignity mass in honor of Rev. Penick, who presided over the mass, and all of its weekly Sunday masses are held at St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church near Dupont Circle highlights the fact that the official Catholic church recognizes neither Dignity nor women priests.

Dignity, a nationwide LGBTQ Catholic group with chapters across the country, is banned from holding any of its masses in Catholic Churches.

Penick told the Washington Blade in an interview the week prior to her saying the Dignity Mass on Sept. 24 that she was ordained as a priest in June 2011 by a woman bishop associated with a breakaway Catholic organization, the Association of Roman Catholic Womenpriests. The organization was formed shortly after three male Roman Catholic Bishops ordained the first known women priests on a ship sailing along the Danube River in Europe in June 2002.

Two of the bishops who publicly disclosed their decision to ordain the women were excommunicated by Catholic Church officials at the Vatican in Rome. The third bishop acted anonymously and is believed to be continuing to serve as a bishop.

One of these bishops subsequently ordained female bishops who, in turn, began ordaining other women Catholic priests in Europe and in the U.S.

Information posted on the Association of Roman Catholic Womenpriests website says it and others associated with the women priest movement believe the ordination of women bishops and priests is valid under the biblical concept of ‘apostolic succession.”

Under that concept, the spiritual authority that Jesus bestowed on his original apostles has been handed down to subsequent generations of clergy, and the ordained women bishops and priests can pass that spiritual authority on to other female clergy.

A spokesperson for the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, which oversees Catholic churches in D.C. and parts of Maryland, did not respond to a request by the Blade for comment on the women’ priest movement.

Penick, who is married and has two stepchildren with her husband, points out that the women’s priest movement has also broken with the official church over the longstanding church requirement that priests practice celibacy and cannot marry.

“The Roman Catholic women’s priest movement sees celibacy as a personal calling,” Penick told the Blade. “If a woman is personally called to celibacy, she follows that call,” Penick said. “But a woman can also be married and have children, and that’s always been a vision of the Roman Catholic Women’s priest movement.”

Penick notes that it was not until the early 1100s that the church put in place a celibacy requirement for its priests.

She has been active in the Catholic Church for most of her life in several states where she has lived and worked. She received a certification in lay ministry from the Diocese of Birmingham, Ala. in 1993, a master’s in counseling degree from the University of Birmingham in 1995, and a master’s in Pastoral Ministry from Boston College in 2008.

She and her family currently live in Alexandria, Va., and she currently works as a mental health counselor at the Counseling and Psychological Services department at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. Penick said while living in Maryland she served as a priest for Living Water Inclusive Catholic Community in Catonsville, and currently serves as a priest for the D.C. Living Family Mass Community in D.C. as well as serving as one of Dignity Washington’s rotating priests.

“We are so lucky to have her,” said Dignity Washington former president Daniel Barutta, who noted that Penick and her husband are Dignity members. “She’s just a shining star for women,” he said. “And we really hope that Dignity Washington is leading the church, showing the church which direction to go in terms of empowering women and having them as our spiritual leaders.”

Barutta said Penick has joined the Dignity Washington contingent in D.C.’s LGBTQ Pride parade and the city’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade and has led Dignity prayer services on various occasions.

Peter Edwards, Dignity Washington’s vice president, said following its Sunday mass that the organization “certainly does affirm that women can serve as priests in our community.” Edwards added, “We had a wonderful congregation tonight for a mass in celebration of Rev. Ann.”

Sister Jeannine Gramick, co-founder of the Mount Rainier, Md., based LGBTQ Catholic advocacy organization New Ways Ministry, said she believes the fully approved ordination of women priests in the Catholic Church will someday happen.

“There is no theological reason, only cultural ones, why women have not been ordained priests,” she said in referring to the official church. “I believe that a Catholic organization that ordains women priests is living out their sincere and deep-seated beliefs and preparing the wider community for what will eventually come to pass,’ she said.

“Not all arrive at the destination at the same time, and I admire those with the courage of their convictions who lead the way,” she added.

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District of Columbia

Activists, policy makers mark Celebrate Bisexual Day in D.C.

BiPlus Organizing US hosted event at HRC

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Adrian Shanker, senior advisor for LGBTQI+ health equity in the U.S.Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health, speaks at a Bisexual Awareness Day event at the Human Rights Campaign on Sept. 23, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Cal Benn)

BiPlus Organizing US on Saturday hosted a Celebrate Bisexual Day event at the Human Rights Campaign.

Fiona Dawson, co-founder of BiPlus Organizing US, and Mélanie Snail, committee member of the organization, emceed the event. HRC Senior Vice President of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Rebecca Hershey welcomed attendees. 

Heyshey discussed her journey as a bisexual, mixed race, Jewish woman. Hershey paraphrased Adrienne Maree Brown, stating “change is coming, we are creating change.” 

PFLAG Learning and Inclusion Manager Mackenzie Harte gave a presentation on the history of bisexual identities, defined terms surrounding gender and sexuality and went over statistics of discrimination and health disparities that bisexual individuals face.

Harte’s presentation noted 48 percent of bisexual individuals reported an annual income of less than $30,000, compared to 30 percent of gay men, 39 percent of lesbians and 28 percent of all adults in the U.S. 

Harte went on to say 28 percent of bisexual students report having attempted suicide; and bisexual people have a higher risk of mood disorders, substance abuse and mental illness than their lesbian, gay, or straight cohorts. Bisexual people of all genders face higher rates of sexual assault than those same peers. One reason for these statistics is isolation: 39 percent of bisexual men and 33 percent of bisexual women report not being out to any health care provider, and only 44 percent of bisexual youth report having an adult they could turn to if they were sad. 

Harte also spoke about the Bisexual Manifesto, which the Bay Area Bisexual Network wrote in 1990. 

“The bisexual manifesto very intentionally was not binary,” Harte said.

They said the text works against the stigma and stereotypes that claim bisexuality is confined to “male, female.” 

Tania Israel, a bisexual advocate and psychology professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, shared some of her bisexual haikus, which she calls, “bikus.”

Dawson moderated the next panel.

Panelists included Nicole Holmes, a bisexual advocate and public health professional, National Center for Transgender Equality Communications Director Leroy Thomas and NCTE Policy Counsel Kris Tassone. 

The panel talked about how shame and stigma drive the statistics that negatively impact the bisexual community. Another word that came up as a driving force was “intersectionality.” 

Holmes said that when it comes to intersectionality, it’s important to not just “list identities,” but to look deep into “the purpose behind why we are talking about intersectional identities” in the first place.

Adrian Shanker, senior advisor on LGBTQ+ Health Equity for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, spoke about health equity for the bisexual community. 

“Striving for health equity remains a core priority. It also remains an unmet dream,” said Shanker. “Queer people have always had to be our own health advocates.” While health equity may not be here yet, Shanker says there is much in the works for the LGBTQ community, bisexuals specifically. 

Shanker cited a National Cancer Institute funding opportunity that invites research proposals to cancer care for sexual and gender minorities, stating bisexual specific proposals are welcome. The impending potential government shutdown may postpone it. 

The Biden-Harris administration is also working to ban so-called conversion therapy at the federal level. Additionally, 988, the national suicide prevention hotline, began a program to offer specialized support for LGBTQ youth and young adults last year. 

Shanker said bisexual people should prioritize preventative screenings for skin cancer, oral cancer, lung cancer, regular cervical and anal pap tests, mammograms, prostate exams and colonoscopies. 

“If you have a body part, get it screened,” said Shanker. 

Megan Townsend, senior director of entertainment research and analysis for the GLAAD Media Institute, did a presentation on bisexual representation in the media and opportunities for advancement. 

 “I want to see bi+/pan colors displayed on the White House,” said Dawson. “I want every national LGBTQIA+ organization to be talking about us, to put our concerns front and center.”

The data presented can be found here.

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