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Bisexual Black man alleges abuse at Va. ICE detention center

Paul White has been at Caroline Detention Center since August 2020

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Paul White remains in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody at the Caroline Detention Center in Bowling Green, Va. (Illustration courtesy of Leanne Gale)

A bisexual Black man in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody says he continues to suffer abuse at the Virginia detention center in which he is being detained.

Paul White has been in ICE custody at the Caroline Detention Center in Caroline County, which is roughly 70 miles south of D.C., since August 2020.

Amanda Díaz of Freedom for Immigrants, a group that seeks to end the detention of immigrants and asylum seekers, in a July 15 complaint she sent to Caroline Detention Facility Supt. Paul Perry, ICE Washington Field Office Director Matthew Munroe, Department of Homeland Security Officer for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Katherine Culliton-González and DHS Inspector General Joseph V. Cuffari notes three specific “use of force” incidents against White.

The complaint notes three Caroline Detention Facility staffers on Nov. 5, 2020, brought White to a “rover security office” in the back of the dining hall after he complained about the quality of the food he received for dinner. White alleges one of the staffers then “grabbed” him “by his jumper collar and slammed him into the door, threatening that if he moved or said anything, he was going to kill him.”

White during a Nov. 11 telephone interview from the Caroline Detention Facility told the Washington Blade that the staffer assaulted him in an area without video surveillance. White said he filed a complaint with ICE, but “nothing happened.”

The complaint notes the same Caroline Detention Facility staffer who assaulted White last November “approached” him “in his dorm” on Feb. 10 and asked to speak to him.” White, according to the complaint, “refused” and the staffer “then asked to speak to him in the library, where [White] was under the impression that there were no cameras.”

The complaint says White “was afraid to go with” the staffer “to a place with no cameras and refused again.” The staffer then “put everyone in the dorm on lockdown and put [White] in segregation and charged him with “approaching” the staffer “in a threatening manner.” White, according to the complaint, returned to his dorm after the charge was dismissed.

The complaint states a Caroline Detention Facility staffer on May 10 “handcuffed my client and dragged him across the floor on his knees” after White challenged new rules about where detainees could sit in the dining hall.

“I was cuffed because I refused to walk because I was wrongfully targeted and I was like I’m not going to walk,” White told the Blade. “He started dragging me on the ground.”

White said the staffer then threatened to mace him.

“He pulled his mace out, had it over my face and threatened me if I don’t get up and walk, he was going to mace me,” said White. “I turned to him and I was like, ‘I’m in cuffs and you’re going to mace me.'”

White said the next morning he took 10 600 mg Ibuprofen pills in an attempt to die by suicide. White told the Blade that Caroline Detention Facility staffers placed him into an isolation cell, and the pills were among the personal belongings he said they brought to him.

“I was just tired of the abuse that I’ve been suffering by the hands of this facility and ICE,” said White. “I felt like I was worthless and I just wanted to end the pain.”

White described to the Blade another incident in which he said an ICE officer took his blankets and bedsheets away from him after he questioned why they demanded he get out of bed.

“They say we can’t be under our covers from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.,” said White. “I told him that’s punishment and this is not prison, and he still went ahead and did it.”

White said he didn’t get his “stuff back until” 7 p.m. White told the Blade he reported the incident to both ICE and Caroline Detention Facility staffers, but “they did nothing about it.”

Freedom for Immigrants, the National Lawyers Guild’s National Immigrant Project and the Free Them All VA Coalition on Aug. 31 filed a separate complaint with Culliton-González on behalf of White and 18 other people who are currently in ICE custody at the Caroline Detention Facility or were previously held there.

“Since April 2021, we have received reports from these 19 individuals being held at Caroline Detention Facility who have called the Freedom for Immigrants (FFI) National Immigration Detention Hotline and individual advocates to report that they have suffered from physical and verbal abuse, contaminated food, denials of right to practice religion, medical neglect, denial of disability accommodations, unsanitary conditions, phone access restrictions, solitary confinement and/or COVID-19 negligence,” reads the complaint. “These reports demonstrate a pattern and practice of ongoing and blatant violations of the 2011 ICE Performance-Based National Detention Standards, with which Caroline Detention Facility is required to comply per their contract with ICE.”

White told the Blade that he tested positive for COVID-19 last November. He said he is now vaccinated, but stressed facility staffers don’t wear face masks and don’t properly clean the detention center.

White also said he had a “mental breakdown” a few weeks ago and a Caroline Detention Facility staff person told him “you need to speak with me first” when he asked to speak with a mental health professional and an ICE officer.

“I said, ‘No, you’re not mental health and you’re not ICE,” said White, recalling what he said he told the staff person. “He told me that I’m in his jurisdiction. I said jurisdiction. I said man, listen, you’re not going to put no cuffs on me like the last time you did and dragged me.”

White told the Blade that he was eventually allowed to see a mental health professional in the infirmary, but the Caroline Detention Facility staffer nevertheless wrote him up and placed him in segregation. White said he was found not guilty, but the staffer who filed the complaint against him later threatened him.

“The captain looked at me and said I was lucky because if it were him he would have hurt me,” said White.

White also told the Blade that his overall physical health has deteriorated since he arrived at Caroline Detention Facility.

White fears deportation to ‘homophobic’ homeland

White is from a country that he asked the Blade not to identify, but he said consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized there.

He arrived in the U.S. in 2001 after his mother sponsored him for a green card.

White lived in New York for several years. He worked as a cable company technician before he began an entertainment company and opened a restaurant. White, who has a daughter, moved to Henrico County, Va., in 2012.

He said he was arrested in Chesterfield County, Va., but did not tell the Blade why.

“Basically, as a Black man I was targeted and the justice system basically sent me to prison,” said White.

White has asked the U.S. to grant him protection under the U.N. Convention against Torture due to the persecution he said he would suffer in his home country because of his sexual orientation.

An immigration judge in May ruled against White.

White appealed the ruling to the Virginia-based Board of Immigration Appeals, but it dismissed his case last week.

“Mr. White is currently exploring options to continue pursuing his case,” White’s former attorney, Leanne Gale, told the Blade in an email.

White told the Blade he is “pretty much scared to my gut” about being deported to his home country.

“I’m going back to a country that I left 20 years ago and I have no financial support,” he said. “Basically, I have to go back to the same place where they’re waiting for me, that I’m going to be harmed.”

White further described his country as “homophobic.”

“The laws stated that if you’re gay or lesbian, you’re supposed to be locked up and persecuted,” he said. “I see guys got killed, burned and beaten with car tires. I’ve heard of people who got shot and the police’s not going to do nothing about it … the communities govern themselves. When you’re been exposed as being gay, lesbian or bisexual, even your mom, your dad, your cousins, your uncles, they’re all against you and you potentially might not be killed by a stranger. You might be killed by your own parents.”

ICE ‘has zero tolerance for all forms of abuse’

ICE spokesperson James Covington in a statement he sent to the Blade on Monday did not specifically comment on White’s allegations. Covington, however, stressed ICE “has zero tolerance for all forms of abuse, assault, or neglect against individuals in the agency’s custody. Furthermore, ICE practices strict adherence to all federally mandated COVID-19 protocols at all of our facilities.”

“ICE focuses on prevention and intervention with specific requirements for detainee supervision, classification, and background checks for staff and contractors,” said Covington. “Moreover, ICE works extensively to ensure that all detainees are aware of how to make an allegation of abuse or assault, that allegations are treated seriously, that detainees are protected and provided all required services, and that thorough investigations are completed. The agency has implemented policies and procedures to establish an environment where staff and detainees are encouraged and feel comfortable reporting allegations and do not face any retaliation for bringing to light concerning behavior. ICE and facility staff receive specialized training to appropriately respond to all allegations in a professional and timely manner.”

White in a follow-up statement to the Blade said he has “not personally seen any investigation” done in response to his complaints.

“I tried to press charges and they wouldn’t help me,” he said. “They do not take any of our complaints seriously.”

LGBTQ immigrant groups rally behind White

The Queer Detainee Empowerment Project, the Black LGBTQIA+ Migrant Project and La ColectiVA have launched a campaign that urges ICE to release White. The groups have also been adding money to White’s commissary account at the Caroline Detention Facility.

Uchechukwu Onwa, co-director of the Queer Detainee Empowerment Project, spent three months in ICE custody in Atlanta in 2017 after he arrived in the U.S. from Nigeria. Onwa on Tuesday told the Blade during a telephone interview that he is “not surprised” by White’s allegations.

“This is something that we see happen a lot with immigrant communities, but also it’s happened more within the LGBTQ immigrant community and then being Black as well, so this is all linked to anti-Blackness, xenophobia and racist attack,” said Onwa.

June Kuoch, a Queer Detainee Empowerment Project organizer, agreed.

“Mr. White’s case is not an anomaly or an exception within the system, but rather the norm,” they said.

“As a Black, bisexual man, Mr. White has been the target of escalated abuse and violence while in detention,” Díaz told the Blade in a statement.

She added White “continues to resist, organize and advocate for the release of himself and others despite ICE continuing to target him.”

“His leadership and willingness to speak out in the face of ongoing abuse is a salient reminder that no matter where someone came from or who we are, everybody’s life is of value and worthy of justice, safety, and dignity,” said Díaz.

White told the Blade “the world needs to know what’s been going on behind these walls when we’ve been detained.”

“Through my story they can understand and know that ICE itself they have been violating the (U.N.) Convention against Torture, and this is what they’ve been doing,” he said. “They’ve been torturing us mentally, and sometimes physically.”

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District of Columbia

D.C.’s Capital Pride to resume ‘large-scale’ outdoor events

Organizers say one of the largest ever parades and festivals set for June

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Happy days are here again? Scenes like this from 2019 could be back in 2022. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Capital Pride Alliance, the group that organizes D.C.’s annual LGBTQ Pride events, has announced on its website that it plans to resume the city’s Pride Parade and Festival in June 2022 that traditionally has attracted tens of thousands of participants after canceling the two events in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID pandemic.

“The Capital Pride Alliance is excited to announce the highly anticipated return of our annual large-scale outdoor Pride Celebration in June 2022!” the group says on its website. “Registration for the Capital Pride Parade on June 11, 2022, and the Capital Pride Festival on June 12, 2022, will be open soon,” the website message says.

Ryan Bos, the Capital Pride Alliance executive director, told the Washington Blade the group met with D.C. government officials on Monday to coordinate plans for the upcoming outdoor events in June. He said an updated announcement with more details of the events would be released later this week or early next week.

The Capital Pride website message focuses on the parade and festival.

“Join the LGBTQ+ community for the return of the historic Capital Pride Parade,” the website message says. “In 2022, a modified route will honor our history and acknowledge the evolution of the LGBTQ+ neighborhoods in Washington, DC, while respecting the origins and importance of taking to the streets in our fight for equality,” it says.

“Be prepared to experience one of the largest Pride Parades to ever take place in the United States Capital,” the message adds.

The message says the Pride Festival will resume at its traditional location on Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. near the U.S. Capitol that it refers to as America’s Mainstreet.

“Enjoy a full day of entertainment on three stages, food, drink and advocacy with over 300 exhibitors,” the website message says. “The Festival is the largest annual event in the national capital region,” the message continues, adding that the Capital Pride Concert will also return this year at its usual locations at the site of the festival.

“You will experience entertainment on three stages, from international headliners to our best local regional LGBTQ+ talent,” according to the Capital Pride website message. It says concert performances will take place from 12-10 p.m. And a “Capitol” Sunset Dance Party will take place at the festival site from 8-10 p.m.

“The concert may end but the dancing will continue,” the message says. “Enjoy the electronica sounds of an international DJ sensation while you dance in the middle of America’s Main Street on Pennsylvania Avenue, with the sun setting on the U.S. Capitol.”

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and the city’s public health officials ended the city’s COVID-related restrictions on the number of people allowed to attend outdoor events as well as indoor entertainment events last May as the number of COVID infections began to decline.

But as the number of Omicron variant cases of the COVID virus increased dramatically in the fall of 2021, the mayor resumed the requirement of the use of face masks in all indoor public places.

Also put in place earlier this month by the city was a requirement that restaurants, bars, nightclubs, and other entertainment establishments require customers to show proof of vaccination as a condition for admission to the establishments. Bowser, however, has said the city was not considering resuming restrictions on the number of people allowed in establishments such as restaurants and bars or outdoor stadiums.

Capital Pride Alliance has not said whether it will put in place a vaccination requirement for admission to the Pride festival and parade as well as some of its planned indoor events. With the number of Omicron related COVID cases beginning to drop in the past two weeks in D.C. and the surrounding suburbs, the prospect of a resumption in restrictions on the number of people allowed to assemble at outdoor events like the Pride Parade and Festival appears to be less likely.

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Virginia

Man who killed one in 2000 Roanoke gay bar shooting dies in prison

One of the worst bias attacks targeting LGBTQ community

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Ronald Edward Gay died while serving life sentences for attacking a Virginia gay bar. (Washington Blade clipping from Sept. 29, 2000)

A man sentenced to four consecutive life terms in prison for the September 2000 shooting at a gay bar in Roanoke, Va., in which one man lost his life and six others were wounded, died of natural causes on Jan. 15, according to the Virginia Department of Corrections.

A spokesperson for the Department of Corrections told WSLA 10 TV News that Ronald Edward Gay died while being treated at a hospital near the Deerfield Correctional Center, a state prison where he had been living as an inmate. He was 75. 

Witnesses and law enforcement officials reported at the time of the shooting that a middle-aged man later identified as Gay arrived alone at Roanoke’s Backstreet Café, a popular gay bar, on the night of Sept. 22, 2000.

According to an account by an eyewitness to the incident who spoke last week with the Roanoke Times newspaper, after ordering a beer and standing next to the bar for a short time, Gay reached into the long trench coat he was wearing, pulled out a 9mm pistol, and fired a round “straight into the chest of 43-year-old Danny Overstreet, before opening fire on the rest of the bar.”

Overstreet, a beloved regular patron at the Backstreet Café, died at the scene of the shooting. Six others, who were wounded by bullets fired by Gay, later recovered, but they and many others who were present and witnessed the shooting were left emotionally scarred, the Roanoke Times reported.

In the weeks following the shooting, news media outlets, including the Washington Blade and the Washington Post, reported findings of an investigation by local police that Gay told police he went to Backstreet specifically to target gay people because he became bitter after years of being taunted and teased for his last name of “Gay.”

The Roanoke Times reported that, among other things, Gay told police “God told him to do it” and that he once wrote that there was an evil inside of him telling him “to shoot or have no rest.”

Gay later pleaded guilty to multiple charges against him, including murder. On July 23, 2001, he was sentenced to four consecutive life sentences in prison for the shooting incident and the murder of Overstreet.

The Backstreet incident in Roanoke was considered by LGBTQ rights advocates and others to be one of the worst incidents in which LGBTQ people were targeted for a shooting until the June 2016 shooting at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., in which 49 people died and 53 more were wounded in a mass shooting by 29-year-old Omar Mateen.

Mateen, who was shot and killed by Orlando police after a three-hour standoff, told police in a phone call from inside the nightclub after the shooting began that he swore allegiance to the leader of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and his attack against the gay nightclub was motivated by the U.S. military intervention in Iraq and Syria. The FBI later classified the incident as a terrorist attack.

The Roanoke Times reported that the shooting incident at Backstreet Café prompted LGBTQ residents and allies to gather in the days and weeks after the incident for vigils and marches. About 1,000 people walked through the streets of downtown Roanoke to honor the life of Overstreet and to urge Congress to pass federal hate crimes legislation, the newspaper reported.

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Local

Va. senator introduces anti-transgender student athlete bill

Democrats have vowed to thwart anti-LGBTQ measures in state Senate

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transgender, Gender Conference East, trans, transgender flag, gay news, Washington Blade
(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A Virginia lawmaker has introduced a bill that would ban transgender students from joining school sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity.

Senate Bill 766, which state Sen. Jennifer Kiggans (R-Virginia Beach) introduced on Friday, would require “each elementary or secondary school or a private school that competes in sponsored athletic events against such public schools to designate athletic teams, whether a school athletic team or an intramural team sponsored by such school, based on biological sex as follows: (i) ‘males,’ ‘men,’ or ‘boys’; (ii) ‘females,’ ‘women,’ or ‘girls’; or (iii) ‘coed’ or ‘mixed.'”

“Under the bill, male students are not permitted to participate on any school athletic team or squad designated for ‘females,’ ‘women,’ or ‘girls’; however, this provision does not apply to physical education classes at schools,” adds the bill. “The bill provides civil penalties for students and schools that suffer harm as a result of a violation of the bill. Such civil actions are required to be initiated within two years after the harm occurred.”

Kiggans introduced her bill less than a week after Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin took office.

Youngkin during his campaign said he does not support allowing trans children to play on sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity. Elizabeth Schultz, an anti-LGBTQ former member of the Fairfax County School Board, has been named the Virginia Department of Education’s Assistant Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The General Assembly’s 2022 legislative session began on Jan. 12 with Republicans in control of the state House of Delegates. Democrats still control the state Senate, and they have pledged to thwart any anti-LGBTQ bills.

“Let’s be clear: This is part of an ongoing, nationwide effort to exclude trans people from enjoying the benefits of sports like their cisgender peers,” tweeted the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia on Friday after Kiggans introduced SB 766. “We won’t tolerate this.”

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