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In one of the last text messages that Zoe Spears sent before she was murdered, she asked for money to buy something to eat.
“Hey mom can you cash app me 10$ so i can eat,” reads a text Spears sent to Ruby Corado, the executive director of Casa Ruby LGBTQ Community Center, who Spears referred to as “mom.”
Spears, a 23-year-old trans woman of color, was shot and killed on June 13. Ashanti Carmon, another black transgender woman and a friend of Spears’, was killed in March just blocks from where Spears’ body was found on 59th Avenue in Fairmount Heights, Maryland.
“Trans women are living in survival mode in this city,” Corado says. “Zoe wanted to work. She begged me for a job. I’ve been trying to get a transgender employment program funded for years.”
Spears’ and Carmon’s deaths, along with a string of recent violent attacks against members of the LGBTQ community, have ignited activists and local elected officials.
Yesterday, the Rainbow Caucus of LGBTQ Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners sent a scathing letter to D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, accusing the Council of failing in its oversight role and calling out “institutional disrespect and homophobia/transphobia throughout our District government agencies, particularly toward transgender people.”
“Your silence condones this discrimination,” the letter says. “Words of friendship and support no longer ring true.”
The letter calls for $5 million in funding for programs in the Office of Human Rights and the Office of LGBTQ Affairs. A group of 15 LGBTQ organizations requested increased funding for these offices earlier this year—some of which would have benefitted programs dedicated to finding employment for transgender people, advocates say.
In its $15.5 billion fiscal year 2020 budget, the Council did not dedicate any additional funding to those offices in accordance with the organizations’ requests.
Mendelson is on jury duty, according to his staff, and was not immediately available for comment. LL will update this post after he talks with the chairman.
“We can’t implement programs because there’s no money,” Corado says. “I’ve been testifying in front of the Council for more than 15 years. Every year I come and tell them the same thing, hoping they will put resources to do work in the LGBTQ community. To me, we’re just now waking up because the violence is at an all-time level.”
In addition to Spears’ and Carmon’s deaths, the letter points to other recent examples of crimes targeting LGBTQ people.
A group of people attacked Braden Brecht early Sunday morning while he walked down U Street NW with his boyfriend, Karl Craven. That same day, three people were stabbed inside The Fireplace, a gay bar in Dupont Circle. And, while it’s not mentioned in the letter, on Saturday, a man with a gun reportedly demanded oral sex from transgender women in the parking lot of Casa Ruby.
In D.C., hate crimes targeting people based on their sexual orientation and gender identity and expression have increased in recent years, and nearly half of the 205 hate crimes in 2018 targeted the LGBTQ community, according to MPD data. In 2014 and ’15, 27 crimes targeted people for their sexual orientation. The count jumped each of the following three years, to 60 in 2018.
Crimes targeting people based on their gender identity and expression jumped from 10 in 2015 to 34 in 2018, police data show.
“We learned long ago that silence = death … and your silence and inaction is killing members of our community or placing them in harm’s ways and in hospital emergency rooms,” the letter says. “We will not be complacent, we will not be silent, we will hold every single Councilmember accountable for their failures—both now and during election time.”
Adding to the problem is what some advocates believe is deteriorating communication between the Bowser administration and organizations that support the LGBTQ community.
Specifically, communication between the government and the Violence Prevention and Response Team, which is run out of the Mayor’s Office on LGBTQ Affairs, has fallen off, according to interviews and an internal email provided to LL.
Yesterday, Metropolitan Police Department Lt. Brett Parson wrote in an email to leaders in the LGBTQ community that Sheila Alexander-Reid,director for the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs, instructed him to stop sending notifications to a listserv about violent crimes targeting LGBTQ individuals. (Full disclosure: Alexander-Reid is a former director of strategic engagement at Washington City Paper.)
“Some time ago, Sheila asked me to discontinue the [Violence Prevention and Response Team] notifications using the listserv, as she was ‘reorganizing,’” Parsons writes. “I will reach out to her and see what the status is. The LGBTLU does not have its own listserv, Facebook, or Twitter, so depend upon PIO to post announcements and press releases generally. I will revisit that situation also.”
A source tells LL that the notifications stopped about a year ago. Alexander-Reid disputes that assertion, saying she ordered listserv notifications to stop only a few months ago.
David Mariner, the executive director of the DC Center for the LGBT Community, posted publicly about the restricted flow of information on Facebook.
“For the record I have NO additional information about the recent rash of hate crimes, and communication about these issues is being suppressed,” he writes. “The MPD Liaison Unit was apparently instructed by the Bowser Administration to discontinue VPART e-mails. This makes it extremely difficult for us to warn the community, educate the community, or support survivors.”
Alexander-Reid responded to Mariner’s post, writing that the two spoke about the issue, and calling the situation a “miscommunication and not an attempt to withhold information.”
It does not appear as if Alexander-Reid’s explanation satisfied Mariner, who replied: “How is this a miscommunication? I’m in your office now and would be happy to talk.”
Mariner declined to comment further. In a phone interview with LL, Alexander-Reid acknowledges that she told MPD to stop sending alerts. She explains that because of the sensitive information contained in those alerts, and due to turnover within the organizations with access to the listserv, she felt it necessary to stop providing the information until the recipients were confirmed.
“The point was to protect citizens, and I believe that we did that in a very short amount of time,” Alexander-Reid says. “I feel like it was my responsibility, until we could confirm who was getting it and who wasn’t, and it took longer than we wanted, but we were doing it with the best of intentions.”
Alexander-Reid says also she was unaware that the listserv notifications had not resumed. “I was getting the notifications, but I didn’t realize the rest of the group wasn’t,” she says.
Rick Rosendall, a longtime local advocate and the former president of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, explains that members of the LGBTQ community depended on the VPART listserv notifications and communication with the police as a vital part of their work.
The notifications allowed the organizations to track crimes against LGBTQ people and identify any potential patterns. The alerts would also often come quicker than media coverage of the incidents—an important factor for groups who provide counseling, information about legal rights, and other supportive services, Rosendall says.
“The advocates and the service providers in the community, we don’t seek an adversarial role,” Rosendall says. “We are seeking to be a resource to policy makers and the executive for the benefit of the greater good. We don’t need to be seen as people to keep information from.”