Vigil against anti-LGBT violence draws over 300 to Dupont Circle

A vigil against anti-LGBT violence was held at Dupont Circle on Friday. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

More than 300 people turned out in Dupont Circle Friday night for
a vigil organized by LGBT activists in response to five separate incidents of
violence against LGBT people in the D.C. area since June 13, including the
murder of a transgender woman.

Several speakers at the vigil criticized D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser
and the D.C. Council for not approving or advocating for a request by a
coalition of LGBT groups earlier this year for an additional $3.5 million in
the city’s fiscal year 2020 budget for programs that activists say would
address the underlying causes of anti-LGBT violence.

In a makeshift stage at the Dupont Circle fountain, vigil
organizers placed a large poster size photo of 23-year old trans woman of color
Zoe Spears, who was shot to death June 13 in Fairmount Heights, Md., just
across the D.C. boarder at Eastern Avenue.

Organizers placed another poster size photo on the makeshift stage
of another trans woman of color, Ashanti Carmon, who was shot to death on March
30 a few blocks from where Spears’ body was found in Fairmount Heights.

People who knew Spears and Carmon said the two were friends and
that Spears told them she was present in the Fairmount Heights area where trans
and cisgender female sex workers congregate when Carmon was gunned down.

Trans activist Ruby Corado, founder and executive director of the
D.C. LGBT community services center Casa Ruby, told the crowd assembled around
the fountain and the two large photos that Spears had been a Casa Ruby client
and referred to Corado as “mom.”

Ruby Corado, center, speaks at the vigil at Dupont Circle on Friday. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

“I want you to look at Zoe’s picture,” Corado said. “This is one
of the last pictures I took of her. I want you to look at her smile,” said
Corado. “And I want to read her last message to me the week before she died. On
Sunday at 12:48 p.m. she said, ‘Hey mom, I’m home … And I love you. Sweet
dreams and by the way, happy birthday.’”

According to Corado, on the day before her death Spears sent her one last text message that Corado says she is still trying to understand. ‘Hey mom, can you shoot me $10 so I can eat?”

Corado and others who spoke at the vigil said Spears’ call for
money so she could eat was symbolic of her struggle as a trans woman of color
to find gainful employment and a sign that existing city programs may be
failing trans people in need.

The second of the five incidents during the 6-day period last week
involving anti-LGBT violence or threats of violence took place June 15 outside
the Casa Ruby offices on Georgia Avenue, N.W. Three trans female Casa Ruby
clients reported a man approached them in his car and displayed a gun in the
parking lot of a restaurant across the street from Casa Ruby. The women fled
the area without being harmed, according to Corado.

A D.C. police report of the incident says the same man a few
minutes earlier was observed in the Casa Ruby parking lot by a male Casa Ruby
employee. The report says the driver of the car told the employee, “I want my
dick sucked, go get me one of those trannies.”

One day later, on June 16, Braden Brecht, 21, and his boyfriend,
Karl Craven, 24, were attacked beaten, and robbed by a group of more than a
dozen assailants on U Street, N.W., near the gay bar Nellie’s. The attack left
Brecht with two broken teeth and stitches in his lip, which he received during
a six-hour stay at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, he told the Washington Blade.

Braden Brecht and Karl Craven (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

D.C. police, who listed the incident as a hate crime, made three
arrests in the case, two juveniles and a 19-year old male identified as Marcus
Britt of Fort Washington, Md. The U.S. Attorney’s Office, which prosecutes
crimes committed by adults in the District, said it dropped the charge against
Britt. A spokesperson said the office typically drops charges when evidence is
insufficient to result in a conviction at trial.

The Office of the D.C. Attorney General, which prosecutes crimes
committed by juveniles, has declined to say whether the charges are still
pending against the two juveniles arrested in the attack against Brecht and

Also on June 16 D.C. police said three people were stabbed by one
or more unidentified attackers inside the Dupont Circle gay bar Fireplace.
Police released photos of two male suspects taken by a video surveillance
camera and have asked the public for help in identifying the suspects. Police
said the stabbings were the result of an argument between the suspects and
victims. The injuries suffered by the victims were not life-threatening
according to police.

The last of the five recent incidents took place on June 18 when
trans activist Emmelia Talarico was assaulted by one of three male suspects who
shouted anti-LGBT slurs at her as she was attempting to leave a grocery store
in the city’s Eckington neighborhood near where she lives.

A police report says Talarico wasn’t seriously injured. But she
has said she and her roommates who live in a house operated by the LGBT and sex
worker advocacy group No Justice No Pride became alarmed when one of the three
suspects who harassed Talarico at the grocery store apparently followed her and
a store employee who drove her home and threw rocks at her house after walking
onto the front porch.

The report says someone called 911 and although police did not find the rock-throwing suspect, the incident remains under investigation.

Talarico was among several victims of anti-LGBT violence who spoke
at the vigil. She faulted the mayor, the D.C. Council, and other public
officials for not supporting the full decriminalization of sex work in the city
between consenting adults, saying criminalization of sex work leads to violence
against sex workers, including trans women of color involved in sex work.

“No more vigils,” she told the gathering. “We should be angry and
screaming in the streets.”

Emmelia Talarico speaks at a vigil at Dupont Circle on June 21. (Washington Blade photo by Drew Brown)

Randy Downs, a gay Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner from Dupont
Circle and a member of the recently formed Rainbow Caucus of LGBTQ ANC
Commissioners, was among the vigil speakers who criticized the D.C. government
for not adequately addressing issues the group said can lead to anti-LGBT

Downs noted that the vigil was taking place two days after ANC
Rainbow Caucus members sent a letter to D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson
(D-At-Large) and other city government leaders calling for the additional funds
in the city budget initially called for by 15 LGBT supportive groups earlier
this year.

“Our government is failing us,” Downs said at the vigil. “We
learned long ago that silence equals death,” he said. “And the silence and
inaction of District leaders is killing members of our community or placing
them in harm’s way and hospital emergency rooms.”

Added Downs: “We will not be complacent. We will not be silent.
And we will hold every single elected leader accountable for their failures.”

Downs blamed the “inaction” of city leaders for some of the
anti-LGBT incidents that occurred during the past two weeks, saying LGBT people
are “dying of preventable causes” that can be remedied by government action.

“Words of friendship no longer ring true,” he said in referring to
D.C. elected officials. “You can no longer march in our parade, throw beads and
candy and then in the next week deny us funding and the resources we need. You
can no longer march in our parade throwing beads and candy until you give us
the resources we deserve.”

Randy Downs speaks at the anti-violence vigil on Friday. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Veteran gay activist Rick Rosendall, former president of the D.C.
Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, mentioned while speaking at the vigil that
he saw Mendelson was present at the event as a supporter rather than a speaker.

Mendelson and LGBT activists have given conflicting accounts of
whether the 15 organizations took adequate steps to inform Mendelson and the
D.C. Council as a whole about the urgency of their request for the additional
$3.5 million in the city’s budget. Mendelson told the Blade in a May 29
statement that he did not see an April 30 letter the advocacy groups said they
sent him and his Council colleagues asking for the additional funds.,

“I, of course, would have been more supportive of the community’s
call for more resources,” he said in his statement.

But activists familiar with the interaction with Mendelson and
other Council members dispute Mendelson’s explanation, saying representatives
of the groups testified before two Council hearings on budget related issues
earlier this year, where they clearly asked for the additional $3.5 million in

The activists say representatives of the groups calling for the
additional funds had a follow-up meeting with Mendelson’s staff on May 9, where
they further articulated the reasons they feel the additional funds were

In her remarks at the vigil Corado said she, too, has made
requests for city funds for a Casa Ruby employment assistance program for LGBT
people in need, especially transgender people. She said both the mayor and
Council rebuffed her funding requests for that particular program, although she
said Casa Ruby has received city funds for other programs.

Sheila Alexander Reid, director of the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ
Affairs, to which the activists want $3 million of the $3.5 million they are
seeking to go, has not immediately responded to a request by the Blade seeking
her and the mayor’s position on the activists’ request for the additional

The groups seeking the funds want the Office of LGBTQ Affairs to
use the additional $3 million for a community grants program to assist LGBT
people in need.

In a statement released on the day of the vigil, Bowser said she
stands with the LGBT community in its efforts to stop anti-LGBT violence.

“Washington, D.C. is a city of love, inclusivity, and diversity,”
the mayor said. “As a community, we are proud to be guided and defined by those
values, and when those values are attacked — when members of the LGBTQ
community are harassed, hurt, or targeted in violent crimes in or near D.C. —
it should cause every single member of our community to pause and reflect on
how we can do better,” she said.

“Today and every day, we must stand together in rejecting bigotry,
in doing more to support and protect trans women of color and in looking out
for our LGBTQ youth and other vulnerable populations,” she said.

In a separate statement released on Friday D.C. Attorney General
Karl Racine said he is committed to aggressively protecting the safety of the
LGBT community against hate crimes and other forms of violence.

He said he wanted to make it clear that it was the U.S. Attorney’s
Office and not his office that dropped the charge against the 19-year-old man
arrested by D.C. police in the attack against Braden and Craven on U Street
last week.

But he noted that due to D.C. laws restricting disclosure of
information about juveniles charged with crimes he could not provide any
information about the two juveniles D.C. police arrested in the attack on
Brecht and Craven.

“That means we are not even allowed to disclose whether we are
prosecuting a juvenile in a case,” he said.

A spokesperson for the Attorney General’s Office didn’t
immediately respond to an inquiry from the Blade asking whether Racine would
support changing the city’s juvenile justice laws to allow the disclosure of
the disposition of criminal cases against juveniles without revealing the
identity of a juvenile charged in such a case.

Others who spoke at the vigil on Friday were trans activists
Gisselle Flores and Charmaine Eccles, D.C. Center for the LGBT Community
Director David Mariner, Gertrude Stein Democratic Club President and trans
activist Monika Nemeth, former GLAA president Rick Rosendall, Capital Pride
Alliance President Ashley Smith and Christopher Massicotte of the LGBTQ Victory

Trans activist Earline Budd served as moderator of the vigil.
Opening and closing prayers were delivered by Bishop Allyson Abrams, Rev. Elder
Dyan Akousa, and Rev. Alex Dyer.

The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington received loud and prolonged
applause after it sang the civil rights movement anthem “We Shall Overcome”.

Published at Sat, 22 Jun 2019 22:00:29 +0000