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Gay university student critically injured while passenger on Amtrak

Family wants answers to questionable circumstances

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Aaron Salazar was traveling on Amtrak when he was critically injured. (Photo courtesy Salazar family via Facebook)

UPDATE: Click here.

Aaron Salazar was on an Amtrak train last week traveling from Denver to Portland, but mysteriously ended up in a coma at a Nevada trauma hospital instead.

Salazar’s last known communication was a text message to his great-grandmother who lives in Hawaii.

According to the Truckee California Police Department’s Detective-Sergeant Danny Renfrow, sometime shortly before noon on May 15, following Salazar’s text message, the 22-year-old gay Portland State University junior was found in critical condition by railroad workers lying beside the Union Pacific Railroad’s right-of-way property within the town’s corporate limits.

The extent of his injuries necessitated a Medevac to the Renown Regional Medical & Trauma Centre 31 miles away in neighboring Reno, Nev., according to Truckee Fire-Rescue officials.

 

(Photo courtesy Salazar family via Facebook)

Salazar’s cousin Austin Sailas, the spokesperson for Salazar’s family, said that Salazar is in a deep coma in the ICU suffering from “injuries consistent from being kicked and beaten.” Sailas added that Salazar’s brain stem is damaged, he has a black eye, a broken pelvis and a series of blister-type burns from his groin area down his right leg. “His left hand had marks as if he punched somebody in self-defense,” Sailas added.

Another family member, Sonja Trujillo, who saw Salazar in the ICU, said that he had severe bruising to his upper torso, as well as other contusions. His sister, Alyssa, said he had what looked like blood under his fingernails.

Renfrow said that although his department initially responded to the call, the location where Salazar was discovered actually falls under the federal jurisdiction of Amtrak, with Amtrak’s in-house Police Department taking the lead on investigating any crimes occurring on an Amtrak train or a railroad right-of-way. Renfrow then referred further questions to Amtrak’s investigators.

“I have a layover before getting on the next train,” Salazar texted his great-grandmother. “I made a friend on the train and we’re going to go get some food and explore.”

Eight days after Salazar was found, the family was growing increasingly frustrated, according to both Sailas and Trujillo.

“The detective keeps trying to tell us maybe he jumped,” Trujillo said. “I, his family, we don’t believe that. No, his injuries are consistent with a beating, in my opinion.” She then added, “He was happy.”

Sailas agreed with Trujillo’s assessment, noting that Salazar had discussed graduation plans with him along with a family outing later on this summer.

The family said they are also frustrated because the attending physicians at Renown Regional Medical Centre have told them that his injuries correspond with a beating, but they won’t put it in writing because of the ongoing police investigation.

Both Trujillo and Sailas noted that Amtrak investigators said they have not accessed Salazar’s phone or computer yet, although investigators are in possession of his laptop, iPhone, wallet and the clothes he was wearing at the time of the incident. The family would like to have access to his phone and computer saying that those items could provide insight into what happened. For instance, the great grandmother later provided the text message Salazar sent her, and the family wonders if there may be other revealing texts and photos.

 

(Photo courtesy Salazar family via Facebook)

“We have been asking and calling and they have been withholding even the simplest (answers), like where was Aaron found and what time,” Sailas said. “Simple questions that any parent would like to know. As for his parents, they need answers for their peace of mind. They just want to know their son didn’t suffer in pain for hours and hours.”

Trujillo also thinks that the fact that his wallet was on him with about $281 means that it wasn’t a robbery. “He’s gay—maybe a hate crime? That and he just isn’t the type of person to just jump from a train,” she said.

Family members don’t believe he’d jump from a moving train because of his upbeat and happy nature.

“We just want answers,” his sister Alyssa Salazar said, “and for people to pray for him.”

Amtrak released this statement on May 21: “The Amtrak Police Department is conducting an ongoing investigation into this incident. At this time, there is nothing to suggest criminal intent. Anyone with information is asked to contact the Amtrak Police Department at 800-331-0008.“

After learning of the story, Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve reached out to Salazar’s family. “I’m very concerned,” she said. “There are more questions than answers at this point. I want this family to know we are a community that cares.”

Schieve said she’s also reaching out to officials and law enforcement in Truckee seeking more answers.

The family has set up a GoFundMe page to help defray the hospital costs.

(Reporting by Bob Conrad, Editor & Publisher of ThisIsReno Media LLC, with additional reporting from Los Angeles Blade staff.)

 

 

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Florida

Black & LGBTQ+ inclusive wall mural cited for multiple code violations

The idea was to make a mural that addressed pending legislation in Tallahassee that would affect the rights of minorities & the LGBTQ+ people

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Photograph courtesy of United Teachers of Dade

MIAMI SPRINGS, Fl. – A colourful wall mural in Dade County has attracted the ire of municipal authorities who say the mural, which includes a child of color reading a book, a verse from a Maya Angelo poem, and an LGBTQ Pride rainbow symbol, violates building codes.

The United Teachers of Dade union has been cited by Miami Springs for code violations after it unveiled the mural on its office building the Miami Herald reported this past week.

“If you do not see the word mural on an ordinance this does not mean it’s allowed, means you should make an inquiry with the Building & Zoning department first and present your mural,” Miami Springs Councilwoman Jacky Bravo said in an email to the Herald. “We are not talking about a small stamp on the wall. Seems like they took a blind eye on this one, and unfortunately has caused an issue to be dealt with.”

The Herald reported that was it unveiled last March, and was titled ‘Rise’ to send a message to lawmakers in Florida’s capitol in Tallahassee as a series of laws were being introduced that negatively impacted the minority and LGBTQ+ communities in the state.

Luis Valle, a Miami-based artist who was commissioned by the United Teachers of Dade union to paint the mural told the paper, “The idea was to make a mural that addressed pending legislation in Tallahassee, at the time, that would affect public schools, as well as the rights of minorities and those in the LGBTQ+ community. It is about inclusivity for all people and all cultures.”

Although the UTD Union had submitted and paid for a permit, the Miami Springs City Code Compliance Department, which requires permits be obtained before work commences, had already issued a “notice of violation” on March 25 to the union site’s property owner, UTD Building Corp., for violations that included:

–improper size of wall sign

–improper placement and/or width of wall sign

–improper construction of sign

–failure to comply with applicable color palette

“Failure to correct the violations by the time due shall cause this case to be set for hearing before the code compliance board and may result in fines, costs and/or a lien levied against you and the property,” the notice said. “Fines imposed shall not exceed $250 per day for a first-time violation.”

The city gave UTD until April 24 to correct the violations, according to the notice. Potential fines, as of Oct. 13, could run as high as $43,000 the Herald noted.

Currently discussions are ongoing. “UTD reviewed all the codes before contracting our mural artist in order to perform our due diligence,” United Teachers of Dade President Karla Hernandez-Mats said in an emailed statement to the Herald on Oct. 11. “Additionally, we spoke to a former council member to double check our findings and that individual also concluded that the Miami Springs City Codes did not address this topic.”

“The art piece is not a sign for the building or our organization; it has no logo or company name on it because it is an artistic expression in the form of a mural with no other intent,” Hernandez-Mats’ added.

Attempts by the Miami Herald to reach Miami Springs Mayor Maria Mitchell, and City Council members had been unsuccessful by this past Thursday afternoon, however the next Miami Springs City Council meeting is at 7 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 25.

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Vermont

Vermont high school homecoming halftime show turns into a ‘drag show’

“The crowd was decked out in LGBTQ+ affirming clothing- the stands were completely packed. It was just so heartwarming to see”

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Burlington High School, Burlington Vermont homecoming game October 2021 (Screenshot via YouTube)

BURLINGTON, Vt. – A quintessential annual Fall time-honored tradition held across America’s on high school football fields are homecoming games. This year a mix of students and faculty members Burlington High School, along with some participants from South Burlington High School, added a touch of ‘drag’ to the halftime show.

“Things went amazing,” Ezra Totten, student leader of the Gender Sexuality Alliance at Burlington High School, told the Associated Press, speaking about Friday night’s event. “The stands were completely packed. It was just so heartwarming to see.”

The school’s principal, its Athletic Director, and other staff were fully supportive with Andrew LeValley, an English teacher and GSA adviser, the faculty member who created the idea along with a boost from Burlington High Athletic Director Quaron Pinckney suggested that the show be held at the homecoming game’s halftime.

Pinckney, who is Black, told the AP that the school gave him the space to “uplift my voice” and that he was able to reciprocate and “uplift the voices of another marginalized group and share a space in the athletics realm that doesn’t normally get shared.”

The crowd was decked out in LGBTQ+ affirming clothing, costumes and waving Pride flags raucously cheering as the ‘drag ball’s’ performers paraded and danced to show support for LGBTQ+ students and the larger LGBTQ+ community. They commenced the halftime show with a runway-style event while they lip-synced to singer Todrick Hall’s “Rainbow Reign.”

Burlington High School’s halftime drag show

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Utah

LGBTQ+ Non-profit will build 8 homes for LGBTQ youth in Western states

Encircle is a non-profit organization with the mission to bring the family and community together to enable LGBTQ+ youth to thrive

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LGBTQ Youth, Utah Governor Spencer Cox, Apple CEO Tim Cook, Dwayne Wade & other donors (Photo: Tim Cook Twitter)

SALT LAKE CITY – A Utah-based non-profit announced Wednesday that the organization has raised more than $8 million dollars to build eight new homes in four Western states to provide services for LGBTQ youth.

Encircle, which provides mental health services for LGBTQ youth, will build the new homes with locations in Arizona, Idaho, Nevada and Utah. The new homes are dedicated for providing safe spaces, resources and preventing teen suicide. The organization currently has locations in Salt Lake City, Provo and St. George, Utah, and recently construction has begun on locations in Heber, Logan and Ogden, as well as in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The fundraising efforts had kicked off this past February with donations from NBA Basketball’s Utah Jazz team owners Ryan and Ashley Smith and Apple CEO Tim Cook, the first openly gay CEO of a Fortune 500 firm. The lead singer of Imagine Dragons Dan Reynolds and his wife, recording artist Aja Volkman, and retired NBA superstar and Jazz part-owner Dwayne Wade, whose 14-year-old daughter Zaya is Trans, all partnered together to give a total of $4 million.

In a press conference Wednesday, “Encircle’s mission is very personal to me because I see myself in so many of these young people,” Apple CEO Cook told reporters. “It’s not easy when you’re made to feel different or less than because of who you are or who you love. It’s a feeling that so many LGBTQ people know far too well.”

Encircle executives and the group of celebrities were joined by Utah Republican Governor Spencer Cox who praised Encircle’s efforts.

“What Encircle has done is provided that piece of acceptance, even if — especially if — there is no acceptance anywhere else,” the governor said. “There is a place where they can go where they can feel loved.”

Wade, reflecting on being the parent of a Trans child, “I stand here as a proud parent of a beautiful daughter that’s a part of the LGBT-plus community,” he said. “I don’t have all the answers. I don’t know everything, but I’m willing to listen.”

Encircle is a non-profit organization with the mission to bring the family and community together to enable LGBTQ+ youth to thrive.

On its website the non-profit lists its current support services including its new café which is open “Monday through Friday between 3-8 PM folks ages 12-25 are welcome to just drop-in, hang out and enjoy our safe space. Friendship Circles, its weekly groups [which] allow you to tell your story and connect with peers in a safer space facilitated by our community, and LGBTQ affirming therapy.”

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