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HIV/AIDS: The other U.S.-Mexican border crisis

VICE’s Paola Ramos looks at HIV epidemic in Brownsville, Texas

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Paola Ramos talking with Joe Colon-Uvalles, aka ‘dragtivist’ Beatrix LeStrange (Photo courtesy VICE)

The Trump administration’s unplanned “zero tolerance” family-separation immigration policy has created a humanitarian crisis on the U.S.-Mexican border. But while the focus is rightly on reuniting mothers with their children stripped away by government agents, there is a whole population of people desperately in need of help, many seeking asylum, who are largely being ignored: immigrants with HIV/AIDS.

Roxanna Hernandez, for instance, was a 33-year-old transgender immigrant with AIDS fleeing violence in her home country. After she turned herself in to ICE in San Diego last May seeking help, she was shuffled from detention in Texas to a correctional facility in New Mexico until she died alone on May 25. 

“Because (Roxanna) was trying to get a better life, and because she was running away from the violence she experienced in Honduras, she came to the U.S. to find death. The system is the one that killed her,” Bamby Salcedo, president and CEO of the [email protected] Coalition, told a gathering in Los Angeles. “ICE separates us when we disclose that we are HIV+ and trans. That is what they did to Roxanna—they isolated her to let her die.”

But, as out journalist/activist Paola Ramos explains in a new digital series on VICE.com, border towns such as Brownsville, Texas in the Rio Grande Valley have a crisis of their own—a surging HIV epidemic in the Latino community.

“Brownsville is 90 percent Latino,” Ramos says. “Immigrants know what they’re stepping into. One thing they do not know is that in Brownsville, in this entire region, there is a huge HIV epidemic, particularly among the Latino community.”

Citing CDC statistics, Ramos notes that while HIV infections declined 5% in the US from 2011 to 2015, rates for Latino MSM (men-who-have-sex-with-men) ages 13 and older increased 13.4%. And HIV is a crisis in the Rio Grande Valley: 85 percent of people who contract HIV are Latino; 75 percent of new cases are male, according to the Valley AIDS Council.

Why? Ramos asks in the first episode of her VICE series exploring the Latin-X movement. She turns to Joe Colon-Uvalles, aka Beatrix LeStrange, a local LGBT organizer, HIV/AIDS educator and “dragtivist” who started “Drag Out HIV!” in 2017 to fight the oppressive stigma surrounding HIV in the Catholic-heavy region. Texas is an “abstinence-only” state that fails to teach HIV/AIDS and sex education.

Colon-Uvalles and his organization are also helping immigrants during the border crisis.

These activists “are so brave. They’ve gone through so much and they’ve seen so much pain but now is when they’re shining the most in these moments of crisis, when people need them. This is when they’re stepping up and Joe is helping these immigrant communities,” Ramos tells the Los Angeles Blade in a recent phone interview. “I was so proud to have met him. That’s the hope that I have now—that there are people like Joe down there right now helping other people.”

In May 2017, Ramos, the former deputy director of Hispanic Media for Hillary for America, was honored in Hollywood by the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice. Her Fueling the Frontlines Award was presented by her father, Jorge Ramos, the acclaimed Univision News anchor and journalist who famously stood up to presidential candidate Donald Trump and was forcefully removed from Trump’s news conference.

The younger Ramos has a similarly keen sensibility for fighting discrimination, sharing how Latinos are responding to the current humanitarian crisis.

“That’s when the Latino community comes together,” Ramos says. “Regardless of your status, regardless of the color of your skin, regardless of what group you’re working with and for and whether you’re gay or not, people are coming together and that’s something you’re seeing in the protests, you’re seeing in the way these incredible groups have organized. And that speaks to the Latin-X movement. It’s just these young Latinos that are trying to make change. And that’s exactly what you’re seeing right now in a moment of crisis,” she says.

Refreshingly humble for a millennial familiar with fame, Ramos says she’s had the privilege of meeting many incredible people, including Bamby Salcedo when she visited the Trans Wellness Center.

“If you want to talk about courageous Latinas and incredible stories, it’s them. On a personal level, to me they are one of the bravest human beings I’ve met,” she says. “Within our community, there are still stigmas and discrimination against our own people.” 

Ramos hopes the digital VICE series will galvanize activism. “How do I get young Latinas to care and to be educated and to understand what’s at stake for our community?” she asks. “Right now, it’s through content. It’s through opening people’s eyes through these stories—to have content on their screens, on TV, on their cells that looks like them and telling stories about them. To me, as a millennial, that is the first step that has been missing in this space. Content that looks like you, that’s uplifting voices like yours.”

But content is not enough. “You have to do something about it,” Ramos says. “You have to take action. My hope is, with everything happening with this administration, people understand that you need to vote in the midterms, you need to show up at that rally. It’s all tied to action. You’re not only seeing that there’s an HIV crisis, you’re also seeing what people are doing about it. Tying content to action is key to me.”

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Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards vetoes trans youth sports bill

Discrimination is not a Louisiana value, and this bill was a solution in search of a problem that simply does not exist in Louisiana

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Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards (D) (Official state portrait)

BATON ROUGE – Louisiana’s Democratic John Bel Edwards announced Tuesday that he has vetoed a measure that would have barred trans girls and women from participating on athletic teams or in sporting events designated for girls or women at elementary, secondary and postsecondary schools. 

The measure, Senate Bill 156 authored by Sen. Beth Mizell titled the ‘the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act,’ in the Governor’s eyes, “was a solution in search of a problem that simply does not exist in Louisiana,” Edwards said in his veto statement;

“As I have said repeatedly when asked about this bill, discrimination is not a Louisiana value, and this bill was a solution in search of a problem that simply does not exist in Louisiana. Even the author of the bill acknowledged throughout the legislative session that there wasn’t a single case where this was an issue. 

Further, it would make life more difficult for transgender children, who are some of the most vulnerable Louisianans when it comes to issues of mental health. We should be looking for more ways to unite rather than divide our citizens. And while there is no issue to be solved by this bill, it does present real problems in that it makes it more likely that NCAA and professional championships, like the 2022 Final Four, would not happen in our state. For these and for other reasons, I have vetoed the bill.”

The Baton Rouge Advocate newspaper’s State House reporter, Blake Paterson, noted that [the law] would have required athletic teams or sporting events for women at public institutions be composed only of “biological females,” or those who presumably were listed as female on their birth certificates.

The measure won Senate approval 29-6 and cleared the House 78-19. Those margins are wide enough to override a governor’s veto, though it’s unclear whether lawmakers will return to Baton Rouge to do so.

 

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Anti-LGBTQ religious extremist celebrates death at Wilton Manors Pride

Mehta points out this type of rhetoric is quite likely to inspire violence against the LGBTQ community by one of Shelley’s followers

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Screenshot vis Twitter

HURST, Tx. – The pastor of a fundamentalist Baptist Church in this suburban Fort Worth, Texas city took to his pulpit to celebrate the death of an attendee at the Wilton Manors, Florida Pride parade this past weekend.

Pastor Jonathan Shelley, whose church is affiliated with infamous “death to gays” Pastor Steven Anderson in Phoenix, Arizona is quoted by Patheos writer and progressive blogger Hemant Mehta saying; […]”I hope they all die! I would love it if every fag would die right now.” […]

Mehta, who runs the heavily trafficked The Friendly Atheist, also noted that Shelley told his congregants; “And, you know, it’s great when trucks accidentally go through those, you know, parades. I think only one person died. So hopefully we can hope for more in the future.”

Mehta noted that the video of Shelley’s hate-filled remarks on this and other anti-LGBTQ vitriol is still accessible on Shelley’s YouTube Channel. He also points out this type of rhetoric is quite likely to inspire violence against the LGBTQ community by one of Shelley’s followers.

The Blade has reached out to YouTube Tuesday for comment but has yet to receive a response.

Editor’s note; The language used in the video in the embedded tweet below is uncensored hate speech:

In a related update from the Daily Beast, Fred Johnson Jr., who was named by Wilton Manors police as the driver of the vehicle that veered out of control killing one person and injuring two others at Saturday’s Stonewall Pride Parade has offered his “sincere regrets to all those who were impacted by this tragic event.”

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Vigil held after Wilton Manors Pride parade accident

Fort Lauderdale mayor expressed ‘regret’ over initial terrorism claim

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A vigil in the wake of the accident at the Stonewall Pride Parade took place at the Sunshine Cathedral in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on June 20, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Yariel Valdés González)

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — More than 100 people on Sunday attended a prayer vigil in the wake of an accident at a Wilton Manors Pride parade that left one person dead and another injured.

The vigil took place at the Sunshine Cathedral in Fort Lauderdale.

Clergy joined activists and local officials at a vigil at the Sunshine Cathedral in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on June 20, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Yariel Valdés González)

A 77-year-old man who was driving a pickup truck struck two men near the Stonewall Pride Parade’s staging area shortly before 7 p.m. on Saturday. One of the victims died a short time later at a Fort Lauderdale hospital.

The pickup truck narrowly missed U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), who was in a convertible participating in the parade, and Florida Congressman Ted Deutch.

The driver of the pickup truck and the two men he hit are members of the Fort Lauderdale Gay Men’s Chorus. The Fort Lauderdale Police Department on Sunday described the incident as a “fatal traffic crash” and not a terrorism incident as Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis initially claimed.

“As we were about to begin the parade, this pickup truck, this jacked up white pickup truck, dashed across, breaking through the line, hitting people, all of us that were there could not believe our eyes,” said Trantalis as he spoke at the vigil.

Trantalis noted the pickup truck nearly hit Wasserman Schultz. He also referenced the arrest of a 20-year-old supporter of former President Trump earlier in the week after he allegedly vandalized a Pride flag mural that had been painted in an intersection in Delray Beach, which is roughly 30 miles north of Fort Lauderdale.

“I immediately knew that something terrible was happening,” said Trantalis, referring to the Stonewall Pride Parade accident. “My visceral reaction was that we were being attacked. Why not? Why not feel that way?”

“I guess I should watch to make sure there are no reporters standing by when I have those feelings, but that was my first reaction and I regret the fact that I said it was a terrorist attack because we found out that it was not, but I don’t regret my feelings,” he added. “But I don’t regret that I felt terrorized by someone who plowed through the crowd inches away from the congresswoman and the congressman, myself and others.”

Trantalis also told vigil attendees that “I guess we forgive” the pickup truck driver.

“But I regret that his consequences resulted in the death of an individual who was innocent and who was there to have a good time, like the rest of us, and I regret there is a man who is in serious condition … fighting for his life and there,” added Trantalis.

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