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Trans woman killed by US border agent identified as Nikki Janelle Enriquez

Transgender Law Center: “We refuse to become numb to this rapid accumulation of injustices.”

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Nikki Janelle Enriquez (Photo from Facebook)

The Webb County Texas Sheriff’s Office identified the third victim of U.S. Border Patrol Supervisory Agent and accused serial killer Juan David Ortiz as Nikki Janelle Enriquez. The 28-year old transgender woman was found dead in a ditch alongside Interstate 35 near mile marker 15, said Webb County Sheriff’s spokesperson Eduardo Chapa.

A fourth victim’s identification remains confidential, pending familial notification.
Ortiz, a 10- year border patrol veteran agent, was arrested Saturday, Sept. 15, in the deaths of four women and the aggravated assault of a fifth victim who narrowly escaped harm and alerted a police officer.

A spokesperson for Webb County Texas District Attorney Isidro R. “Chilo” Alaniz, told the Los Angeles Blade Monday that Ortiz, 35, confessed to killing the four women between September 3 and September 15.

In the criminal affidavit filed by investigators from the Webb County Sheriff’s Office, the break in the case came Friday after a woman narrowly escaped Ortiz.

That woman, identified as Erika Pena, was sitting in a truck with a man named “David” and the two started talking about one of the prostitutes who had gone missing a week earlier. The man then pulled out a pistol and pointed it at her. When she tried to flee, he grabbed her shirt to prevent her from leaving the vehicle. Pena pulled off her shirt and ran to a nearby gas station where she encountered a Texas state trooper. She was able to provide a detailed description of Ortiz, according to affidavit.

Webb County Sheriff’s spokesperson Eduardo Chapa told the LA Blade, as well as other media outlets, that the bodies of four victims were found over the past two weeks. He added that homicide investigators were not ruling out the possibility of more victims.

The affidavit originally described the victims as three women and one man—but Chapa noted that the victim identified as male was, in fact, a transgender woman.

In a news conference posted to NBC Laredo affiliate KGNS’s Facebook page, Webb County Sheriff Martin Cuellar told reporters: “We have very strong evidence that he is the person who has been killing.”

According to the criminal complaint filed by Cuellar’s office, authorities found Ortiz at a gas station in Laredo, about 160 miles southwest of San Antonio. He fled the scene on foot and ran to a Ramada Inn where he was found hiding in the bed of a pickup truck, Alaniz said.

Ortiz was read his Miranda Rights and then he verbally confessed to killing four people over the last two weeks, the affidavit states. Two of the four killings took place in the hours after the woman was able to escape but before police tracked him down.

DA Alaniz told the Associated Press Saturday that investigators “consider this to be a serial killer” whose victims were believed to be prostitutes. Alaniz described how the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) supervisor continued going to work as usual throughout that time. “As law enforcement was looking for the killer,” he said, “[Ortiz ] would be reporting to work every day like normal.”

The killing spree became known to authorities with the discovery Sept. 4 of the body of 29-year-old Melissa Ramirez. According to the police affidavit, Ortiz said he killed Ramirez a day earlier. Like the other victims, Ramirez was shot in the head and left in a road in rural northwest Webb County. She was a mother of two.

A second victim, 42-year-old Claudine Anne Luera, was found shot and left in the road Thursday morning, badly injured but still alive, according to the affidavit. The mother of five died at a hospital later that day.

Authorities told the LA Blade Monday that Ortiz told investigators that after the victim escaped from his truck and ran off, he picked up his last two victims, one of whom, Sheriff’s spokesperson Chapa confirmed, was the transgender woman, now identified as Nikki Janelle Enriquez.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Border Patrol told the LA Blade that the agency was cooperating with Sheriff’s investigators and the District Attorney’s Office.

“While it is CBP policy to not comment on the details of an ongoing investigation, criminal action by our employees is not, and will not be tolerated. Out of respect to the victims’ family (sic), we ask that deference and due process be given to the investigation so that all the facts are brought to light and they can receive the closure they deserve,” the spokesperson said.

The Transgender Law Center issued a statement following Enriquez’s identification:

“We are horrified by the news that a Border Patrol agent has targeted and killed several sex workers, including Nikki Janelle Enriquez, a transgender woman. While our society treats trans women, sex workers, and people of color as disposable, Transgender Law Center works every day to end the violence that is all too routine for people living at these intersections and to create a world in which everyone is afforded dignity and respect.

“At this moment it is critical that we interrogate the different factors that led to this horrible loss of lives. Complicit in this tragedy are state and federal governments that are aggressively attacking sex workers’ well-being under the pretense of combating human trafficking. Congress’s recent passage of SESTA/FOSTA has driven some into more dangerous street-based work, while simultaneously making it more difficult for sex workers to continue their work while building and accessing community safety tools.

“Meanwhile, it is crystal clear that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) foster and cultivate brutal, callous, racist attitudes in their staff. From Trump’s “taking the handcuffs off … the border patrol and ICE” to family separation to the many deaths of immigrants in detention, these agencies have only become more brazen and deadly under the current administration.

This tragedy is positioned in the broader context of 2018, a year of unprecedented violence against trans women of color, intense and emboldened racism, and ramped-up stigmatization of sex workers. We refuse to become numb to this rapid accumulation of injustices. We feel every attack, every aggression, and every loss. We fight for the lives and dignity of every trans person, every sex worker, and every person of color, and we refuse to stop until we achieve liberation for all.”

Karen Ocamb contributed to this story

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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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Veterans Affairs to provide gender-confirmation surgery reversing 2013 ban

McDonough said that he pledged to overcome a “dark history” of discrimination and expand access to care for transgender veterans

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The new Orlando VA Medical Center at Lake Nona (Photo Credit: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs )

ORLANDO – U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough announced his Department is moving to provide gender-confirmation surgery through its health care coverage reversing a 2013 ban on those surgical procedures.

Speaking at a Pride Month event at the Orlando VA Healthcare System Saturday, McDonough said that he pledged to overcome a “dark history” of discrimination and take steps to expand access to care for transgender veterans.

With this commitment McDonough said he seeks to allow “transgender vets to go through the full gender confirmation process with VA by their side,” McDonough said. “We’re making these changes not only because they are the right thing to do, but because they can save lives,” he added.

The process to roll-back the restrictions may take upwards of two years. The federal rulemaking process, expected to begin this summer, will include a period for public comment, spokesman Terrence Hayes told The Washington Post on Saturday.

“This time will allow VA to develop capacity to meet the surgical needs that transgender veterans have called for and deserved for a long time,” McDonough said in his remarks. “and I am proud to begin the process of delivering it,” he added.

On February 8, 2013, the VA issued a directive that stated that the VA Healthcare System does not provide sex reassignment surgery. This directive sought to clarify a previous VA directive issued June 9, 2011, “Providing Healthcare for Transgender and Intersex Veterans,” which established the provision of hormone therapy, gender-related mental health counseling, and other transition-related services through the VA, as well as a mandate that the VA health system provides care “without discrimination and in a manner … consistent with the Veteran’s self-identified gender.”

“This directive, however, does not include coverage of surgical procedures although the VA does provide transgender veterans with pre- and postoperative care.”

The outcome was that the directive(s) effectively prevented transgender veterans from a surgery considered medically necessary by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health.

38 CFR § 17.38 Medical benefits package, is the specific federal code that makes provisions for veterans healthcare, which Section (b) clearly defines as; “Care referred to in the “medical benefits package” will be provided to individuals only if it is determined by appropriate health care professionals that the care is needed to promote, preserve, or restore the health of the individual and is in accord with generally accepted standards of medical practice.”

However, 38 CFR § 17.38 does limit care for transgender veteran’s stating: “(c) In addition to the care specifically excluded from the “medical benefits package” under paragraphs (a) and (b) of this section, the “medical benefits package” does not include the following: […] ‘(4) Gender alterations.'”

McDonough noted that changes “will require changing VA’s regulations and establishing policy that will ensure the equitable treatment and safety” of all transgender veterans.

“There are several steps to take, which will take time. But we are moving ahead, methodically, because we want this important change in policy to be implemented in a manner that has been thoroughly considered to ensure that the services made available to veterans meet VA’s rigorous standards for quality health care.”

In a study related to the 2011 and 2013 directives, the VA noted that research showed that the transgender population in general experiences severe physical and mental health disparities, compared to the cisgender population, including high rates of HIV, suicidality, depression, anxiety, and mental health-related hospitalization.

Studies have found that these disparities are even more glaring among transgender veterans. In a survey of transgender veterans and transgender active-duty service members, transgender veterans reported several mental health diagnoses, including depression (65%), anxiety (41%), PTSD (31%), and substance abuse (16%).  In a study examining VHA patient records from 2000 to 2011 (before the 2011 VHA directive), the rate of suicide-related events among veterans with a gender identity disorder (GID) diagnoses was found to be 20 times higher than that of the general VHA patient population.

McDonough acknowledged the VA research pointing out that in addition to psychological distress, trans veterans also may experience prejudice and stigma. About 80 percent of trans veterans have encountered a hurtful or rejecting experience in the military because of their gender identity.

“LGBTQ+ veterans experience mental illness and suicidal thoughts at far higher rates than those outside their community,” McDonough said. “But they are significantly less likely to seek routine care, largely because they fear discrimination.

“At VA, we’re doing everything in our power to show veterans of all sexual orientations and gender identities that they can talk openly, honestly and comfortably with their health care providers about any issues they may be experiencing,” he added.

All VA facilities have had a local LGBTQ Veteran Care Coordinator responsible for helping those veterans connect to available services since 2016.

“We’re making these changes not only because they are the right thing to do but because they can save lives,” McDonough said. He added that the VA would also change the name of the Veterans Health Administration’s LGBT health program to the LGBTQ+ Health Program to reflect greater inclusiveness.

Much of the push for better access to healthcare and for recognition of the trans community is a result of the polices of President Joe Biden, who reversed the ban on Trans military enacted under former President Trump, expanding protections for transgender students and revived anti-bias safeguards in health care for transgender Americans.

U. S. House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Mark Takano, D-CA, who is openly gay, issued a statement applauding McDonough’s actions.

“Veterans in need of gender confirmation surgery should not have to seek healthcare outside of the VA health system or navigate complicated processes to get the care they need,” Takano said. “VA must be inclusive of all veterans who have served, regardless of their identity.”

The Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Jon Tester, D-MT also approved of the expansion of health care offerings for trans veterans.

“Every service member and veteran deserves equal access to quality care from VA, and this includes our LGBTQ+ veterans,” Tester said in a statement. “We must reaffirm our commitment to making VA a more welcoming place for everyone who fought to protect our freedoms.”

Gina Duncan, director of transgender equality for the statewide LGBTQ civil rights organization Equality Florida, told the Orlando Sentinel that her agency was “thrilled to have allies at the highest level of government” and noted the contrast with recent moves by the Florida Legislature and Gov. Ron DeSantis to limit transgender youth participation in school sports.

“In a moment of fierce state and local backlash against the transgender community, this move by the Biden Administration is a reminder that elections matter,” Duncan said. “Support for transgender veterans and the lifesaving healthcare they need to live authentically is a critical component to fulfilling our nation’s promise of caring for those who’ve served.”

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Washington D.C. (Photo Credit: GSA U.S. Government)
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