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Autopsy: Trans Honduran woman who died in ICE custody was beaten

Earlier ICE said Hernández died from cardiac arrest

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An LGBTI advocacy group in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, honors Roxsana Hernández, a transgender woman with HIV who died in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody on May 25, 2018. Autopsy results indicate Hernández was beaten before her death. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The Transgender Law Center on Monday released the results of an autopsy that shows a transgender Honduran woman with HIV was beaten before she died while in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody.

Roxsana Hernández, who was from the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa, was among a group of trans women who were part of a 300-person caravan that traveled to the U.S. border earlier this year.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection took Hernández into custody on May 9 when she asked for asylum at the San Ysidro Port of Entry near San Diego. She entered ICE custody four days later and was being housed in a unit for trans detainees at the Cibola County Correctional Center in Milan, N.M., before she died at a hospital on May 25.

ICE in a press release notes Hernández was hospitalized with “symptoms of pneumonia, dehydration and complications associated with HIV” on May 17. ICE also said Hernández died from cardiac arrest.

The Transgender Law Center, which on Monday announced it plans to file a wrongful death lawsuit in New Mexico with R. Andrew Free, a Nashville-based immigration lawyer, provided the Washington Blade with a copy of a second autopsy report that former Georgia Chief Medical Examiner Kris Sperry performed the second autopsy in Albuquerque, N.M., on June 8.

The report notes the second autopsy “disclosed evidence of physical abuse” that includes “deep bruising” on Hernández’s rib cage and “deep contusions extending onto the back.”

“The wrists also exhibited extensive regions of deep soft tissue and musculature hemorrhage, again not externally visible, which are typical of handcuff injuries,” reads the report.

The report also concludes the cause of death was “most probably severe complications of dehydration superimposed upon HIV infection, with the probable presence of one or more opportunistic infections.”

“As the consequence of her immunocompromised condition, Ms. Hernández Rodriguez was susceptible to the physiologic effects of untreated dehydration, initiated by severe diarrhea and vomiting,” reads the report.

“According to observations of other detainees who were with Ms. Hernandez Rodriguez, the diarrhea and vomiting episodes persisted over multiple days with no medical evaluation or treatment, until she was gravely ill.”

Transgender Legal Clinic Litigation Director Lynly Egyes on Monday said Hernández’s “death was entirely preventable.”

The press release the Transgender Legal Clinic released included a statement from Hernández’s sisters on whose behalf the Black LGBTQIA+ Migrant Project and Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement are also advocating.

“Roxsana Hernández was our sister and it was an injustice to have her die the way she did,” they said. “They cut her life short and she was not able to fulfill her dreams. For us, her closest family, it’s been extremely painful to deal with.”

Border Patrol has yet to respond to the Blade’s request for comment on the autopsy report or the planned wrongful death lawsuit.

Hernández left Honduras ‘with hopes of living a better life’

Violence based on gender identity remain pervasive in Honduras, which has one of the world’s highest per capita murder rates. Activists in the Central American country with whom the Blade has spoken have said discrimination and poverty are among the myriad factors that prompt many trans Hondurans and other members of the LGBTI community to migrate to the U.S.

President Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy, which has included the separation of migrant children from their parents once they entered the U.S., continues to spark outrage in the U.S. and around the world.

Thousands of migrants from Central America who hope to seek asylum in the U.S. arrived in the Mexican city of Tijuana earlier this month.

A group of LGBTI migrants who hope to seek asylum in the U.S. arrived in Tijuana, Mexico, on Nov. 11, 2018. (Photo by Yariel Váldes González/Tremenda Nota)

The U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights states “everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.” A federal judge in San Francisco last week blocked the Trump administration from implementing a Nov. 9 executive order that sought to prevent migrants from seeking asylum in the U.S. if they enter the country illegally from Mexico.

Border Patrol agents on Sunday used tear gas and rubber bullets against hundreds of migrants who rushed the U.S. border in Tijuana. Trump on Monday threatened to “permanently” close the border if the Mexican government does not deport migrants back to their countries of origin.

Hernández’s sisters in the Transgender Law Center press release said she left Honduras “with dreams of opening a beauty salon and hopes of helping us out.” They added Hernández fled the country “because here transgender people are discriminated against.”

“She left with hopes of living a better life,” said Hernández’s sisters. “It has not been easy for us to accept that she is gone, we were very close. It’s difficult to accept that she was taken from us because of negligence, because of not giving her support and medication that she needed, because they treated her like an animal. It’s not fair. It’s not fair that she fled Honduras looking for a better life and instead she was killed. Now all we have left with is the hope that we can see justice for her.”

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VP Harris and Second Gentleman join Pride walk to rally at Freedom Plaza

The Capital Pride Alliance, the organization which produces the annual event organized the intersectional LGBTQ+ walk and celebration.

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Vice-President Kamala Harris and her husband, the Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff (Screenshot of coverage from WJLA 7 Washington DC)

WASHINGTON – To the shock of on-lookers who then burst into cheers Saturday afternoon, Vice-President Kamala Harris and her husband, the Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff, joined in walking with the Pride marchers on 13th Street NW in the District by the Warner Theatre headed to Freedom Plaza.

Accompanying the Vice-President, White House Pool reporter Eugene Daniels noted the Vice President and second gentleman walked with crowd down 13th and stopped at the Pennsylvania Avenue and E Street NW intersection at the corner of the Freedom Plaza where she talked to the crowd for a bit. Daniels could not hear much but reported that she did say: 

“We still have so much to do. We celebrate all the accomplishments. Finally marriage is the law of the land. We need to make sure that our transgender community are all protected.”

“There is so much more work to do and I know we are committed.”

The crowd chanted her name over and over. She stayed for about ten minutes waving and talking. 

The Capital Pride Alliance, the organization which produces the annual event in the nation’s capital, because of the pandemic as the District was reopening, had set-up and organized the intersectional Pride Walk and Rally at Freedom Plaza, LGBTQ+ walk and celebration.

At around 12:30, the march departed down P Street NW and traveled to Logan Circle and then headed south on 13th Street to Freedom Plaza. The march ended at Freedom Plaza where a 1:30 p.m. rally was held and where D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser was one of those who spoke.

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Orlando marks the fifth anniversary of the Pulse massacre

“I echo our mayor to say to the survivors and family members of Pulse: it’s okay to not be okay. This was a tragedy.”

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Pulse Nightclub (Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

ORLANDO, FL – On that morning five summers ago this date, survivors gathered, stunned and grieving over the horror that had been visited upon them and others frantically calling phones that would never be answered again while a community took stock of the mass murder that had claimed the lives of forty-nine innocents. June, 12, 2016 joined a litany of dates of death and suffering in American history this time impacting the LGBTQ community and beyond.

Saturday, survivors and community leaders gather in Orlando, Florida to commemorate and honor those 49 American lives lost in that act of senseless gun violence.

“Orlando was called to action on June 12, 2016. Our city was asked to find in ourselves the strength to respond with empathy when faced with an unthinkable act of violence. We are still working every day to honor the 49 angels and every person impacted by the Pulse tragedy with action. Together, we continue to make Orlando a more inclusive, welcoming and equitable community for all,” Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said. ““Orlando United” was our call to action five years ago, but it is up to us all to ensure that this isn’t simply a slogan that we bring out annually as we mark the time that’s passed since the tragedy. Instead, it must be part of our core commitment to real change.”

“We’re still very much in the healing phase and trying to find our way,” Pulse owner Barbara Poma told the Blade on Tuesday during a telephone interview.

The massacre at the time was the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. Nearly half of the victims were LGBTQ Puerto Ricans. The massacre also sparked renewed calls for gun control.

Poma told the Blade that she expects construction will begin on a “Survivor’s Walk” at the site by the end of the year. A museum — which she described as an “education center” that will “talk about the history of the LGBT community and its struggles and stripes for the last century or so … about why safe spaces were important to this community” and what happened at Pulse and the global response to it — will be built a third of a mile away.

“We really feel it is important to never forget what happened at Pulse and to tell the story of that,” said Poma.

Poma noted the onePULSE Foundation of which she is the executive director met with representatives of the 9/11 Tribute Museum and the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum to discuss the memorial. Poma when she spoke with the Blade acknowledged the plans have been criticized.

“This kind of opposition is not unique to these kind of projects,” she said. “It’s just important to know that really what we’re trying to do is make sure what happened is never forgotten and those lives were never forgotten,” added Poma.

In a rare bipartisan move, a bill that designates the former Pulse nightclub a national memorial was passed by unanimous consent in the U.S. Senate this past Wednesday.

“The tragedy at Pulse rocked our community and served as a reminder of the work we have to do to uproot hate and bigotry. We’re proud of the bipartisan coalition of Florida Congressional leaders for leading the effort to recognize this hallowed ground as a national memorial site.,” Brandon J. Wolf, the Development Officer and Media Relations Manager for LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Florida and a Pulse survivor told the Blade. “Our visibility matters. May the 49 lives stolen never be forgotten. And may we always honor them with action.”

Wolf was inside the club at the time of the shooting and lost his two best friends, Juan Ramon Guerrero and Christopher Andrew (Drew) Leinonen, who were among the 49 murdered during the rampage. Wolf had managed to escape but the event has forever left him scarred.

Then U.S. Vice President Joe Biden hugging Brandon J. Wolf a survivor as Biden and President Obama meet with family members of the victims and other survivors in the June 12th mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, at the Amway Center in Orlando, Florida, June 16, 2016.
(Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)
Then U.S. President Barack Obama embracing Brandon J. Wolf a survivor as he and Joe Biden meet with family members of the victims and other survivors in the June 12th mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, at the Amway Center in Orlando, Florida, June 16, 2016.
(Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)

Since that terrible night Wolf has been a force for advocacy in gun control and LGBTQ equality rights and is a nationally recognized leader in those endeavors to include by President Joe Biden.

“Pulse is hallowed ground and what happened on June 12, 2016 must never be forgotten. ” Wolf added.

“I echo our mayor to say to the survivors and family members of Pulse: it’s okay to not be okay. This was a tragedy. The nation may have watched and grieved with us, but the pain that you may be feeling is personal. I want you to know that we embrace you with love, not as symbols but as yourselves. If you are struggling, there is help available, and I encourage you to reach out,” said U.S. House Representative Val Demings (D-FL)

“It can be hard to find the words, because the truth is that no words can make this right for the survivors and families of those we lost. That’s why five years ago we promised to ‘honor them with action,’ not just with words. As we move forward from this anniversary, it is my prayer that all of us will recommit ourselves to that mission, to ensure that every Pulse survivor—and every American—can live in a nation where each person is safe to go out to a nightclub or any other place, where our LGBTQ community is protected, where the highest-quality mental health support is available to those who need it, and where we treat gun violence as the threat that it is to our loved ones. I know that we can do better, and as we commemorate this sorrowful anniversary, I believe that we must do better.”

In Washington, California U.S. Senator Alex Padilla, co-sponsor of legislation to make Pulse a National Memorial reflected,

“It is my hope that this memorial will serve as an enduring reminder of the pain and loss felt in Orlando five years ago and as a testament to the resilience and strength of the LGBTQ+ community. It is also an important reminder of the need recommit ourselves to end the senseless cycle of gun violence that has touched too many families across the country and taken too many of our loved ones,” Padilla told the Blade in an emailed statement.

“It’s an epidemic that has claimed far too many LGBTQ+ lives, particularly in Black and Latino communities. We will never let the memory of the victims of the Pulse Nightclub mass shooting fade away– and this memorial is an important part of their enduring legacy,” he added.

The White House on Saturday released a statement from President Biden who had traveled and met with survivors and the families of the victims 5 days after the massacre while he was the vice-president of the United States under President Barack Obama.

“Five years ago today in Orlando in the middle of Pride Month, our nation suffered the deadliest attack affecting the LGBTQ+ community in American history, and at the time, the deadliest mass shooting by a single gunman.

Within minutes, the Pulse nightclub that had long been a place of acceptance and joy turned into a place of unspeakable pain and loss. Forty-nine people were there celebrating Latin night were murdered, even more injured, and countless others scarred forever – the victims were family members, partners and friends, veterans and students, young, Black, Asian and Latino – our fellow Americans.

A few days later, I traveled with President Obama to pay respects to them and their families, to thank the brave first responders and the community who found strength and compassion in each other, and to pledge that what happened would not be forgotten. 

Over the years, I have stayed in touch with families of the victims and with the survivors who have turned their pain into purpose, and who remind us that we must do more than remember victims of gun violence and all of the survivors, family members, and friends left behind; we must act.

In the coming days, I will sign a bill designating Pulse Nightclub as a national memorial, enshrining in law what has been true since that terrible day five years ago: Pulse Nightclub is hallowed ground.

But there is more we must do to address the public health epidemic of gun violence in all of its forms – mass shootings and daily acts of gun violence that don’t make national headlines.

It is long past time we close the loopholes that allow gun buyers to bypass background checks in this country, and the Senate should start by passing the three House-passed bills which would do exactly that. It is long past time we ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines, establish extreme risk protection orders, also known as “red flag” laws, and eliminate gun manufacturers’ immunity from liability.

We must also acknowledge gun violence’s particular impact on LGBTQ+ communities across our nation. We must drive out hate and inequities that contribute to the epidemic of violence and murder against transgender women – especially transgender women of color. We must create a world in which our LGBTQ+ young people are loved, accepted, and feel safe in living their truth. And the Senate must swiftly pass the Equality Act, legislation that will ensure LGBTQ+ Americans finally have equal protection under law.

In the memory of all of those lost at the Pulse nightclub five years ago, let us continue the work to be a nation at our best – one that recognizes and protects the dignity and safety of every American.”

Additional reporting by Michael K. Lavers

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Wal-Mart founder’s family sets up $1M fund for LGBTQ groups in Arkansas

“Our state is in a moment of reflection where each of us must send a message of acceptance to the LGBTQ community- ‘you belong here.’”

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Typical Wal-Mart storefront via Wal-Mart Twitter

BENTONVILLE, AR. – In an announcement made Thursday by the Alice L. Walton Foundation, named for the daughter of Wal-Mart founder Sam and his wife Helen Walton, family members working through the foundation are launching a $1 million fund for groups assisting LGBTQ people in the retail giant’s home state of Arkansas.

“Organizations from across our state are leading the efforts needed to build a sense of community,” said Alice Walton. “Let’s support this important work that ensures everyone in Arkansas can live their lives with equity and dignity.”

The $1 million fund will distribute grants of $25,000 and above for Arkansas-based organizations that provide critical services to the LGBTQ community. National entities with a local presence, established in-state partnerships and strong community relationships will also qualify.

“Our state is in a moment of reflection where each of us must send a message of acceptance to the LGBTQ community that says – ‘you belong here,’” said Olivia and Tom Walton in a statement. “It is also a time for action by recognizing LGBTQ Arkansans face growing challenges that need community-driven solutions.”

“This fund will allow LGBTQ-serving nonprofits in our state to expand their impact on communities and help Arkansans pull together to build a more welcoming and supportive environment for us all,” said Heather Larkin, president of Arkansas Community Foundation.

The initiative was launched following a legislative session in Arkansas that was marked by new laws restricting the rights of transgender people. The state is being sued over one of those measures, which bans gender confirming treatments for transgender youth. Unless blocked by a federal judge, the ban will take effect July 28, The Associated Press reported.

Reacting to the announcement Adrienne Collins from Central Arkansas Pride said,

“There are many organizations eager to stand up for a more inclusive, accepting environment for all who live in and visit our state. We are committed to showing up every day to ensure Arkansas’ LGBTQ community has the support needed to thrive.”

The grant selection committee will include leadership and representation from the LGBTQ community. Organizations interested in learning more about the fund can visit arcf.org/lgbtq.

 

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