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Mother of trans Salvadoran woman who died after leaving ICE custody demands answers

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Patricia Medina de Barrientos on July 24, 2019, looks at a picture on her cell phone of her child, Johana Medina León, a transgender woman who died in a Texas hospital on June 1, 2019, three days after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement released her from their custody. Medina de Barrientos spoke exclusively with the Washington Blade in San Salvador, El Salvador. (Washington Blade photo by Ernesto Valle)

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — The mother of a transgender woman from El Salvador who died last month shortly after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement released her from its custody said she was a “respectful, educated person.”

“She always watched out for other people,” Patricia Medina de Barrientos told the Washington Blade on Wednesday during an exclusive interview in the Salvadoran capital of San Salvador. “[She was] very happy, respectful, always helping other people … she had many goals, dreams.”

Johana “Joa” Medina León passed away at Del Sol Medical Center in El Paso, Texas, on June 1.

Medina, 25, worked as a private nurse in El Salvador. Her mother, who cried at several points during the interview, said Medina left the country on Jan. 13 because she had been attacked and threatened because she was trans.

“She decided to leave because she wanted to be a free person,” said Medina de Barrientos.

Johana Medina León was a private nurse in her native El Salvador before she migrated to the U.S. in January. Medina, who was transgender, died in a Texas hospital on June 1, 2019, three days after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement released her from their custody. (Photo courtesy of Patricia Medina de Barrientos)

Medina de Barrientos said Medina entered Mexico and received a humanitarian visa that allowed her to legally travel in the country. Medina made her way to Ciudad Juárez, a city that is across the Rio Grande from El Paso, and stayed at a shelter for LGBTI migrants run by Respetttrans Chihuahua, a local advocacy group.

ICE in a press release it released after Medina died said she “illegally” entered the U.S. at the Paso del Norte Port of Entry between El Paso and Ciudad Juárez on April 11.

Medina de Barrientos confirmed Medina arrived in the U.S. on that day. ICE in its press release said Medina entered their custody on April 14.

Medina had been detained at the Otero County Processing Center — a privately-run ICE detention facility in Chaparral, N.M., outside of El Paso in which a dozen gay men and trans women earlier this year alleged they suffered mistreatment — before ICE “transported” her to the hospital on May 28 after “she complained of chest pains.” ICE in its press release said Medina on the same day requested an HIV test and tested positive.

ICE noted Medina on May 18 “received a positive credible fear finding” and four days later was summoned to appear before an immigration judge. Its press release said Medina on May 28, the same day she was admitted to the hospital, “was processed for release on parole.”

Medina de Barrientos said Medina described the conditions at the Otero County Processing Center as “bad.” Medina de Barrientos also told the Blade that Medina did not receive adequate medical care while detained there as her health deteriorated.

Otero County Processing Center personnel reportedly denied Medina’s request for water, sugar and salt that would have allowed her to prepare her own IV. Officials also allegedly ignored her request to be deported back to El Salvador in order to receive treatment.

“She became worse, worse, worse,” Medina de Barrientos told the Blade. “She asked for help because she was a nurse, but they refused. She was denied help. There was no medical attention.”

Medina de Barrientos said Medina’s partner in El Salvador, who is also a nurse, spoke with Medina shortly before she died.

“She didn’t feel well because (she said) they were not treating us well,” she said, speaking through tears as she recalled what Medina’s partner told her. “They were not giving them medications.”

Medina de Barrientos said Medina’s partner had spoken with a detainee at the Otero County Processing Center who did not know she was at the hospital. Medina de Barrientos said she wanted to get a visa that would have allowed her to travel to the U.S. to be with Medina, but she passed away before she was able to get it.

“I wanted to be with my child,” said Medina de Barrientos. “My child needed me because she was alone.”

The Salvadoran government paid to send Medina’s body back to El Salvador for burial.

Johana Medina León (Photo courtesy of Patricia Medina de Barrientos)

Medina’s death sparked widespread outrage among LGBTI and immigration rights advocates in the U.S.

Massachusetts Congressman Joseph Kennedy in a letter to Acting ICE Mark Morgan has demanded additional information about Medina’s death. Medina’s family has also filed a wrongful death lawsuit against ICE and the Department of Homeland Security.

“Johana deserved to be protected by this country as a human being seeking asylum,” reads a press release that announces the lawsuit. “Instead, she was detained, humiliated, mistreated, and dumped at a hospital where she was not on the threshold of liberty; but, instead, on death’s door. We will get to the truth and hold this government accountable for its callous disregard of Johana.”

Medina de Barrientos was concise when the Blade asked her about the lawsuit.

“I really want to know exactly what happened to him,” she said, referring to Medina.

An ICE spokesperson has not responded to the Blade’s request for comment on the lawsuit.

Medina died less than 13 months after Roxsana Hernández, a trans Honduran woman with HIV who had been briefly detained at the Cibola County Correctional Center, a privately-run facility in Milan, N.M., where ICE has created a unit for trans women in their custody, died at a New Mexico hospital. Brian Hastings, chief of U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, on Thursday told U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) during a House Judiciary Committee hearing that HIV status can be used to justify the separation of migrants from their children at the border.

ICE has previously told the Blade the agency spends more than $250 million a year on healthcare for detainees. ICE has also noted a 2015 directive that requires personnel to, among other things, provide trans detainees with access to hormone therapy while they are in their custody.

Medina de Barrientos told the Blade she is aware of the Hernández case “through the community.”

“Her’s was not the first case,” said Medina de Barrientos. “There are similar ones.”

Medina de Barrientos also told the Blade that LGBTI activists in El Salvador and the U.S. continue to support her and her family.

“They are helping us a lot,” she said.

 

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Mississippi

Police: Murder ‘isolated’ incident- no ongoing threat to LGBTQ community

Police arrested Sheldon Timothy Herrington Jr., a 22-year-old Ole Miss graduate, for Lee’s murder, & he is currently being held without bond

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Jimmie “Jay” Lee (Photo courtesy of the Oxford Mississippi Police Department)

By Molly Minta | OXFORD – The Oxford Mississippi Police Department released a statement Friday afternoon that the killing of Jimmie “Jay” Lee, a Black student who was well-known in the town’s LGBTQ community, is an “isolated incident” that does not reflect a broader threat to queer people in Mississippi. 

The statement comes three days after a Lafayette County judge determined there was probable cause for police to arrest Sheldon Timothy Herrington Jr., a 22-year-old Ole Miss graduate, for Lee’s murder, and that he should be held without bond. 

“Based on the information collected to date, our investigators believe this crime represents an isolated incident stemming from the relationship between Jay Lee and Tim Herrington,” the release states. 

Members of the LGBTQ community in Oxford have been asking police to release more information about the nature of the case ever since Herrington was arrested three weeks ago. Many members said more transparency from police would help them make decisions about how to stay safe. 

Police nodded to this perspective in the release: “More broadly, we want to stress that our agencies are committed to doing all that we can to maintain a safe environment for everyone in our community.”

Members of the LBGTQ community are more likely to be the victim of physical harm from domestic and intimate partners. This is especially true for Black queer people who face compounded discrimination due to homophobia and racism — a routine threat of violence that is personal and systemic, with roots much deeper than any one case.

The release also follows a story Mississippi Today published earlier this week based on accounts from 11 LGBTQ students, faculty and University of Mississippi alumni who said they no longer felt safe in Oxford. At least one community member is afraid to leave their house, said Jaime Harker, the director of the Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies at UM and the owner of Violet Valley, a feminist bookstore near Oxford. 

Harker said she felt that OPD’s silence contributed to harrowing rumors in the community about the nature and reason for Lee’s killing. 

“I think people are filling the void with what their biggest fears are,” she said. 

Lee, 20, was a well-known member of Oxford’s LBGTQ community who regularly performed at Code Pink, a local drag night. An open, confident person, Lee ran for homecoming king last year to promote a platform of “self love and living your truth.” He repeatedly spoke out about the harassment received for wearing women’s clothing. 

For many people in the community, Lee’s outspokenness made his disappearance all the more terrifying. 

Lindsey Trinh, a senior journalism student at Ole Miss, told Mississippi Today that after weeks of receiving no information about Lee’s killing, she decided she was too fearful and anxious to return to classes in person. She wrote an email to the university provost and her professors explaining how Lee’s case had affected her. 

“At the time and because of the unknown of why this has happened to Jay and the whereabouts of his body, I have decided that I cannot physically come back to Oxford for my last semester this Fall,” Trinh wrote in her email. “I fear for my safety and well-being as an outspoken and proud gay person of color.”

Authorities believe that Lee’s body, still missing, is somewhere in Lafayette or Grenada County. But the circumstantial evidence that police have so far gathered was enough to bring charges, Lafayette County Assistant District Attorney Tiffany Kilpatrick argued in court on Tuesday. 

“In 2022 you do not need a body,” Kilpatrick said. “It’s not the 1870s.” 

During the preliminary hearing, Kilpatrick alleged that Herrington’s casual relationship with Lee was unknown to his friends and family. She said that early in the morning on July 8, Herrington “lured” Lee to his apartment, strangled him, and then “staged a cover up” by driving Lee’s car to Molly Barr Trails, a student housing complex. 

Herrington then picked up a box truck belonging to his moving company, Kilpatrick said, and drove it to his parent’s house in Grenada where he retrieved a long-handle shovel and wheelbarrow. 

Kilpatrick argued that Herrington should have been denied bond because his charge – first-degree murder – will likely be elevated to capital murder as police uncover more evidence; some of which is still being processed at a private crime lab. Kilpatrick also argued Herrington was a flight risk, noting that a forensic search of his MacBook showed he had searched for flights from Dallas to Singapore. 

Herrington’s defense attorney, state Rep. Kevin Horan, disputed that Herrington, who has $1,910 in his bank account, could afford to flee the state. In his closing statement, Horan said the prosecution’s case amounted to “suspicion, conjecture and speculation.” 

Horan called four witnesses who testified, in an effort to obtain bond for Herrington, to his character and connections to the community in Grenada. The witnesses included Herrington’s mother, an elder at his church, one of his teachers, and ??Emily Tindell, the principal of Grenada High School. 

Tindell said that Herrington and his family have “the best of character in Grenada County.”

In her closing statement, Kilpatrick said that Herrington was not the same person that his teachers and family described. 

“They don’t know this other Tim Herrington, his double life,” she said. “They don’t know the Tim Herrington who lives in anonymity. This Tim Herrington, your honor, is the Tim Herrington who killed Jay Lee.”

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Molly Minta, a Florida native, covers higher education for Mississippi Today. She works in partnership with Open Campus, a nonprofit news organization focused on higher education. Prior to joining Mississippi Today, Molly worked for The Nation, The Appeal, and Mother Jones.

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The preceding article was previously published by Mississippi Today and is republished with permission.

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Mississippi Today is building a better Mississippi by providing news and resources centered on the lived experiences of the people who live and work here. By donating, you’re joining the thousands of members who voluntarily pay to provide all Mississippians with free and accessible nonprofit journalism that holds public officials accountable and puts a human face on the issues.

MississippiToday.org is supported by grants from foundations, by contributions from donors and sponsors and by advertising. All donations are tax deductible.  A complete list of the Mississippi Today donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

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Politics

MAGA GOP nominee for Arizona secretary of state opposes LGBTQ rights

Finchem is no stranger to conspiracies & the far-right. Before heading to the Arizona Legislature, he had already joined the Oath Keepers

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Arizona Rep. Mark Finchem (L) with former Georgia Republican House Rep. Vernon Jones taken in Washington D.C. on January 5, 2021, the day prior to the Capitol insurrection. (Photo via the now deleted Twitter account of Rep. Finchem)

PHOENIX – Mark Finchem, a Republican Arizona state representative who won his party’s nomination in the race for Arizona Secretary of State, with the endorsement of former President Donald Trump, is a self-proclaimed member of the far-right extremist group the Oath Keepers.

Finchem is also completely opposed to LGBTQ rights and has endorsed allowing parents to seek professional counseling for their minor child with same-sex attraction or gender identity issues also known as conversion therapy.

Finchem has a long record of activism in far right extremist groups and political circles. While he has served since January of 2015 as a member of the Arizona House of Representatives representing District 11, he has also been actively engaged as a member of several far right groups and also has embraced the QAnon conspiracy theory.

His political positions on the equality rights of LGBTQ+ Arizonans is dismal. In a 2022 survey conducted by the Center for Arizona Policy, a vehemently anti-LGBTQ+ conservative lobbying group run by Cathi Herrod, who is among Arizona’s most anti-LGBTQ lobbyists.

Center for Arizona Policy
2022 Survey Questions For Arizona Candidates
Position Sought: Secretary of State
Question 2: Adding “sexual orientation,” “gender identity,” or “gender expression” to the protected classes of race, religion, age, sex, and ancestry in nondiscrimination law.
Candidates’ Position: Oppose.
Question 4: Allowing biological males that identify as transgender to play on female sports’ teams.
Candidates’ Position: Oppose
Question 8: Allowing parents to seek professional counseling for their minor child with same-sex attraction or gender identity issues.*
Candidates’ Position: Support
Question 9: Protecting individuals and businesses from being required to provide services or use their artistic expression in a manner that violates their moral or religious beliefs.**
Candidates’ Position: Support.
*  This is in reference to the dangerous and disproven “Reparative Therapy”.
**Discriminatory “Religious Freedom” laws.

In March of 2020 Finchem voted yes in support of Phoenix Republican Nancy Barto’s “Save Women’s Sports Act” bill (HB 2706), which would prohibits transgender female students from sports designated for females. The language specified that it requires any interscholastic or intramural athletic team or sport sponsored by  an educational institution in Arizona to be designated by one of the following based  biological sex: Males, men, or boys; Females, women or girls; co-ed.

On several social media websites linked from his since-deleted former Twitter account Finchem has also embraced and asserted former President Donald Trump’s lie about the 2020 being “stolen.”

Arizona Rep. Mark Finchem (L) with former Georgia Republican House Rep. Vernon Jones taken in Washington D.C. on January 5, 2021, the day prior to the Capitol insurrection.
(Photo via the now deleted Twitter account of Rep. Finchem)

Finchem has been a self-identified as a member of The Oath Keepers since 2014, the anti-government, far-right militia composed of former and active military and law enforcement that purports to defend the U.S. Constitution.

CNN reported the group is perhaps best known for providing security for the January 6, 2021, “Stop the Steal” rally preceding the Capitol riot. Eleven members, including its leader, were charged by the Justice Department with “seditious conspiracy” related to the Capitol attack.

According to CNN, Finchem’s most extreme content came on the social media platform Pinterest, which allows users to save, categorize and share posts called pins into digital mood boards. While Finchem has some light-hearted and conventional boards on food, fashion and dogs, he also has a board titled “Treason Watch List,” featuring photos of Jesse Jackson, former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and former Secretary of State John Kerry.

In February of this year, Finchem along with Kelli Ward the osteopathic physician who has serves as the chair of the Arizona Republican Party were subpoenaed  by the U.S. House Jan. 6 Committee, regarding documents over actions reportedly taken among the Donald Trump supporters involved in sending slates of so-called “alternate electors” to Congress to be included in the electoral votes cast for president in the 2020 election.

In June in published reports by the Arizona Republic and Politico, Ward and her husband, Michael, received grand jury subpoenas from the Department of Justice regarding their involvement in a scheme to send fake electors to Congress on Jan. 6, 2021.

Also in February, Finchem filed HCR 2033, which says that is it is the “justifiable position of the Arizona State Legislature that we set aside the results of the Maricopa, Pima and Yuma County elections as irredeemably compromised and reclaim the 2020 Presidential Electors.”

The lawmaker is also a rabid anti-vaxxer spreading dangerous misinformation about the Covid-19 pandemic sharing a story last August riddled with misinformation on the coronavirus and vaccine on the platform Gab — a social media network popular with conservatives, the alt-right and some extremists.

Finchem labeled the vaccine a “crime against humanity,” implying it was a “bio-weapon” and wrote “It ain’t a vaccine!!! Call it what it is, a crime against humanity.”

In December of 2021, journalist Jake Dean at the Tucson alternative newspaper, the Tucson Weekly, in a lengthy political commentary laid out a synopsis of reasons Arizonans should not vote for the far-right lawmaker to become Arizona’s Secretary of State:

“Finchem is no stranger to conspiracies and the far-right. In fact, before heading to the Arizona Legislature, he had already joined the Oath Keepers—who played a leading role in the Jan. 6 insurrection. According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the militia group is “founded on the belief that the federal government is part of an evil conspiracy intent on stripping Americans of their natural rights and freedoms.” Its members have encouraged violence in opposition. The founder of Oath Keepers has previously encouraged the murder of elected officials, including in 2015 openly calling for the late Sen. John McCain to be put to death by hanging.”
[…]
“He previously served as the Arizona coordinator for the Coalition of Western States—a group of legislators and activists who supported the armed occupation of Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016. He also signed a letter of support to pardon arsonists who burned federal government land.”
[…]
“Following the horrific events of the 2017 Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally, Finchem denied any far-right involvement in the event—claiming that mainstream media was lying and that it was a Deep State PSYOP to construct a political narrative for Democrats. It was not. He also falsely accused contemporary Democrats as being the true members of the Ku Klux Klan who joined the rally.”
[…]
“Mark Finchem also parrots far-right conspiracies on vaccines. Sure, Finchem got COVID-19 himself. And yes, his mother lost her decades long battle with cancer soon after contracting the virus. But on his official Twitter in July, he warned President Joe Biden to take his “tweet as Arizona’s statewide ‘no trespassing sign.’ You and your vaccine henchmen have been forewarned.” I am unsure what exactly he is threatening here, but I believe you can read between the lines.”
 
“Finchem’s supply of money also comes from the right-wing extremists. One of his leading campaign funders is Daniel Brophy, a Wyoming-based political megadonor and brother of former State Sen. Kate Brophy McGee of Phoenix. According to a local legal group, Sen. McGee herself once described her brother as having alt-right political views after he gave money to her political rival. When a woman who has proudly touted her anti-LGBTQ+ bonafides and was painted as a bygone example of the Arizona GOP by English newspaper The Guardian calls you alt-right, I am going to have to take her word for it.”
 
“Rep. Finchem also attended the premiere of a “documentary” called The Deep Rig about an alleged conspiracy in the 2020 election. The film featured Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan (who confirmed himself as “Anon” in the movie), former Secretary of State Ken Bennett, and other leaders of election conspiracies in Arizona. Finchem supported the film despite the fact that its director has a history of baseless conspiracies—including the dedication of an entire film to the argument that extraterrestrials were the cause of the Sep. 11 attacks on the Twin Towers”
[…]
“Given his evident belief in the conspiracies of the far-right, of course Finchem was at the insurrection on Jan. 6 himself. Despite claiming that he never made it closer than 500 yards to the Capitol building, footage of the event clearly shows the politician in attendance himself. He also tweeted in praise of the insurrectionists. Plus, the prominent “Stop the Steal” organizer Ali Alexander identified Finchem as the starting point of the anti-democratic movement in Arizona.”
 
“Not only was he there, but he then spread more conspiracies after the fact. In his newsletter following the attack in D.C., he claimed (falsely) that facial recognition technology had identified masses of leftist activists in the crowd. He also accused Antifa of responsibility for violence at the Capitol building, despite having no evidence for such claims. Further, even in the face of proof of him attending the event, he has repeatedly threatened to sue anybody attempting to connect him to the events at the Capitol.”

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Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Governor bans conversion therapy using state funds

Pennsylvania is now the 27th state in the country to enact statewide protections against the practice of conversion therapy

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Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf (D) (Photo Credit: Office of the Governor)

HARRISBURG – Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, (D) signed an executive order Tuesday that banned use of state funds for conversion therapy and also directs state agencies to discourage conversion therapy. The order will also put measures in place to ensure state offices implement culturally appropriate care and services to LGBTQ constituents.

“Conversion therapy is a traumatic practice based on junk science that actively harms the people it supposedly seeks to treat,” said Governor Wolf in a press statement. “This discriminatory practice is widely rejected by medical and scientific professionals and has been proven to lead to worse mental health outcomes for LGBTQIA+ youth subjected to it. This is about keeping our children safe from bullying and extreme practices that harm them.”

Advocates from The Trevor Project attended Tuesday’s signing of the executive order, commemorating it as a victory for LGBTQ young people in the state. On Wednesday, The Trevor Project will be hosting a town hall meeting in Philadelphia to discuss the impact of the executive order with community members.

“Taxpayers’ dollars must never again be spent on the dangerous and discredited practice of conversion ‘therapy’ — which has been consistently associated with increased suicide risk and an estimated $9.23 billion economic burden in the U.S.,” said Troy Stevenson, Senior Campaign Manager for Advocacy and Government Affairs of The Trevor Project.

“Thank you Gov. Wolf for your leadership and for taking bold action to protect and affirm LGBTQ young people across the Commonwealth. We urge the state legislature to pass comprehensive state-wide protections and for governors across the nation to follow the Keystone State’s lead in ending this abusive practice.”

After the signing the Governor also noted:

“The Trevor Project’s Youth Mental Health Survey showed that rates of negative mental health outcomes among LGBTQIA+ youth are much lower in communities, schools and families that are accepting and supportive of LGBTQIA+ people. That’s why I signed this executive order to protect Pennsylvanians from conversion therapy and the damage it does to our communities. Because all of our youth deserve to grow up in a commonwealth that accepts and respects them.

“I want LGBTQIA+ youth and individuals across Pennsylvania to know that I stand with you. I see you, I respect you and I support you. My administration will continue to support policies to keep children safe from bullying and harmful practices.”

“We have worked tirelessly over the last year to collaboratively get this executive order drafted, through discussions with advocates, parents, and many stakeholders. With this action, the practice of conversion therapy has its days numbered in Pennsylvania​,” said Rafael Alvarez Febo, executive director of the Pennsylvania Commission on LGBTQ Affairs. “Young people should never be punished for being who they are and that’s what socalled conversion therapy does, while causing sometimes irreparable trauma to individuals.” 

With the signing of this executive order, Pennsylvania is now the 27th state in the country to enact statewide protections against the practice of conversion therapy.

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