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Group becomes lifeline to migrants in Mexico border city

Gaby Zavala co-founded Resource Center Matamoros

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More than 2,000 people are currently living in a migrant camp in Matamoros, Mexico. (Los Angeles Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

MATAMOROS, Mexico — It was shortly before noon on Jan. 14 when Gaby Zavala, co-founder of Resource Center Matamoros, walked into a camp in the Mexican border city of Matamoros in which more than 2,000 migrants are currently living.

Zavala passed a man who was getting his beard trimmed in a makeshift barbershop before she arrived in the portion of the camp that Resource Center Matamoros manages. Zavala began to speak with a group of migrants and volunteers, including Reuven Magder, a 12-year-old boy from D.C., who were erecting a tent for two families from Honduras and Ecuador who had just arrived in the camp.

Zavala said the Mexican government last month built a canopy over the tents after officials learned Resource Center Matamoros was planning to install “better shelters” that would be “more appropriate for a refugee camp setting.” Zavala told the Los Angeles Blade the organization now works with Mexican immigration authorities “to help set people up under them with better, more spacious tents.”

“We’re working as a collaborative to relate to the Mexican government,” she said.

From left: Reuven Magder and his father, Dan Magder, of D.C., listen to Gaby Zavala, co-founder of the Resource Center Matamoros, in a migrant camp in Matamoros, Mexico, on Jan. 14, 2020. (Los Angeles Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The camp is located adjacent to the Gateway International Bridge that spans the Rio Grande and connects Matamoros with Brownsville, Texas. Resource Center Matamoros is among the myriad groups that provide assistance to migrants who live there.

Zavala noted Resource Center Matamoros was the first group to bring clean, treated water to the camp. She said the drowning of a 15-year-old girl in the Rio Grande prompted her to bring water tanks into the camp and build privacy tents with cups, buckets and donated shampoo and conditioner that migrants could use to bathe.

“Before that people were bathing in the river, washing clothes in the river, using the restroom in the river,” said Zavala.

Resource Center Matamoros last October moved into a building that is across the street from the camp.

Lawyers for Good Government’s Proyecto Corazon and the South Texas Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project (ProBAR) work alongside private attorneys at Resource Center Matamoros to provide legal assistance to migrants who have asked for asylum in the U.S. Resource Center Matamoros also provides a variety of other services that include massage therapy and yoga for migrants who have suffered trauma.

Resource Center Matamoros next month will launch an HIV testing program in the camp. Ray Rodríguez, a gay Cuban man who asked for asylum in the U.S., were among the migrants who were working at Resource Center Matamoros on the day the Blade visited.

“People, when they left their countries, they were fully functional people,” said Zavala during an interview in her office. “They had jobs. They had houses, they were supporting their children. They were self-sufficient at one point.”

“The whole migration has victimized them … in so many different ways,” she added. “So, they are now basically, left as a dependent, dependent on other people for food and for shelter.”

Zavala, 37, has been a community organizer for nearly two decades. The Valley AIDS Council, an HIV/AIDS service organization in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, and Planned Parenthood are among the groups for which she has worked. Zavala’s family is also from Matamoros.

Zavala in 2018 began to cook food for migrants in Matamoros. She later brought them to “consultorios” in the city where they could see doctors and receive medications.

Zavala last spring started to provide meals, clean clothes, personal hygiene items and other items to migrants who U.S. Customs and Immigration Services and U.S. Border Patrol dropped off at Brownsville’s main bus station, which is a few blocks from the Gateway International Bridge. Zavala also helped organize a respite center for migrants at a Brownsville church.

“It just made sense that we were to take the people at the bus station to them so that they can take a shower, they can get information about what’s happening, get supplies that they needed,” she said.

Resource Center Matamoros co-founder Gaby Zavala in her office in Matamoros, Mexico, on Jan. 14, 2020. (Los Angeles Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

A State Department travel advisory urges U.S. citizens not to travel to Mexico’s Tamaulipas state in which Matamoros is located because of “crime and kidnapping.” Many of the migrants who live in the Matamoros camp have been forced to return to Mexico under the Trump administration’s controversial “remain in Mexico” policy and await the outcome of their U.S. asylum cases there.

“Now we have MPP,” Zavala told the Blade, referring to the Trump administration’s overall immigration policy that includes a requirement for migrants to place their name on a waiting list in order to apply for asylum at a U.S. port of entry. “And now we have several others that have just been implemented that are completely unfair, and they leave asylum seekers available in this country.”

Zavala, who identifies as bisexual, also told the Blade that LGBTQ migrants who live in the camp are even more vulnerable to mistreatment, discrimination and even violence from groups that include drug cartels and Mexican police officers.

“For me seeing that in the context of the camp is hurtful,” she said.

Resource Center Matamoros works with the Texas Civil Rights Project, a group that provides assistance to LGBTQ migrants. Resource Center Matamoros also provides LGBTQ migrants with a space in which they can privately meet with lawyers and volunteers.

Zavala said she hopes to provide HIV tests to up to 150 migrants a month once the program launches and connect those who test positive to HIV/AIDS clinics known by the Spanish acronym CAPASITS (Centro Ambulatorio para la Prevención y Atención en SIDA e Infecciones de Transmisión Sexual) that the Mexican government operates. Zavala conceded the program will prove challenging, in part, because LGBTQ migrants in Matamoros are often not out and have fled countries where violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity is rampant.

“You really have to take extra, extra caution when you’re having a ‘charla’ because rumors run through the camp like wildfire,” she added, noting confidentiality remains a top priority. “It’s very sensitive.”

Resource Center Matamoros is ‘a big family’

Zavala told the Blade she has faced resistance from organizations outside the Rio Grande Valley who “feel like you can’t do it … and want to usurp all the hard that we’ve ever done.” Zavala also said she has felt judged and not supported in her efforts to help migrants, but stressed she has become part of the “main stakeholders of the work in Matamoros.”

Zavala also described Resource Center Matamoros “a big family.”

“What I have found here is life, is love, is compassion,” she said. “We all take care of each other and I’ve never felt so backed by a group of people.”   

A girl mops a tent platform at a migrant camp in Matamoros, Mexico, on Jan. 14, 2020. Resource Center Matamoros manages this portion of the camp that is under a canopy the Mexican government built. (Los Angeles Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)
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Florida

Florida middle schoolers post racist photo using N-word to social media

School district officials confirmed the photo was authentic. They said it was taken by students at Hidden Oaks Middle School

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Screenshot/WPBF ABC News 25

STUART, FL. – A picture of six Martin County School District middle school students, each holding up at letter that spells out the highly offensive epithet N-word is circulating on social media and has prompted an investigation by officials.

Dr. John D. Millay, Superintendent of Schools for the Martin County School District in Florida notified the district’s community Tuesday evening after a board meeting regarding actions officials are taking in a statement:

Last night, the Martin County School District launched a comprehensive investigation into the origin and authenticity of an inappropriate and disturbing photo circulating on social media. We are moving with all deliberate speed to interview all those who may have been involved in this shameful incident, and, unfortunately, can confirm that the photo is authentic. We expect to have our investigation finalized within the next 48 hours,” Millay wrote.

(Editor’s note; WARNING: The following image is graphic and is offensive in nature, racial slur.)

Screen capture from a mobile phone posted to Twitter

Students who were involved in this disgraceful incident will be provided the due process afforded under federal and state law, and our investigation will not compromise those rights.

“The District is, however, appalled, and saddened by this incident which is contrary to our values, and the ideals that are instilled in our students.

Upon the completion of its investigation, the District will mete out appropriate disciplinary consequences to any students who participated in this behavior, pursuant to the District’s Code of Student Conduct. Federal law precludes us from identifying specific students and the specific disciplinary actions taken.

The Martin County School District reaffirms, without reservation, to all our students, our families, our employees and this community that the Martin County School District is committed to promoting and maintaining a learning environment free of hateful, racist and discriminatory actions or conduct. We will not condone or allow any conduct that may harass any student or class of students, has the effect of substantially interfering with any student’s educational performance, or has the effect of substantially disrupting the orderly operation of any school.

We have and will continue to enforce a zero-tolerance policy in this regard. I will work towards partnering with the leaders in our community to reinforce our values in this regard and will continue to strive towards fostering a learning environment free of bigotry and racism,” Millay said.

WPBF ABC News 25 reported Tuesday afternoon, school district officials confirmed the photo was authentic. They said it was taken by students at Hidden Oaks Middle School in Palm City.

Officials said the students made the letters in an art class.

“It’s disgusting,” said district spokesperson Jennifer Deshazo. “And it’s against everything that the Martin County School District stands for.”

The president of the Martin County chapter of the NAACP, Jimmy Smith, told 25 News it’s about so much more than just a photo.

“I was very heartbroken,” said Smith. “We all have made mistakes,” Smith said. “But when you get to that degree and that depth to come up with an idea like that, there’s something else going on.”

The incident with the Hidden Oaks Middle School students comes on the heels of racially motivated violence in Buffalo, New York after a gunman radicalized by online hate groups opened fire in a predominately Black Buffalo neighborhood Tops Supermarket killing 10 people.

WPBF ABC News 25:

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California

Newsom gets second booster dose, urges eligible Californians to get theirs

California’s vaccination strategy has saved tens of thousands of lives and prevented even more cases and hospitalizations

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Governor Newsom receives his second Moderna booster dose (Office of the Governor)

BAKERSFIELD – Amid rising COVID-19 cases across the country, and following the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s emergency authorization of a booster dose for healthy 5- to 11-year-olds, Governor Gavin Newsom today received his second Moderna booster at a clinic in Bakersfield, and encouraged all eligible Californians to get boosted to keep their immunity strong against COVID-19.

The second booster dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or the Moderna vaccine is available to all Californians 50 and older, as well as those who are immunocompromised or received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

“Vaccines have saved tens of thousands of lives in California, and with COVID-19 still prevalent, we can’t afford to let our guard down,” said Newsom. “The best protection against serious illness and hospitalization is getting vaccinated and boosted. I encourage all eligible Californians to get your second booster – for you, for your family, for your friends, for your community.” 

Under the Newsom Administration’s SMARTER Plan, the state maintains operational readiness to continue the fight against COVID-19 and respond quickly, including the ability to administer 200,000 vaccinations and 500,000 tests per day. The California Blueprint includes another $2.4 billion for COVID response, which ensures California will be on the best possible footing against future waves.

According to a study analyzing California’s pandemic response, COVID-19 vaccines prevented an estimated 1.5 million coronavirus infections, nearly 73,000 hospitalizations, and almost 20,000 deaths in California.

The Governor received his booster shot at Clinica Sierra Vista, one of hundreds of health clinic locations around the state where people can receive their free vaccine and booster. The Governor was joined today by California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly and community and local leaders who have supported vaccine equity efforts in the region. To date, Clinica Sierra Vista has administered nearly 100,000 COVID-19 vaccination doses.

“Vaccines remain the best protection against hospitalization and death from COVID-19. Our state, like much of the nation, is beginning to see an increase in COVID-19 transmission. Fortunately, thanks to California’s robust vaccination efforts, we are seeing relatively low hospitalization rates,” said Dr. Mark Ghaly, California Health and Human Services Secretary. “This underscores the efficacy and importance of staying up to date on your COVID-19 vaccines. Californians age 50 and over are encouraged to get their additional booster dose to keep their immunity strong and strengthen their protection against COVID-19.”

According to the California Department of Public Health, the statewide test positivity rate is 5 percent as of Tuesday, about double the positivity rate a month prior, with some regions seeing positivity rates as high as 9 percent. Unvaccinated people are 4.8 times more likely to get COVID-19 than fully vaccinated individuals who are boosted. Unvaccinated people are also 6.5 times more likely to be hospitalized than boosted individuals, and 7.8 times more likely to die than boosted individuals.

California’s response to COVID-19 has led the nation with the lowest COVID death rate among the country’s most populous states. More than 8 in 10 Californians have received at least one dose of the vaccine and more than 15.5 million Californians have received their first booster dose, representing 59.1 percent of those eligible for a booster. Additionally, 22 percent of eligible Californians have received their second booster dose. 

The state’s Vaccinate ALL 58 campaign continues to focus on driving vaccine efforts in lower-income and non-English speaking communities with cultural competency and in-language outreach and education. Its community-based organization network, in partnership with philanthropy, is now standing at over 700 organizations and supports outreach and appointment assistance efforts.

Clinica Sierra Vista is a comprehensive health care organization serving the primary medical, dental, and behavioral health needs of about 200,000 people in Kern and Fresno counties. With the continued support of federal, state, and local governments, they have been able to reach out to thousands of new patients, offering comprehensive programs tailored to the needs of those they serve over a vast geographical region in the heartland of California.

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Politics

History making primary win- Out Lesbian could be Oregon’s next governor

“This will be a three-way race for the highest office in our state, and this will be an election unlike anything any of us have ever seen”

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Courtesy of Tina Kotek

PORTLAND – The Democratic gubernatorial primary Tuesday win by Oregon Speaker of the House Tina Kotek, who had announced her run for the governor’s seat to replace incumbent Democratic Governor Kate Brown, who is term limited last September 1st, 2021, positions her to become the first Out Lesbian governor in the nation should she win the general election in November.

Kotek’s win comes during an uptick in the elections nationwide as more candidates running for office identify as LGBTQ”. More than 600 LGBTQ candidates are on ballots this year, according to the LGBTQ Victory Fund.

According to the Victory Fund, at least 101 people ran or are running for the U.S. Senate or U.S. House – with 96 still actively running as of February 21, 2022. That marks a 16.1 percent increase in LGBTQ Congressional candidates compared to the 2020 election cycle, when 87 people ran.

Speaking to her supporters after it became clear she had won over Oregon Treasurer Tobias Read, who was polling second among Oregonian progressives, “This will be a three-way race for the highest office in our state, and this will be an election unlike anything any of us have ever seen,” Kotek said.

Republican state legislator Christine Drazan along with an independent candidate, Betsy Johnson are slated to be on the November ballot.

Last Fall when she announced her candidacy, she said, “I am running for Governor because I know that, together, we can reckon with the legacies of injustice and inequality to build a great future for Oregon.” She also noted, “Oregonians are living through a devastating pandemic, the intensifying impacts of climate change, and the economic disruptions that leave too many behind. We must get past the politics of division and focus on making real, meaningful progress for families across our state.” 

“A victory for Tina would shatter a lavender ceiling and be a milestone moment in LGBTQ political history, yet she is running not to make history, but because there are few people as prepared and qualified to serve as Oregon’s governor,” said Mayor Annise Parker, President & CEO of LGBTQ Victory Fund. “Under Tina’s leadership, Oregon has led in passing legislation to improve roads and education, raise the minimum wage and ensure all residents are treated fairly and equally. As governor, Tina will make Oregon a role model for the nation.”

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