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Family of transgender woman who died in ICE custody files federal lawsuit

Lawsuit alleges Roxsana Hernández denied medical care

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A picture of Roxsana Hernández, a transgender Honduran woman with HIV who died in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody in 2018, hangs on a wall inside the offices of Colectivo Unidad Color Rosa, an LGBTI advocacy group in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The family of a transgender woman with HIV who died in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody in 2018 has filed a federal lawsuit against five private companies that were responsible for her care.

The Transgender Law Center and two immigration lawyers — Daniel Yohalem in Santa Fe., N.M., and R. Andrew Free in Nashville — filed the lawsuit on Wednesday in U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico. Management and Training Corporation, LaSalle Corrections, Global Precision Systems, TransCor America and CoreCivic are named as defendants.

Hernández, who was from Honduras, entered U.S. Customs and Border Protection custody on May 9, 2018, when she asked for asylum at the San Ysidro Port of Entry in San Diego. She was later sent to the Cibola County Correctional Center, a facility in Milan N.M., that CoreCivic, which was previously known as the Corrections Corporation of America, operates.

Hernández was admitted to Cibola General Hospital in Grants, N.M., shortly after she arrived at the detention center. Hernández died at Lovelace Medical Center in Albuquerque, N.M., on May 25, 2018.

Lovelace Medical Center in Albuquerque, N.M. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The lawsuit alleges Hernández on May 14, 2018, “exhibited visible signs of deterioration requiring immediate medical intervention” when Management and Training Corporation transported her and 12 other trans detainees from San Ysidro to the San Luis Regional Detention Center, a facility in San Luis, Ariz., that LaSalle Corrections operates.

“MTC denied Roxsana and her fellow detainees food, water, and restroom access throughout their transfer,” reads the lawsuit.

The lawsuit notes one detainee said Hernández appeared “very weak and pale, almost yellow in pallor, with dark circles under her eyes” when she was at the San Luis Regional Detention Center.  

Hernández was at the facility for only a “few hours,” but she “used the bathroom several times to vomit or spit up phlegm.” The lawsuit claims Hernández “was so weak from fever that she spent most of her time at SLRDC (San Luis Regional Detention Center) laying on the floor, coughing.”

“Officers of Defendant LaSalle Corrections witnessed Roxsana’s obvious state of medical need and failed to offer her emergency medical assistance,” reads the lawsuit. “Eventually during her time at SLRDC Roxsana was so ill she could not eat and had to use the restroom approximately every 15 minutes because she had such bad diarrhea.”

The lawsuit states Hernández and more than two dozen other trans detainees at around midnight on May 15 boarded a bus that took them to the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport in the Phoenix suburb of Mesa.

“Roxsana was very ill during the four-hour bus ride and pleaded for help to a person who sat with her, saying words to the effect of, ‘Help me! I don’t know if I’m going to survive,’” reads the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges a LaSalle Corrections officer “threatened” Hernández and the other detainees with whom she was traveling. The lawsuit says one detainee asked officers in both English and Spanish to provide medical care to Hernández, but they “ignored her.”

“When they arrived at the airport, one of the people being transported by LaSalle alongside Roxsana told an officer with beige pants and long red hair that Roxsana was very sick and needed immediate medical attention,” reads the lawsuit. “The officer refused to respond to her. During her five hour stay in the Mesa airport Roxsana remained in LaSalle’s custody and was provided no medical care or assistance for her sickness.”

The lawsuit states Hernández and the other detainees flew to El Paso, Texas, and arrived at the El Paso Processing Center at around 3:15 p.m. The lawsuit notes Hernández remained at the facility until the morning of May 16, 2018.

“She and her fellow asylum seekers woke up to ICE officers presenting them food that they were instructed to eat for breakfast at around 5:00 a.m.,” reads the lawsuit. “Roxsana attempted to eat the meal provided, but ended up vomiting and then going back to sleep.”

“By this time, Roxsana appeared to all around her to be gravely ill,” reads the lawsuit. “Despite LaSalle’s knowledge of Roxsana’s urgent need for medical care, during the entire time Roxsana was in LaSalle’s custody LaSalle did not provide her with medical care or assistance to alleviate her suffering.”

The lawsuit says Hernández and 29 other detainees who were going to the Cibola County Correctional Center boarded a bus at around 9 a.m.

“Each person was provided an 8-ounce bottle of water and sandwich to last the entire five and-half hour journey to the Cibola detention center in New Mexico,” says the lawsuit, which notes the temperature in El Paso that day reached 97 degrees before noon.

The lawsuit notes Hernández asked an officer for water during the trip, but he told her that he did not speak Spanish.

Hernández reportedly “had a fever and produced a significant amount of phlegm during the trip” and had bloody sputum when she blew her nose. The lawsuit also notes Hernández “felt dizzy and extremely exhausted, and her stomach hurt badly.”

The lawsuit says the bus arrived at the ICE Criminal Alien Program facility in Albuquerque at around 2:30 p.m.

“Despite GPS’s knowledge of Roxsana’s urgent need for medical care, during the entire time Roxsana was in GPS’s custody GPS did not provide her with medical care or assistance to alleviate her suffering,” it reads.

The lawsuit says officers from TransCor drove Hernández and 28 other trans detainees to the Cibola County Correctional Center, which is roughly 80 miles west of Albuquerque. The detainees arrived at the facility shortly after 8 p.m.

“Throughout this trip, Roxsana continued to appear gravely ill,” reads the lawsuit, noting she was unable to eat. 94. “Roxsana required immediate medical assistance that TransCor employees neglected to provide.”

The Cibola County Correctional Center in Milan, N.M. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement)

The Cibola County Correctional Center at the time had a unit specifically for trans women who were in ICE custody.

The lawsuit states Hernández was booked into the facility at around 1:15 a.m. on May 17. It notes she spent the night in the facility’s “medical waiting room.”

“Roxsana lay on the floor, only getting up to use the restroom or drink a beverage officers brought around 4 a.m.,” reads the lawsuit. “Roxsana was so weak and ill that she became delirious.”

The lawsuit states Hernández was brought to an “onsite medical provider who conducted an intake screening.” Hernández received “electrolytes and Ensure” before she returned to a holding cell.

The lawsuit says “an onsite medical provider” examined Hernández at around 10 a.m. She reportedly weighted 89 lbs., and was diagnosed with “dehydration, starvation, extreme weight loss, muscle wasting, untreated HIV, fever and cough.” The lawsuit also notes Hernández’s blood pressure was 81/61 and she had “rough breathing sounds and increased amount of white phlegm mucus excreted in abnormally large quantities.”

The lawsuit states officers at the detention center called an ambulance that brought Hernández to Cibola General Hospital at 11:44 a.m. Hernández later that day was airlifted to Lovelace Medical Center where she died.

“Throughout her hospitalization, CoreCivic officers shackled Roxsana at her wrists and both ankles to her hospital bed except when medical personnel needed to remove them for certain medical procedures,” reads the lawsuit. “At least one armed CoreCivic officer guarded Roxsana at all times and checked that her restraints were secured at least every 20 minutes.”

“Each time medical staff needed CoreCivic officers to remove her restraints, the officer on duty made a call to ‘central’ to receive approval to remove them, delaying Roxsana’s receipt of medical care,” notes the lawsuit. “CoreCivic officers kept Roxsana shackled even after her treating medical providers medically paralyzed her and when she first went into cardiac arrest.”

‘Every private entity tasked with Roxsana’s care failed her’

An autopsy the New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator performed concluded Hernández died from Castleman disease associated with AIDS.

A second autopsy` that former Georgia Chief Medical Examiner Kris Sperry performed at the Transgender Law Center’s request concluded 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.” The second autopsy also found “evidence of physical abuse” that included bruising on Hernández’s rib cage and contusions on her body.

“Every private entity tasked with Roxsana’s care failed her,” said Dale Melchert, a Transgender Law Center staff attorney, in a press release that announced the lawsuit. “What we know about the short time that Roxsana was in immigration custody is that the officers tasked with transporting her saw her health deteriorate, heard her cries for help, and did nothing. She needlessly suffered as a result of their inaction.”

ICE has denied allegations that Hernández was abused while in its custody.

Amanda Gilchrist, a spokesperson for CoreCivic, on Thursday told the Los Angeles Blade in a statement the company offers “our deepest condolences to the family and friends of Roxsana Hernández.” Gilchrist also noted Hernández was “gravely ill” when she arrived at the Cibola County Correctional Center.

“When she arrived, she went through the intake process, which includes a medical evaluation,” said Gilchrist. “The medical team made the determination that she needed to be immediately transported to an outside hospital.” 

“Ms. Hernandez was only at Cibola for 12 hours, where she stayed in the intake area before being transported to the hospital where she passed away nine days later,” she added.

Issa Arnita, a spokesperson for the Management and Training Corporation, on Thursday told the Blade in an email the company “disputes the allegations in the lawsuit, but is unable to comment any further because of the litigation.” Arnita in a second email noted Hernández was in Management and Training Corporation’s custody for “less than four hours, more than a week before her death.”

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Florida

Black & LGBTQ+ inclusive wall mural cited for multiple code violations

The idea was to make a mural that addressed pending legislation in Tallahassee that would affect the rights of minorities & the LGBTQ+ people

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Photograph courtesy of United Teachers of Dade

MIAMI SPRINGS, Fl. – A colourful wall mural in Dade County has attracted the ire of municipal authorities who say the mural, which includes a child of color reading a book, a verse from a Maya Angelo poem, and an LGBTQ Pride rainbow symbol, violates building codes.

The United Teachers of Dade union has been cited by Miami Springs for code violations after it unveiled the mural on its office building the Miami Herald reported this past week.

“If you do not see the word mural on an ordinance this does not mean it’s allowed, means you should make an inquiry with the Building & Zoning department first and present your mural,” Miami Springs Councilwoman Jacky Bravo said in an email to the Herald. “We are not talking about a small stamp on the wall. Seems like they took a blind eye on this one, and unfortunately has caused an issue to be dealt with.”

The Herald reported that was it unveiled last March, and was titled ‘Rise’ to send a message to lawmakers in Florida’s capitol in Tallahassee as a series of laws were being introduced that negatively impacted the minority and LGBTQ+ communities in the state.

Luis Valle, a Miami-based artist who was commissioned by the United Teachers of Dade union to paint the mural told the paper, “The idea was to make a mural that addressed pending legislation in Tallahassee, at the time, that would affect public schools, as well as the rights of minorities and those in the LGBTQ+ community. It is about inclusivity for all people and all cultures.”

Although the UTD Union had submitted and paid for a permit, the Miami Springs City Code Compliance Department, which requires permits be obtained before work commences, had already issued a “notice of violation” on March 25 to the union site’s property owner, UTD Building Corp., for violations that included:

–improper size of wall sign

–improper placement and/or width of wall sign

–improper construction of sign

–failure to comply with applicable color palette

“Failure to correct the violations by the time due shall cause this case to be set for hearing before the code compliance board and may result in fines, costs and/or a lien levied against you and the property,” the notice said. “Fines imposed shall not exceed $250 per day for a first-time violation.”

The city gave UTD until April 24 to correct the violations, according to the notice. Potential fines, as of Oct. 13, could run as high as $43,000 the Herald noted.

Currently discussions are ongoing. “UTD reviewed all the codes before contracting our mural artist in order to perform our due diligence,” United Teachers of Dade President Karla Hernandez-Mats said in an emailed statement to the Herald on Oct. 11. “Additionally, we spoke to a former council member to double check our findings and that individual also concluded that the Miami Springs City Codes did not address this topic.”

“The art piece is not a sign for the building or our organization; it has no logo or company name on it because it is an artistic expression in the form of a mural with no other intent,” Hernandez-Mats’ added.

Attempts by the Miami Herald to reach Miami Springs Mayor Maria Mitchell, and City Council members had been unsuccessful by this past Thursday afternoon, however the next Miami Springs City Council meeting is at 7 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 25.

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Vermont

Vermont high school homecoming halftime show turns into a ‘drag show’

“The crowd was decked out in LGBTQ+ affirming clothing- the stands were completely packed. It was just so heartwarming to see”

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Burlington High School, Burlington Vermont homecoming game October 2021 (Screenshot via YouTube)

BURLINGTON, Vt. – A quintessential annual Fall time-honored tradition held across America’s on high school football fields are homecoming games. This year a mix of students and faculty members Burlington High School, along with some participants from South Burlington High School, added a touch of ‘drag’ to the halftime show.

“Things went amazing,” Ezra Totten, student leader of the Gender Sexuality Alliance at Burlington High School, told the Associated Press, speaking about Friday night’s event. “The stands were completely packed. It was just so heartwarming to see.”

The school’s principal, its Athletic Director, and other staff were fully supportive with Andrew LeValley, an English teacher and GSA adviser, the faculty member who created the idea along with a boost from Burlington High Athletic Director Quaron Pinckney suggested that the show be held at the homecoming game’s halftime.

Pinckney, who is Black, told the AP that the school gave him the space to “uplift my voice” and that he was able to reciprocate and “uplift the voices of another marginalized group and share a space in the athletics realm that doesn’t normally get shared.”

The crowd was decked out in LGBTQ+ affirming clothing, costumes and waving Pride flags raucously cheering as the ‘drag ball’s’ performers paraded and danced to show support for LGBTQ+ students and the larger LGBTQ+ community. They commenced the halftime show with a runway-style event while they lip-synced to singer Todrick Hall’s “Rainbow Reign.”

Burlington High School’s halftime drag show

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Utah

LGBTQ+ Non-profit will build 8 homes for LGBTQ youth in Western states

Encircle is a non-profit organization with the mission to bring the family and community together to enable LGBTQ+ youth to thrive

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LGBTQ Youth, Utah Governor Spencer Cox, Apple CEO Tim Cook, Dwayne Wade & other donors (Photo: Tim Cook Twitter)

SALT LAKE CITY – A Utah-based non-profit announced Wednesday that the organization has raised more than $8 million dollars to build eight new homes in four Western states to provide services for LGBTQ youth.

Encircle, which provides mental health services for LGBTQ youth, will build the new homes with locations in Arizona, Idaho, Nevada and Utah. The new homes are dedicated for providing safe spaces, resources and preventing teen suicide. The organization currently has locations in Salt Lake City, Provo and St. George, Utah, and recently construction has begun on locations in Heber, Logan and Ogden, as well as in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The fundraising efforts had kicked off this past February with donations from NBA Basketball’s Utah Jazz team owners Ryan and Ashley Smith and Apple CEO Tim Cook, the first openly gay CEO of a Fortune 500 firm. The lead singer of Imagine Dragons Dan Reynolds and his wife, recording artist Aja Volkman, and retired NBA superstar and Jazz part-owner Dwayne Wade, whose 14-year-old daughter Zaya is Trans, all partnered together to give a total of $4 million.

In a press conference Wednesday, “Encircle’s mission is very personal to me because I see myself in so many of these young people,” Apple CEO Cook told reporters. “It’s not easy when you’re made to feel different or less than because of who you are or who you love. It’s a feeling that so many LGBTQ people know far too well.”

Encircle executives and the group of celebrities were joined by Utah Republican Governor Spencer Cox who praised Encircle’s efforts.

“What Encircle has done is provided that piece of acceptance, even if — especially if — there is no acceptance anywhere else,” the governor said. “There is a place where they can go where they can feel loved.”

Wade, reflecting on being the parent of a Trans child, “I stand here as a proud parent of a beautiful daughter that’s a part of the LGBT-plus community,” he said. “I don’t have all the answers. I don’t know everything, but I’m willing to listen.”

Encircle is a non-profit organization with the mission to bring the family and community together to enable LGBTQ+ youth to thrive.

On its website the non-profit lists its current support services including its new café which is open “Monday through Friday between 3-8 PM folks ages 12-25 are welcome to just drop-in, hang out and enjoy our safe space. Friendship Circles, its weekly groups [which] allow you to tell your story and connect with peers in a safer space facilitated by our community, and LGBTQ affirming therapy.”

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