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‘I don’t know if I will make it’

Coronavirus puts ICE detainee with HIV at even more risk

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An American flag flies in front of a privately-run U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center in the Southeast U.S. on July 31, 2020. A person with HIV who remains in ICE custody says he is afraid he will die from the coronavirus. (Washington Blade photo by Yariel Valdés González)

A person with HIV who is in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody says they are afraid the coronavirus will kill him.

“With my condition, God forbid, if I get coronavirus, I don’t know if I will make it,” the ICE detainee told the Los Angeles Blade on July 29 during an interview.

The detainee has been in ICE custody at a privately run detention center in the Southeast since last October. The detainee is originally from a country in Africa with laws that criminalize people with HIV and members of the LGBTQ community.

The detainee asked the Blade not to identify them by name to protect their privacy. They also requested the Blade not identify the country from which they originate and the facility in which they remain in ICE custody because of fear of retaliation and any potential impact their decision to speak publicly could have on their asylum case.

“It would be a death sentence if I were sent back home,” said the detainee.

The detainee told the Blade there have been coronavirus cases in their detention center, including a man from India who tested positive before his scheduled deportation.

“They were taking him out to deport him,” said the detainee. “They closed our unit down for a month.”

The detainee said there are 96 detainees in his unit. They told the Blade that ICE quarantined them after another detainee tested positive for the coronavirus.

“We were not able to leave the unit,” they said.

They told the Blade that staff brought food to the unit when it was locked down. The detainee said they are now able to access the yard for an hour a day.

‘It’s not safe’

ICE on its website notes as of Monday there were 908 detainees with confirmed coronavirus cases.

There were 21,888 people in ICE custody as of July 31. Statistics on ICE’s website note 21,085 detainees have been tested as of July 31.

Immigration Equality and Lambda Legal are among the advocacy groups that have demanded ICE release detainees with HIV because of the pandemic.

ICE in April released four men with HIV who had been detained at privately run detention centers in Louisiana and Arizona. ICE in the same month also released Iván and Ramón, two Cuban men with HIV represented by Immigration Equality and Lambda Legal, from a privately run detention center in Texas.

“We are relieved that Iván and Ramón don’t have to spend one more day in the dangerous conditions of ICE detention, terrified of contracting COVID-19,” said Immigration Equality Legal Director Bridget Crawford after their release.

A federal judge in California has ordered ICE “to identify and track all ICE detainees with risk factors” and consider whether they should be released.

Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf in April said ICE would consider the release of detainees who are at increased risk for the coronavirus on a “case-by-case basis.” An ICE spokesperson a few weeks after Wolf’s comments said their agency had released upwards of 700 detainees “after evaluating their immigration history, criminal record, potential threat to public safety, flight risk and national security concerns.”

ICE in March suspended in-person visitation at its detention centers. ICE in previous statements says it continues to provide detainees with soap for showering and handwashing, sanitizer and masks.

“The health, welfare and safety of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainees is one of the agency’s highest priorities,” says ICE on its website. “Since the onset of reports of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), ICE epidemiologists have been tracking the outbreak, regularly updating infection prevention and control protocols, and issuing guidance to ICE Health Service Corps (IHSC) staff for the screening and management of potential exposure among detainees.”

“ICE continues to incorporate CDC’s COVID-19 guidance, which is built upon the already established infectious disease monitoring and management protocols currently in use by the agency,” adds ICE. “In addition, ICE is actively working with state and local health partners to determine if any detainee requires additional testing or monitoring to combat the spread of the virus.”

Illinois Congressman Mike Quigley in June told the Blade that ICE is “ignoring” social distancing guidelines from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and not providing “protective gear or hygiene products” to detainees. The detainee with whom the Blade spoke last week also said there is no socially distancing at the detention center where they are in ICE custody.

“There’s no such thing right now as socially distancing,” they said.

“It’s not safe,” added the detainee.

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Tennessee

Tennessee 7th grader kills himself after anti-LGBTQ+ bullying

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Eli Fritchley via 'Justice for Eli We Must Stop the Bullying' GoFundme page

SHELBYVILLE, Tn. –  A 12-year-old boy took his own life after enduring apparent months of what his family and others labeled ugly vitriolic anti-LGBTQ bullying and abuse.

Eli Fritchley, a seventh-grader at Cascades Middle school located in Wartrace in Bedford County, was found on Sunday night, November 28th, 2021, by his mother who walked into her son’s bedroom and discovered his lifeless body.

In an emotional interview with Nashville ABC news affiliate WKRN 2‘s reporter Stephanie Langston, Fritchley’s parents described him “as a peaceful soul who wasn’t afraid to be himself.”

“He didn’t care, or at least we thought he didn’t care, and that’s what’s really difficult for us because we thought he didn’t care,” his parents said as they teared up.

Eli painted his nails, loved the color pink and wore the same SpongeBob sweatshirt nearly every day.

“I think probably because he was in the same clothes every single day that they used that as a weapon,” his mom Debbey explained, saying he loved doing the laundry and cleaning his clothes every day.

His parents told Langston that their son was not accepted by his peer group at the school.

“He was told because he didn’t necessarily have a religion and that he said he was gay that he was going to go to Hell. They told him that quite often,” said Debbey.

His parents heard his cries but didn’t realize the extent of the pain that the youth was experiencing adding that their son never blamed anyone.

“It was really abusive. I don’t think it was ever physical. I think it was just words, but words hurt. They really hurt,” said his father Steve.

“This has just blindsided us. This is something we would have never, ever expected,” his mother added. “That’s been really hard. That image was terrible until we got to hold him yesterday. Now that image is gone, because the only thing we could think of yesterday when we were kissing and loving on him was how angelic he looked. He absolutely looked angelic. He’s just an angel,” she cried adding, “We all failed him. We all failed him. It’s as simple as that.”

The parents told Langston that they are determined to stop bullying adding that they hope raising awareness will ensure that other kids or their parents goes through the heartache they are experiencing.

“I honestly think education, education, education for everyone where bullying is concerned because it is a problem, not just in Bedford County. It’s a problem everywhere,” they said.

According to WKRN 2, “the Fritchleys were regulars at Penalties Sports Bar & Grill in Shelbyville. The owners of the restaurant, Rob and Shondelle Lewis, say they are like family and they are heartbroken over the loss of Eli. In an effort to help, they created a Gofundme as the Fritchleys are looking to start a foundation to bring awareness and help educate people about bullying and suicide awareness.”

I hope and pray, this unfortunate event we are going to make something of it. We’ve got to. We are going to come up with some sort of antibullying program through this Gofundme page where I pray to God this will not happen again,” said Rob.”

The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health examined depression and suicide risk among LGBTQ youth from rural areas and small towns compared to urban and suburban areas.

The Key Finding was that nearly half of LGBTQ youth in rural areas and small towns reported that their community was somewhat or very unaccepting of LGBTQ people compared to just over a quarter of those in urban and suburban areas. The data also shows that LGBTQ youth living in rural areas and small towns had slightly greater odds of depression and attempting suicide.

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Bedford County parents grieve son bullied before suicide

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New York

New York man arrested for threatening mass shootings of LGBTQ+ people

Defendant allegedly threatened bombings and mass shooting that would make the 2016 Orlando Pulse Nightclub Attack “Look Like a Cakewalk”

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World Pride, New York City June 29, 2019 (Photo by Andrew Nasonov)

CENTRAL ISLIP, Ny. – Agents from the New York Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) arrested and charged on Monday a Long Island man on a warrant issued by United States Magistrate Judge Steven I. Locke for mailing letters threatening to assault, shoot, and bomb LGBTQ+ affiliated individuals, organizations, and businesses. 

According to Breon Peace, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, and Michael J. Driscoll, Assistant Director-in-Charge, of the FBI New York Field Office, who announced the arrest, Robert Fehring, 74, a resident of Bayport, New York on Long Island, since at least 2013, had been sending individuals associated with the LGBTQ+ community letters in which he threatened violence, including threatening the use of firearms and explosives. 

In the criminal complaint and affidavit for arrest, federal prosecutors allege that one letter threatened that there would “be radio-cont[r]olled devices placed at numerous strategic places” at the 2021 New York City Pride March with “firepower” that would “make the 2016 Orlando Pulse Nightclub shooting look like a cakewalk,” referencing the 2016 attack in which 49 persons were killed and dozens wounded at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

“As alleged, the defendant’s hate-filled invective and threats of violence directed at members of the LGBTQ+ community have no place in our society and will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” stated Peace.  “This Office is firmly committed to protecting the civil rights of all members of every community in this district, including the LGBTQ+ community and other minority communities.”

Fehring is also alleged to have a sent a letter threatening the organizer of a June 2021 Pride event in East Meadow, New York, which stated:

“[W]e were right there you…FREAK!!!  They couldn’t get a shot off at you, slithering around the back stage area like a snake.  Too many cops.  Very disappointed.  But your time has come. . .. They are out to KILL you….and your boyfriend.  You are being watched.  No matter how long it takes, you will be taken out…. high-powered bullet…. bomb….knife…. whatever it takes.”

On November 18, 2021, members of the FBI’s Civil Rights Squad and the New York Joint Terrorism Task Force executed a search warrant at Fehring’s home in Bayport, New York, and recovered photographs from a June 2021 Pride event in East Meadow, New York, two loaded shotguns, hundreds of rounds of ammunition, two stun guns, and a stamped envelope addressed to an LGBTQ+ affiliated attorney containing the remains of a dead bird. 

“Fehring’s alleged threats to members of the LGBTQ+ community were not only appalling, but dangerous, despite the fact he hadn’t yet acted on his purported intentions,” stated Driscoll.  “As the primary federal agency responsible for investigating civil rights violations, the FBI takes all threats of this nature seriously.” 

The New York Executive Director of NYC PRIDE Sandra Pérez told the Blade in an emailed statement; “We take any and all violent threats seriously and report them to the appropriate authorities. We received threatening letters earlier this year and reported them. We appreciate the work of the Justice Department in investigating this situation. We are cooperating in any way we can, and we remain committed to the safety and well-being of the LGBTQIA+ community.”

Gay City News editor  Matt Tracy reported that Fehring appeared in court on December 6 before Magistrate Judge Steven I. Locke and was released on $100,000 bond. He is restricted to home detention with location monitoring, according to prosecutors. He is not allowed to have any firearms or “destructive devices,” is barred from contacting any of his alleged victims, and cannot go to the places he is said to have targeted.

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Kentucky

Another Trans person confirmed murdered this year- USAF vet & Mother

Her friends will always remember her infectious personality & her unmistakable laugh. She loved others passionately and fiercely

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Cris Blehar, (Family Photo)

MEADE COUNTY, Ky. – Another Trans person has been confirmed murdered this year bringing the deadly total to 49 deaths of transgender and gender non-conforming people in 2021 according to a tally kept by the Human Rights Campaign.

Cris Blehar, a 65-year-old white transgender woman, mother, and U.S. Air Force veteran, was discovered stabbed and shot to death by Meade County sheriff’s deputies who had responded to her rural home on Woodland Road in the Flaherty area. Deputies had been dispatched to perform a welfare check from an unidentified person concerned about Blehar.

The Elizabethtown, Kentucky, News-Enterprise newspaper reported that the Kentucky State Police had made an arrest in the case only a few hours after Blehar’s body was found of Vine Grove resident Tyler J. Petty, 18.

Tyler J. Petty, 18
(Mugshot: Meade County Sheriff’s Department)

“There was no relationship between the victim and the suspect. We believe he worked for her,” said Kentucky State Police Trooper Nicholas Hale in an email to the News-Enterprise. Petty was arrested and brought to KSP Post 4 and was interviewed about the case. Police say he admitted to killing Blehar. A trial date has been set for June 2022.

The murder in this rural area about an hour Southwest of Louisville on May 19, 2021, was brought to the attention of the Human Rights Campaign this week when Blehar’s cousin Mark Stephens contacted HRC to ensure that she was “remembered, honored, and counted” as a member of the transgender community. 

In a statement to HRC, Mark Stephens said;

“If there is one thing to know about Cris, it was that she fought fiercely to define her life as SHE wanted. Whether it was her military service, her 20+ year career in the airline industry, or her post retirement decision to buy a farm & start a family of her own. She lived life to the fullest and wanted everyone around her to live their best life as well. Growing up ‘different’ in Kentucky is certainly no easy task, something we shared in addition to being cousins, and she tackled it with the passion and zeal that only she could have. Her friends will always remember her infectious personality & her unmistakable laugh. She loved others passionately and fiercely, none more than her own son, Maverick.”

Blehar’s son Maverick Thompson paid tribute to her, writing:

“Cris was an amazing mother and a wonderful person. She had so much love and brought a smile to many. She had a hilarious sense of humor that will live on through those that knew her. She will be sorely missed!”

According to her obituary, Blehar was a former law enforcement officer in the U.S. Air Force and retired from United/Continental Airlines. She also worked as an Uber driver and loved animals and bowling.

HRC has officially recorded 49 deaths of transgender and gender non-conforming people in 2021, more than in any year since we began tracking this violence in 2013.

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