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New Orleans shelter to be ‘forever home’ for homeless trans people

House of Tulip grew from coronavirus relief effort

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Milan Nicole Sherry, co-founder of House of Tulip, at her home in Uptown New Orleans on July 27, 2020. (Washington Blade photo by Yariel Valdés González)

 

NEW ORLEANS — A group of transgender activists are working to open a shelter for homeless trans and gender non-conforming people in New Orleans.

Milan Nicole Sherry, co-director of House of Tulip, told the Los Angeles Blade on July 27 during an interview at her Uptown New Orleans home that she expects the shelter will open in the city next spring or summer.

“We wanted to create a forever home for our community, a space where there were no barriers, a space where they could actually come and get the resources that they need, get the love and nurturing that they need,” said Sherry as her husband, Za’hair Martinez, listened.

Sherry and Mariah Moore, a trans activist who also lives in New Orleans, first came up with the idea that became House of Tulip — Tulip is an acronym that stands for Trans United Leading Intersectional Progress — earlier this year after the coronavirus pandemic largely shut down the city’s hospitality and tourism industries.

 

https://youtu.be/RmRXrIcZkzo

 

 

“Many of the folks within our community, specifically transgender and non-conforming people who work in the service industry in New Orleans found themselves at risk of losing their jobs,” said Sherry.

House of Tulip Treasurer Dylan Waguespack is also the president of Louisiana Trans Advocates’ board of directors.

Waguespack and three other activists in March created the TGNC Peoples COVID Crisis Fund of Louisiana to help trans and gender non-conforming people in Louisiana pay for food, medication and housing during the pandemic. The fund has raised more than $20,000, but Sherry told the Blade it soon became clear the lack of housing in New Orleans was a long-term problem.

House of Tulip on its website notes a third of trans people in Louisiana “report experiencing homelessness at some point in their lives.”

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development notes the average rent for an apartment in the New Orleans metropolitan area during the first quarter of this year was $1,110 a month. The U.S. Census notes New Orleans has a 24.6 percent poverty rate.

Sherry noted poverty rates are even higher among the city’s Black trans residents. She also told the Blade they are more vulnerable to discrimination and violence because of their gender identity.

Louisiana’s hate crimes law includes sexual orientation, but not gender identity. Two Black trans women — Draya McCarty and Shakie Peters — were found dead earlier this summer in Baton Rouge and Amite City respectively.

“There’s no reason why, even in 2020, that we are seeing the amount of homelessness that we’re seeing in community,” Sherry told the Blade. “There’s no reason why in 2020 we should still be seeing the amount of violence that we’re seeing in this community, but we’re here and this is where we’re at.”

Sherry said GED and job training programs and access to mental health care are among the additional services to which House of Tulip clients will have access.

“This is not just providing folks with just housing,” she said, noting Tulip in the shelter’s name stands for Trans United Leading Intersectional Progress.

The GoFundMe campaign that House of Tulip has launched has thus far raised $412,995. More than 7,000 people have donated to the effort.

“Community has always taken care of community; we have done it since 50 years ago when Stonewall first started,” said Sherry. “Community has always taken care of community; even through times of pandemic, even through a time of Trump … we’ve always shown up for one another, so I’m not surprised that this community has really shown up once again and yet again.”

Milan Nicole Sherry, co-founder of House of Tulip, at her home in Uptown New Orleans on July 27, 2020. (Washington Blade photo by Yariel Valdés González)

‘I have nothing to lose, but everything to gain’

Sherry, 29, grew up on New Orleans’ West Bank with nine siblings.

She told the Blade she grew up in a “dominantly male household.”

“I grew up with dealing with a lot of misogyny, toxic masculinity and things of that nature,” said Sherry.

Sherry in 2009 graduated from high school. Sherry the following year became a founding member of BreakOut!, a group that, among other things, works to end police harassment of LGBTQ youth.

“There was literally a time here in New Orleans where you could not walk down the street as a Black trans woman without literally being snatched off of the streets and then thrown into jail and charged with solicitation of prostitution, crimes against nature,” she said. “It was so easy to target and literally harass our community.”

Sherry further noted “as a trans woman, even in my moments where I could have gotten damn near the dog shit beaten out of me, I will not call the police because I had known just from experience … that calling the police did not work out in our best interests.”

“So police, you know, were just never our friends,” she added.

Sherry celebrated her 29th Birthday on July 23.

She told the Blade she was unable to celebrate previous Birthdays because she either could not afford it or was in jail. Sherry also noted a Black trans woman’s average life expectancy is 35 years.

“I have never envisioned myself where I am today,” she said. “To be honest I didn’t expect myself to be alive.”

Sherry said she lived on Tulane Avenue eight years ago with other trans women and sex workers. Sherry told the Blade she and other tenants paid their rent by the week.

“Literally when I say I have nothing to lose and everything to gain, I have nothing to lose, but everything to gain,” she said.

Sherry, who lives with HIV, told the Blade she has also struggled with addiction and mental health issues.

“If I wanted to be a bitch, I can justify about all of the trauma and just, but when you know better you do better,” she said. “I’m not going to cause the same harm that’s been caused over and over and over again.”

Martinez, a native of St. Augustine, Fla., who describes himself as a “trans masculine man,” praised his wife and Moore for their work on House of Tulip. Martinez also applauded trans women who supported him in his life.

“They are the ones who paved the way for me to be Za’hair,” he said. “It’s only right for me to follow the leadership of my wife and Mariah and to have their back.”

From left: Za’hair Martinez and Milan Nicole Sherry in their Uptown New Orleans home on July 27, 2020. (Washington Blade photo by Yariel Valdés González)
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Florida

Florida prohibits Medicaid reimbursement for trans healthcare

Lambda Legal tells the LA Blade its “exploring all possible avenues for challenging this discriminatory rulemaking”

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Photo Credit: Equality Florida

TALLAHASSEE – On Thursday, Florida officially joined the roster of conservative states whose Medicaid programs carve out coverage exemptions for transgender related healthcare, including gender-affirming therapies for young people. 

Against the guidance of mainstream medical opinion, the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) ratified new rules prohibiting taxpayer reimbursement for puberty blockers, hormone therapies, or surgical procedures to treat gender dysphoria. 

“We are exploring all possible avenues for challenging this discriminatory rulemaking,” wrote Carl Charles, senior attorney at Lambda Legal, in an emailed statement to The Los Angeles Blade. “Lambda Legal has secured victories on this issue in other states such as Alaska (Being v. Crum), and just this month in our case, Fain v. Crouch, in West Virginia.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and its Florida Chapter (FCAAP) wrote in an emailed statement to The Blade that they were “disheartened” by AHCA’s finalization of rules blocking Medicaid coverage for gender affirming care: 

“The state’s interference with the physician-patient relationship and its prohibition of this vital care will negatively impact Floridians who are trying to live their lives as their true, healthiest selves. As pediatricians, our only goal is to work with families and provide our patients with the best evidence-based care possible. When necessary and appropriate, that includes gender-affirming care. The AAP and FCAAP will continue to stand up in support of all young people, including those who are transgender.”

The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services did not return a request for comment in time for publication. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Also on Thursday, Florida’s AHCA inaccurately accused HHS and the AAP of misleading the public about the safety of transgender related healthcare, though it was not the first time the state’s health agency has butted up against its federal counterparts and associations of medical practitioners. 

AHCA previously issued a bulletin in April that prompted rebukes from groups including the Endocrine Society, which accused AHCA of spreading misinformation about healthcare treatments for transgender people, including youth. The bulletin’s contents also conflicted with official positions on these matters held by HHS. 

A coalition of legal advocacy organizations including Lambda Legal immediately condemned the AHCA’s latest move in a joint statement Thursday, writing: “Ignoring thousands of public comments and expert testimony, Florida’s AHCA has finalized a rule that will deny Medicaid coverage for all medically necessary gender-affirming care for both youth and adults. This discriminatory and medically unsound rule will take effect on August 21, 2022, putting transgender people in jeopardy of losing access to critical gender-affirming health care services.”

The statement also took aim at Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis: “AHCA’s actions, at the behest of Governor DeSantis and his political appointees, are morally and legally wrong as well as medically and scientifically unsound. This rule represents a dangerous escalation in Governor DeSantis’s political zeal to persecute LGBTQ+ people in Florida, and particularly transgender youth.”

The Movement Advancement Project publishes a chart tracking state-by-state Medicaid coverage for transgender-related care, which is a patchwork of different exemptions and carveouts that generally maps onto the extent to which each leans conservative. 

Much like with other public health insurance programs like state employee health plans, discriminatory state Medicaid programs have often been the subject of litigation challenging them, in lawsuits that are often successful.

Nikole Parker, Equality Florida’s Director of Transgender Equality in an emailed statement said:

“Just over one week from today, Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration, at the behest of Governor DeSantis, plans to strip thousands of vulnerable Floridians of their health care. Transgender people have been accessing gender-affirming care through Medicaid for years. That care is now being shut off by a state agency that has been corrupted, weaponized, and stacked with extremists by a governor desperate to fuel his own political ambitions.

Today, more than 9,000 transgender Floridians access care through Medicaid. On August 21, the state government will put  that care on the chopping block. As further evidence for his complete disregard for the health and well being of transgender Floridians, the DeSantis Administration has done nothing to quantify or assess the terrible impact this rule would have on the thousands of transgender people who rely on Medicaid for their care. The transgender community, like all people, shouldn’t have necessary, life-saving care stripped away by extremist politicians working overtime to stoke right-wing fervor. This brazen, politically-motivated attack is cruel, dangerous and puts the health of thousands at risk.”

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Virginia

Virginia’s Gov. Youngkin will force teachers to out their LGBTQ+ students

“I firmly believe that teachers and schools have an obligation to make sure that parents are well informed”

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Virginia Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin (Screenshot/YouTube CBS News)

RICHMOND – Virginia Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin affirmed his support on Tuesday for measures that would require teachers to notify parents of their children’s sexual orientation or gender identity, regardless of the students’ consent. 

The move was justified under the pretext of protecting “parental rights,” a specious argument that has given cover to policies enacted by conservative legislatures across the country that target LGBTQ+ people, including students, in public schools. 

“With regards to informing parents with most important decisions about their children…Parents should be at the forefront of all of these discussions,” Youngkin told WJLA News. “And I firmly believe that teachers and schools have an obligation to make sure that parents are well informed about what’s happening in their kids’ lives.”

Critics, however, charge that coming out is an intensely personal act, that taking away a student’s ability to do so on their own terms can be psychologically damaging, intrusive, and hurtful. In some cases, for students whose parents or guardians might harbor anti-LGBTQ+ views, it can be dangerous. 

Lambda Legal reports between 20 and 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ+ and are “frequently rejected by their families or fleeing abusive long-term placements.” Forcibly outing young LGBTQ+ people can mean they will be forced to live on the streets. 

Notwithstanding Youngkin’s efforts to portray himself as a moderate when campaigning for governor, Tuesday’s statement follows a series of extreme rightward moves he has made with respect to education policies in the state that concern LGBTQ+ youth and subject matter. 

Florida’s controversial “Parental Rights in Education” bill, which critics termed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, was similarly premised on the right of parents to control the material to which their children will have access in school. 

In reality, the overbroad legislation prohibits any classroom discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity for students in certain grades, which could potentially lead to disciplinary action against a teacher who mentions their same-sex spouse. 

Youngkin has similarly taken aim at educational materials in public schools, such as by signing into law SB656, which requires parental notification of nebulously defined “sexually explicit content.” 

Just after taking office in January, he set up a “tip line” to solicit comments from Virginia parents on “divisive practices” or the inclusion of curricula and materials they may consider objectionable. 

Plaintiffs in multiple lawsuits, the most recent of which was filed on Monday, accuse Youngkin of violating public records laws by his refusal to share “tip line” emails with news media organizations.

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Vermont

Out Vermont state senator wins Democratic primary in U.S. House race

Tuesday’s victory makes her likely to become the first woman and openly LGBTQ+ person to represent the heavily Democratic state in Congress

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Screenshot via Becca Balint for Congress

MONTPELIER – The Green Mountain State’s state Senate president pro tempore has won the Democratic nomination for the state’s at-large congressional seat, the state’s lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Becca Balin is running to succeed U.S. Rep. Peter Welch and Tuesday’s victory makes her likely to become the first woman and openly LGBTQ+ person to represent the heavily Democratic state in Congress if elected in November. Vermont is the only state that has never had a female member of its congressional delegation.

The VTDigger, a statewide news website, reported; “Balint, 53, is the first openly gay woman elected to the Vermont Senate and the first woman to serve as its president. The former middle school teacher and stay-at-home mother won her first political contest in a race for her southeastern Vermont Senate seat in 2014

She rose quickly through the ranks of the Democrat-controlled chamber, becoming majority leader in 2017, at the start of her second term. Four years later, in 2021, she was elected pro tem — the top position in the Senate.”

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