LA District Attorney Grants Immunity to Potential Witnesses in Gemmel Moore Death Investigation

Several young men who could assist the L.A. County District Attorney’s Office in its investigation into Gemmel Moore’s death have been granted immunity, human rights attorney and legal consultant Nana Gyamfi announced, according to WeHoville. Moore, 26, was found dead in the home of Democratic political donor Ed Buck in West Hollywood, California, on July 27.

(photocredit: Facebook,)

In a phone interview with INTO, Moore’s mother LaTisha Nixon expressed joy with the decision.

“I’m happy,” she said. “I’m so delighted. Just happy.”

Nixon previously pleaded with the West Hollywood City Council to grant the young men immunity, WeHoville reported. Moore’s death was originally ruled a drug overdose. As several speakers noted at anAugust 18 vigil for Moore outside the West Hollywood sheriff’s office, the West Hollywood Sheriff did not launch an investigation into his death for several weeks.

In the immunity announcement, Jasmyne Cannick, a journalist and activist covering Moore’s death, said that since Moore’s death, “several men have come forward recounting stories about Buck who they say has a Tuskegee Experiment-like fetish which includes shooting drugs into young Black men that he picks up off the street or via dating hookup websites.”

At the August 18 vigil, Cannick also publicly called for the West Hollywood sheriff’s office to treat potential witnesses with sensitivity and grant them immunity.

“We want Ed Buck’s victims to be treated as victims,” she said.

“We are pleased that the district attorney has finally provided a binding written agreement of immunity,” attorney Nana Gyamfi told WeHoville. “Gemmel Moore’s family along with the community who helped pushed for immunity, expect that the information provided by these victims will be used to pursue criminal charges against Ed Buck for the murder of Gemmel as well as other sex, drug and related violent crimes against black gay men.”

“We also hope that the granting of immunity will encourage other victims of Ed Buck’s to step forward out of the shadows without fear of being prosecuted for doing what they’ve done to survive,” Gyamfi continued.

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Photos courtesy of Facebook

Half Of Trans Youth Have Considered Suicide, New Australian Study Finds

A sobering report out of Australia shows that half of the country’s trans youth have attempted suicide at some point in their lives.

Conducted by the Telethon Kids Institute, the Trans Pathways study found that three-quarters of transgender people between the ages of 15 and 24 had experienced depression. That rate is nearly 10 times the average for the general population. In addition, nearly four out five of respondents in that age bracket had attempted to harm themselves, often through cutting.

Out of its poll of 859 trans youth, the children’s research center found that this population was 10–13 times more likely than their peers to develop an anxiety disorder.

“The prevalence of anxiety and depression is higher than we expected and really quite concerning,” claims Dr. Ashleigh Lin, a lead researcher on the study, in an interview with HuffPost Australia. “We heard from young people that they’ve had a lot of negative experiences, so very high rates of discrimination, peer rejection, bullying and issues at school and university.”

Lin says that the young people the Telethon Kids Institute spoke with had difficulty getting hired because of their gender identity or dropped out of school due to discrimination.

As the study alleges, the profound bigotry that trans youth experience on a daily basis can have painful consequences. Of respondents who had attempted to take their own lives, 74 percent cited bullying as a factor and 69 percent pointed to discrimination. Other components included body dysphoria (93 percent), rejection by peers (89 percent), and being ostracized by family members (65.8 percent).

“With these negative experiences, it’s no wonder they’re having such a hard time,” Lin adds.

As mental health researchers have noted, these factors should not be seen as causing suicidal ideation or suicide. It can be dangerous and harmful to point the finger at any singular reason. Instead, this data should be viewed as illustrative of the challenges trans youth face.

But if the study’s authors point to the danger of stigma, the report couldn’t have come out at a more relevant time. A nationwide straw poll over marriage equalityset to be conducted via postal ballot later this monthhas intensified scrutiny on Australia’s LGBTQ community, particularly its already vulnerable trans population. The government has asked for the public’s opinion on the issue ahead of a possible legislative push to legalize love.

The right-wing Australian Family Association claimed in an August email to supporters if Australia were to permit same-sex couples to marry, it would entail a radical redefinition of gender in public schools. The message warned that teachers would be required to teach “transgender sex and relationships education.”

Taking a page from anti-LGBTQ campaigners in the U.S., the message warned that marriage equality legislation would allow “those born male who later identified as female” to shower with women.

“It’s not same-sex marriage,” the AFA warns. “It’s transgender marriage.”

A leaflet that began being distributed after the plebiscite was announced extended that argument, calling same-sex marriage a “threat to the safety of women.”

“[T]here would be no separate public toilets, changing rooms or shower rooms for male and female,” reads the flier, which was produced in both English and Chinese. “The transexual ‘counterfeit’ women will be protected under the law, to enter the female toilets including those at schools legally. These places may then become easy sport for rapists to target a woman victim.”

“The number of victims being raped in public female changing rooms and bathrooms in those countries that have passed the Same Sex Marriage Legislation is a stunning fact to all,” the message concludes.

The claim that allowing trans people to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity leads to an increase in sexual assaults has been routinely debunked. Of the more than 200 municipalities with LGBTQ-inclusive public accommodations in the U.S., none of these localities have experienced an outbreak in sexual violence as a result.

And as officials have pointed out, trans people are not on the ballot in September.

Although transgender people have the right to change their name and gender identity in Australia, trans rights remain fraught. Because of the country’s ban on same-sex marriage, a transgender woman who is married to another woman wouldn’t be able to change her birth certificate to match her gender identity. She would have to divorce her wife in order to be legally recognized as female.

The United Nations ruled earlier this year that regulation is a violation of international human rights.

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Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact The Trevor Project or Trans Lifeline for support or any questionsespecially if you feel that you’re currently in crisis.

L’Oreal Drops Black Trans Model Munroe Bergdorf for Talking About White Privilege

Munroe Bergdorf’s run as the first out transgender face of a L’Oreal UK campaign has been cut short.

Though Bergdorf’s gig started only a few days ago, the beauty industry giant dropped the transgender model after a prior Facebook post about white privilege, written in response to the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, surfaced.

“Honestly I don’t have energy to talk about the racial violence of white people any more. Yes all white people,” Bergdorf wrote on her private Facebook page. Facebook, Mic reported, subsequently deleted the post after multiple users reported it.

“Because most of y’all don’t even realize or refuse to acknowledge that your existence, privilege and success as a race is built on the backs, blood and death of people of color,” Bergdorf continued. “Your entire existence is drenched in racism. From micro-aggressions to terrorism, you guys built the blueprint for this s***. Come see me when you realize that racism isn’t learned, it’s inherited and consciously or unconsciously passed down through privilege.”

“Once white people begin to admit that their race is the most violent and oppressive force of nature on Earth then we can talk,” she continued.

L’Oreal announced that Bergdorf had been terminated on Twitter.

“L’Oréal champions diversity,” the brand wrote on social media. “Comments by Munroe Bergdorf are at odds with our values and so we have decided to end our partnership with her.”

Several Twitter users called out L’Oreal for saying it “champions diversity” then dumping a black trans woman who speaks out about white privilege.

Bergdorf is not the only trans woman of color to use her platform to speak out against white supremacy in the wake of the Charlottesville protests. In a column for INTO, Raquel Willis connected the dots between white supremacy and transmisogyny, as well.

In a statement on the website of the UK’s Stonewall organization, chief executive Ruth Hunt denounced L’Oreal’s discussion.

“We are extremely disappointed to learn that L’Oreal has ended its partnership with Munroe Bergdorf,” Hunt wrote. “Being a true ally is about listening, even if what you are hearing makes you uncomfortable.”

Hunt added, “Silencing trans women of colour is no way to champion diversity, especially when speaking about their experiences. We will continue to stand by the side of role models like Munroe, working towards a society where everyone, everywhere, is accepted without exception.”

Bergdorf issued a statement to Mic, as well.

“Sit still and smile in a beauty campaign ‘championing diversity,’ but don’t actually speak about the fact that lack of diversity is due to racism,” she said. “Or speak about the origins of racism. It’ll cost you your job.”

“This makeup brand cares about nothing but MONEY,” she added. “I urge you to boycott L’Oréal Paris. I can’t express how disappointed I am in the entire team in dealing with misquotes that were entirely placed out of context.”

Saving Graces: Why LGBTQ Spaces Online Matter

The last time I was in a room full of lesbians crying, it was November 8th, 2016.

Late in the evening, sitting on the unforgiving hardwood floor of the tiny Brooklyn apartment I shared with my girlfriend, we watched the election results trickle in. I’m not a drinker, but there were many empty and nearly-empty bottles of wine scattered around the room, and an air of anxiety so thick you could slice through it.

When Florida finally went red, we knew it was over, and we stared at one another in shock. It was a uniquely horrifying, but oddly comforting experience: knowing that the four other people in the room were feeling the exact same thing, fearing the exact same thing, at the same time. Because we were all gay, or trans, or queer, because many of us were from places that probably swayed the election, and because homophobic misogynists had just taken the ultimate control of our country.

But this isn’t an article about Donald Trump. Though, isn’t almost anything written in 2017 basically an article about Donald Trump? It has been nearly a year since that night, and I feel that he haunts everything I write, like a great big orange spectre. But this isn’t about him. This about those four other people in the room. They were friends of mine, all living in New York, and all of whom I’d met online.

I’m twenty-six years old, a transplant to New York from Alabama who has newly-transplanted once again to North Carolina. I have quite a few long-lasting friendships, mostly with other women, and most of whom I met in online spaces.

Many of us flocked to New York from Arizona, New Jersey, or rural Maine, and the closeness of the city meant that we got to see each other, in the flesh. Miles away from my parents, my Thanksgiving and New Year’s celebrations were populated by people with whose faces I’d grown most familiar through selfies on Tumblr and Instagram. Many of them had met their partners, significant others, and wives on those same platforms.

I grew up in a small town in Alabama – the deep South. My town had no LGBTQ outreach programs, no community center, no Pride. There was no mention of LGBTQ-friendly safe sex in my sex ed – Alabama’s official stance is abstinence. The only mention of “gays” was when we watched horrifying videos about AIDS. I didn’t meet another gay person until college, and even then, at my small liberal arts college near Birmingham, they were few and far between. When I did meet others like me, I felt intimidated by them; I wasn’t out, and a lifetime of being surrounded entirely by (assumed) straight people did not condition me to talk about being gay openly.

I came out as a lesbian on Tumblr, in 2013. I was twenty-two years old.

By then, I had a very close-knit group of friends I had made online, all of whom identified as gay, bi, or queer. For most of my life, in fandom and blogging spaces, this was my community. These people – those who read my writing on LiveJournal and Tumblr – knew me like absolutely no one else in my life did. I learned everything I know about LGBTQ culture and history online, not just through blogging, but also through online research, because I had no access to it where I grew up.

For this article, I reached out to some other people I know around the internet – through Twitter and Tumblr – and asked them about their experiences.

These were all people who, like me, grew up in rural areas and largely went without any reflections of their own identities and feelings beyond what they could see and read online and in the media. They are mostly around my age, the youngest being 19. They were, almost exclusively, from the South, with few exceptions.

A few of them remember nearby LGBT programs, like a GSA at their school or university, or a Pride event a few hours outside of town. But mostly, they all grew up closeted, and found friendship and community in online spaces, like I did.

One person I interviewed, when asked about the friendships they had made, said, “We don’t really know each other, but I consider them friends as we have listened and responded to each others’ posts for almost eight years now.” When asked about how they felt about places like Tumblr as safe spaces for closeted people, they responded, “Over time, I learned that it was a safe space with others like me, using the platform as an outlet for feeling safe.”

Another person I interviewed, from Ontario, found that online spaces helped them shape their identity in an even more direct way: “I identify as non-binary, and I know wholeheartedly that I would not identify that way if I hadn’t met other NB people online, because it wasn’t something that was acknowledged or identified in what few LGBTQ spaces I was a part of in real life.”

Another, who grew up in rural Georgia, remained closeted through high school, her only other interaction with a gay teen was when a boy at her school came out in his suicide letter, but was out as a lesbian online.

For all of the people I interviewed, the internet was a convention hall, a community center, a Pride festival: the singular safe space for them to express who they were and how they felt, with others who felt the same.

My experience, not just on Tumblr but in online spaces as a whole, has been much the same. Though those spaces can turn toxic and hostile, wrapped up in pedantic and petty identity politics, they are a saving grace for teens who grew up like I did. For all of their fraught and dangerous territories, they can be wonderful pockets of friendship, compassion, and community.

One of my best friends, the woman I feel closer to than I do most people, is a woman I met online, on Tumblr, in a shared space where we built a friendship on a love of books, music, social justice, and our own overlapping identities as gay women. She lives in Canada and I’ve “met” her twice in person, but we talk nearly every single day. I would be completely untethered without her friendship and support.

And that is what the online community has given me, along with four crying lesbians in my living room and a full table that November day.

Exclusive: West Point Recognizes Its First-Ever Trans Graduate By Correct Name and Gender

The first transgender cadet to graduate from West Point this week received a small but important victory this week: Her name was updated in alumni records.

If you search for Riley Dosh’s name on the West Point Association of Graduates website, the result reads “Ms. Riley Dosh,” despite the fact that she matriculated at the military academy under her birth name. The update to the system was made Thursday morning after Dosh put in a request to administrators to have her name reflect her lived identity and gender.

Dosh, who graduated in May, says that she’s “thrilled.”

“For any of my classmates or any other West Point graduate, if they want to search my academic records or anything about me, I want them to be able to see the name that reflects who I amand not any other name,” she tells INTO in an exclusive interview.

Dosh came out to classmates and teachers in 2016during her senior year at the New York-based institutionand was allowed to graduate as Riley. But when Dosh received her diploma in the mail, it was “a little bittersweet.” The document referred to her by her chosen name, which is the same name listed on her driver’s license and social security card. The diploma, though, listed the incorrect pronoun.

“I didn’t open my diploma for days, and when I did, it was kind of disheartening to see that,” she says.

But Dosh fears that getting all of her documents updated at West Point may be a challenge. The West Point Association of Graduates is a separate entity from the rest of the university and has their own bureaucracy. Applying for a name and gender change with the main campus is another set of red tape.

Officials with West Point confirmed to INTO that Dosh’s general academic records still reflect her birth name and gender.

“No change was made to the official cadet record,” says Theresa Brinkerhoff, the supervisory public relations specialist at West Point, in an email. “Ms. Dosh can still make this request on-line through the Army Board of Corrections for Military Records with a completed Department of Defense form 1-49.”

Dosh believes that administrators will be responsive to her request for a name change, which she is in the process of filing. After she began going by Riley during her Senior year, Dosh says that it was easy for other students and members of the faculty to adjust. People rarely slipped up. She points out that one of the reasons for that is her chosen name is gender-neutralwhich is one of the reasons she liked it.

“I’ve always been kind of a tomboy,” Dosh explains.

But given the political optics, Dosh worries that having her gender marker updated may be a more difficult conversation. Just weeks after she graduated, President Trump announced on Twitter that he intended to ban transgender troops from military service. That policy proposal was put into effect on Friday in an executive memo signed by the POTUS.

Dosh wasn’t surprised by this development. Shortly before she graduated, the 22-year-old learned that she would not be invited to join the armed forces.

But the former cadet is hopeful that change is possible. Trump’s ban, which reverses a 2016 policy from the Obama administration allowing trans people to serve openly for the first time, won’t take effect until March. Before that time, Defense Secretary Gen. James Mattis has stated that the Pentagon will be investigating the issue.

Multiple independent studies have already debunked the president’s claims that permitting trans troops to enlist would entail “tremendous medical costs and disruption.”

A 2014 survey from thePalm Centerthink tank determined that there exists “no compelling medical rationale for banning transgender military service.” The RAND Corporation found in a 2016 study requested by the Pentagon that trans troops had no “significant effect on cohesion, operational effectiveness, or readiness.” Israel, Canada, and the U.K. already allow trans people to serve with no consequences as a result.

“There’s still room to fight this,” Dosh says. “And there’s still room for the Pentagon to say no.”

Trans troops will continue to serve, though, just as they always have. They will just do so in silence. Arli Christian, the state policy counsel at the National Center for Transgender, tellsINTOthat it’s important for military entities to affirm trans identities to ensure these individuals don’t experience “discrimination, harassment, or undue scrutiny.”

“It’s also important that all records be consistent to ensure that the records don’t cause confusion for administrators or anyone else,” Christian says in an email, pointing specifically to Dosh’s case.

But for the estimated 15,500 trans service members who face being discharged seven months from now, Dosh’s story is a small measure of hopeat a time when many need something to be hopeful about. After all, it only took 24 hours for West Point’s alumni office to process her request. Getting it right was as easy as sending an email.

“It’s really that simple,” Dosh says.

Pulse Nightclub Is Looking to Reopen in New Location

The owner of Pulse nightclub, Barbara Poma, is looking for a place to relocate the venue, which became the site of a shooting on June 12, 2016, that led to the death of 49 clubgoers, the Orlando Sentinel reports. According to the Sentinel, Poma’s search comes just as the first town hall regarding a memorial approaches on September 13.

Many in the community will be happy to see Pulse, a space for queer Latinx people, to return. Of those killed in the Pulse massacre, 90% were Latino.

“It creates more spaces more affirming spaces for a community that doesn’t feel like it has many,” Christopher Cuevas, the founder and executive director of QLatinx, an advocacy and support organization for queer Latinx people that formed in the tragedy’s aftermath, told INTO. “That space is gone, but with it coming back, it opens up more visibility.”

He added, “There’s not a lot that we have that ours, there’s not a lot that feels like it celebrates us.”

The road to re-opening Pulse has been a long one. According to the Sentinel, Poma briefly entertained the idea of opening the club again on the same site. At one point, Poma was set to sell the club to the city of Orlando, but had a last moment change of heart.

Currently, plans include building a memorial and possibly a museum.

“This project is not about replacing a building or a fun hangout for the gay community,” Jason Felts, a board member of onePulse Foundation, said in May. “This project is about healing Central Florida, the GLBT community, the Latino community.”

Pulse Nightclub Is Looking to Reopen in New Location

The owner of Pulse nightclub, Barbara Poma, is looking for a place to relocate the venue, which became the site of a shooting on June 12, 2016, that led to the death of 49 clubgoers, the Orlando Sentinel reports. According to the Sentinel, Poma’s search comes just as the first town hall regarding a memorial approaches on September 13.

Many in the community will be happy to see Pulse, a space for queer Latinx people, to return. Of those killed in the Pulse massacre, 90% were Latino.

“It creates more spaces more affirming spaces for a community that doesn’t feel like it has many,” Christopher Cuevas, the founder and executive director of QLatinx, an advocacy and support organization for queer Latinx people that formed in the tragedy’s aftermath, told INTO. “That space is gone, but with it coming back, it opens up more visibility.”

He added, “There’s not a lot that we have that ours, there’s not a lot that feels like it celebrates us.”

The road to re-opening Pulse has been a long one. According to the Sentinel, Poma briefly entertained the idea of opening the club again on the same site. At one point, Poma was set to sell the club to the city of Orlando, but had a last moment change of heart.

Currently, plans include building a memorial and possibly a museum.

“This project is not about replacing a building or a fun hangout for the gay community,” Jason Felts, a board member of onePulse Foundation, said in May. “This project is about healing Central Florida, the GLBT community, the Latino community.”

‘Calling Someone Transgender Is Not An Insult’: Landmark Ruling in Richard Simmons Case

A Los Angeles court ruled on Wednesday that claiming someone is transgender is not grounds for defamation.

That preliminary verdict, handed down by Judge Gregory Keosian, is a major blow to a suit brought forward by Richard Simmons in May after the National Enquirer claimed the former fitness superstar was transitioning in a 2016 cover story. But advocates say that the ruling is an unusual victory for LGBTQ rights.

Keosian argues in a written opinion that being incorrectly labeled as transgender does not innately target an individual for “hatred, contempt, [or] ridicule.” To suggest that it does, he writes, would implicitly validate the daily bigotry trans people face.

“Whilethe characteristic may be held in contempt by a portion of the population, the court will not validate those prejudices by legally recognizing them,” Keosian says.

Lambda Legal, the national LGBTQ civil rights organization, applauded the judge’s ruling in a statement provided exclusively to INTO. M. Dru Levasseur, the group’s senior attorney and transgender rights project director, says that giving credence to Simmons’ claims would “demean transgender individuals.”

“At its core, defamation is about disgrace,” Levasseur argues. “Saying that someone is transgender is not an insult. Being identified as transgender is neither bad nor shamefulnot in our society, and not under the law.”

“We are gratified that the judge in this case has recognized that,” he adds.

Simmons’ counsel, though, argued in court that the events of the past few weeks illustrate the lingering stigma of being viewed as transgender. Attorney Rodney Smolla cited Trump’s recent ban on trans troops serving openly in the armed forces, which was made into policy in a Friday memo, and bathroom bills targeting the trans community in states like North Carolina.

“Obviously, it’s clear that the court itself doesn’t want to be in a position of endorsing prejudice against transgender people,” Smolla claimed. “But it’s not an exercise in idealism, it’s an exercise in realism.”

University of Florida professor Clay Calvert says that the Wednesday ruling recognizes that while there might be setbacks in the struggle for LGBTQ equality, progress is on its way. Plaintiffs used to be able to claim that being misidentified as gay was a means of character assassination, but today most courts of law would “reject that notion.”

“While Richard Simmons may lose his case, there’s a larger victory for the LGBTQ community in terms of legal recognition that being transgender is not a damning characteristic,” says Calvert, director of the Marion B. Brechner First Amendment Project.

A final ruling is expected on the lawsuit next week.

Simmons filed suit against National Enquirer and its sister publication Radar Online earlier this year, claiming that headlines like “Richard Simmons: He’s Now A Woman” were “cruel” and “malicious.” The stories alleged that the reclusive 69-year-old, who hasn’t been seen in public since 2014, got breast implants and was receiving hormone treatments. The publications also claimed Simmons was going by the name “Fiona.”

While stating his support for the LGBTQ community, Simmons has claimed the false reporting “sensationalized an issue that ought to be treated with respect and sensitivity.”

‘Calling Someone Transgender Is Not An Insult’: Landmark Ruling in Richard Simmons Case

A Los Angeles court ruled on Wednesday that claiming someone is transgender is not grounds for defamation.

That preliminary verdict, handed down by Judge Gregory Keosian, is a major blow to a suit brought forward by Richard Simmons in May after the National Enquirer claimed the former fitness superstar was transitioning in a 2016 cover story. But advocates say that the ruling is an unusual victory for LGBTQ rights.

Keosian argues in a written opinion that being incorrectly labeled as transgender does not innately target an individual for “hatred, contempt, [or] ridicule.” To suggest that it does, he writes, would implicitly validate the daily bigotry trans people face.

“Whilethe characteristic may be held in contempt by a portion of the population, the court will not validate those prejudices by legally recognizing them,” Keosian says.

Lambda Legal, the national LGBTQ civil rights organization, applauded the judge’s ruling in a statement provided exclusively to INTO. M. Dru Levasseur, the group’s senior attorney and transgender rights project director, says that giving credence to Simmons’ claims would “demean transgender individuals.”

“At its core, defamation is about disgrace,” Levasseur argues. “Saying that someone is transgender is not an insult. Being identified as transgender is neither bad nor shamefulnot in our society, and not under the law.”

“We are gratified that the judge in this case has recognized that,” he adds.

Simmons’ counsel, though, argued in court that the events of the past few weeks illustrate the lingering stigma of being viewed as transgender. Attorney Rodney Smolla cited Trump’s recent ban on trans troops serving openly in the armed forces, which was made into policy in a Friday memo, and bathroom bills targeting the trans community in states like North Carolina.

“Obviously, it’s clear that the court itself doesn’t want to be in a position of endorsing prejudice against transgender people,” Smolla claimed. “But it’s not an exercise in idealism, it’s an exercise in realism.”

University of Florida professor Clay Calvert says that the Wednesday ruling recognizes that while there might be setbacks in the struggle for LGBTQ equality, progress is on its way. Plaintiffs used to be able to claim that being misidentified as gay was a means of character assassination, but today most courts of law would “reject that notion.”

“While Richard Simmons may lose his case, there’s a larger victory for the LGBTQ community in terms of legal recognition that being transgender is not a damning characteristic,” says Calvert, director of the Marion B. Brechner First Amendment Project.

A final ruling is expected on the lawsuit next week.

Simmons filed suit against National Enquirer and its sister publication Radar Online earlier this year, claiming that headlines like “Richard Simmons: He’s Now A Woman” were “cruel” and “malicious.” The stories alleged that the reclusive 69-year-old, who hasn’t been seen in public since 2014, got breast implants and was receiving hormone treatments. The publications also claimed Simmons was going by the name “Fiona.”

While stating his support for the LGBTQ community, Simmons has claimed the false reporting “sensationalized an issue that ought to be treated with respect and sensitivity.”

Houston’s Trans Community Faces Extra Hurdles in Harvey Recovery

After Hurricane Harvey dropped several feet of rain on the ground in Houston, Texas, all Houstonians face a rocky road to recovery. But, as the rainwater subsides, discrimination could erect several barriers between transgender people and the help they need, according to advocates who spoke to INTO.

Though exact numbers in Houston are unknown, Texas has the second-highest number of trans residents in the United States, second only to California. And, according to Lou Weaver, transgender program coordinator at Equality Texas, Houston was already a fraught space for trans people before the storm devastated the area and its surrounding suburbs. Weaver said that the “trans community has been highlighted in a horrible way” the past few years.

“Targets have been painted on people’s backs,” Weaver said. “That has led to increased scrutiny of the trans and nonbinary community and who we are.”

According to Robin Mack, a board member of Houston’s Transgender Foundation of America, the problems that trans people face stem from state-sanctioned stigma. Aside from surviving Hurricane Harvey, the state’s trans residents have also been through a turbulent few legislative years. In 2015, the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance failed to pass, paving the way for unapologetic discrimination against transgender people. Only two years after HERO, Texas governor Greg Abbott called a 30-day special legislative session directly aimed at enacting a “bathroom bill” like North Carolina’s HB2 to limit transgender people’s ability to choose which restroom is appropriate for themselves.

“We’re in a time where it’s not safe to be a trans person,” Mack told INTO in a phone interview. “We’re questioning if it’s safe as a trans person to go to the bathroom. Is it safe to be a trans person who is out and visible? Not really.”

That fear of being trans in public leads to a question about how long hospitality may last in Houston’s shelter system. Houston’s George R Brown Convention Center has already gone beyond maxed out: the space is holding 11,000 people, double its estimated capacity.

According to Weaver, widespread discrimination at homeless shelters means many transgender people may forego seeking them out, even if they have the financial means (a car, gas money, etc.) to access them. According to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 55% of transgender people report harassment or discrimination at homeless shelters.

Weaver and Mack both said they had not heard any instances yet of trans people being denied shelter. But, Weaver said, that doesn’t mean some people aren’t staying away from shelters altogether.

“Trans people are so used to being denied services or access to a shelter,” he said.

For those who were homeless or who were housing insecure, documents that accurately reflected their gender may be lost in the waters. Without up-to-date documentation, which is extremely hard to get in Texas, recovery is a tough road.

“Houston’s water is going to drain and a lot of people are not going to have homes to come back to,” Mack said. “How do you find a welcoming landlord? How do you find resources?”

Sociologists already know that natural disasters push people into poverty. Unfortunately, for transgender people, poverty and homelessness are already common. After Harvey, transphobia could prove truly deadly if it hinders trans Houstonians from resuming life again.

“It’s going to be an even harder environment now that everything is flooded,” Mack said. “Who knows what the havoc is underneath all this water? We don’t know until it dries out.”