Rainbow Commission forms Task Force with Arlington Public Schools

In 2021, Assistant Superintendent Dr. Rod MacNeal was appointed liaison to the Rainbow Commission by the School Committee. He and Rainbow Commissioner Molly Blaauw Gillis have established the LGBTQIA+ Rainbow Task Force. The leadership group is composed of the following stakeholder groups to create alignment, collaboration, and positive momentum within the Arlington community: administrative and instructional staff; students; parents and caregivers; and community members. The mission of the Task Force is to promote and support continued awareness, empathy, access, safety, inclusion, and belonging for LGBTQIA+ students, families, caregivers, and staff. The leadership group will:

  • Communicate, create connectivity, and partner with various stakeholder groups within the extended community
  • Work to ensure the safety of the LGBTQIA+ students, families and staff within our community;
  • Connect and convene individuals and groups within the community to identify and focus on action areas related to: 
    • Revisions to district policies;
    • Revisions to curriculum;
  • Promote and support LGBTQIA+ initiatives within the district;
  • Plan meetings/caregiver forums focused on relevant topics to provide opportunities for community education;
  • Provide input into creating professional development opportunities and strategies for educating staff; and
  • Interface with the district’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion leadership, including to create awareness and action around areas of intersectionality.

This spring, the Task Force will launch a series of forums co-hosted by the Rainbow Commission and Human Rights Commission focused on LGBTQIA+ topics to provide opportunities for community-wide education. An important focus of the series is including and amplifying student voices and leadership. Dates for the series will be announced soon!

Just the Facts about Texas, Florida, and Ukraine 

News out of Texas that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott notified state health agencies that medical treatments provided to transgender adolescents should be classified as “child abuse” under existing state law is very disturbing. As explained in a policy brief published by the Fenway Institute at Fenway Health, the move is part of an orchestrated effort to advance the political right’s culture war against LGBTQIA+ people. The policy brief also outlines recommendations for clinicians, parents and other caregivers, school officials, and lawmakers to take in response to these attacks on transgender and gender diverse children and adolescents. You can read a summary of the policy brief here. The full brief can be downloaded here.

If you would like to directly support organizations in Texas working on behalf of transgender and gender diverse children, adolescents and adults, three of the most established Texas-based LGBTQIA+ advocacy and service organizations are listed below: 

On-going efforts in Florida to silence LGBTQIA+ people and prevent their access to health care are equally disturbing. The Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees Act (Stop WOKE Act) would permit employees, parents, and students to sue employers and schools that teach about racism and offer training to deal with systemic racism. The Don’t Say Gay bill would prohibit discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in schools. The Protections of Medical Conscience bill would permit health care providers to refuse treatment on the basis of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, disability, immigration status, and national origin. To learn more about Florida-based efforts to defeat these bills, visit Equality Florida

To learn more about the status of LGBTQIA+ people in Ukraine:

  • The Kiev-based LGBTQIA+ rights organization NASH MIR Center published a report in 2018 documenting violence against LGBTQIA+ people in Ukraine between 2014-2017, which captured the impact of the 2014 Russian invasion and subsequent annexation of Crimea in 2014. The report showed that physical violence and threats against LGBTQIA+ people “sharply increased” after 2014. The authors wrote: “We attribute this to the fact that some informal Russian homophobic groups (first of all, Okkupai-pedofilyai) at this time extended their activities into the territory of Ukraine.”
  • Last year, NASH MIR Center published a report published its annual report on the status of LGBTQIA+ people in Ukraine.
  • The Daily Beast reports that LGBTQIA+ people are taking up arms to fight back against the Russian invasion.
  • In an opinion piece for the Washington Blade, Olena Shevchenko, Chair of Insight, a Ukrainian LGBTQ rights group, writes about the dangers LGBTQI+ people face under Russian occupation of Ukraine.

Man indicted in 2019 anti-Semitic arson attacks on Arlington synagogue

The older brother of a man believed to have twice set fire to the Chabad Center for Jewish Life Arlington-Belmont on Lake Street in May 2019 has been indicted on suspicion of having obstructed the investigation. US Attorney Rachael Rollins jointly announced the indictment with Arlington Police Chief Julie Flaherty and other law enforcement officials at a press conference February 16.

Late in the evening on Saturday, May 11, 2019, a fire was set at the Chabad Center for Jewish Life Arlington-Belmont, which is also home to the center’s director and co-founder, Rabbi Avi Bukiet and his family, which includes his three young children. Five days later on May 16, 2019, a second fire was set. At the time, Chief Flaherty described the attacks as a “direct assault on our community.”

Arlington Police Department Lieutenant Bryan Gallagher, Sergeant Edward DeFrancisco and Inspector James Smith were directly involved in the multi-jurisdictional investigation for which leads were chased “around the world,” Flaherty said in a statement issued after the press conference.

“These crimes shook our community to its core, and it is my sincere hope that the international teamwork of American and Swedish authorities that has solved this series of hate crimes will provide some measure of solace to the victims,” said Chief Flaherty, adding that she was proud of the Arlington Police Department’s role in the investigation.

Alexandar Giannakakis, formerly of Quincy and now residing in a suburb of Stockholm, was located after a three-year investigation by local, state, federal, and international authorities. Giannakakis’s younger brother became a prime suspect in the case nine months after the first fire was set. The younger brother was hospitalized in a coma in November 2019 and died 10 months later. Giannakakis’s younger brother was not named in the announcement and additional details about his cause of death were not provided.

A community-wide vigil was held at Arlington Town Hall less than a week after the second attack at the Chabad Center. The event drew 500 people, including Rabbi Bukiet and his family. In a statement issued after the February 16 press conference Rabbi Bukiet expressed “much relief” for the indictment and praised everyone who worked on the investigation, adding that “Chief Flaherty of the Arlington Police Department, the APD and the Arlington Fire Department merit a special thank you.”

Select Board approves proposal for a permanent Civilian Police Advisory Commission

The Arlington Select Board, during its Wednesday, February 23, 2022 meeting, unanimously approved a proposal by the Civilian Police Advisory Board Study Committee to create a permanent Civilian Police Advisory Commission to provide opportunities to increase trust between residents—particularly, though not solely, those who are LGBTQIA+, BIPOC, and/or living with a disability—and police.

The Study Committee was created by the special 2020 Town Meeting to determine, in part, whether the town would benefit from the creation of a permanent Civilian Police Advisory Commission. The Study Committee has 17 members. Seven were appointed by various town boards and commissions including the Rainbow Commission, Envision Arlington Standing Committee, the Envision Arlington Diversity Task Group, the Human Rights Commission, the Disability Commission, the Board of Youth Services, and the Council on Aging. The Rainbow Commission’s appointee to the Study Committee has been co-chairing the Study Committee since last March. 

The Study Committee has met 16 times since March and also held 14 listening sessions with town residents and employees, including one for LGBTQIA+ residents last November. Among the Study Committee major findings were the following: 

  • The Arlington Police Department’s Professional Standards Unit, which investigates complaints from the public, stands out among comparable communities for the thoroughness of its work. Each and every complaint that comes to the department, regardless of how it is communicated to the department, is thoroughly investigated. 
  • Second, some of the complaints and concerns held by residents are never communicated to the police. 
  • Third, without exception, each of the instances the Study Committee learned of by which residents had complaints but did not feel comfortable reporting them to police involved residents who are Black, Asian, LGBTQIA+, and/or living with a disability. 

The 2022 Town Meeting, which will be held in April, must give final approval to the proposal to create a permanent Civilian Police Advisory Commission.

Transgender Day of Remembrance’s Boston Origins

DID YOU KNOW that Transgender Day of Remembrance grew out of the Greater Boston’s LGBTQIA+ community’s shock at the 1998 murder of one of our own—34-year-old Rita Hester—combined with intense anger over Boston media’s callous reporting of her murder? 

Rita was a singer who routinely performed at Jacques Cabaret and hung out at Bunratty’s, a mainstay of Boston’s influential music scene. She moved back and forth with ease among Boston’s predominantly white gay community and its African American, Latinx, Asian, and other queer communities of color. She was routinely described by her family and friends as extroverted, ebullient, gracious, glamorous, sassy, and kind. In short, if you were out and queer in the 1990s, you may not have known Rita personally, but you had likely heard of her. 

So when friends learned of her horrific death by stabbing at her Allston home on November 28, 1998, there was widespread shock—even though another transgender woman, Monique Thomas, had been murdered in Dorchester just three months prior on September 11, 1998. 

As Grace Stowell, a longtime member of Boston’s queer community and executive director of BAGLY recalled for the Daily Beast in 2017: “There was a sense of ‘How could this happen to this wonderful person who wasn’t harming anyone [and] who was such a fixture in the community?’” 

Hester’s murder was widely covered by local media, which misgendered her and defined Hester by her hardships in life as opposed to her triumphs. In a story titled, “Stabbing victim a mystery to many,” the Boston Globe described Hester as “a man who sported long braids and preferred women’s clothes” and noted that “Hester was a mystery to those around him—so much so that, until his body was found on Saturday, many in the building on Parkvale Avenue believed Hester was a woman.” 

Coverage in the city’s gay and alternative press wasn’t any better, as described by longtime activist Nancy Nangeroni in her essay, “Rita Hester’s Murder and the Language of Respect.” Bay Windows misgendered Hester and put her name in quotes. In a follow up editorial written in response to criticism of the coverage, the paper’s editor apologized for the use of quotes around Rita’s name and said that there was “no disrespect intended” but went on to accuse transgender activists of “paranoia.” 

When the Boston Phoenix, one of the country’s most venerable alternative news weeklies, finally wrote about Hester, it wasn’t to cover her death. Instead, in a piece titled “Displaced Anger: Is Rita Hester’s murder being eclipsed by the transgender community’s grammatical agenda?,” the paper weighed in on the transgender community’s angry response to how Rita’s death was being covered. 

Just days after Hester’s murder, a community meeting was held to vent anger about the media’s handling of Hester’s death. Attended by 60 people, including Hester’s mother, brother, and sister, and covered by the media itself, the meeting led to the organization of a community memorial and vigil to mark Hester’s life. It prompted additional coverage of Hester that contributed to public conversation about transgender people and the need to respect their gender identities. 

But this wasn’t the first time that Boston’s queer and transgender community had come together to organize in response to the murder of one of their own. In 1995, Chanelle Pickett was strangled to death by William Palmer. The community held a vigil at Arlington Street Church and among those who spoke out the need for justice was Rita Hester. 

“I’m afraid of what will happen if [Palmer] gets off lightly. It’ll just give people a message that it’s OK to do this. This is a message we cannot afford to send,” Hester told the LGBTQ paper In Newsweekly. 

Two years later, during his 1997 trial, Palmer’s attorneys claimed that his attack on Pickett was the result of his shock at learning that she was transgender. The jury refused to convict Palmer of murder or manslaughter, opting instead to find him guilty of just assault and battery. While the community was both shocked and angered by the verdict, it was not enough to prompt an on-going response to anti-transgender violence. 

What finally did it may have been the juxtaposition of community response to Hester’s death with that of the broader LGBTQIA+ community’s response to the murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay University of Wyoming college student who was tortured to death by two men motivated by anti-gay hatred. Shepard’s murder took place just three weeks before Hester’s and garnered international media attention. It also prompted renewed activism to enact hate crimes legislation. 

Ten years after his murder, Congress passed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which added crimes motivated by a victim’s actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability to federal hate crimes law. (James Byrd, Jr. was an African American who was murdered by three white supremacists in Texas in 1998. The gruesome crime led to the passage of hate crimes legislation in Texas that became a model for the federal law.) 

As Gunner Scott, an activist who helped organize local protests against media coverage of Hester’s death and later became the chair of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition told Bay Windows on the 10-year anniversary of Hester’s death, the contrast between community and media response to both events was galling. “[Shepard’s murder] was such a galvanizing event, and it changed how folks started to see violence against gay people … particularly in the media, that level of empathy changed. And [it angered people] to have that stark contrast of the lack of empathy towards Rita and who she was.” 

As a result, Hester’s story became a topic of conversation on AOL’s Transgender Community Forum, which was managed by Gwendolyn Smith, a transgender activist, writer, and graphic designer. Those online discussions gave rise to the creation of a website Remembering Our Dead as well as a community vigil in Hester’s honor in San Francisco in 1999, where Smith lives. 

That website and the vigil in San Francisco became the model for the Transgender Day of Remembrance, which is now held annually on November 20. 

We are co-sponsoring co-hosting a Transgender Day of Remembrance event with Lexington Pride from 7-8:30pm via Zoom on Friday, November 20, 2020. Speakers will talk about how to turn away from anti-trans violence and toward a culture of inclusivity. The event will also include a reading of names of those no longer with us. RSVP here to get the Zoom link.