In a first-of-its-kind effort, the Biden administration is asking people from both the public and the private sectors for their ideas about how to make sure the federal government equitably serves historically underserved communities.
Responses to a “request for information” from the Office of Management and Budget, or OMB, would help identify gaps in budgeting and policy that aggravate inequality, particularly among communities of color, women, religious minorities, LGBTQ people, disabled people and rural communities, the agency said in announcing the initiative Tuesday.
The office, which works to assist the president in meeting policy, budget and regulatory goals, will coordinate with other federal agencies, such as the Treasury, Justice, and Housing and Urban Development departments.
In an Inauguration Day executive order “advancing racial equity and support for underserved communities,” Biden challenged the OMB to more equitably allocate federal resources. The order asks it to work with other agencies to identify how programs, services and processes can better benefit “all eligible individuals and communities, particularly those that are currently and historically underserved.”
It also requires the agencies to consult those communities before making their recommendations to “evaluate opportunities” and “to increase coordination, communication, and engagement with community-based and civil rights organizations.”
The request for information, signed by acting OMB Director Shalanda Young, is a step in following the order, the agency said.
The initiative creates a website for public comment, hoping organizations and communities served by different parts of the federal government will tell the administration how to better ensure fair access to its resources and remove barriers to access. The public comment period will open Wednesday.
Examples cited in the request of information include “unnecessary” requirements to produce documentation, overwrought eligibility formulas, poorly designed forms or websites and overly complicated instructions in its programs.
The administration wants ideas about how to better reach people who aren’t able to engage directly with the federal government, an OMB official said.
The federal government buys more than $650 billion a year of goods and services and has the potential to bring more resources to marginalized communities, the agency said, and the administration wants to hear where people think the money should go. It is also asking people about the fairness of federal grant assistance programs.
“Equity requires a systematic approach to embedding fairness in decision-making processes,” the Biden executive order said.
The request for information is also an acknowledgment of the ways racism and discrimination have been systemically imbued into policy.
It is an “incredibly ambitious effort” and a “tremendous step in the right direction,” said Vincent Southerland, executive director of the Center on Race, Inequality, and the Law at the New York University School of Law.
“Policy is often made completely detached from the communities it is going to affect. It can miss things happening on the ground and exacerbate inequality,” he said. “If this effort is successful, making these departments operate better for those who have been most harmed, marginalized and victimized by these inequalities is going to help everyone in society.”
Southerland said policy often works like a “blunt instrument,” even when it is well-intended. To ask people on the ground what they want changed is an important acknowledgment that community voices matter, he said, and a “dramatic shift from what we have seen in the last few years, where government was seen as a problem instead of a potential solution.”
A microphone picked up Thomas using the slur after he didn’t land a putt during the third round of the Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii.
“There’s absolutely no reason for me to say anything like that. It’s terrible,” Thomas told the Golf Channel after the round. “There’s just no excuse.”
Thomas, who could not be immediately reached Sunday, told the Golf Channel the comments do not reflect who he is and said he is “very apologetic.”
“As he expressed after his round, we agree that Justin’s comment was unacceptable,” the PGA Tour said in a statement Sunday.
The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ rights group, condemned the slur. “This type of discriminatory language causes real harm, and there is no place for it in sports. We must continue to work for greater inclusion and acceptance,” the HRC’s president, Alphonso David, said on Twitter.
Thomas, 27, is a former world No. 1 golfer and has won more than 10 PGA Tour events.
Officers found Mia Green, a Philadelphia resident, shot in the neck in the passenger’s seat of a car driven by Abdullah lbn El-Amin Jaamia when he was stopped Monday morning for running a stop sign, a police statement said.
During the traffic stop, Jaamia, 28, “exited the front driver’s door and approached Police stating that his passenger was shot.”
Officers then provided a police escort as Jaamia drove Green to a local hospital, where she was pronounced dead at 8:30 a.m.
Upon further investigation, Jaamia was charged with murder and related offenses on Tuesday, police said.
Authorities did not provide details surrounding the investigation, possible motive and arrest, or specify the relationship between the suspect and victim. It was not immediately clear if Jaamia has a lawyer.
“We know that the loss of yet another trans community member of color is especially painful, no matter the circumstances,” the city said. “This latest act of violence against a member of our community is a somber reminder of the epidemic of violence against trans individuals.”
Green’s death shows “there is much work to be done in the pursuit of full equality, respect, and justice for us all,” the statement said.
Across the U.S., there has been “surge of violence against transgender people,” according to the National Center for Transgender Equality.
“In just seven months, the number of transgender people suspected of being murdered in 2020 has surpassed the total for all of 2019,” the center wrote in an August blog post, prior to Green’s death.
There have been at least 29 instances of fatal violence against trans and gender nonconforming people in the U.S. this year, with most of the victims being Black and Latinx transgender women, according to the Human Rights Campaign.
Phoenix Rising said in a statement that it is “investigating the claim of a homophobic slur being used by one its players who has vehemently denied these allegations. Phoenix Rising stands with the USL in rejecting and punishing any homophobic behavior.”
The United Soccer League also said it is looking into the alleged bigotry.
“Foul and abusive language of any type has absolutely no place in our society and will not be tolerated in USL matches,” the league wrote in a statement late Wednesday. “An investigation is currently underway to determine the facts surrounding the incident and more information will be provided as soon as it is available.”
“We don’t even want to recognize being a part of a match where these types of actions take place,” the San Diego team’s chairman, Andrew Vassiliadis, said in a statement at the time. “The Loyal in our name is symbolic of the diversity in our community and as a club we will not stand for this.”
The team’s head coach, Landon Donovan, said that the past week since the Sept. 23 incident has been difficult for the team.
“I understand that most people watching from afar probably don’t really get it, but we’ve been living it,” he said. The club made a vow “that we would not stand for bigotry, homophobic slurs, things that don’t belong in our game.”
He acknowledged that forfeiting Wednesday’s match would likely mean the Loyal SC would not make the playoffs, but, he said, “There are more important things in life, and we have to stick up for what we believe in.”
The school suspended all fraternity social events for the rest of the semester in response to one of the racist incidents, and released an action plan in November after student protests called for revising the Student Code of Conduct to make clear the consequences of spreading hate speech, requiring diversity training for new faculty and staff, and recruiting and training more international and multilingual resident advisers.
Nearly three dozen members of Congress sent a letter to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Thursday morning expressing their concern over the agency’s treatment of transgender detainees and demanding the agency take transgender migrants’ asylum claims more seriously.
The letter, sent by 34 lawmakers and spearheaded by Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., was signed by Reps. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., Joe Kennedy, D-Mass., Adam Schiff, D-Calif., Deb Haaland, D-N.M., and Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., among others and comes after the deaths of two transgender women who were held in detention.
In their message, the lawmakers said, “We urge ICE to seriously consider the asylum claims of transgender migrants who demonstrate a well-founded fear of persecution based on their ‘membership in a particular social group’ and adhere to its own policies regulating the treatment of transgender detainees.”
The letter stressed ICE should especially consider asylum claims coming from the “Northern Triangle” countries of El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, where “violence against the transgender community occurs at alarming rates.” In one study conducted by the UN Refugee Agency, 88 percent of LGBTQ asylum seekers fleeing the Northern Triangle reported experiencing sexual and gender-based violence in their countries of origin.
The letter comes at the time when ICE’s treatment of transgender asylum seekers has come under continued and increased scrutiny.
In their letter, lawmakers cited the violence and structural challenges transgender migrants seeking asylum face in their home countries.
“Transgender women have been murdered after they were deported once their asylum claims were denied,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter, highlighting the case of Camila Díaz Córdova, who died in a hospital in El Salvador after she was kidnapped and beaten. Díaz Córdova had sought asylum in the U.S., documenting years of constant death threats, but was nonetheless deported.
The lawmakers also brought up the treatment of Alejandra Barrera, a 44-year-old transgender woman from El Salvador who they say requested asylum in November 2017 and has been held in detention by ICE since. Barrera, the lawmakers wrote, has been denied humanitarian parole five times, despite the fact that she requires specialized medical care. The letter asks for Barrera’s request for humanitarian parole and asylum to be seriously considered.
ICE did not immediately respond to NBC News’ request for comment, but in previous statements noted that asylum seekers often enter the U.S. with “untreated” medical conditions. ICE has also touted its unit for transgender women in the Cibola County Correctional Center in New Mexico as an example of their fair treatment of transgender migrants, despite documented concernsabout the conditions there.
But lawmakers are not satisfied.
“We ask that you honor the longstanding reputation of the United States as a safe refuge for individuals who face persecution and violence,” the lawmakers said. “Specifically, we ask that you bring ICE into compliance with its stated policy for the treatment of transgender detainees.”
Pallone condemned the “inhumane” and “illegal” treatment of vulnerable immigrant communities in a statement to NBC News, saying the U.S. “is turning its back on those who desperately need our help and who should be protected under U.S. law.”
“For a long time, it’s been evident that ICE isn’t prepared to manage the health care needs of people seeking their right to asylum,” Haaland said in an interview with NBC News Tuesday morning, adding that “ICE’s record of mistreatment of trans individuals took Johana Medina’s life” and she is worried about other transgender migrants currently at-risk.
“As an indigenous woman, our history shows that we supported and accepted LGBTQ people into our communities for centuries and centuries,” the congresswoman said. “We want every human being to be valued. We need to stop this horrible treatment.”
The ordinance to make the changes will be reviewed again next week, and would go into place in late August.
Berkeley’s efforts aligns with California’s broader effort to include people who don’t identify as men or women into state policy.
In 2017, California became the first state to allow nonbinary gender markers on birth certificates, and the second state, behind Oregon, to allow residents to be identified by a gender marker other than “F” or “M” on their driver’s licenses.
It’s been 50 years since the historic Stonewall uprising, the 1969 rebellion at a Greenwich Village gay bar widely credited with igniting the modern-day LGBTQ rights movement.
But did it?
Stonewall’s monumental impact is not in question, but marking it as the start of the gay right’s movement erases those who fought for LGBTQ right before that fateful June night five decades ago, historians say. Before Stonewall, there was a nascent — but growing — “homophile movement,” mostly of gay men and lesbians, who formed groups to fight for their rights in the early 1950s. As the decade progressed, so, too, did their defiance.
“I hope that out of all the attention being given to Stonewall on this 50th anniversary that people learn that Stonewall was not the start of the LGBTQ civil rights movement — that it was a key turning point,” Eric Marcus, creator of the award-winning “Making Gay History” podcast, told NBC News.
Marcus admits that for a while even he didn’t know there was a gay rights movement before Stonewall, but when he started researching, documenting and archiving the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people around the county, he “came to discover that there was a 19-year history prior to Stonewall.” Those years, he and other historians have asserted, set the stage for what became the most famous LGBTQ uprising in U.S. history.
The pre-Stonewall “homophile movement,” didn’t start with a bang or a brick, Marcus said, it started with people meeting in their living rooms, the blinds drawn, discussing the issues they were facing and knowing something needed to be done. Usually, Marcus added, they were separated by gender.
“The first organization founded principally for men was the Mattachine Society in 1950” in Los Angeles, Marcus said. Five years later, a similar group popped up in San Francisco, the Daughters of Bilitis. Started as a social organization, it morphed into a political body for lesbians. Both organizations started publishing newsletters and setting up chapters around the country, though they were limited in scope.
“Homosexuals had no credibility in the popular arena,” George Chauncey, a Columbia University history professor and author of “Gay New York,” explained. “It was very difficult for them to speak for themselves.”
The Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis had to try to build support for their cause from people who were respected and had authority, Chauncey added. So they reached out to sociologists, lawyers, judges and scientific researchers, hoping to convince people to help them dispel the prevailing myths that stigmatized gay people.
In the early days of the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis, “it was assumed that gay people were mentally ill,” Marcus said.
“The first person to challenge that in a serious way was Dr. Evelyn Hooker when she … compared a group of 30 gay men to 30 straight men,” he said. “She presented her study in 1956 at the American Psychiatric Association convention in Chicago, and she just about blew the roof off the place, because she said that there was no difference in terms of psychopathology between gay men and straight men.
Homosexuality would ultimately be removed from the American Psychiatric Association’s list of mental illnesses in 1973, but Marcus said Hooker’s study “got the ball rolling.”
In addition to building support from experts and authority figures, the Mattachine Society and Daughters of Bilitis also provided social services to gays and lesbians.
“You had hundreds of people around the country who felt pretty isolated, writing these organizations,” Chauncey said, “asking if they had contacts wherever they lived or what would it be like to move to a city.”
But as the 1960s approached, the groups grew more militant.
One of the people responsible for this change was Frank Kameny, who was fired from his job in the Army Map Service in 1957 after President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed an executive order essentially banning gay people from federal jobs. Marcus said tens of thousands of people lost their jobs during what was known as the Lavender Scare. Most of them just wanted to disappear and not let anyone know they were fired for being gay — but not Kameny.
“Frank decided to fight his government,” Marcus said, which “brought the movement from behind closed doors into the public eye.”
Kameny founded the Washington chapter of the Mattachine Society and turned it into an organized and aggressive protest group. From 1965 to 1969, Kameny and the Mattachine Society protested outside the White House and Independence Hall.
“His whole career was destroyed,” Chauncey said, and he “dedicated the rest of his life to fighting for gay rights and to end the kind of discrimination he’d faced.”
As more people got the courage to come out as gay, as tough as it was in the 1950s and ’60s, the policing of the community started to ramp up. The unjust firings, bar raids and ongoing public humiliation led to an increased desire to fight back.
As the ’60s progressed, the early “homophile” groups got stronger. Kay Lahusen, now 89, was a member of the Daughters of Bilitis and joined Kameny’s gay rights protests in D.C. and Philadelphia.
“We were picketing for the standard civil rights thing,” she told NBC News. “The right to fair employment, the right to serve in the military, the right to teach school.” Lahusen said not all of those early gay activists approved of the public protests, but she, Kameny and the others were undeterred.
As the groups grew emboldened, they started to look toward the black civil rights movement for inspiration. One example was the 1966 “sip-in” at a bar in Greenwich Village that was organized by the Mattachine Society.
“They were modeling this on the sit-ins that courageous, young, black college students organized in the South in the early ’60s,” Chauncey said. “They said they were homosexuals and would like a drink.”
The sit-ins caught the public’s attention. “It didn’t have a practical effect right away, but it was important in helping to shift public opinion,” Chauncey explained.
As varying social movements grew, so, too, did the gay rights movement. And some of the groups joined forces.
Many of those who became gay rights activists, Chauncey said, “had been involved in the antiwar movement, the feminist movement, the New Left Black Power, and they brought the militance of those movements and the radical analysis that those movements were developing into gay politics.”
Stonewall was certainly a historic turning point, but it wasn’t even the first major LGBTQ uprising. In 1966, in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco, after a trans woman who was resisting arrest threw a coffee cup at a police officer in the Compton Cafeteria, transgender and gender-nonconforming people rioted. The group, many of whom were sex workers, fought back against the police, asserting their right to exist in a public space.
To truly honor the legacy of Stonewall, historians say, we also have to honor those who laid the groundwork for it to happen.
A transgender woman from El Salvador seeking asylum in the U.S. died on Saturday in a Texas hospital four days after being released from custody, officials and advocates said.
Johana Medina Leon, 25, complained of chest pains and was brought to Del Sol Medical Center in El Paso, Texas, on Tuesday, Immigration and Customs Enforcement said. That same day, ICE said she was processed for release on parole. Medina Leon died on the first day of pride month.
“This is yet another unfortunate example of an individual who illegally enters the United States with an untreated, unscreened medical condition,” said Corey A. Price, field office director for ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) in El Paso.
Allegra Love, the executive director of the Sante Fe Dreamers Project, a nonprofit that provides free legal service to immigrants, said Medina Leon did nothing “illegal” when she fled to the U.S following Department of Homeland Security protocol
“She didn’t violate a single law coming to the U.S. to ask for political asylum,” Love said.
Medina Leon, who was known to friends as Joa, had been detained in the U.S. since mid-April. On May 18, Medina Leon received a positive credible fear finding, ICE said. Advocates told NBC News Leon was seeking asylum in the U.S. as a transgender woman.
Medina Leon was being held at Otero County Processing Center, a private detention center in New Mexico where the ACLU and the Santa Fe Dreamer Project recently alleged poor treatment of and “unconscionable conditions” for LGBTQ immigrants. In a letter sent to ICE, the groups said “ICE’s practices at Otero have created an unsafe environment” for the LGBTQ detainees in Otero.
Medina Leon fell while in ICE Custody, where she also tested positive for HIV.
In a Facebook post about Medina Leon’s death, Diversidad Sin Fronteras, an advocacy group for LGBTQ refugees, said that Medina Leon had pleaded to ICE for medical attention. She “became extremely ill and unconscious” the group said.
When a spokesperson for Diversidad Sin Fronteras visited Medina Leon in the hospital, she said we was deeply cornered about the young women’s fate. “I said that what happened a year ago to Roxana in the month of May could happen to JOA right in there. And it did.”
Love, of Sante Fe Dreamers Project, told NBC News, “I give an interview a week about the medical conditions for trans women,” which she described as alarming and dangerous.
“If anyone wants to pretend to be shocked, did you miss a year ago when a trans woman died in custody in Albuquerque?”
On the count of three, about 50 gay couples kissed their partners in the public square of a small town in the Ozark Mountains.
Jay Wilks, the event’s organizer, told the crowd to do it over.
“With more passion this time!” he shouted into the microphone.
Wilks counted down again, and queer and trans people embraced their partners, now with the gusto he demanded. The couples, decked out in so much pride gear that despite the day’s clear weather rainbows abounded, held each other, laughed and, most important, kissed.
It was PDA in the Park, the signature event of early April’s Spring Diversity Weekend in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Eureka is a rural, hilly town of about 2,000 people where locals say over 30 percent of residents are LGBTQ and playfully remark their town has “no straight streets.”
Amber Clark, 36, who has rainbow-dyed hair, drove in for the weekend from Carthage, Missouri, a city of less than 15,000 where you’d be hard-pressed to find 100 queer people making out in the small downtown. She came with what she characterized as “a group of loud, out, queer women.”
“We’re here to be normal for a weekend,” she said, “and to kiss in the park.”
About 2.9 to 3.8 million LGBTQ people live in rural America, and they are increasingly finding that they don’t need to travel to a big city or the coasts to find a place to be themselves and unwind on vacation.
Public imagination renders LGBTQ people as city dwellers, and the dominant narrative says anyone queer or trans living in rural America yearns for escape. There is some truth in that, and for good reason — a recent survey found that Arkansas residents were the least supportive of measures to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination, compared to residents of other states. But in Eureka Springs, Wilks, who runs Out in Eureka, an LGBTQ event and information organization, is working to create what he sees as an oasis: a space for LGBTQ people to explore a quaint Southern town while being welcomed exactly as they are.
Other cities and towns in red states have also begun courting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer tourists, as a way of showing their openness and because there’s money to be made. (It’s difficult to determine the economic impact of LGBTQ travelers, but by using population data, the United Nations World Tourism Association estimates they generate more than $50 billion in annual revenue in the U.S.)
Salt Lake City is so dedicated to making sure people know it’s LGBTQ-friendly that it has an explainer on its tourism website that begins, “Yes, Salt Lake IS a great place for the LGBTQ Community.”
Oklahoma City tries to entice LGBTQ tourists with its annual Memorial Day gay rodeo and its small but thriving gayborhood.
Forty miles southwest of Eureka Springs, Fayetteville is on a similar mission, trying to appeal to LGBTQ people in Arkansas and neighboring states, for whom going on vacation to a major city is cost prohibitive — or not at all desirable. People who are rural and queer, or Southern and queer, often feel like they need to give up one of those identities, but city leaders in Fayetteville and Eureka Springs are marketing their towns as a place where visitors and residents alike can have it all, even if the state’s politics are not as progressive.
“Our focus is not to become a San Francisco or a Fort Lauderdale,” Wilks, 51, a former flight attendant, said. “Fire Island is fun,” he added of the gay destination east of New York City, but Wilks wants to remain “true to who Eureka is” — a small town that’s wooded, Southern and super gay.
‘DO THEY REALLY WANT US HERE?’
Fayetteville recently became the first city in Arkansas to join the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association, which provides free resources, travel suggestions and safety tips to LGBTQ travelers. The city of about 85,000 has always had a reputation for being progressive, especially within its own state, partly because it’s a college town that votes blue. Since 2014, Fayetteville fought to get an LGBTQ nondiscrimination law on its books, but the state supreme court struck it down in January.
That put Molly Rawn, executive director of Experience Fayetteville, the city’s tourism office, in a bit of a bind. How do you convince LGBTQ people to come to your city, which prides itself on inclusivity, when the state sends a different message?
One way Rawn does it is by being clear in her message to LGBTQ folks: “We want you here,” she said.
Experience Fayetteville takes out ads in gay newspapers in nearby cities and neighboring states touting its attractions and making sure queer and trans folks know they can visit without worry.
“In my experience, you only have to get them here once, and then they come back,” Rawn said. A lifelong Arkansan, she knows she’s fighting an uphill battle — while she loves the state, she acknowledges that it isn’t always a great place to be LGBTQ, with a lack of workplace discrimination protections and scant health care for trans people.
Still, Fayetteville Pride, the biggest gay event of the year, has flourished, drawing visitors from all over the region. The first parade in 2005 drew about 200 attendees; last year, it had over 15,000.
John Tanzella, president and CEO of the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association, was thrilled when Fayetteville wanted to be promoted by his organization. But some travel writers and tourists wrote to his organization and asked: “Is it really somewhere welcoming?” and “Do they really want us there?”
His answer: “Yes.”
Tanzella said that in recent years, gay tourism has “evolved from a one-size-fits model to all these different niches.” No longer just cruises and bed-and-breakfasts in Provincetown, Massachusetts, LGBTQ tourism has grown as diverse as the community itself. One of those niches is LGBTQ people who live in the South or the Midwest, and aren’t itching for big city life — they just want a place to be themselves.
Still, the impulse to court LGBTQ tourists doesn’t sit well with everyone.
Brody Parrish, a queer, trans and nonbinary Fayetteville resident, said the effort to draw LGBTQ visitors feels like a “misappropriation of resources.”
Parrish believes Northwest Arkansas should focus on allocating resources to its LGBTQ residents by increasing health care access and opening spaces like community drop-in centers were queer and trans people can congregate. Progressive cities like Fayetteville should “really be putting in the work to make it a safe space for everyone to exist here.”
“I would love to meet random LGBT people that come to this area to visit,” Parrish added, but at the same time, “What are you doing to support those people that are in your town, versus trying to bring people from other areas?”
‘IT FEELS LIKE HOME’
Melodye Purdy moved to Eureka Springs about 15 years ago from Memphis, Tennessee. She and her partner chose Eureka mostly because “there is no other place on Earth like it.”
“Being a woman and being a lesbian, it was very important to find a sense of security and safety,” Purdy, 53, said. Some “gay-friendly” places she and her partner considered seemed to cater only to men, while others, like Key West and Provincetown, felt too far from her home in the South. “I did think that I had to leave the South to be a lesbian,” she said. But in Eureka, among the curvy streets, she found home. “I was wrong.”
Eureka’s reputation as an LGBTQ haven isn’t new — at least for Northwest Arkansas residents. It started as a hippie town in the ’70s, and slowly, queer and trans people began moving there. The picturesque town features old saloons with rainbow flags, a haunted hotel, and dozens of other gay-owned shops, restaurants and businesses. Every bar in Eureka, residents like to say, is a gay bar.
Ashley Buckmaster, 36, makes the two-hour drive from her home in Carthage, Missouri, to Eureka Springs a couple times a year. “It’s not scary to go places here,” Buckmaster, who is queer, said at Diversity Weekend. On her visits, she’s met and made lifelong friends. “It feels like home.”
That is exactly why Wilks organizes Diversity Weekend.
“With the cost of travelling to some of the major cities, it’s not something that everyone can just up and do,” he said. “Gay affluence” is a largely a myth, and transgender people often face structural hurdles to finding work and housing. Eureka, Wilks and others hope, can provide an affordable and safe refuge.
Preparing for his first trip to Eureka Springs a year ago, Ethan Avanzino, 30, said he took out a lot of cash.
“My initial thought of Arkansas was like: ‘Do they take credit cards? Can we barter?’” Avanzino, a gay trans man who grew up on the West Coast and currently lives in Dallas, said. He’s been back four times since then, making the six-to-seven-hour drive with his husband.
On Diversity Weekend this April, he returned to enjoy the festivities and to lead a “Transgender 101” workshop for visitors and community members.
In the town’s public library, people asked Avanzino about they/them pronouns, what it means to be intersex and how best to support the trans people in their lives. Outside the library window, if you looked east, you could see a 66-foot white statue of Jesus called “Christ of the Ozarks” towering over the hills.
In Dallas, Avanzino is out and does media production for a Fortune 500 company; things are pretty good. But there’s something about Eureka that he feels like he can’t get elsewhere. “The inclusivity in the South is what captured me,” he said. “I like to disconnect and be out in the middle of the wilderness and not have cell reception.”