The Los Angeles City Council Tuesday unanimously confirmed Kristin Crowley as fire chief, making her the first woman and first out LGBTQ+ person to hold that post.
Mayor Eric Garcetti had nominated Crowley in January. As chief of the Los Angeles Fire Department, she will oversee 3,246 uniformed personnel and 353 professional support workers, the Los Angeles Blade reports. She will begin her duties as chief March 26, when predecessor Ralph Terrazas retires.
Before the vote, Crowley told the council she was “truly honored” as well as “humbled and proud” to be appointed fire chief, according to L.A. TV station KABC. Her confirmation came on the first day of Women’s History Month.
Crowley has been with the department 22 years, having been a firefighter, paramedic, engineer, fire inspector, captain, battalion chief, assistant chief, fire marshal, and deputy chief. She was Los Angeles’s first woman fire marshal, a post she assumed in 2016. When she took the firefighters’ exam in the late 1990s, her score was in the top 50 out of 16,000 applicants.
Crowley and her wife, retired firefighter Hollyn Bullock, received a letter of special commendation from the fire department in 2020 for their work fighting a wildfire in the Malibu Canyon area in 2018. They had planned to simply help a relative evacuate from the neighborhood, but they ended up convincing the other residents of the block to evacuate as well and then stayed 16 hours to keep the flames away from the homes there. They saved nine out of 10 homes on the street.
“Throughout her distinguished career, Kristin Crowley has proven her brilliance, determination, and bravery on the job again and again,” Garcetti said when he announced her nomination. “She’s also shown this city her heart, with her tireless commitment to helping students access life-changing educational opportunities. There is no one better equipped to lead the LAFD at this moment than Kristin. She’s ready to make history, and I’m proud to nominate her as the department’s next chief.”
Her work will include efforts to change the culture of the department, which has been rocked by accusations of racism and sexism. She has pledged to address these problems.
“As the next fire chief, my priorities will be to ensure the LAFD stands ready and remains operationally efficient to serve our communities and this great city; that we enhance and support our firefighters’ safety, health and overall well-being; and that we promote and demand a work environment that is free of harassment, discrimination, and hazing,” she told council members Tuesday.
“Our efforts will be maximized by making sure diversity is celebrated and valued, and that equity and inclusion are intertwined into every policy, procedure, and practice,” she continued.
The Los Angeles LGBT Center celebrated Crowley’s confirmation. “The Center applauds the historic confirmation of Kristin Crowley to lead the fire department of the nation’s second-largest city,” Executive Director Joe Hollendoner said in a press release. “She is the first female fire chief of the LAFD and the first openly LGBTQ person to hold the position. She has dedicated more than two decades — previously as the City’s first female and first LGBTQ Deputy Chief Fire Marshal — to serving our communities and ensuring the safety and well-being of all Los Angeles residents. We cannot imagine a more qualified candidate for the job.”
Two more violent deaths of transgender Americans have just been reported, both from December, bringing 2021’s total to 53. It was already by far the nation’s deadliest year on record for trans people.
Za’niyah Williams, a 21-year-old Black trans woman, died after a hit-and-run car crash in Houston December 20, TransGriot reports. She remained unidentified for some time and was misgendered by police and media outlets. But her loved ones have come forward to identify her.
“You were loved and will always be a part of me!” a cousin wrote on social media. “Fly high you beautiful butterfly.” A friend posted that Williams was “a very sweet and smart young lady and always ripped the runway when she dressed up.”
“Za’niyah Williams was a bright soul who at 21 years old had the world in front of her,” Tori Cooper, the Human Rights Campaign’s director of community engagement for its Transgender Justice Initiative, said in a press release. “It is horrific that her life was taken from her by an unknown assailant who drove off without a care. She was also misgendered in initial reports until she was identified by her mother. We must create a society that respects Black trans women and all transgender, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming people. Although we honor them in death, they deserve to live, and they deserve justice for the crimes that too often end their lives.”
The Harris County Sheriff’s Office asks that anyone with information call (713) 221-6000 and reference case number #2112-07879.
In Albuquerque, N.M., white trans woman Nikki Turietta, 31, was found shot to death December 31, TV station KOB reports. She was found in her home, shot in the head. Turietta was also initially misgendered by media.
Jen Struck, Turietta’s aunt, described her as “a character” and “just completely free spirit.” Turietta had grown up in Albuquerque and had returned there a few years ago after traveling all over the U.S. and internationally, Struck told KOB. Turietta had just celebrated the holidays with her family.
“We’re just all in shock,” Struck said. “I don’t think it’s really set in for some of us yet.” Violent crime has been rising in Albuquerque, with a record 114 homicides in 2021.
Turietta’s death remains under investigation by Albuquerque police. “We want justice,” Struck said. “We’re desperate for answers. We want to know what happened. Somebody’s got to know something. They didn’t commit suicide.”
“It is horrific that on the last day of 2021, yet another transgender person was killed in what has been a record year for fatal violence against transgender and gender-nonconforming people,” Cooper said. “This violence has been unceasing, but so too must our efforts to combat it never stop. We must commit to creating a safe and affirming culture for transgender and gender-nonconforming people.”
Arnie Kantrowitz, a pioneering activist for LGBTQ+ rights and founding member of GLAAD, has died at age 81.
Kantrowitz died January 21 at a Manhattan rehabilitation center, his life partner, Dr. Lawrence D. Mass, told The New York Times. The cause of death was complications of COVID-19.
Kantrowitz was “an early champion of gay rights and an indefatigable campaigner for fairer treatment of gay people by the media,” the Times notes. Mass, a founder of Gay Men’s Health Crisis, called Kantrowitz “a true sage and champion.”
He became vice president of the Gay Activists Alliance, one of the first groups founded in the wake of the Stonewall riots, in 1970. That was also the year he came to terms with being gay, according to the Times. He helped found GLAAD, then known as the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, in 1985.
He was a professor in the English department at the City University of New York’s College of Staten Island from 1965 to 2006, and while there he created one of the first gay studies courses in the nation. He promoted the work of Walt Whitman and other gay writers.
In 1977 he published a memoir, Under the Rainbow: Growing Up Gay, in which he chronicled the difficulties he and other gay people faced in mid-century America. He twice tried to take his own life, he reported. He also described events in the gay rights movement, including New York City’s first Pride march. Much later, in 2009, he was grand marshal of the Staten Island Gay Pride Parade.
He was a contemporary and friend of many fellow activists, including Vito Russo, author of The Celluloid Closet. He appeared in Vito, a 2011 documentary about Russo, and several other documentaries about the LGBTQ+ community, including Gay Sex in the ’70s and After Stonewall.He also was one of the first out gay guests on popular radio and TV talk shows, speaking to Geraldo Rivera, Sally Jessy Raphael, and more.
Tributes are pouring in. “Arnie Kantrowitz’s activism paved the way for the growing visibility, protections, and acceptance of the LGBTQ community that we see today,” said a statement from Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD. “At a time when LGBTQ people were villainized in the public sphere, Arnie bravely used his personal story to educate the public about our community and its history, ultimately fighting for the fair and accurate representation of LGBTQ people and our issues in the media. His legacy inspires us to continue fighting for a future where the most marginalized among us are seen, heard, and protected.”
“He was thoughtful, charming, and like any good professor (he was among the first to teach a course in gay literature, in 1973), a lifelong student and teacher,” former White House staffer Jeremy L. Léon, who interviewed Kantrowitz for a book, wrote on Facebook. He noted that after the formal interview was over, “we spent another six hours talking into the night like old friends.”
“So much of LGBTQ history has been documented, explored, shared, & preserved because of the actions of a handful of people, and he was one of them,” LGBTQ+ media scholar Lauren Herold wrote on Twitter. Also on Twitter, journalist Jay Blotcher commented, “The #LGBTQ community owes this man a great deal for our current #liberation.”
Esteemed queer Black feminist author bell hooks has died at age 69.
She died Wednesday at her home in Berea, Ky., the Lexington Herald Leader reports. She had been ill, and friends and family were with her.
Her dozens of books included essays, poetry, and works for children, and she dealt with issues of intersectionality long before many others. These issues were at the core of her 1981 book Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism, which examined the impact of sexism on Black women throughout history as well as racism within the feminist movement.
All About Love: New Visions, first published in 2000, deals with how love can heal a polarized society and asserts that love cannot be separated from justice. Amid the protests against police brutality and systemic racism last year, it “became sought-after reading,” according to the bell hooks center at Berea College.
She was one of Time’s 100 Women of the Year in 2020, and the magazine called her a “rare rock star of a public intellectual.” Utne Reader in 1995 listed her among its 100 Visionaries Who Can Change Your Life.
She once described her identity as “queer-pas-gay.” She was critical, however, of those who viewed racism and homophobia as the same. “White people, gay and straight, could show greater understanding of the impact of racial oppression on people of color by not attempting to make these oppressions synonymous, but rather by showing the ways they are linked and yet differ,” she wrote in 1999’s Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black.
She was born in 1952 in Hopkinsville, Ky., as Gloria Jean Watkins. Her pen name was her great-grandmother’s name, which she styled in all lowercase letters as a way to place importance on “substance of books, not who I am,” she said.
Growing up in Kentucky, she attended segregated schools that did not teach about the impact of racism. She went on to study at Stanford University, then earned a master’s degree at the University of Wisconsin and a doctorate at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She taught at Stanford, Yale University, and the City College of New York, then joined Berea’s faculty in 2004. Berea was founded in the 1850s by abolitionists who were dedicated to equal education for people of all races and genders.
The bell hooks center at Berea hosts speakers on feminism and social justice, and seeks “to chart a new chapter in Berea College’s great, historical commitments — one that cultivates radical coalition between women, LGBTQPIA+ students, and students of color,” according to its website. The college also houses hooks’s papers and artifacts.
“Berea College is deeply saddened about the death of bell hooks, Distinguished Professor in Residence in Appalachian Studies, prodigious author, public intellectual and one of the country’s foremost feminist scholars,” said a statement from the school.
“I want my work to be about healing,” hooks once said. “I am a fortunate writer because every day of my life practically I get a letter, a phone call from someone who tells me how my work has transformed their life.”
Gay Rep. Ryan Fecteau is set to become speaker of the Maine House of Representatives.
Democrats nominated Fecteau as speaker Thursday, and because they hold a majority in the House, he is “all but assured” of election to the position when the House votes in December, the Portland Press Herald reports. He will be the first out member of the LGBTQ+ community to be Maine speaker and one of about two dozen to have held such leadership positions nationwide. Also, at age 28, he will be the youngest speaker of the House in Maine history.
“The speaker controls the flow of action on the floor, sets the agenda and can have sway over which bills are brought to a vote or not,” the Press Herald notes. The person in that role is often a prominent player in budget negotiations between the legislature and the governor, the paper adds.
Fecteau, who was just elected to a fourth term in the House, was the lead sponsor of Maine’s bill barring licensed professionals from subjecting minors to so-called conversion therapy, the discredited and harmful practice aimed at turning LGBTQ+ people straight or cisgender. The legislature passed it in 2019 and Gov. Janet Mills signed it into law.
The grandson of French-Canadian immigrants and the son of a single mother, Fecteau grew up in low-income housing and became the first member of his family to graduate from college. Public education was key in shaping his life, he told fellow lawmakers Thursday.
“I’m filled with hope and determination because when Democrats lead, people who are too often forgotten or left at the margins are seen, they are valued and given a fair shot,” he said, according to the Press Herald. “Policymakers like you saw value and gave families like mine a fair shot. I’m a Democrat because we believe in families like mine who come to Maine for a better life. We believe in people who may not look like us or speak the same language or practice the same religion.”
He is finishing a stint as assistant majority leader in the House, serving with Majority Leader Matt Moonen, also a gay man, making them “the first openly gay legislative leadership duo in U.S. history,” the Press Herald reports.
As speaker, he will succeed Sara Gideon, who ran for U.S. Senate against Republican incumbent Susan Collins but lost. “Working alongside him the past years allowed me to witness his natural leadership capabilities and his dedication to the people of Maine,” Gideon said regarding Fecteau. “I wish him every success as he takes on this new role.”
“Rep. Ryan Fecteau’s elevation to be Maine’s first out speaker of the House shatters a lavender ceiling in the Pine Tree State,” Elliot Imse, senior director of communications at the LGBTQ Victory Institute, told The Advocate via email. “During his past three terms, Rep. Fecteau has highlighted LGBTQ issues, leading the charge to ban conversion therapy in the state and providing a shining example of LGBTQ leadership for young people. We are excited to see what changes a qualified LGBTQ voice will make in this role and wish Speaker Fecteau the absolute best of luck during his term.”
In this election cycle, as many wonder how Donald Trump came to be Donald Trump, at least part of the answer lies in one of his early mentors and close confidantes: the widely reviled, closeted gay hatchet man of the right wing, Roy Cohn.
Cohn has been dead since 1986, but the disgraced McCarthyist lawyer — immortalized in Tony Kushner’s acclaimed Angels in America, the musical and miniseries — lives on in the Republican presidential nominee in both style and substance, according to those who’ve studied the two men and their relationship.
“You can see parallels with Trump,” Andy Humm, a veteran New York City activist who cohosts the Gay USA TV show, told The Advocate. “Trump never apologizes; Trump never admits to a mistake.” That was Cohn’s style too, said Humm, noting that Trump exhibited these tendencies before he met Cohn, but they intensified under Cohn’s influence. Humm, by the way, calls Cohn “one of the vilest human beings who ever lived.”
Even those who have a (somewhat) better opinion of Cohn see the parallels. “I hear Roy in the things [Trump] says quite clearly,” Peter Fraser, who was Cohn’s lover at the end of his life and met Trump several times, told The New York Times earlier this year. “That bravado, and if you say it aggressively and loudly enough, it’s the truth — that’s the way Roy used to operate to a degree, and Donald was certainly his apprentice.”
Dinner companions and party buddies, Trump and Cohn were infamous partners in crime in the New York of the 1970s and ’80s. Cohn, “a Jewish anti-Semite and a homosexual homophobe” (in the words of Politico), was also a trusted legal adviser to Trump and his father, Fred, for many years. Donald Trump still speaks warmly of Cohn today.
“I actually got a kick out of him,” Trump told The Washington Post recently. “Some people didn’t like him, and some people were offended by him. I mean, they would literally leave a dinner. I had one evening where three or four people got up from a table and left the table because they couldn’t stand the mention of his name.”
“But with all of that being said, he did a very good job for me as a lawyer,” Trump continued. “I get a kick out of winning, and Roy would win.”
The Post interview was part of the research for a new book, Trump Revealed, written by Post reporters Michael Kranish and Marc Fisher in collaboration with more than two dozen of the paper’s writers, researchers, and editors. It will be out August 23.
But Trump is already revealing his debt to Cohn. The candidate’s call to bar Muslims from immigrating to the United States until their loyalties can be determined has eerie echoes of the most notorious era of Cohn’s career — the 1950s, when as a prosecutor he helped send Julius and Ethel Rosenberg to the electric chair after their conviction for espionage (some observers still contend that Ethel, at least, was innocent), and then aided U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s hunt for communists in the U.S. government, Hollywood, academia, and elsewhere.
“In the Cold War, we had an ideological screening test” for immigrants, Trump said in a foreign policy speech in Ohio Monday. “The time is overdue to develop a new screening test for the threats we face today.”
The screening Trump proposed includes assuring that Muslim immigrants do not believe in the death penalty for homosexuality, which some deeply conservative Muslims believe is mandated by the religious code known as Sharia law, and which is the punishment prescribed in some countries. Many LGBT activists, however, were quick to call out Trump’s remarks as disingenuous, given that he does not appear concerned that some far-right Christians support the execution of gay people, and that the Republican Party platform is intensely anti-LGBT.
Additionally, Trump’s depiction of all Muslims as potential terrorists is reminiscent of McCarthyism. McCarthy and Cohn accused many people who were simply left-wing of being communists, and assumed all communists were involved in subversive activity. Some of their targets had never joined the U.S. Communist Party, some had repudiated it, and at any rate, not all party members wished to help the Soviet Union bring down the U.S. government. Nevertheless, many of the accused saw their careers destroyed.
In 1954 the Senate censured McCarthy for his wildest allegations, in addition to other improprieties, and he died in disgrace in 1957. Cohn moved on in his career but remained a loyal supporter of the senator. “I never worked for a better man or a greater cause,” Cohn wrote in his posthumously published, and selective, autobiography.
Cohn’s career took him back to his native New York City, where he practiced law for “a client list that ran the gamut from the disreputable to the quasi-reputable,” as the Times notes, until he was disbarred shortly before his death for numerous violations of legal ethics. He represented such famous and infamous clients as mobster Anthony Salerno, New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, and socialite Claus von Bulow (although not in either of Von Bulow’s trials for the attempted murder of his wife, Sunny von Bulow).
But according to many accounts, Trump was one of Cohn’s favorite clients. They met in 1973, when Trump and his father were facing a suit from the U.S. Department of Justice, alleging that they refused to rent apartments to blacks at the many New York properties they owned or managed. Cohn advised the Trumps to fight back and contended the Justice Department “did not file a lawsuit” but “slapped together a piece of paper for use as a press release.” The Trumps eventually reached a settlement with the DOJ, agreeing not to engage in racial discrimination but never admitting they had.
Cohn and Donald Trump continued a close personal and professional relationship up to Cohn’s death at age 59 from AIDS complications. (To the end, Cohn refused to publicly acknowledge being gay, and he even worked against gay causes, such as a civil rights ordinance in New York City.) Early on, Cohn had pegged Trump as a promising young man, saying, “This kid is going to own New York someday,” according to the Times. The lawyer assisted Trump in many of his real estate ventures and in his prenuptial agreement with first wife Ivana Zelnickova. Cohn’s lobbying of Reagan administration officials in the 1980s may have been a key factor in the appointment of Maryanne Barry, Trump’s sister, to a federal judgeship — although even those who cite Barry’s connections note that she has formidable skills. Trump and Cohn dined together often, hobnobbed at Studio 54, and talked on the phone constantly.
Perhaps most important for Trump’s political career, Cohn introduced him to Republican activist and conspiracy theorist Roger Stone. Stone is a frequent Trump surrogate on the campaign trail, and over the years he has made statements even more outlandish than Trump’s — accusing the Clinton and Bush families of multiple murders, and using racist and sexist slurs most publications would not print, such as the n word and the c word.
But Cohn himself made a deep impression on Trump. “I just look at him and see Roy,” veteran political journalist Wayne Barrett told the Post of Trump. “Both of them are attack dogs.”
“Cohn just pushed through things — if he wanted something, he got it,” Susan Bell, who was Cohn’s secretary for many years, told Politico. “I think Donald had a lot of that in him, but he picked up a lot of that from Cohn.”
Just pushing through, however, won’t win Trump the presidency. But if he wins, Cohn would be pleased, Fraser, who now lives in New Zealand, said in his Times interview. “Having trained or mentored someone who became president, that would have been quite exciting for Roy,” he said.
A transgender woman in New Jersey has filed suit accusing a Walmart store and one of its managers of firing her due to anti-trans bias, after instances of harassment that saw her called “he/she” and “that fucking tranny.”
The woman, Samantha Azzarano, began working at a Walmart in Deptford, N.J., in September 2012, ThinkProgress reports. The following January, she told a manager that she is transgender, and later that year she began presenting in her female identity at work, and had the name on her ID badge changed to Samantha, replacing her birth name.
According to her suit, filed October 2 in Camden County Superior Court, there were no problems with Azzarano’s job performance, and no coworkers complained about her until manager Sheena Wyckoff joined Azzarano’s team in January 2014. Wyckoff, the suit says, referred to Azzarano as “Samantha, Robert … he/she … whatever” and “that fucking tranny.”
Wyckoff also began unjustly reprimanding Azzarano, yelling at her, and accusing her of undermining Wyckoff’s authority, according to the suit. In a meeting with a team leader, Wyckoff told Azzarano, “We are always walking on eggshells for you,” the filing states.
Wyckoff obviously “had a problem with Samantha being Samantha,” Azzarano’s lawyer, Kevin M. Costello, told ThinkProgress. He noted that the use of the term “tranny” was particularly objectionable. “It’s as unacceptable as a racial epithet to describe a black person,” he said.
Azzarano says she complained to a higher manager, who failed to inform the human resources department about the problems. Azzarano then went to human resources herself, after which Wyckoff warned her not to go to higher management again. In December 2014, Azzarano was fired, “ostensibly, for conduct that she had been performing since July of 2013,” although such conduct was “allowed, and encouraged” in other departments, according to the suit.
“Any proffered reason by the defendants for the termination would be pretext,” the suit says. “The plaintiff was terminated for her transgender status,” in violation of New Jersey’s antidiscrimination law. The suit accuses Walmart of violating this law and Wyckoff of aiding and abetting in the discrimination, and Azzarano seeks “compensatory and punitive damages, interest, attorneys’ fees, enhanced attorneys’ fees, equitable back pay, equitable front pay and equitable reinstatement,” reports legal news website Law360.
At least two other major discrimination suits have been filed against Walmart recently. One alleges denial of benefits to same-sex spouses of employees, while the other claims racial and age-related discrimination.