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Transgender hairstylist continues to give back

Brandi Ahzionae, Gay News, Washington Blade

Transgender hairstylist apprentice Brandi Ahzionae has been working with Consuella Lopez to pursue her dreams. (Photo courtesy of Brandi Ahzionae)

Brandi Ahzionae of Southeast D.C. was at the official launch of the city’s transgender rights campaign at Mova on 14th Street, N.W., last September when she met Montgomery County hairstylist Consuella Lopez.

Lopez, who appeared in the campaign the D.C. Office of Human Rights created, began speaking with Ahzionae through Facebook and other social media networks.

Consuella Lopez, gay news, Washington Blade

Consuella Lopez at her Bethesda, Md., studio on June 17. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Ahzionae, who had just enrolled in Project Empowerment, a D.C. jobs initiative designed to reduce unemployment and poverty rates among trans Washingtonians, declined Lopez’s invitation to model for a calendar she was producing for Casa Ruby, a multicultural LGBT community center in Northwest Washington. Lopez subsequently invited Ahzionae to become her apprentice at Nivál Salon and Spa in Chevy Chase, Md., where she worked at the time.

She accepted the offer.

“She was like, what do you want to do with your life?” Ahzionae told the Washington Blade during a recent interview. “We talked more about that. She was like, great, I can help you do that. She then pulled me to the salon and then started the apprenticeship thing and it’s been great ever sense.”

Ahzionae now works alongside Lopez in the studio she opened inside an old dance studio near Bethesda Row in Bethesda, Md., in May.

Lopez, who is a licensed senior stylist in Maryland, is able to license Ahzionae as an apprentice for two years. Ahzionae will be able to obtain her own license at the end of her two-year apprenticeship in May 2015 if she passes a test.

In the meantime, Ahzionae is attending classes once a week at Aesthetics Institute of Cosmetology in Gaithersburg, Md., that the school’s director offered to her for free.

“We are working together as a team now,” Ahzionae said, adding she has also begun to build her own clientele. “I am her left hand in the salon.”

Lopez, who transitioned in 1992 when she was 18, began working in hair salons as an assistant when she was a child.

She and a friend in 2006 opened a salon and day spa in Georgetown that closed after 19 months. Lopez subsequently began working at Nivál – formerly the Ted Gibson Salon and Hela Spa – in Chevy Chase in 2008.

Lopez – who has worked with Anna Wintour, Patricia Arquette, Tracy Edmonds, Mila Kunis, Mindy Cohen, the Real Housewives of D.C. and other celebrities – told the Blade during an interview at her studio late last month that she feels it is important to provide trans people opportunities that “most girls don’t have.”

Ahzionae became homeless after her mother died when she was 13. She was also incarcerated for seven years due to what she described as the “result of lifestyle.”

“I don’t want that to happen to anybody,” Lopez told the Blade. “If I were in that situation I would want someone to help me.”

She further stressed she believes in Ahzionae and “she has shown me.”

“She shows up to work, daily, in and out,” Lopez said. “She is working it right and still having clients in between.”

“I think she’s doing really, really well,” Casa Ruby CEO Ruby Corado, who has worked with Lopez since 2011, told the Blade on Tuesday. “I’m so glad that she found Consuella who’s mentoring her.”

As for Ahzionae, she hopes she will be able to continue to give back to her community.

She had written for VenusPlusX, a website co-founded by D.C. activists Alison Gardner and Dan Massey that advocates for sexual freedom.

Ahzione now produces a newsletter called the DMV Trans Circulator that seeks to create what its website describes as a “trans community inside and outside the prison walls in D.C., Md., and Va.” that is “free from imprisonment, police violence, racism and poverty.” She recently received a grant from the Diverse City Fund, which supports groups that work among communities of color.

Ahzione also looks to continue to give back at the salon and the clients with whom she works.

“My job is to make everything OK,” she said. “If I drop the ball, everything goes wrong. There’s a lot of work to be done, but I welcome the challenge and I think I’m tackling it pretty well.”

Ahzione also remains thankful to Lopez for inviting her to work with her.

“People don’t care about trans women trying to make a difference,” she said.” They don’t care and she does.”


D.C. murders down, anti-LGBT hate crimes up

Cathy Lanier, MPD, Metropolitan Police Department, gay news, Washington Blade

D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray and District Police Chief Cathy Lanier announced at a news conference on Thursday that the 88 homicides reported in the city in 2012 represent the lowest number of slayings within the city in 50 years.

Lanier noted that while robberies and sexual assaults increased in 2012, violent crimes made up just 19.6 percent of the total number of crimes, with “property crime” making up 84.4 percent of the total number of reported crimes in 2012.

Lanier didn’t include statistics on hate crimes in a crime data presentation she gave at the news conference. But preliminary data on hate crimes posted on the D.C. police website this week show hate crimes targeting victims based on their sexual orientation increased 19 percent, from 37 between January and November of 2011 to 44 between January and November of 2012.

The data show the number of hate crimes against transgender residents increased from 8 to 9 in the same 11-month period from 2011 to 2012, representing a 13 percent hike.

Police officials said hate crime data for December 2012 was being tabulated and would be released at a later date.

The total number of reported hate crimes in 2011 (from January through December) was 42 for the “sexual orientation” category and 11 for the category of “gender identity/expression,” according to the data shown on the police website.

The preliminary, 11-month figures for 2012 show that the city recorded a total of 78 hate crimes for each of the categories of victims – sexual orientation, gender identity/expression, ethnicity/national origin, race, religion, disability, political affiliation, and homelessness.

Of that total of 78, hate crimes targeting a victim because of his or her sexual orientation (44) comprised 56.4 percent of the total, the highest of all the categories. Race related hate crimes (12) came in second, at 15.3 percent, with gender identity and expression (9) coming in third, making up 11.6 percent of all reported hate crimes in D.C.

Hate crimes based on a victim’s religion (6) made up 7.7 percent of the 11-month total in 2012. Just one hate crime was reported so far in 2012 for each of the categories of disability and political affiliation. None was reported for the homelessness category in the 11-month period of 2012.

In his remarks at Thursday’s news conference, Gray said he was hopeful that his Project Empowerment program that provides job training for unemployed transgender people would lower the number of anti-trans hate crimes.

Transgender activists have said some of those participating in the job training program were forced to engage in street prostitution to survive prior to entering the program.

“If we can take some of the sense of need from people who feel like the only way they can survive is by engaging in street activity, the sale of sex, if you will – I think that’s going to reduce some of the hate crimes also because it’s not going to make people as vulnerable as they might have been,” Gray said.

“We’ve got a program started now…to try to improve the understanding of people who are transgender,” he said. “So I think in addition to working at it from a law enforcement perspective, we also need to work on it from the perspective of how we improve the conditions under which people who are transgender, for example, are living.”

Although the hate crime data for December 2012 have yet to be released, preliminary reports on the activities of the department’s Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit show at least three possible anti-LGBT hate crimes took place in December.

Officials with the local group Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence (GLOV) have said they believe the actual number of anti-LGBT hate crimes is significantly greater than the number reported because some LGBT victims choose not to report hate crimes.

Activists say some hate crime victims report the crime as an assault without informing police they were targeted for their sexual orientation or gender identity. In other cases, according to GLOV, a police officer many not recognize an assault or other crime as a hate crime and doesn’t record it as such on a police report.

Just one LGBT related murder took place in 2012 — the February 2012 stabbing death of transgender woman Deoni Jones, 23, at a bus stop in Northeast D.C. Police arrested District resident Gary Niles Montgomery, 55, for the crime less than two weeks later. Montgomery has since been indicted on first-degree murder while armed and is being held in jail while he awaits trial.
Police have listed the motive of the slaying as robbery rather than a hate crime.

Transcript follows:

Blade: Chief, can you say a little about hate crimes and where they fit into the overall crime statistics you presented today? Are they going up or down?

Chief Lanier: I don’t have any hate crime statistics with me. I’ll get them for you. We were staying pretty much even across the board for hate crimes. We did have some increases in different categories. But I have to get back to you with the specific categories. I’ll get it for you.

Mayor Gray: I think, Lou, if I could add a facet to that. I think you know that we worked hard to try to create a greater acceptance of people who are transgender, who often times are the victims of hate crimes in the District of Columbia. And if we can take some of the sense of need from people who feel like the only way they can survive is by engaging in street activity, the sale of sex, if you will — I think that’s going to reduce some of the hate crimes also because it’s not going to make people as vulnerable as they might have been.

We had a very successful year with our transgender efforts in the last 12 to 15 months. We had three cohorts to go through the Department of Employment Service’s Project Empowerment. We were able to get people jobs. We got a campaign started now, as I think you know, to try to improve the understanding of people who are transgender. So I think in addition to working at it from a law enforcement perspective, we also need to work on it from the perspective of how we improve the conditions under which people who are transgender, for example, are living.

“While we congratulate MPD and the city of Washington in reaching the lowest level of overall homicides in 50 years, the anti-LGBT violence numbers are still going up at an alarming rate and need to be addressed,” said A.J. Singletary, chair of GLOV.

“Even though the low homicide rate was the big story of the day, Chief Lanier rightly included data on other categories of crime” in her presentation at the news conference, Singletary said. “Hate crimes should have been included for comparison purposes as well. While the LGBT community is acutely aware of the violence we face on a daily basis in Washington, other citizens of D.C. as well as the mainstream media often aren’t aware of this large and seemingly ever-growing problem,” he said.