Tuesday, December 6, 2016

In the News: NBC

Transgender Community Wants Proper Identification After Deadly Oakland Warehouse Fire

The father of one victim says all communities must become more accepting so "everyone can enjoy a great party or concert in a space that is not a death trap"

Family
Cash Askew, Em Bohkla and Feral Pines
The Oakland warehouse artists' enclave was supposed to be a safe place, emotionally and spiritually, for the artists and free spirits who chose lives off the beaten track. An electronic music party had also attracted many in the transgender community, who had come together on Friday night, as they did regularly, to dance with friends and blow off steam.
But physically, the enclave wasn't safe at all on Friday. A fire ripped through the illegally converted warehouse at 1305 East 31st Avenue in the city's Fruitvale neighborhood, killing at least 36 people.
It's the deadliest blaze in Oakland history, and it counts at least three transgender women among the victims: Cash Askew, 22, of Oakland; Feral Pines, 29, of Berkeley and Em Bohlka, 33, of Oakland.  
The father of one is lamenting how few spaces trans people have to gather safely.
"My heart goes out to the entire trans community who feel as if they must gather in unsafe buildings to experience their community and celebrate their identity," said Jack Bohlka in an Instagram post remembering his daughter, Em. 

Friends and family prefer their new names be used to identify them, instead of the ones they were born with, following commonly accepted tradition in the trans community. And that means authorities are now also dealing with an unorthodox situation; one they said they're willing to comply with, albeit with a few mistakes.

What's in a Name?When Feral Pines was identified as a victim in the fire, the Alameda County Sheriff's Office on Monday first gave her name as Justin Fritz, her birth name. That was corrected later and the sheriff tweeted an apology.
In an interview on Tuesday, Alameda County Sheriff’s Sgt. J.D. Nelson said the coroner's office is now identifying the victims to the public by the names their families — not their friends — ask for, and will note the legal name, if different, on the official death certificate, which is the law. Alameda County sheriff's Tya Modete added that department was working with an LGBT advocate to report the proper gender identification.
A name means a lot in the trans community, a fact that was known by most, if not all, of the creative, musical and artistic party goers at the warehouse on Friday night.
"It's called 'dead naming,'" Carol Dauley, an audio engineer and past president of Transgender SF said in an interview with NBC Bay Area on Tuesday. "That means their old name no longer exists. It's disrespectful, and in the eyes of the trans community, there is never a good reason to use the old name."
Scout Wolfcave, executive director at the Trans Assistance Project in Portland and a friend to one of the victims, said using the right names and pronouns is especially important for trans people when they die.
"Many in the transgender community don't want to be referred to by the names they were given at birth, because when they transition from one gender to another, they want to make a clean break from the past," Wolfcave wrote on Facebook.
Pastor Megan Rohrer, of Grace Lutheran Church in San Francisco, said she appreciated that first responders were taking great pain to get pronouns correct.
"I just want to lift up how great I think that is, that they're taking the time to do their best, even though it's really hard," they said. (Rohrer uses they/their as gender pronouns.)
Rohrer also noted that the LGBT community at large has a long history of holding celebrations in unsafe places on the margins of the community, going back to the days of vice squads patrolling San Francisco.
"The trans community and the LGBT community, when they don't feel safe in other parts of community, often find safety amongst artists," Rohrer said.
And yet the warehouse was beautiful, according to Rohrer, and it seemed to them that it was a great place to have a party: "That's kind of the transgender experience. There's so much beauty and there's so much risk, all the time.

Here are brief portraits of the three women who died in the fire.
Feral Pines: 'Shined in the Sun'Wolfcave was roommates with Pines, who moved to the Bay Area from Indiana and was originally from Connecticut. She graduated from Staples High School in 2005 and attended the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, where she studied offset lithography, her father said. She had always loved music.
"I had just texted her on Friday, telling her about something I was doing with my daughter that she and I use to do together and I know that she saw it, so that makes me feel better," Pines' sister, Amanda Parry, told News 12 in Connecticut. And in an email, friend Sarah Patterson said that Pines was a "syth genius with impeccable musical taste," who was also an "anti-facist" who was seen taking down swastikas inside the Ghost Ship.
On Facebook, Wolfcave reminisced about being really close with Pines — they loved and hated most of the same things.
"We also all had eerily similar senses of humor and were constantly joking about death, burners, body horror, poop, tiny glasses, gogurt," Wolfcave wrote. "Conversely, there were a few things that Feral and I would always argue about, like ... whether one would rather go to Burning Man or the Gathering of the Juggalos."
Pines moved to California recently and just "blossomed," Wolfcave wrote.
"She went from the comically sad basement dwelling synth collector," Wolfcave wrote, "to a person that shined in the sun, and moved up and down the 1, and took in the fresh air and saw all these fresh possibilities open up before her."
Cash Askew: 'Brilliant, Talented, Unique' StudentAskew, a graduate of Urban High School in San Francisco, was active in the Bay Area music and art scene and was part of a band called Them Are Us Too. "Them" is a preferred pronoun for many in the transgender community instead of "him" or "her."
The band's debut album on Dais Records, Remain, was released in 2015.
"Cash Askew was an absolutely loved and treasured member of the Dais Records family," the label and band's management team said in a statement.
"We were in awe of her talent, her gentle kindness, and her creative momentum," it continued. "Her passing is an excruciating loss that we may never fully process or recover from."
Askew also was a 2008 graduate of the Children's Day School in San Francisco. "She was a brilliant, talented, unique, nonconformist student," Head of School Molly Huffman wrote in a letter, noting that Askew transitioned to female after middle school.
CDS teacher Terry Askhinos wrote a letter to the school remembering Askew as "a gentle, free spirited 13-year-old who always found ways to be an individual, whether it was in her class work, her fiction writing, her fashion, her art, or her political convictions. Cash was always one step ahead of the rest of us and I often held her up as an example to the class of how to make learning a work of art."
Em Bohlka: Beginning her TransitionHer father, Jack Bohlka of Claremont, Calif. took to Instagram to document his child's life.
"Many of you will remember her as Matt. But recently she was transitioning to become a beautiful, happy woman. She took the name Em. I just wish with all my heart that she had more time to live her life as she truly wanted. My heart goes out to the entire trans community who feel as if they must gather in unsafe buildings to experience their community and celebrate their identity. Our communities must become more open and accepting of all people, all identities, so that everyone can enjoy a great party or concert in a space that is not a death trap."
He also told NBC Bay Area in a statement he will be establishing a fund at his local LGBT center in memory of Em, so that more transgender people will be able to become who they truly are, and so that there will be more safe spaces available.”
Donations to the Oakland warehouse fire victims can be made at YouCaring.com
NBC's Asher Klein contributed to this report. 

In the News: KGO-TV

Watch the video here


The Oakland Ghost Ship warehouse fire has been described as heartbreaking for the LGBT community. There are at least three transgender people who are been confirmed dead.

Reverend Megan Rohrer is a pastor who is supporting families and friends of some of the transgender people who died in that fire.

So far three have been confirmed, 22-year-old Cash Askew, a musician with the dream pop band "them are us too" and Feral Pines, 29, whose brother told the Los Angeles Times she followed her path and was true to herself. The third transgender person identified was Em Bohlka whose partner, Natalie Jahanbani talked to ABC7 News on the phone.

"The world has a way of being unkind to those who we consider to be the norm and I just don't want one more trans person to die without getting a voice and getting to know who they are," said Rev. Megan Rohrer, transgender pastor.

Click here to donate to the Alameda County Disaster Relief Fund.

I spoke to one parents of a LGBT child who knew one of the victims whose name has been released and she was devastated not only mourning the loss of friends and a beautiful musician but it could have been her child.

Last night, Rev. Rohrer led a vigil in San Francisco requested by the LGBT community. Immediately following the fire, she was called in by the city of Oakland to assist those in the transgender community.

"I want people to know that they can get support whether it's today or in four months when it feels safe enough and all of the cameras have turned off and they feel then can get help in the community," said Rohrer.

In the News: Hoodline

Castro Vigil Honors Trans Victims Of Ghost Ship Fire In Oakland

About 75 people gathered at Harvey Milk Plaza in the Castro on Monday night to pay their respects to the lives lost at the Ghost Ship Collective in Oakland this past weekend. So far 36 people are confirmed dead in the blaze.

The vigil was organized by Rev. Dr. Megan Rohrer of Grace Lutheran Church in the Sunset District. Rev. Rohrer is the first openly transgender pastor to be installed at a Lutheran congregation.
"There's a need to create a safe space to mourn and to honor the transgender lives who were lost in the fire," Pastor Rohrer said as the vigil got underway. "LGBT people have always been welcomed in artistic communities. Cash Askew, a famous transgender musician who perished at Ghost Ship might have been a big draw to the trans community."
Rev. Dr. Megan Rohrer adressing mourners at last night's vigil.
Vigil attendees lit candles and wrote personal messages, which were hung on the railing above the plaza.
Pastor Rohrer, who prefers gender-neutral pronouns, said that they had already spent some time counseling the families, friends and loved ones of those who died at Ghost Ship.

"My heart was stirred by the time I spent with the victim's families," Pastor Rohrer said. "Today we mourn all the victims. We hold in strength all who were lost. We need safe spaces for trans individuals so we can go to the bathroom without fear. So we don't have to fear a change in politicians. Live for those whose lives were cut short—be the light in the deep darkness."

Tracy Garza, a disabled transgender woman, was the next to speak. "This is this the saddest time I can remember here," she said. "I'm seeing some unprecedented things happen across the country—the man coming into the White House has never been a public servant. Most of us are trying to remain optimistic, our community has always been resilient. I am so grateful to those who came for a few minutes to remember the victims of the Oakland fire."

Garza also reiterated the need for safe transgender spaces.
Personal messages hung along the plaza's railing.
Rohrer then introduced Rev. Cameron Partridge and Rev. Ian Stanford. Both are Episcopalian priests as well as transgender men.

"I'm here to honor the creation of safe spaces," Rev. Partridge said. "What can we all do to create safe spaces? Ghost Ship was a place where people were going not only to be creative, but to be safe."
Rev. Stanford led the crowd in prayer. "O Gracious One. We who call you by many names or by none at all. We ask that you stand with us. We ask that you comfort and console us. Bind our voices as one as we come together. In all our diversity we come to you. As a trans man I want to call out that trans lives matter. Artists matter. Musicians matter. Children matter. The disabled matter Mommas matter. All humans matter."

Sister Merry Peter of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence fought tears as she spoke. "I want us to remember that we came here for a reason," she said. "Why were our artists, our dancers, our trans folk in a shoddy warehouse? We will have our answers and we will change things for the better."
The Sister then invited everyone to turn to the person nearest them and say, "I am with you." Some people wept as they did so.
Rev. Dr. Megan Rohrer and Sister Merry Peter | PHOTO COURTESY OF MONSERRATH ARREOLA
Both Rev. Rohrer and Sister Merry said they hoped this would be the final time the community would have to meet amid tragedy.

"While I mourn the victims there has to be action around affordable housing," said Jordan Gwendolyn Davis, a 31-year-old transgender woman, after the vigil. "A lot of the people who lived in the Ghost Ship were priced out of housing. We need affordable housing and work spaces that are up to code."

Rev. Rohrer suggested that people set up buddy systems so that loved ones can stay informed during emergencies. "Ensure that at least one safe person has a copy of your legal name and your emergency contacts," they said. "So that if God forbid a tragedy happens, they can be identified and mourned with full dignity."

The pastor also said that they were happy that authorities were taking the time to learn the preferred names and genders of the dead before releasing those names to the public.

In the News: San Francisco Chronicle

Vigil in SF mourns transgender victims of Oakland fire Michael Bodley
Updated 10:03 am, Tuesday, December 6, 2016




Photos: Paul Kuroda, Special To The Chronicle


A candlelight vigil was held Monday night in San Francisco for several transgender victims of the Oakland warehouse fire.

Several dozen people gathered at Harvey Milk Plaza at Market and Castro streets to mourn their transgender friends and relatives, most of whose deaths have not yet been confirmed.

Thirty-six bodies have been found in the converted warehouse on 31st Avenue and International Boulevard, where dozens of partyers were trapped when a fire broke out Friday night during an electronic music performance by Golden Donna 100% Silk.

The mourners Monday prayed next to dozens of candles laid out on an ornate tapestry surrounded by homemade signs with names of victims or people still missing. A rainbow-colored ribbon was draped over a railing behind the candles.

“The fire was horrendous,” said the Rev. Cameron Partridge, 43, a priest at St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church, “and we’re realizing increasingly that there were a number of trans folks there that were part of our community.”

Nobody knows exactly how many of their brethren were killed, said the Rev. Megan Rohrer, a transgender Lutheran pastor in San Francisco, because most people in the community use different names from what’s on their birth certificates, which investigators use to identify victims.
“It’s not known if we will be able to identify all of the individuals,” Rohrer said, adding that “your tears will be my tears.”

Tracy Garza, a board member at the GLBT Historical Society in San Francisco, said the people living in the warehouse community known as the Ghost Ship were there mostly because they had no other affordable place to go where transgender people can live and thrive.

In the News: NBC Bay Area

Vigils in Oakland, SF Honor Victims of Warehouse Fire

 
Hundreds of people holding lights honored those who died in the Oakland warehouse fire during a vigil Monday night in Oakland's Lake Merritt. Kim Yonenaka reports. (Published Monday, Dec. 5, 2016)
Hundreds of people holding lights honored those who died in the Oakland warehouse fire during a vigil Monday night in Oakland's Lake Merritt.

Those in the crowd embraced each other or held up lights or flowers and said aloud the names of people they lost in the blaze, though some booed the city's mayor when she spoke.
Several people in the crowd had signs offering "free hugs."
Among the attendees were the parents of 35-year-old Travis Hough, who died in the fire. He was there to support one of the performers.
"He worked with troubled kids," Hough's dad said. "Everyone knew him as Mr. Travis. They all loved him."
Attendees were asked to bring flameless candles, glow sticks, flashlights or other lights. Whether they knew someone lost in this fire, or were just touched by the magnitude of this tragedy, the vigil drew a crowd of about 500 people.

"I'm only 15, and I don't know what they are going through," Taylor Nelson said. "I want to say they are in my prayers."

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf spoke at the event, where she was greeted with boos and calls to resign from saddended, angry atendants. Some people have criticized Schaaf, saying she emphasized the warehouse's code violations instead of the city's shortage of affordable housing in the hours following the deadly fire.

"As we move forward right now, our focus has to be on those who we know are lost and those we are going to learn have been lost," the mayor said.

In San Francisco, a tearful crowd remembered the transgender victims of the warehouse fire.
"Some of those members don't have a connection to family," one attendee said. "We are their family; it is our job to hold them up."

The transgender clergy said some members of the community lived in the warehouse. But many were there to see popular transgender performer Cash Askew, the 22-year-old who died in the fire.

Em Bohlka's father said his daughter was there to see the show. In a statement, he said his heart is broken, and it was wonderful to see her becoming who she was meant to be.

It's possible some victims' parents will never know their child died.

Pastor Megan Rohrer said in life many of the transgender victims struggled to feel safe and belong. She said in death, the coroner is respecting who they were.
"It's kind of beautiful," she said. "They are taking time to make sure they're using chosen names and preferred gender pronouns."

In the News: Bay City News

Mourners honor warehouse fire victims

Hundreds gathered Monday evening at Lake Merritt and in the Castro for candlelight vigils in honor of Oakland fire victims, and Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern said he’s hopeful no more dead bodies will be found at the site of the warehouse fire that has so far claimed 36 lives.

Saying he can’t be sure there are no additional casualities until authorities finish searching the site at 1305 31st Ave., Ahern said there are still “two areas of concern” that haven’t been searched yet because of safety issues.

But he said, “We don’t anticipate any huge numbers” in addition to the 36 people whose bodies have been recovered so far.

Ahern said 16 victims’ families have been notified of deaths and five more families were being notified this afternoon.

Three of the victims who died were from out of the country, one each from Finland, Korea and Guatemala, Ahern said.

The vigil at Harvey Milk Plaza, hosted by Rev. Megan Rohrer and other local transgendered religious leaders, highlighted the fact that many of the victims of Friday’s three-alarm fire and others affected by it were transgendered.

Rohrer, the first openly transgendered pastor ordained in the Lutheran Church, said she had been called Friday to help minister to the families and friends of victims. Authorities have found 36 bodies so far in the wreckage of the Fruitvale warehouse art space known as the “Ghost Ship,” which caught fire Friday around 11:30 p.m. during a party and electronic music show.
Rohrer said:
“I heard of the great need for there to be a space for the transgendered individuals who are mourning their friends, who might not have a safe space to mourn in. … Who might, in addition to their love of music and art, be in a warehouse because it was one of the spaces that they felt safe in.”
Rohrer noted that one of those confirmed dead in the fire, Cash Askew, was a popular transgendered musician. Askew performed with the group Them Are Us Too.

Rohrer noted that authorities were taking care, as they identified the dead, to confirm the preferred gender and names of transgendered individuals. In some cases, however, she said identification and notification of family had been slowed by difficulty in determining individual’s legal names.

The Alameda County coroner’s bureau has completed 22 autopsies of the 36 victims found so far and more autopsies will be done on Tuesday, Ahern said. Names of eight of the victims have been released and others will be released as their next of kin are notified.

The recovery efforts were halted early this morning because of structural integrity issues at the front of building, Oakland Deputy Fire Chief Darin White said.

He said crews have searched through about 75 percent of the building as of this afternoon and he expects the recovery efforts to resume tonight.

Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley said a criminal investigation team is looking into the fire and is headed by a deputy district attorney with expertise in land and property use.

“It’s too early to speculate” on possible charges, O’Malley said, but she said possible charges could range from murder to involuntary manslaughter if the evidence warrants.
She said:
“We’ve been getting a lot of phone calls giving us information and we need to follow up on those leads.”
O’Malley said her investigators have begun interviewing people she described as “operators” of the “Ghost Ship” but she declined to say if that includes chief operator Derick Ion Almena.

O’Malley said a hotline where people can provide additional information is available at (877) 288-2882, while victims and their families can seek support at (510) 272-6180.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf declined to comment on whether local officials should have done more to investigate potential wrongdoing at the warehouse, saying, “In the days and weeks ahead we’ll have many conversations about what we’ve learned and how we move forward.” Schaaf said, “We have all hands on deck” and at this time the city’s priority is working with and comforting the families of the fire victims.
Schaaf said she’s limited in what she can say because a criminal investigation is now under way.
She said:
“We would not want to compromise the District Attorney’s ability to hold people responsible for this potential atrocity.”
According to court records, on Jan. 13, 2015, Almena, 46, was arrested on suspicion of felony possession of stolen property at the warehouse. According a probable cause statement, a woman said she flagged down a patrolling sheriff’s deputy and said Almena had stolen her trailer and she had tracked it to the 31st Avenue site.

The woman, who claimed Almena was her former tenant, performed a citizen’s arrest of Almena and Deputy Jeremy Lucha arrested him and booked him into the Glenn Dyer Jail in downtown Oakland.
Lucha said in his report that Almena confessed to having the trailer “for about a week.” District Attorney officials couldn’t be reached for comment on how Almena’s case was resolved.

In the News: CBS


Hundreds Gather At Vigils For Ghost Ship Fire Victims


SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — Across the Bay Area, friends and family gathered at candlelit vigils to mourn those who died in the Oakland warehouse fire.
Lights lifted to the sky Monday night around Oakland’s Lake Merritt as at least a thousand mourners gathered to pay tribute to those who died in the Ghost Ship fire.
For days, the local arts community in the East Bay has been in shock. Monday night, they were in mourning.

An artist who calls herself Mz. Butterfly told KPIX 5 the creative community in Oakland is close. She was grieving for sound engineer Barrett Clark, one of those still missing and unaccounted for in the wake of the fire.

“It’s affecting the community deeply,” said Mz. Butterfly. “Everyone in Oakland and beyond has been affected by this tragedy.”

She also knows Derrick Ion Almena, the controversial master tenant who has faced backlash for throwing the party in a warehouse that was not up to code.

Continuing Coverage: Deadly Oakland Warehouse Fire

“All I can tell you is that he’s a very horrible person and he has a long history of harming people,” she said.
Monday night, amid the anger there was also love. One man held a sign that read “HUGS HERE.” Oakland resident Chris Edwards, who said he lost friends in the fire, handed out free candy.
“Lost a lot of friends and my friends lost friends,” said Edwards. “I’ve just come out to show love for the people who were lost.”

He, like many others at the vigil, was still reeling.
“It’s been intense. The loss of life has been devastating,” said Edwards. “And beyond that I worry about the artist community and if it’s gonna be destroyed.”

Edwards said he has already heard tales of city officials knocking on the doors of other artist’s compounds in search of violations.

His fear: that the ripple effects of this tragedy have just begun.

As many as 50 people gathered in San Francisco’s Castro District Monday evening for a candlelight vigil in honor of Oakland fire victims.

The vigil at Harvey Milk Plaza, hosted by Rev. Megan Rohrer and other local transgender religious leaders, highlighted the fact that many of the victims of Friday’s three-alarm fire and others affected by it were transgender persons.

Rohrer, the first openly transgender pastor ordained in the Lutheran Church, said she had been called Friday to help minister to the families and friends of victims. Authorities have found 36 bodies so far in the wreckage of the Fruitvale warehouse art space known as the “Ghost Ship,” which caught fire Friday around 11:30 p.m. during a party and electronic music show.

“I heard of the great need for there to be a space for the transgendered individuals who are mourning their friends, who might not have a safe space to mourn in,” Rohrer said. “Who might, in addition to their love of music and art, be in a warehouse because it was one of the spaces that they felt safe in.”
Rohrer noted that one of those confirmed dead in the fire, Cash Askew, was a popular transgendered musician.

Askew performed with the group Them Are Us Too.

Rohrer noted that authorities were taking care, as they identified the dead, to confirm the preferred gender and names of transgender individuals.

In some cases, however, she said identification and notification of family had been slowed by difficulty in determining individual’s legal names.

TM and © Copyright 2016 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2016 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Bay City News Service contributed to this report.