Krystal Oriadha grew up in Harris County, Texas, where she was subjected to verbal abuse, people spitting and throwing rocks at her, and watching people laugh as her family’s house was set afire — all because she was gay.
Oriadha maintained not only her self-esteem, but moved to Maryland several years ago and helped to establish the LGTBQ Dignity Project, which seeks to helps adults and teens who are part of that community.
The group formed about three months ago wants to produce change in the Prince George’s County Public Schools system.
The school board could vote Feb. 20 to incorporate $80,000 in the proposed fiscal 2021 school budget to hire facilitators to train school staff on addressing the needs of LGBTQ students.
“We are still human, we’re not different,” Oridaha said Feb. 11 after heart-wrenching testimony about hate crime legislation before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. “The need in tearing down that stereotype that people who are gay are deviants and don’t have families and don’t have morals. Also, elevating the Black voice in the LGBTQ movement because it has been a white dominant movement. It’s time that people of color push back to the center of the movement.”
School board member Raaheela Ahmed expressed her support on Facebook.
“With hundreds of Prince George’s County public schools students and staff that identify as members of the LGBTQ+ community, many of whom face bullying and discrimination on a regular basis, this kind of training is so needed,” Ahmed wrote. “We can’t be passive anymore. It’s time to act.”
Fear grew in the community last year after two transgender women were fatally shot in Fairmount Heights between March and June.
According to the Human Rights Commission, at least 26 transgender or gender non-conforming people died by a gun or other violent means. The commission calculated about 91 percent of those individuals were Black women, 81 percent were 30 or younger, and 68 percent resided in the South.
The commission, which tracks transgender deaths, say there could be more because of incomplete data collection by law enforcement, media and even advocates to identify a person’s gender.
Although the Prince George’s school system has anti-bullying measures and middle and high schools house student activity clubs, advocates have said there aren’t many outside resources for those in the LGBTQ community.
There are fewer means for adults, especially with Casa Ruby serving as the only LGBTQ organization in the D.C. area. Headquartered in Northwest, it provides an outlet for about 6,000 youth and adults annually in need of health care, job placement and other needs.
With the help of Casa Ruby, Oriadha’s organization seeks a brick-and-mortar location in Prince George’s.
“We’re working on bringing a pride event in Prince George’s,” she said. “We need resources in the county that specifically target the needs of the LGBTQ community. We all need each other.”
Meanwhile, state legislation pushed by Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy would ensure a hate crime would be motived “either in whole or in part” based on a person’s race, color, religious beliefs, or sexual orientation. The current law permits prosecutors to prove a hate crime stood as the only factor, which a judge concluded in the stabbing death of 2nd Lt. Richard Collins III by a white man at the University of Maryland in College Park.
Sen. Mary Washington (D-Baltimore City) said the legislation named after Collins and other proposals protect residents from harm, especially at public schools and universities.
“We have the responsibility for the safety of our children in our schools. That’s a public institution,” said Washington, who is running for mayor of Baltimore and became the first openly gay Black elected official in Maryland in 2010. “We are the ones to set the rules about what is allowable and that’s why state legislation is necessary.”