Community Briefs: New U.S. Attorney; Lambda Literary award; Historic marker removed

Illustration by Ash Cheshire.

Out attorney confirmed as U.S. Attorney for Philadelphia

The U.S. Senate recently confirmed out LGBTQ attorney Jacqueline C. Romero as United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, making her the first woman of color to serve in this role. She will supervise 140 attorneys who prosecute federal civil rights cases in Philadelphia and surrounding counties. 

“We are very excited for this next adventure for Jackie to lead the United States Attorney’s Office here in Philadelphia where she will continue her storied record of promoting and protecting civil rights throughout the Eastern District,” Stephen Kulp, chair of the Philadelphia LGBTQ Bar Association, said in a press release.

Over the course of her 16 years as Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pa., Romero focused on civil rights investigations and fraud investigations. She began working as the Civil Rights Coordinator for the office in 2015, where she worked on cases ranging from healthcare fraud to voting rights.    

In addition to her work as a lawyer, Romero has been an active member of Philadelphia’s legal community. She mentored junior attorneys and law students, served as president of the Hispanic Bar Association of Pennsylvania, is a member of the Philadelphia Bar Association and serves as co-chair of the Philadelphia LGBTQ Bar Association’s Education Committee, where she organized continuing legal education classes for lawyers, judges and students.

Larry Benjamin wins Lambda Literary award

Larry Benjamin, communications director for the Mazzoni Center, won the 2022 Lambda Literary Award in the Gay Romance category for his book “Excellent Songs: A Love Story in Three Acts.”
Described as a contemporary gay romance meets an erotic retelling of a classic fairy tale, “Excellent Sons” follows Asian-American high school students Tristan and Max who fall in love in post-Columbine America. The two seventeen-year-old men must navigate their different worlds while keeping themselves out of harm’s way. The book was also a finalist in the LGBTQ+ category in the 2022 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. 

Benjamin said in a press release, “at a time of increased anti-Asian hate and attempts to ban books about our queer bodies and sex, it feels especially significant and joyful that a book centering a pair of Asian-American teenagers growing up in post-Columbine America and featuring a talking dildo and a non-binary Magical won the Lambda Literary Award in the Gay Romance category.”

Benjamin’s other novels include “The Sun, The Earth & The Moon,” “In His Eyes,” “Vampire Rising” and “Unbroken,” which was a 2014 Lambda Literary Award finalist.

Temple research team receive NIH funding

Temple University scientists received funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study the relationship between HIV, substance use and heart disease. The $2,377,500 in funding, which was awarded from the NIH Director’s New Innovator Award Program, will be allocated toward studies helmed by Allison M. Andrews, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at Temple’s Lewis Katz School of Medicine.

In an attempt to shed light on why people living with HIV are more likely to develop cardiovascular disease a decade earlier than HIV-negative people, Andrews and her team will research the effects of HIV and cocaine use on the bone-marrow blood barrier, which prevents immature blood cells from escaping the bone marrow. 

“We are particularly interested in studying changes in the bone marrow vasculature, microenvironment, and stem cell niche that result from HIV and drugs, such as cocaine,” Andrews said in a press release.

In carrying out their research in this area, Andrews and her colleagues have a goal of devising a human 3D tissue-engineered model of the bone marrow vasculature for the purpose of studying HIV pathogenesis.

“The technology is also a promising tool for predictive modeling that could translate clinically into the development of novel strategies for the care of people with HIV who face cardiovascular disease,” Andrews said in the release. 

Harrisburg LGBTQ historical marker removed

Less than a year after a historical marker honoring LGBTQ rights pioneer Richard Schlegel was installed near the Capitol in Harrisburg, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission has had it removed. The removal comes several months after Republican state Sen. John DiSanto wrote a letter condemning Schlegel’s remarks in an online interview with historian Marc Stein from 1993, focusing on the fact that Schlegel brings up memories of a teenage sexual experience he had with boys a few years his junior. 

Barry Loveland, chair of the history project at the LGBT Center of Central Pennsylvania, told the Associated Press (AP): “[Schlegel] is certainly an important figure in the context of Pennsylvania. There were very few leaders, if you will, at that time — people who were willing to stick their neck out and actually have their name known.”

While working for the U.S. military in 1961, Schlegel was investigated as part of the Lavender Scare, a period in the 1950s and 60s when federal employers frequently questioned their workers about their sexual orientation and fired them if they found out they were gay.  After Schlegel was let go, he sued the U.S. government and took his case to the Supreme Court. Although the court ultimately ruled against him, his arguments set precedents for future cases involving LGBTQ rights. 

Also in the interview with Stein, Schlegel discusses that some of his friends periodically photographed naked underage boys for magazines. 

“I think it demonstrates a history of him grooming young boys and being involved in pedophilia and sex acts throughout that, including ultimately helping to operate a magazine with young nudes and things like that,” DiSanto told the AP. 

The Historical and Museum Commission, which has been looking for more markers that honor underrepresented people and groups, offered Loveland and the LGBT center of Central Pennsylvania the option to submit another nomination for a historical marker, but Loveland said it would be difficult to do that while leaving out Schlegel.

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Michele Zipkin is a staff writer for Philadelphia Gay News, where she reports on issues including LGBTQ youth issues, housing insecurity, healthcare, city government and advocacy organizations, and events. Her work has been recognized by the Keystone Media Awards, Society of Professional Journalists, National Newspaper Association, and more. She received her BA from Goucher College and her MA in journalism from Temple University. She has been on staff with PGN since January 2020 and previously worked as a freelancer.