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JoCasta Zamarripa talks Colorado shooting, safety for LGBTQ+ community

A close-up of flowers and signs that say "CLUB Q" and "LOVE OVER HATE"
David Zalubowski
Bouquets of flowers sit on a corner near the site of a mass shooting at the gay bar Club Q in Colorado Springs, Colo.

On Saturday, a gunman opened fire at Club Q, a gay nightclub in Colorado Springs. The attack killed five people and wounded at least 17 others.

It was the eve of the Transgender Day of Remembrance, in which people around the world honor and mourn trans people lost to violence.

In a statement, Milwaukee Alderwoman JoCasta Zamarripa said she was “appalled and heartbroken that my community was targeted on such a symbolically important day for us.” Zamarripa, who represents District 8 in the near south side, is the first openly LGBTQ+ member of the Common Council.

Zamarripa spoke about the mass shooting and the city’s ongoing efforts to protect the queer community.

What did you think when you heard the news of the Colorado shooting this weekend?

That this would happen, you know, on the eve of Transgender Day of Remembrance. It's terrible and it made me think of the Pulse nightclub shooting.

That happened the night before our Pride parade that we have annually in the City of Milwaukee on the near south side, so it was very devastating. I remember my sister and I having to — I marched in the parade every year — just having to put forward a strong demeanor and still be in the parade and lift up our community during a very difficult time.

In Milwaukee, we’ve seen growing violence against trans women. What measures is the city taking to address this?

I wanted to make sure of course that the public knows that we do have on the books — frankly, at the state level — penalty enhancers in place for hate crimes.

In addition to that, Milwaukee Police Department (MPD) is committed to having a positive working relationship with our LGBTQ+ community. MPD has an LGBTQ+ liaison, Sergeant Velasquez, as well as an LGBTQ+ committee within MPD. They have standards of procedure, SOP, around interactions with trans people.

Mayor Cavalier Johnson just named an LGBTQ+ liaison last week in Jonathan Fera, also that kind of a point of contact to work with the mayor's office and build strong relationships within the LGBTQ+ community.

On the national stage, it’s been a year for anti-LGBTQ+ legislation. Do you see a connection between violence like we saw this weekend and those political efforts?

That kind of political rhetoric, we know, can lead to hateful acts in our society. It's a sad reality.

That's why we need to support positive efforts. Like U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin, our first openly LGBTQ+ U.S. Senator — we need to make sure that we're supporting the effort that she puts forward.

And the efforts that we've seen the state legislature put forward. Every year — I served in the legislature — so I know for the last four terms, they put forward an equality agenda of over half a dozen pro-LGBTQ+ equality bills for the state of Wisconsin.

Those are the kinds of efforts that I think lift up this underrepresented community, and I would hope we could see more of that and less of the opposite.

What else can folks here do in daily life to support the community?

With support from folks like me, as the first out openly LGBTQ+ Alder in Milwaukee, [MPD’s] Safe Place initiative was launched a couple of months ago, where small businesses could support their LGBTQ+ community and beyond by putting [up] a decal sticker, so that folks would know that they could come to their business and seek help or assistance.

We did get some concerns raised by members of the LGBTQ+ community, in particular our trans community, [who] felt like it wasn't inclusive enough. That there wasn't enough involvement in the rollout.

We're going to re-roll out the initiative in the new year, to make sure that it's more inclusive of all members of our LGBTQ+ community, especially those folks in our trans community that we know are oftentimes targeted far and away more than their counterparts.

What’s an example of a solution that came out of addressing those concerns?

There was concerns about everything, frankly, from the graphic that MPD was using, not for lack of trying. They want to be inclusive and work with the LGBTQ+ community. And yet the graphic they used was the older Pride flag design and not the newer Progress Pride flag that includes the black and brown stripes on the rainbow to signify people of color, as well as the colors of the trans Pride flag.

So there was concerns around simply that graphic that they're using to be more inclusive, to what resources are they going to offer to the community. That type of dialogue is, at that very basic level — even talking just simply about the symbols that you're using — is going to be very crucial to whether or not MPD can bridge that gap that some members of the trans community feel very strongly, in particular, Black and brown transgender women.

Lina is a WUWM news reporter.
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