Debate attendee whose father died of COVID-19 speaks on possible exposure from Trump

Late last night, we learned that the President of the United States has tested positive for COVID-19. Where and when he contracted it is unknown, and with how many places he's been in the past few days and how many people he's come into contact with, it's not likely we'll ever find out.

While we await updates on the president's health and hope for the best, people who have potentially been exposed by Trump and others in his circle are isolating and getting tested. The contact tracing in this scenario is mind-blowingly complicated, but one person who has recently been in a room with the president is speaking out.

Kristin Urquiza was one of Joe Biden's guests a the presidential debate. She lost her father, who was a Trump supporter, to COVID-19 this summer. Her father's obituary went viral for calling out the politicians who downplayed the virus and showed poor leadership in trying to mitigate it:

"Mark, like so many others, should not have died from COVID-19. His death is due to the carelessness of the politicians who continue to jeopardize the health of brown bodies through a clear lack of leadership, refusal to acknowledge the severity of this crisis, and inability and unwillingness to give clear and decisive direction on how to minimize risk."

Urquiza has shared a statement about being possibly exposed to the virus from the president as she sat in the front row of the debate.


"The verdict was already in that Trump's behavior at Tuesday's debate showed his complete disregard for our democratic process and voters' right to hear directly from our Presidential candidates. But as news spreads that Trump, Melania, Hope Hicks, and probably many more of Trump's inner circle are COVID-positive, another thing becomes clear: Trump has no regard for human life.

I was invited by Vice President Biden to the debate to represent my dad, who died of COVID after AZ Gov. Doug Ducey, Trump's willing partner-in-crime, lifted the state's shelter-in-place order even as COVID rates were skyrocketing, and announced on television that it was safe to return to normal life if you were free of pre-existing conditions.

So in a way, it was not surprising to learn that I've now been exposed to COVID by The Donald himself as I sat about 15 feet away from him, in the very first row of the debate hall, while he yelled and mocked VP Biden for wearing masks.

Every attendee, myself included, was only allowed into the debate hall after we tested COVID-negative. But given the limitations of rapid testing and Cleveland's own COVID rules, everyone in that hall should have been wearing masks. And though every one of Biden's guests managed to do this, Trump's guests were shockingly barefaced.

Vice President BIden and his guests took every precaution to ensure the safety of all those inside the debate hall. And yet again, Donald Trump's contemptuous disregard for science and the value of human lives has jeopardized the lives of Congress, Secret Service agents, members of the media, and janitors to a deadly virus that has killed 205,000 Americans to date, with another thousand dying each day that Donald Trump refuses to take leadership and protect Americans from this deadly virus. Irresponsible is an understatement; this is criminal.

How many people must die before we deliver what the American people deserve: a coordinated data-driven, national response to this pandemic. How much more must COVID survivors, COVID families, and all others marked by COVID suffer before our losses are acknowledged and recognized.

I am terrified. I know the darkest result of COVID: an undignified and lonesome death. Something I would not wish upon my worst enemy, present company included. I am working to get a test as soon as possible and will quarantine until I am certain that I am not putting others at risk.

This frightening development will not stop the Week of Mourning from taking place. We will honor the survivors and encourage all those who have lost loved ones and friends to join us in daily virtual vigils at 12:00 noon Eastern Time every day from October 4 to 11. Please visit www.weekofmourning.com to learn more and join me."

The Week of Mourning will include a National Day of Remembrance on October 4, organized by COVID Survivors for Change as a way to honor those our nation has lost to the novel coronavirus.

No one should have to lose a loved one to this virus. We know that masks and social distancing and handwashing can greatly limit the spread of COVID-19. We know that the U.S. has far more deaths from this virus than it should based on our population. It's tragic that the president has contracted it, and maddening that it might be due to his flagrant flouting of mitigation measures.

Hopefully, this unfortunate development will help more Americans understand the serious importance of following public health guidelines and doing what we can to limit the spread and get this pandemic under control.

Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
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In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Photo by R.D. Smith on Unsplash

Gem is living her best life.

If you've ever dreamed of spontaneously walking out the door and treating yourself a day of pampering at a spa without even telling anyone, you'll love this doggo who is living your best life.

According to CTV News, a 5-year-old shepherd-cross named Gem escaped from her fenced backyard in Winnipeg early Saturday morning and ended up at the door of Happy Tails Pet Resort & Spa, five blocks away. An employee at the spa saw Gem at the gate around 6:30 a.m. and was surprised when they noticed her owners were nowhere to be seen.

"They were looking in the parking lot and saying, 'Where's your parents?'" said Shawn Bennett, one of the co-owners of the business.

The employee opened the door and Gem hopped right on in, ready and raring to go for her day of fun and relaxation.

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."