You probably didn't hear about this woman's death in the media. This group is making sure you will.

When Penny Proud was shot in New Orleans, her community had had enough.

The violence itself was upsetting on its own — only February and 21-year-old Penny was already the fifth transgender woman of color to be killed in America in 2015.


An image of Penny from the news. All images via BreakOUT!.

Media coverage just added insult to injury.

On top of already tragic news, it seemed like the police and the media felt that trans people were "almost less than human," as one person with the New Orleans group BreakOUT! commented. (More on that group in a sec!) They called Penny "him," even after activists pointed out that doing so was incorrect, and the media basically engaged in smack talk and insinuations about her, rather than sticking to the facts and details relevant to the story and the public.

Sadly, none of these problems were new.

Five deaths, and it was only February.

For years, the police had looked more like enemies than allies.

People of color and LGBTQ people experience more police harassment than anyone else. (It's not the kind of thing you can find oodles of statistics about, but if you're thinking, Really? then take a peek at this.) Things get especially gnarly sometimes when cops interact with people whose gender they may not accept or understand.

And in the state of Louisiana (y'know, the whole thing that surrounds New Orleans), they lock up more people than any other state in America ... and, it must be said, America already has the highest incarceration rate in the world.

(Fun fact time! Right now, Texas — a classic lock-em-up kinda place — is working on closing its prisons rather than opening more. Turns out it saves taxpayers money and creates a safe and happy society.)

Things were so bad in New Orleans that the U.S. Justice Department had to step in.

Yep. In 2011, the federal government had to investigate the New Orleans police department.

Basically, nobody in the black trans community was feeling too excited about asking the police for help protecting their lives. Most of them had already interacted with the police, and they weren't positive experiences.

"I've experienced police violence. Most people that I know have experienced police violence." — Shaena Johnson, BreakOUT! Co-Director

But that inspired a group of young people to change their city and their lives.

On the verge of change.

In 2011, they founded a group called BreakOUT!, just for people ages 13-25. Their main mission? Help people heal when shitty stuff goes down personally or in their communities, teach leadership, and, oh yeah, change the city of New Orleans for the better.

"We have to stick together because that's the only way we can survive." — Ja'Leah Shavers, BreakOUT! Outreach and Development Coordinator

After Penny's death, they put up this billboard:

Transgender people have often been "invisible." Hard to miss this billboard, though!

And they've run a Know Your Rights campaign to help young people deal with the police.

It really shouldn't be young people's responsibility to help the cops do their jobs right — they're still learning math and how to drive, for crying out loud — but it's a step toward keeping them safe and well!

Good to know!

New Orleans is more than the home of Mardi Gras and Jazz and vampires.

New Orleans is a huge part of the South's long history of civil rights activism.

It's also, incidentally, a place where people:

  • go to work
  • check out library books
  • adopt kittens
  • get stuck in traffic
  • eat doughnuts (though probably, they're eating more beignets, lucky them)
  • fall in love
  • watch videos on the Internet
  • get bug bites

In short, it's a place like anywhere else.

And the founders of BreakOUT! believe that you should be able to be safe in your own city. For New Orleans, their work is one step in the right direction.

"We have a shared vision of being able to be safe in the city you grew up in." — Wes Ware, BreakOUT! Co-Director

Home should always be fun and safe, right?

Meet the founding members of BreakOUT! in this video

This video is actually the latest installment from SIGNIFIED — a documentary series profiling the work of queer artists and activists. They traveled down to New Orleans to talk with BreakOUT! members about fighting the criminalization of LGBTQ youth there, the national "Get Yr Rights" toolkit, youth leadership development, and the deep history of social justice organizing in the South.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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When "bobcat" trended on Twitter this week, no one anticipated the unreal series of events they were about to witness. The bizarre bobcat encounter was captured on a security cam video and...well...you just have to see it. (Read the following description if you want to be prepared, or skip down to the video if you want to be surprised. I promise, it's a wild ride either way.)

In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

Then he hucks the bobcat across the yard with all his might.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less