Former Sentinel reporter makes history

  • Published in Local

With election win, Danica Roem becomes first openly transgender legislator to serve anywhere in the U.S.

Danica Roem photoDanica Roem after winning three MDDC awards for the Sentinel.                                        FILE PHOTO  The experience and knowledge Virginia Delegate-Elect (and former Montgomery County Sentinel News Editor) Danica Roem (D) gained while covering local politics in Montgomery County proved invaluable to her winning effort in Tuesday’s election, Roem told the Sentinel during an interview the morning after her historic victory, which will make her the first openly transgender individual to serve in Virginia’s House of Delegates.

“When I was news editor of the Montgomery County Sentinel, I was part of a team that did a five-part series on water infrastructure, and I talked a lot about that series,” Roem said. “I talked about water infrastructure a lot on this campaign.”

Such issues might be boring – “the kind of stuff that makes reporters zone out” – but are extremely important, she said. “You’ve gotta take care of your infrastructure.”


Man receives 30 years in prison for murder at local hotel

  • Published in Local

Keith RenierKeith Renier at the time of his arrest. COURTESY PHOTO  ROCKVILLE – Crystal Blakeney held up the urn that contained her daughter’s ashes and pleaded with Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Marielsa A. Bernard to give the maximum sentence to the man that pleaded guilty to killing her daughter.

“I request the maximum penalty for what he was convicted of,” Crystal Blakeney said.

On Aug. 18, 22-year-old Keith Renier, who pleaded guilty to murder in the second-degree of transgender woman Keyonna Blakeney, was sentenced to 30 years in prison. Bernard went five years beyond the state’s recommended guidelines for second-degree murder. Renier will be eligible for parole in 15 years.

“If I could give you more than 30 years, I probably would,” Bernard told Renier.


Transgender marine veteran works for MoCo Pride Center

  • Published in Local

Stevie Neal, a transgender woman who served in the United States Marines 40 years ago, sat on a booth in Denizens Brewing Co. during an lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender social gathering reflecting on the world’s increasing acceptance of LGBT people.

Neal is one the founders of the Montgomery County Pride Center, a group that is trying to bring big-city resources for the LGBT community to Montgomery County even as they face Republican politicians in power who they feel don’t do enough for the community.

For Neal, her youth reveals a life without strong roots to any one place.


Man convicted in murder of transgender woman

  • Published in Local

Rico LeBlond, the man charged in the murder of transgender woman Zella Ziona, was convicted of first-degree murder Tuesday.

The jury convicted LeBlond, 22, guilty on one count of first-degree murder for the 2015 murder of Ziona.

“Today’s conviction of Rico LeBlond on First Degree Murder is justice attained for Deandre Smith, a young man living as Zella Ziona,” said State’s Attorney for Montgomery County John McCarthy. “This was a cold blooded execution of a person he knew since grade-school.” According to police, Ziona’s gender identity may have played a role in her murder.


Two charged with murder of 22-year-old transgender woman

  • Published in Crime

She lived in motels for the last year.

When police found her dead April 16 at the Red Roof Inn in Rockville, 22-year-old Keyonna Monroe Blakeney was just three weeks away from living in her own apartment with a chance to restart her life.

"I told her, 'Get your GED or your high school diploma, I will help you get back on your feet,’" said her father Kenny Linton.

At an April 22 vigil in Rockville, Linton told the crowd of about 50 transgender people and cis-gender allies he wanted to become an advocate for them because too many people "don't understand" what it means to be transgender.

"I'm here to support my daughter. I love her. I miss her," he said, later adding, “I told her every day that I loved her,"

Blakeney became the second transgender woman murdered in Montgomery County in six months, apparently dying after a robbery went south.

On May 10, police arrested two men who they said confessed to murdering her. Their preliminary hearing is set for June 10 in Montgomery County District Court.


The First Amendment and you

The First Amendment to the Constitution covers a great deal in very few words. Specifically it states: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

If there is one word that is the most significant among the 44 words that comprise the amendment it is the word "Congress". The amendment is intended to prevent "Congress", and by Congress, the government, from enacting laws that would violate an individual's right to practicing his or her religion or exercising his or her right to free speech, a free press, assembling peaceably, or petitioning the government.


Transgender woman found murdered in Rockville

  • Published in Crime

ROCKVILLE – Montgomery County Police are investigating the murder of a transgender woman found dead April 15 at the Red Roof Inn off Shady Grove Road five days after her 22nd birthday.

It is the second murder of a transgender woman in the county in the last six months.


A dirty little bathroom secret

5485ab649cec4.imageOf all the columns I’ve written for this newspaper in the last decade, the one I recently penned regarding “White Privilege” garnered the most hate mail I’ve ever received.

Being accused of being a “reverse Oreo cookie,” a lover of people of color and “the stupidest human being on the planet” as well as having intimate knowledge of my mother, sister, brother and several of my pets was the tip of the iceberg.

I suppose I should be angry.

I am not. I was amused and surprised, but anyone who knows me also knows I really don’t care.

However, I applaud the imagination of the reader who made the scatological death threat. I had to laugh at that as it is a unique method of torture I hadn’t actually thought of before – so thanks for that.

If the prospect of “White Privilege” angers you, then I’m destined to anger the rest of the world this week.

The issue this week has to do with using the public restroom. We received dozens of letters and many comments on social media about “Keeping our restroom experiences pure” and how people dressed as one gender shouldn’t be allowed to be in a public bathroom if their genitalia are that of the opposite gender from their attire - or opposite from the label on the restroom door.


Germantown honors memory of murdered transgendered woman

  • Published in Local

GERMANTOWN – The death last year of a local transgender woman has apparently spurred this community to adopt a hashtag - “#nohategtown,” and led residents to host the area’s first PFLAG LGBTQ Awareness event at Seneca Valley High School Saturday.

Seneca Valley High School Principal Marc Cohen said last year’s killing of Zella Ziona, a 21-year-old transgender woman and Seneca Valley alumna, spurred the event.

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