Bil Browning

UPDATED: Post Pulled Pending Further Verification

Filed By Bil Browning | August 16, 2011 3:45 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: Christina Santiago, Indiana state fair, Indianapolis, Marion County, state fair tragedy

UPDATED YET AGAIN I have decided to leave the post unpublished. I explain my reasons and apologize to readers and the women's families in a post that just published. - Bil

I've pulled this post until I can verify the information better.

The organization Santiago was a board member of, Amigas Latinas, has put out this statement:

Amig@s. We've seen a few posts asking folks to call the media because of a claim that Alisha's wishes aren't being respected because the tragedy took place in Indiana. This is NOT TRUE! We appreciate the passion for equality and justice on behalf of these mujeres, but everyone has been working together to honor Christina Santiago. Please intervene if you see this news...

As well, Ivonne Canellada, Administrative Assistant for Amigas Latinas, stopped by to comment on the post and say:

We would like to thank everyone for their kind words and would like to address this article. Apparently our Board Members have told me that this story is NOT true. Indeed it has been spreading like wildfire. We would like to ask that you please verify your sources and take into consideration our pain. Christina was and is a gift to our lives and out of respect for her memory and the pain her partner Alisha Brennan, her family, and us at Amigas Latinas are going through to please disregard this story or clarify it. Thank you.

While I sort out the two sides to this story, I cannot leave it up in good faith. I'll post about this tomorrow when I've had the chance to verify sources further.


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You should know that the NYC Media is full of this story (Ms. Santiago was originally from the Bronx). They are saying she will be buried there, "A memorial service is scheduled for Christina in The Bronx on Thursday. She'll be buried on Friday." From here

Friends Mourn Bronx Woman Killed In Indiana Stage Collapse
http://bronx.ny1.com/content/top_stories/145089/friends-mourn-bronx-woman-killed-in-indiana-stage-collapse

Passing this on from Amigas Latinas, a Chicago group of which Christina Santiago was a board member: "Amig@s. We've seen a few posts asking folks to call the media because of a claim that Alisha's wishes aren't being respected because the tragedy took place in Indiana. This is NOT TRUE! We appreciate the passion for equality and justice on behalf of these mujeres, but everyone has been working together to honor Christina Santiago. Please intervene if you see this news..."

I think you should totally revise this story and change the headline because people are passing it on through Facebook like wildfire and the headline and teaser getting posted are inaccurate. At the VERY LEAST put the updates at the beginning of the story and not the end. I don't think people are reading all the way to the end before reposting.

I know everyone's heart was in the right place but the correction needs to be made more prominent.

Omigod, this is just beyond, even for Indiana.

Yesterday, I think, The Star had article on its page for each of the ppl killed, and mentioned Santiago's partner came with her, and such. That shocked me, I was surprised that a nice family paper like The Star would expose feeble-minded ppl and children to such shocking and inflammatory news.

So I went to the comments, and sure enough, found what I expected: Someone complaining that Santiago sexuality had been thrown in their face, when they hadn't said the other ppl killed were str8 (to provide balance I guess?). Of course, the article said nothing whatsoever about Santiago being gay, just gave the info on her family, just like they did for the other victims. It just happened that in this case, her family was her spouse (CU is close enough to marriage for me), and her spouse was a woman. I haven't gone back to see more comments yet, as I would have to find that article, but am going to take a look.

There's a reason why I rarely read comments on the IndyStar. The ignorance is second only to Youtube comments.

For anyone who wants to add some public pressure, the Marion County Coroner is Frank Lloyd. His number is 317.327.4744.

Actually Frank Lloyd is the Deputy Coroner. Alfarena Ballew is the Coroner.

You should try the Herald times down in Bloomington For as liberal as a town as I'm in there are some highly scary people on that site.

Please read my comment below. Also, everyone, please note that Amigas Latinas, a Chicago-based group (Christina was a board member) has released a Facebook statement (it can be viewed by anyone) denying this report.

Out of respect for Christina and her friends and family who are already in shock and dealing with insurmountable grief, please stop using this as an occasion to stir up so much unfounded anger around her memory.

Yours,
Yasmin

MicheleinCA | August 16, 2011 4:38 PM

This is a down right shame. When I read stories like this I realize how important it is for same-sex marriage to be a federal right. No state should be able to decide to exclude a loved-one from claiming their deceased spouse. If these women could be married, this wouldn't have happened.

Hi All. This actually isn't true. There haven't been any issues thus far. And in fact the funeral will be held in Christina's native New York on the 19th.

I'm not sure how much I would care to blame the Maroin County Coroner for this -- after all, he is following the law, and the Indiana law is what it is. As Bil implies in his post, the blame for this and similar things lies squarely with the Indiana legislature (and to a lesser extent, the US Congress) for not updating the laws with the changing prevailing sense of human decency. Thankfully, it sounds like Santiago's family is willing to cooperate with Brennon, otherwise this could be a personal disaster on top of a public one (the stage collapse and Santiago's death itself).

This is a horror of mine. I do not want my body's disposition to be the same as what my next-of-kin have planned -- and, short of marrying a female just to establish a new "next-of-kin" I do not know of a way under Indiana law to control or arrange the disposition of my own body after death. This is absurd, but Indiana law is often absurd.

It makes me apoplectic to read things like this. I already get annoyed whenever I see Maggie Gallagher's or Brian Brown's face, but it's in cases like this that the toll of DOMA and marriage amendments on real human beings becomes painfully clear -- not to mention the callousness, lack of compassion and downright evil of people who defend them.

I did not know Christina Santiago personally, but saw enough of her at events I covered to respect her strength and intellect. Sadly, I know too many friends of her who are currently grieving and in shock at the sudden news.

Perhaps, out of respect for them, we might all agree to hold off on our outrage until we know the facts for sure. I practically grew up in Indiana, and I have no doubt that this is possible and if this is the case, things are even more stressful and sad for Christina's partner and her family. But we are not told anything here about who told whom that the coroner, who is doubtless also dealing with the other fatalities and others besides, was withholding the body because of Indiana's DOMA law. If true, it's certainly an example of a backward and terrible law.

But we now have someone,Bethany, who appears to know the facts along with clarification from the office. Again, I want to stress: this may well turn out to be true, but so far we don't have any definitive facts. Christina's sudden death and her partner's current condition have already caused so much anguish amongst her friends and family. This is a difficult call: if true, we should definitely be calling the coroner's office and making our views heard. But until we absolutely know for sure, it seems to make it worse for Christina's family and friends to turn this into an occasion for commentary.

I don't claim to know what the best course of action might be here, but I can only offer what I think might be best in what is an already utterly sad and mournful situation for too many people right now.

AJ: apparently Indiana does have a way to designate in advance who has the right to make your funeral arrangements. There's a site that has information for most states compiled here:

http://www.funerals.org/your-legal-rights/funeral-decision-rights

Unfortunately, the designation has to be made ahead of time, and most people don't know anything about these laws, so we end up with tragic situations like this one. Love and peace to Ms. Santiago's family and loved ones.

Don Sherfick Don Sherfick | August 16, 2011 5:04 PM

That's true, but frankly as I look at the statute I see things about funeral arrangements but not a direct metion as to who has authority to claim a remains. And the law is so full of qualitifications about precedence of other documents, etc., that I'm not sure how useful it is. On top of that, what are the chances that an out-of-state couple are going to have executed the specific form contained in the Indiana statute? Married couples can take all of this for granted when the meet tragedy, even if out of state. LGBT couples can't. And that's exactly the way the Righteous Right wants it to stay for us.

Tina, thank you so much for the link you give. I will check it out, and I hope you are correct. However, I would like to point out that I am not as much concerned about my "funeral arrangements" as I am with the "final disposition of remains" -- that refers to where and how the body is buried, or whether it is cremated instead of buried. I'll study the reference given and we'll see.

Don Sherfick Don Sherfick | August 16, 2011 4:59 PM

I got a call from Fox 59 News in Indianapolis and they interviewed me (as Vice President of Indiana Equality Action) earier today. One point I emphasized was that if the Indiana legislature should react to this situation by amending the law next January, it might be very short-lived. If HJR-6 (the so-called "Marriage Protection Amendment) were to become part of Indiana's constitution, it would completely ban any recognition of anything "substantially similar" to marriage. So any reference to a domestic partner, somebody in a civil union in another state, etc., would clearly be declared unconstitutional. People in Indiana and their lawmakers clearly need to realize that this isn't just about "activist judges" and "same-sex marriage". If this tragedy helps make them aware, there will have been a silver lining to this cloud.

Remind me not to travel to Indiana!

Don Sherfick Don Sherfick | August 16, 2011 5:17 PM

Indiana can't be singled out here......any state that doesn't recognize same-sex marriages, civil unions, domestic partnerships, etc., won't interpret the word "spouse" in a statute as including a same-sex partner.

Everyone: please note that Amigas Latinas, a Chicago-based advocacy and support group for L, B, and Questioning women (Christina Santiago was a board member) has released a Facebook statement (it can be viewed by anyone) denying this report.

Out of respect for Christina and her friends and family who are already in shock and dealing with insurmountable grief, perhaps we might stop using this as an occasion to stir up so much unfounded anger around her memory.

https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1294411904&sk=wall

Thanks Yasmin. I updated the post and linked the statement.

I just wanted to follow up again on this article as it is continually being posted on FB and other sites. Christina's partner is not in any condition to claim the body and there was never an attempt on her part. So at no point did the coroner actually decline her partner in the least. In fact everyone in the Chicago community who has actually been in contact with Christina's families and friends have been asked to correct this rumor as it is completely unfounded. This is one time where there has not been any discrimination and actually seems to have been started by an inaccurate quote reported by a Spanish language news report from one of Christina's friends. It would be great if you could either create a new post or delete the original completely.

Thanks Bethany. I've updated the post with the statement from Amigas Latinas.

Bil,

You write above: "A commenter on the post says she is afraid she misspoke to the media. I did not speak to this person for my story."

Just to clarify: I don't believe Bethany here referred to herself, but to someone else, unless you're referring to a post on FB or elsewhere.

Ah, yes. I meant the Latinas Amigas post on Facebook.

Please don't think everyone from Indiana is a bigot. There were a lot of us at the Indiana State Capital when the legislature passed the constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage to protest it. Even though they didn't listen to us then, it still has to pass the legislature to be elected in 2012 and then be approved by the voters in an election. And, really, I'm not at all certain that it would pass.

My condolences to her family.

Please update the title of the article to something more positive. To reflect the story. Its very scare tactic right now.

The Amigas Latinas facebook has information on Christina Santiago's funeral arrangements, which have indeed been finalized. Also, their website, http://www.amigaslatinas.org/, has the info on her life and a link to donate in her name. :) Thanks for keeping us informed.

Hello everyone, this is Ivonne Canellada; Administrative Assistant for Amigas Latinas, the organization our beloved Christina Santiago belonged to. She was our Programming Chair and she was a beacon of light and fire, passionate and kind about human rights and particularly LGBTQ rights. We are in deep mourning and we miss her horribly. We would like to thank everyone for their kind words and would like to address this article. Apparently our Board Members have told me that this story is NOT true. Indeed it has been spreading like wildfire. We would like to ask that you please verify your sources and take into consideration our pain. Christina was and is a gift to our lives and out of respect for her memory and the pain her partner Alisha Brennan, her family, and us at Amigas Latinas are going through to please disregard this story or clarify it.Thank you.

Don Sherfick Don Sherfick | August 16, 2011 10:12 PM

Fox 59 News in Indianapolis did not use its interview with me, and I've advised the reporter of the later developments as to the story not being factual.

Despite that, and in the proper context, the scenario is something that faces countless same-sex couples when the travel, or frankly just stay at home. Only until their relationships are recognized legally regardless of state travelled to or travelled from, will the situation be rectified.

When you realize a mistake has been made, you repair it. This family or this coroner aren't supposed to be used in this manner.

Don,

Did they do a story on this at all? If so, I'd love to see it. I've held on pulling down this post as false until I could see the FOX story. With two conflicting reports here, I'd like to see any video from the FOX coverage.

Bill, I support what you're doing here but this article has really hurt the family and caused them needless distraction during a horrific time. It seems obvious that you've not edited your post title because you're getting so many hits. I'm no longer a fan. For God's sake, check your sources next time this kind of thing is embarrassing to our cause.

Shame on you, Bil Browning!

"The Bilerico Project is . . . known for intelligent political and cultural commentary, the site's carefully selected contributors have helped to shape the LGBT movement for years - both on and off line."

It's despicable that you have taken advantage of a terrible tragedy to promote unfounded rumors from anonymous sources to further your own activist agenda.

Your purely selfish, offensive manipulation of the facts of the situation will be exposed on every article that has since picked up your distortion.

Put the truth at the TOP of the post and apologize for your action and the resulting turmoil you have introduced into the already shattered lives of Christina's family and community.

the photo I took of this lovely couple has been used illegally. This website was never given permission and I have repeated requested that it be removed!!

Among all the responsibilities that come with running a successful blog such as Bilerico, one is not to stir up a tempest in a teapot.

Bil, I think it was wise of you to pull this post if it appears there is a good chance it is false. Thank you for doing so.

I'd also like to add that, in a more general sense and conpared to the rest of Indiana, the city and county officials in Indianapolis/Marion County are considerably more LGBT-friendly and LGBT-savvy than one might expect. In return for this, we should be circumspect in avoiding any false or unverified accusations.

Don Sherfick Don Sherfick | August 17, 2011 11:09 AM

I concur with A.J. I saw some commentary locally to the effect that given the State Fair tragedy, the Marion County Coroner's office had an obligation to release the decedent's remains to her partner. Since the whole story about even being asked is suspect, that's now a stretch. But even if any part is factual, we simply can't make a state official out to be one of the "bad guys" because they are in fact following the law. (WWII buffs, spare me your Nuerenburg "being a good soldier in Hitler's army" arguments on this one, please.)

I haven't heard back from the Fox 59 reporter who contacted me yesterday and to whom I gave an interview, which Fox did not use. (AI reports that Fox was hit by some kind of electrical blackout this morning). When she contacted my organization, Indiana Equality Action, she said that Twitter and other feeds were "abuzz with the story", but I don't know the timing related to Bilerico's original posting. I assume that Bilerico was picking up on that "buzz", however, and not the initial cause, and I see no evidence to the contrary.

It would be interesting to see how this got to be the story it became. I'd be interested in a timeline and a tracing of sources in the Bilerico update on this post. My archived record of the OP indicates that there were no sources cited for the claim that "[t]he Marion County coroner's office is refusing to release Santiago's body to her partner; the office cited the Defense of Marriage Act as the reason why they've turned down Brennon's request to pick up her loved one's remains." "Who said this and to whom?" was the first question that popped into my head. And having seen several reports that Alisha Brennon was still in critical condition, my second question was: "Has she come out of her critical condition? Did she actually make the request? Did someone actually speak to her and get this fact from her?" Again, there was no indication that had been the case.

I want to reiterate that this was never an impossible to believe story - such things have happened in the past, and will doubtless happen in the future. Some of this confusion has come about because too many people know how true it could be. If the story had simply stated its sources at the outset and proved, from sources, that this had been the case - even if key players denied it later on - I would defend its publication to the end, no matter how hard the facts might have been for some of us grapple with. I'd say the same now even if we hear that there were issues around the body - people need to know the facts.

But my issue has been with publishing an unverifed story or, at the very least, a story that did not indicate sources and that also, eventually, caused a tremendous amount distraction and distress that could have been avoided.

Don Sherfick Don Sherfick | August 17, 2011 1:11 PM

You're certainly right concerning the believability of the story as what all too many surviving partners of unrecognized (or non uniformly recognized) relationships face in similar circumstances.

I'll admit that once I got over my own disgust in thinking that it had happened here, I also saw a bit of a "silver lining" in that maybe it might help demonstrate to the Indiana public at large what the problems are. In my (unused....probably fortunately) Fox 59 interview, I made it a point to that if, perhaps, the next session of the Indiana legislature were to amend the law to include surviving partners in a civil union or marriage recognized by another jurisdiction (I know, I knnow, dream on....) it would be completely be wiped back out if HJR-6, an amendment to Indiana's constitution were to be adopted. That's because the provision bars recognition of any legal status "substantially similar" to marriage.

That important point remains even if the story ends up being a complete fabrication, or maybe speculation feeding on itself in print. The task is to bring that kind of message home without causing any more personal grief to the survivors and their families involved.

I agree with you - although we might differ on the specifics of how things need to be made more equitable. Or perhaps not: I believe that recognitions of all sorts should be extended to people who are perhaps not partners; I think we can both agree that there are several instances where the spouse/partner has been the very WORST person to have any automatic rights endowed upon them. I think partnerships and filial organisations should and can be made more intentional: a marriage or romantic relationship does not automatically make for a sane or healthy situation. And so on. That's not idealistic - it's been done and can be done.

All that being said, I think this post shows why the larger gay rights "movement" needs to think long and hard before jumping the gun and assuming that there are no nuances or complexities involved in all this, or that it's somehow problematic to even assume that the story might not be true or that it should be held to basic standards of reporting.

Something similar continues with the entirely fictitious story that Annie Liebovitz suffered because of the "death taxes" on the estate of Susan Sontag, a fiction perpetuated here and never corrected by Terrance Heath and others even when faced with evidence to the contrary.

http://www.bilerico.com/2009/09/leaving_out_part_of_the_liebovitz_story.php

Deciding to ride roughshod over truth or not asking some very basic questions and using stories like this to advance an issue does no one any good - there's no silver lining here, certainly not for those who've had to take on the distraction of all this while dealing with a very sudden and shocking death of someone who was both a friend to many and considered an important and rising voice in the Latina Queer community.

Again, my point is simply: bring home all the messages you want, but ask questions first before having to constantly update a story with perspectives/sides/clarifications that should have been sought before publication.