Adam Polaski

Congrats to Bil & Other 2011 NLGJA Award Winners

Filed By Adam Polaski | July 01, 2011 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Media, Site News
Tags: Betsie Gallardo, Bil Browning, journalism, NLGJA, online media

nlgja_logo.jpegYesterday the National Gay & Lesbian Journalists Association announced the winners of its 2011 Excellence in Journalism Awards. The entire list of winners is at the NLGJA's website.

Among the winners is The Bilerico Project founder Bil Browning. He's being recognized as a first-place winner in the Excellence in Online Journalism category for his coverage of Betsie Gallardo's story. Betsie was an HIV+ girl from Haiti who was adopted by Jessica Bussert, a transgender missionary, who also took in Betsie's sister. Betsie responded well to HIV treatments in the United States, and she blossomed into a beautiful young woman who danced ballet.

Bil's first story about Betsie describes the tragedy further:

Betsie moved to Florida recently and was in a car accident. When the emergency responders arrived, she flashed back to the horrendous abuse she suffered at the hands of that Haitian policeman and resisted arrest. She spit at a cop. The state of Florida sentenced her to five years in prison for battery on a police officer using spit as a deadly weapon - even though it isn't possible to transmit HIV through saliva.

Betsie has now been diagnosed with stage four cancer and is dying. After she didn't contact her family for over a week, her family traveled to Florida to check on her and discovered that doctors had discovered an inoperable bowel blockage. Betsie is unable to take in any food and is slowly starving to death in prison. The state has decided to refuse Betsie IV nutrition saying, "She's going to die sooner or later."

The Broward Correctional Institution warden has allowed her family to visit with her twice in the infirmary but was notified yesterday that there will be no more "special consideration." Since Betsie is too ill to have visitors during normal visiting hours, her family has been barred from seeing her. Their request to be at her bedside as she died was also denied.

After a childhood filled with misery at the hands of local authorities, the state of Florida has sentenced her to die alone and in pain for a "crime" that basic science proves spurious.

Led by Bil's dogged coverage of Betsie's story, LGBT activists were able to get Betsie hospitalized and then released from prison. She spent the last few weeks of her life surrounded by her family until she died on January 31 of this year.

I read the story for the first time yesterday and found myself crying at the tragedy of Betsie's situation and marveling at the persistence with which Jessica Bussert fought for her daughter.

As a journalism student, I also admired Bil's tenacity in reporting Betsie's story. His work exemplifies the power of online journalism, where a story can be pursued to its full potential and documented in its entirety. The story is a testament to Bil's reporting prowess, his activist heart, and the powerful community of The Bilerico Project and alternative media as a whole.

Betsie Gallardo leaves prison
Read the Betsie Gallardo Story at The Bilerico Project:

And be sure to check out the other excellent winners of the NLGJA awards here.

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Awww, thanks Adam. I'm honored that the NLGJA chose my series to award, but the true honors should go to Betsie's mother who doggedly pursued me to help her. I'm so glad I did.

Well-deserved. This is what reporting is all about....

Adam. If it were not for Bil's Paul Revere moment to alert and inform our community, Betsie would have left this world rob of nearly all dignity as a Florida State Prison starved her to death while her mothers carried themselves courageously in the moments.

As we made constant progress to help Betsie and her family, Bil was doing what bloggers do best, communicate, educate and engage the masses to end social injustice.

When I drove Betsie and her mother Jessica to Miami International Airport, it felt so healing to joke, laugh and sing after such a short, yet, very intense struggle to restore dignity and respect to a fellow person living with AIDS.

Bil, thank you for getting us involved and to achieve in what was thought not possible. I'm still struggling with the death of a close friend in November. You helped me channel the fighting spirit of a dead friend into a battle of the impossible.

I often compare the role of activist like spokes in a bicycle wheel. Each is needed and plays an important role to make certain we are authentic and in constant motion. While each spoke has a shared goal to ensure for constant motion, each spoke, or activist, plays a different role contributing in a unique way. The passion you have invested into Bilerico has blessed us with the greatest riches possible. Dignity and Respect in our living and dieing days.

You honor me too much, Michael. While I may have written about the story, you were the one to put boots on the grounds and mobilize the Florida community. Is there an "activist of the year" award? I'd most certainly nominated you for it!

I really mean it Bil. Like I said, in activism, there are many roles and we each impact the movement in a unique, yet powerful way. Without one another, where would we be as community. A flower has so many individuals parts and systems contributing to its beauty. Hoping to see you and Jerame later this month when I come to DC.