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Smithsonian Receives Matthew Shepard Collection

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The Smithsonian‘s National Museum of American History received a donation of papers and personal objects from the parents of Matthew Shepard, a young, gay college student who died of severe injuries following a vicious attack in October 1998 when he was a student at the University of Wyoming, Laramie.

Judy and Dennis Shepard donated papers, photographs and notebooks representing the everyday life of their son from elementary school through college, as a participant in local theater productions and as an international traveler. The collection also includes condolence cards and correspondence the Shepards received following his death. In addition to the archival materials, a number of objects serve as a poignant reminder of Shepard’s life as an average American boy: a child-sized Superman cape, sandals, a purple ribbon award he received at school and a wedding ring he purchased in anticipation of one day meeting his soulmate.

“Twenty years is a long time in human years but only a blink in history. Yet it seems like only a moment ago that the country was shocked by the brutal killing of Matt Shepard,” said Katherine Ott, curator at the museum. “The materials donated by his parents, Judy and Dennis, will allow a deeper understanding not only of that time and how people responded and grieved but also the historical vulnerability of LGBTQ people.”

“For 20 years, we have tried to share the meaning of our son’s life, as well as his dreams for a kinder, more accepting and loving world,” said Judy Shepard, speaking for the Shepard family. “While we always have our family memories, it is deeply comforting to know the Smithsonian will preserve his story for future generations. We cannot think of a better way to honor Matt’s life and legacy.”

Matthew Wayne Shepard was born Dec. 1, 1976 in Casper, Wyoming. Shepard spent his childhood and teenage years in Casper and participated in various local theatrical productions. In his junior year of high school, the family moved to Saudi Arabia for his father’s new job with ARAMCO. Shepard returned to the United States after graduating from The American School in Switzerland (TASIS) and lived in North Carolina and Colorado before attending the University of Wyoming during the 1998-1999 school year.

On Oct. 6, 1998, Shepard became the victim of a vicious attack during which he was taken from a bar, tied to a fence, robbed and pistol-whipped. Abandoned in near freezing temperatures, he was discovered 18 hours later by a cyclist. Shepard succumbed to his injuries on Oct. 12.

His killing made headlines around the world and resulted in an outpouring of grief and anger that people channeled into poetry, songs and musical compositions, a major motion picture, The Matthew Shepard Story, and at least two plays, The Laramie Project and The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later. Materials related to these are included in the collection.

Students from The School of Theater, George Mason University College of Visual and Performing Arts presented a brief selection from The Laramie Project by Moisés Kaufman and Tectonic Theater Project during the donation ceremony.

Materials from the National Museum of American History’s LGBTQ collections date back to the 19th century. Objects in the collections include a selection of protest signs from gay civil rights activist Frank Kameny, Billie Jean King’s tennis dress, the first transgender pride flag and HIV- and AIDS-related lab equipment and medications. The archival collections are rich in ephemera, oral histories, photographs, posters and entertainment publicity materials. The museum has mounted a number of LGBTQ history displays over the years, including two marking the 25th and 40th anniversaries of the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City, and a showcase exhibit on the 30th anniversary of the emergence of the HIV and AIDS epidemic.

This donation will join the museum’s permanent holdings of some 1.8 million objects and three shelf-miles of archival collections. While there are no immediate plans for an exhibit, the materials will preserved for future generations. They will be available to researchers and filmmakers, and may be included in future exhibitions.

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Elections 2020

Castro Questions Biden’s Memory, Democrats Express Unease

The Democratic presidential candidate’s rivals offered mixed reactions to the tense tangle between Castro and the former vice president.

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Former Secetary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro speaking with attendees at the Presidential Gun Sense Forum hosted by Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action at the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines, Iowa. Photo credit: Gage Skidmore / Wikimedia

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune

Julián Castro struck a nerve Thursday night — and he’s not saying sorry.

In sharply questioning rival Joe Biden‘s memory, the Democratic presidential candidate brought to the fore simmering concerns about the 76-year-old former vice president’s fitness for office. And while Castro has sought to keep the spotlight on the policy dispute that fueled the moment, he held firm Friday on the overall exchange.

The tense interrogation, which came during a health care exchange at the third primary debate here, divided other candidates, with at least one saying Castro raised a legitimate issue and two more expressing unease with the topic.

In the latter category was Castro’s fellow Texan, Beto O’Rourke, who felt the wrath of Castro in the first debate and said Friday morning he “wasn’t really excited by” how Castro handled Biden. In a CNN interview, O’Rourke equated Castro’s questioning with the “pettiness, the name-calling, the small-ball politics” that O’Rourke said will not defeat President Donald Trump and unite the country.

“Look, if you’ve got a policy difference with Joe Biden, by all means, let’s air it at the debate, but that kind of personal attack I don’t think is what we need right now and is insufficient to the challenges we face,” O’Rourke said.

The blowup came as Castro criticized Biden’s health care plan, saying it would fall short of the goal of universal coverage because it requires people to buy in. After Biden denied that, Castro let it rip.

“Are you forgetting what you said two minutes ago?” Castro asked, “Are you forgetting already what you said just two minutes ago? I mean, I can’t believe that you said two minutes ago that they had to buy in and now you’re saying they don’t have to buy in. You’re forgetting that.”

A short time earlier in the debate, Biden did make a reference to certain people being able to buy in to his plan, but there seemed to be more nuance than Castro implied. Biden first said “anyone who can’t afford it gets automatically enrolled in the Medicare-type option we have.” He later said that if Americans lose their job and the insurance that comes with it, “you automatically can buy into this.”

In the immediate aftermath of the debate, Biden’s campaign suggested that Castro had not learned from the first two debates that taking “personal cheap shots” at Biden has not worked for other contenders. Castro disputed the notion it was a personal attack, seeking to emphasize the broader policy debate they were having.

Castro continued to stand his ground Friday morning in media appearances and a fundraising email that told supporters he was being “viciously attacked” for fighting for them in the debate.

“I had a critical choice to make on the debate stage last night,” Castro wrote. “I could either play it safe and give Vice President Biden a free pass like everyone else. Or I could speak up, challenge the conversation, and demand answers for you and your family.”

Biden’s campaign sent its own email to supporters saying Castro “got it wrong” and that the primary “should be decided on who can deliver for the American people, not who can throw the lowest blows (we already have a President who does that).”

The one candidate who offered some cover to Castro was U.S. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey.

“There’s a lot of people concerned about Joe Biden’s ability to carry the ball across the end line without fumbling,” Booker told CNN shortly after the debate. “And I think Castro has some really legitimate concerns about, ‘Can he be someone in a long, grueling campaign that can get the ball over the line?’ and he has every right to call that out.”

At the same time, Booker added, “I do think that tone and tenor is really important, that we can respect Vice President Biden and disagree with him.”

The level of at least discomfort with Castro’s aggressive tack was more palpable among other hopefuls. Another rival of the two men, Amy Klobuchar, told CNN she found Castro’s interrogation “so personal and so unnecessary,” suggesting it was “something that Donald Trump might tweet out.”

Biden himself has not weighed in yet on the Castro controversy. He was spending Friday raising money in southeast Texas, first at an event in Houston and then at one in Beaumont.

The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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Texas

El Paso Democrat Sen. José Rodríguez Announces Retirement

Rodríguez, who was first elected in 2010 to represent Senate District 29, said he would retire from the Senate at the end of this term in January 2021.

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State Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, speaks to the press following Gov. Abbott's State of the State address in Austin on Feb. 5, 2019. Photo credit: Emree Weaver/The Texas Tribune

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune

Editor’s note: This story has been updated throughout

State Sen. José Rodríguez, an El Paso Democrat, announced Friday that he will not seek reelection to the upper chamber in 2020.

Rodriguez informed El Paso colleagues of his decision in a text late Thursday night that was obtained by The Texas Tribune. He said he would make the announcement at “noon tomorrow at my office.”

“I started my tenure in the Senate with one of the worst budgets in the state’s modern history,” Rodríguez said in a written announcement on his retirement. “Fortunately, my last session was one where state leaders finally gave long overdue attention to our public schools.”

Rodríguez was first elected in 2010 to represent Senate District 29. The district, which hugs the Texas-Mexico border, is considered historically Democratic; it covers El Paso, Culberson, Hudspeth, Jeff Davis and Presidio counties.

The senator’s retirement announcement comes a day after the Senate Democratic Caucus announced that Rodríguez would step down as chair at the end of the year. State Sen. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, will replace him at the post.

It’s unclear who all will announce bids for Rodríguez’s seat. One potential candidate could be state Rep. César Blanco, a fellow El Paso Democrat who serves as chair of the House Democratic Campaign Committee.

Patrick Svitek contributed to this story.

The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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Austin

More Algae Tests Positive for Neurotoxins

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Barton Creek (center) flowing in to Lady Bird Lake. Photo credit: Chase Martin / therepubliq

Additional testing has revealed increasing levels of neurotoxins in algae at a greater number of locations. Samples were taken on Monday, August 12, 2019, at Auditorium Shores, at Red Bud Isle and at Barton Creek. Samples at Barton Creek were taken just below the pedestrian bridge over Barton Creek on the Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail. All the samples contained greater amounts of neurotoxins than found the previous week.

Red Bud Isle remains closed. The public should not allow their dogs to swim anywhere in Lady Bird Lake. In addition, they should keep their dogs out of Barton Creek where algae is present.

In addition to swimming, dogs should not be allowed to drink the water in these locations. People should avoid handling the algae and minimize their exposure to the water. Boating and paddle-boarding is still allowed at your own risk. Pets and people who come into contact with the water should rinse off. If symptoms develop, they should seek immediate medical attention.

“Barking Springs” at the spillway of Barton Springs Pool is upstream of this area. Water at Barking Springs is cold and flows from Barton Springs and Barton Creek. At this time, we believe people and pets can continue to swim in this area at their own risk. They should avoid going downstream to areas with floating algae. They should be aware that bacteria is always a concern in smaller waterways where there is a high concentration of dogs.

Previously, algae in Barton Creek downstream of Barton Springs appeared to be a mix of harmless green algae. However, the most recent samples showed a low presence of blue green algae in the Barton Creek area of Lady Bird Lake. These samples did test positive for neurotoxins. This is a reminder that the situation is evolving and can change rapidly. Watershed Protection will be taking more samples for testing tomorrow.

The algae will naturally die off when cooler weather returns in the fall. At this time, the City of Austin has not identified a safe and effective way to treat or remove the algae, and it is likely that Red Bud Isle will remain closed for the next several weeks.

On Sunday, August 4, the City of Austin warned residents not to allow their pets to swim in or drink from Lady Bird Lake after being told that a dog had died from possible exposure to harmful algae. Since then, the City has been told about three other dogs who have died after swimming in the lake.

On Monday, August 5, the City was able to confirm the presence of algae that could produce a neurotoxin.

Drinking water remains unaffected by this situation. Austin Water regularly looks at algae levels on Lake Austin and Lake Travis and has not seen levels of concern for drinking water. Austin Water does not currently use Lady Bird Lake as a source for drinking water.

Dogs who ingest water contaminated with this toxin could have a number of symptoms. On the severe end, it could result in respiratory paralysis and death. Look for these signs in your pet within minutes to hours of exposure:

  • Excessive drooling, vomiting, diarrhea
  • Foaming at the mouth
  • Jaundice, hepatomegaly
  • Blood in urine or dark urine
  • Stumbling
  • Loss of appetite
  • Photosensitization in recovering animals
  • Abdominal tenderness
  • Progression of muscle twitches
  • Respiratory paralysis

The amount of toxins the dog ingests and licking of the fur are factors.

In people, possible health effects include:

  • Dermatologic signs or symptoms such as rash, irritation, swelling, or sores
  • Gastrointestinal signs or symptoms
  • Respiratory signs or symptoms
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Neurologic signs or symptoms
  • Ear symptoms
  • Eye irritation

Austin Public Health routinely tracks emergency department visits. We have not seen any increases in unusual conditions that may be related to exposure to the water. APH will continue to monitor.

If members of the public have questions or concerns, please have them call 3-1-1 or 512-974-2000.

Source: City of Austin website

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