Oakland Lesbian Couple and Their Son Murdered By Former LGBT Activist

Patricia Wright worked in the Berkeley Unified School District for nine years, first as a sign language interpreter, then as a special ed teacher, and then as an elementary school teacher at Berkeley Arts Magnet. She retired from BUSD in 2015, and began working as a part-time computer prep teacher at Esperanza Elementary School in Oakland.

“She was a true educator and so excited to work in her community,” her principal told The East Bay Times. “It really was a match made in heaven. She wanted to be part-time, and that’s what we needed. I offered her a job on the spot.”

Patricia’s partner, Charlotte Kuulei Reed, a U.S. Air Force Veteran, owned a hair salon in San Jose. On Facebook, an employee describes her as “truly one of a kind” and notes that Reed “beleived in [her] when no one else did and gave me a second chance. I will FOREVER be grateful for the lessons she taught me.”

Reed and Wright were married over a year ago and had two other children, Rachael and Khari.

Earlier this year, their adopted son, identified in court documents as Toto M. Diambu but going by the name Benny Diambu-Wright, graduated from Berkeley High. He was studying at Laney College and working at Wal-Mart. He had been adopted from West Africa by Patiricia Wright at the age of eight.

Diambu-Wright was mourned on Monday in a vigil at Berkeley High, where friends spoke lovingly of the 19-year-old, whose “unwavering smile [was] able to light up a room.” A classmate read an excerpt from an essay he wrote about his “ideal world,” which included: “my world is not going to have all the weapons and bad drugs that can kill you.”

Tragically, Diambu-Wright, along with his 57-year-old mother and her 56-year-old partner, were found dead on the property of their Elmhurst home last Friday after suffering fatal gunshot and stabbing wounds. There was also a fire in the garage that the Oakland Fire Department extinguished within half an hour. Police had responded to reports of gunshots heard on the block a little after midnight, and immediately found Diambu outside, bleeding to death. After hearing a loud noise from the garage, a bloody 61-year-old Dana Rivers emerged from the house with knives and ammunition in her pockets. She then “began to make spontaneous statements about her involvement in the murders” and attempted to flee on her motorcycle.

Today, Rivers was charged with three counts of murder with special circumstances, arson, and possession of metal knuckles. She may be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole and could also be eligible for the death penalty, depending on the judgment of the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office.

In a tragic twist, Dana Rivers was actually a very well-known transgender activist. She was in the Navy, was married three times, and worked for a decade as a Democratic political consultant in Orange County before she moved to Northern California, got a teaching certificate, and began teaching in 1991. In 1999, the suburban Sacramento high school where she worked suspended her after she disclosed her trans status as well as her intention to undergo gender affirmation surgery. Rivers, a beloved educator who’d won a teaching award from the school in 1993, resigned after the school board voted in favor of asking her to leave. She later accepted a $150,000 settlement from the district and, according to a 2004 profile, also a $10,000 grant from the Colin Higgins Foundation for “courage in the face of discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation.” Interviews describe her as unsure as to whether she was a lesbian or bisexual. She appeared on 20/20 and on NBC Learn and is widely cited in histories of the transgender movement for the spotlight thrust upon her case and the change it enabled. Rivers spent three years as an activist on issues including the 2008 transgender-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and later began teaching at the Five Keys Charter School in a San Francisco jail. In 2012, Rivers represented United Educators San Francisco at a CALSTRS meeting. It’s difficult to find any information on her activities since 2012. In 2013, Rivers started a new Twitter account to replace her old one but it hasn’t been updated since her first tweet.

screenshot-2016-11-16-18-11-13

It’s unclear what Dana Rivers’ motivation was. Michael Campbell, the father of one of Wright’s other sons, Khari, said Rivers was “an acquaintance” of the two women, who he described as “normal moms.” Khari told The East Bay Times, “I knew this woman (Rivers). I don’t know the whole confines of what was going on. I know she (Rivers) was in a motorcycle club. My mom had no part of it. My brother had no part of it. Wrong place, wrong time.”

Khari told Kron4 that he forgives Dana Rivers and knows that “justice will prevail.”

“Authorities have not released a motive but have indicated it might have been a dispute over some property,” is a thing that has been said in multiple posts on this topic.

At the time of the murder, Rivers was living in San Jose, and NBC Bay Area reports that Rivers was a security guard licensed to carry a weapon. It’s unclear what happened to beloved teacher Dana Rivers. The profile I found of Rivers on “The Living Room” does say that she struggled with drug and alcohol addiction for many years but at that time (which seems to be 2004) had been clean for 11 years. It’s worth noting that Rivers is white and the three people she killed are (to the best of my knowledge) of color, and last week saw a rash of racially-motivated hate crimes following the election of Donald Trump.

Our hearts go out to the families and friends of Patricia Wright, Charlotte Reed, and Benny Diambu-Wright.

memorial to Benny via @abc7newsbayarea

memorial to Benny via @abc7newsbayarea


Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists and other anti-trans activists have seized this opportunity to shout loudly at news outlets and on social media that Dana was “really a man” and should be labeled as such. Although there’s nothing but rage in our hearts towards Dana Rivers, it would be unfortunate if this case was used to marginalize and stigmatize other trans women, especially if said stigmatization comes from other LGBTQ women — historically, cisgender lesbian and bisexual women have also been demonized as murderers, rapists and criminals, with every true story of an actual LGBQ female criminal held up to promote falsehoods about the entire group. We shouldn’t perpetuate that here.

The truth is that two lesbians and one teenager who were beloved in their communities were murdered last week, and that we are thankful that their murderer was apprehended and imprisoned and will be punished. We owe this family honor and respect and grief, rather than using their deaths to further push our own community apart, and will not tolerate comments that pursue that kind of divisive agenda.

If you honestly think that the best way to honor and respect the victims is to pour 100% of your energy into yelling about how the killer was “really a man,” then please take that energy to another website. 


Sources:

Riese is the 37-year-old CEO, CFO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker, low-key Jewish power lesbian and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and then headed West. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 2645 articles for us.

64 Comments

  1. This just in: white lesbians of various ideologies and body types debate the cause of a triple homicide, and agree completely that it was not a racist killing between a white lesbian and two lesbians of color. Despite the friend of the family saying so. Despite one of the top 10 most famous lesbian trans women in modern history, recently openly backing a white supremacist regime.

    White lesbians are officially the enemy of lesbians in general. Goddess save the rest of us.

    • Hi Green Grembly, no one said that these killings were not racially motivated, and the potential racial element to the murders is mentioned right in the article. It’s impossible to say at this juncture what the killer’s motivation was, but it’s certiantly possible that race played a role and I don’t think any Autostraddle reader would deny that. There is a lot of racism everywhere in America, and the LGBTQ community is certiantly no exception.

  2. And fucking great. This is exactly what opponents need right now at a time when anti-trans legislation was already going to spike. God fucking damn Rivers.

  3. Thank you for honoring the memory of Patricia Wright and Charlotte Reed by covering this tragedy in a respectful way. My heart goes out to their families and communities.

  4. This is an awful tragedy all around. My only hope is, if Rivers goes to prison, I hope they send her to a woman’s facility and not a men’s one(or the lgbtq one, where again it’s mostly cis gay men).

    • I agree. It’s cruel and inhumane when trans prisoners are housed and treated improperly. As someone who has taken care of people in the hospital I recognize how important it is. Even if they’re convicted felons currently serving time, even if they’re a rapist or a murderer, they deserve to be housed properly and afforded appropriate medical care.

  5. That last bit is soo true(i think you forgot the t in lgbtq btw). In my town a queer punx woman was charged with the castration of a dude, because they were co-workers, and he had a problem with her piercings. Oh the news tried to make her out as a thug because she was a queer punx and had naturally red hair with pink highlights. It was not cool. A few weeks later the guys estranged wife admitted to castrating him, because he refused to pay for her car payments. Needless to say she’s got 1 year in jail and he’s needs a cane now to walk.

      • I agree that its a complex scenario. And that these TERFs need to sit down somewhere and sort out their bangs. But I’m still not on board with making a the story of a murder of queer POC about their white murderer, especially given the racial climate in the US. Fuck transmisogyny, but also fuck the brutal murder of queer people of color. I’m mad as hell about both, as everyone should be. But we should NEVER combat one by glossing over the other.

          • TERF bangs. Transphobic people tend to have really unfortunate blunt bangs. Its a joke at the expense of transphobes. And, judging by ur other comments, I think we’re fighting on the same side, just with different ideas of how to get there.

          • No, I think you’re the same fucking troll I’ve been telling off because your prose doesn’t change from name to name. Neither does the grammar or syntax. You’re just talking to yourself now, thinking you’ll ingratiate yourself by citing credentials and fitting in.

          • I swear to you I’m Liam, I’ve been Liam, and will continue to be Liam. I love this website with my whole heart and I’m really sorry you’ve had to put up with troll bullshit here, and I’m further sorry that my prose is currently not at it’s best. And I’m sorry that I mess up its and it’s regularly. I don’t know how to prove my genuineness to you. And I don’t consider my identity to be “credentials.” But I swear on a stack of copies of But I’m a Cheerleader that I’m not a name-switching troll. If there’s a way I can prove this to you, I’ll be more than happy to do so.

  6. I just want to add that Char Reed was an active and devoted member of her community, having been past president of the Billy DeFrank LGBT Community Center, and a continual source of support for the trans community with her salon that sub-specialized in gender presentation. Also, the crime may have had racial overtones, but Char wasn’t black. …This is just tragic and heartbreaking.

  7. Maybe dumb/obvious question but why do some of these comments have a “report” button and others don’t? I’ve often wondered about it while browsing the comments on AS and now it’s like, real fucking necessary to REPORT rite now

  8. Well, this is disheartening in every way possible. If anyone needs me, I’ll be reading noFilter and petting other people’s dogs.

  9. There is nothing about this story that is not heartbreaking and infuriating. Thank you Riese for covering it with such sensitivity. And thank you for being so on top of this comment section.

  10. Oh my god this is my home and I’ve met Char Reed through different events in San Jose. And I’m an interpreter.

    …this is terrifying. And so sad!

Comments are closed.