Gay What ?
Rest of site back up shortly!

Gay marriage opponent working for Shallal campaign

Andy Shallal, Busboys and Poets, District of Columbia, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade

Democratic mayoral candidate Andy Shallal’s campaign has paid $4,000 to an official who ran for D.C. mayor in 2010 on a platform supporting a voter referendum to overturn the city’s same-sex marriage law. (Photo by Laela25; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

A candidate who ran for D.C. mayor in 2010 on a platform supporting a voter referendum to overturn the city’s same-sex marriage law was paid $4,000 in December as a consultant to Democratic mayoral candidate Andy Shallal, according to campaign finance records.

Records filed with the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance on Jan. 31 identify the consultant as 2010 mayoral candidate and former TV news anchor Leo Alexander.

In his run for mayor, Alexander’s campaign received at least $1,950 from the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage (NOM) and was backed by Bishop Harry Jackson, the Maryland minister who led the unsuccessful campaign to repeal the city’s marriage equality law.

Alexander received less than 1 percent of the vote in the September 2010 Democratic primary, far behind then City Council Chair Vincent Gray, who won the primary and then Mayor Adrian Fenty, came in second place behind Gray.

Shallal has expressed strong support for LGBT rights, including same-sex marriage. As owner of the local Busboys and Poets restaurant chain, Shallal has hosted LGBT events at his restaurants.

Shallal campaign spokesperson Dwight Kirk told the Washington City Paper that Alexander met with Shallal before joining the campaign and promised that he changed his mind and that his positions “evolved” on the same-sex marriage issue since his 2010 campaign.

But City Paper columnist Will Sommer, who was the first to report Alexander’s connection with the Shallal campaign, said in a posting on Thursday that Alexander wouldn’t tell him whether his positions on gay marriage changed.

News of Alexander’s involvement in the Shallal campaign comes two weeks after news surfaced that an advocate for a voter referendum on the D.C. marriage equality law in 2010 was working as a paid consultant in January for Gray’s re-election campaign.

Ward 5 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Bob King, who was paid by the anti-gay NOM in 2010, is currently being paid to help the Gray campaign arrange logistics to drive senior citizens to the polls for the April 1 primary. Gray campaign chair Chuck Thies said King has no role in policy making issues and now accepts the marriage equality statute as the “law of the land.”

Alexander and Kirk couldn’t immediately be reached for comment by the Blade.


Report critical of D.C. police response to hate crimes

Cathy Lanier, DC Metro Police, gay news, Washington Blade

D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier (Washington Blade photo by Strother Gaines)

The restructuring of the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department’s Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit in 2009 “weakened its effectiveness in responding to hate crimes” and hindered its ability to reach out to the LGBT community, according to a newly released report.

The 41-page Hate Crimes Assessment Report was prepared by an independent task force created in 2012 by the Anti-Defamation League of Washington, a nationally recognized civil rights group, at the request of D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier.

In announcing the launching of the task force, Lanier said she asked the ADL to assist the MPD by conducting an impartial review of its programs directed toward the LGBT community, comparing them with other police departments and identifying areas that could be improved.

“MPD policies on the identification and handling of bias or hate crimes are strong and reflect many best practices of law enforcement agencies nationally,” the report concludes.

It also concludes that the “vast majority” of MPD leaders and rank and file officers have a deep commitment to “ensuring the safety and security of the LGBT community and to all of those who live, work, or visit the District of Columbia.”

But the report says a series of structural changes that the department put in place for the GLLU beginning in 2009, which were aimed at expanding the reach of the unit throughout the city, appear to have weakened its effectiveness and diminished its credibility within the LGBT community.

“MPD’s outreach to the LGBT community, which is a critical component of preventing and responding to hate crimes, is significantly less visible and effective than it was prior to the restructuring,” the report says.

“The restructuring of the GLLU reduced the size and limited the role of the central core of the GLLU, weakened its effectiveness in responding to hate crimes and engaging in outreach, and made it less accessible and visible to the LGBT community,” says the report.

“The GLLU’s reduced visibility and presence in the LGBT community has significantly impacted the level of trust the LGBT community has in MPD,” it says.

Former Police Chief Charles Ramsey created the GLLU along with separate liaison units working with the Latino, Asian, and deaf and hard of hearing communities in the late 1990s. Unlike police liaison units in other cities, whose responsibilities were limited mostly to public relations and educational duties, Ramsey arranged for the GLLU and the other units to investigate crimes and make arrests.

Under the leadership of its former commander, Sgt. Brett Parson, the GLLU developed strong ties to the LGBT community, assigning its officers to attend LGBT events and meetings and to patrol neighborhoods with high concentrations of LGBT residents. Although the officers were based in the GLLU headquarters in Dupont Circle, they responded to calls throughout the city and played an active role in investigating crimes targeting LGBT people, including hate crimes.

Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government recognized the GLLU as a highly effective agent for community policing and awarded the unit a grant to expand its work and assist police departments in other cities set up similar units.

In 2009, two years after then Mayor Adrian Fenty appointed her, Lanier put in place a restructuring plan that, among other things, decentralized the GLLU and the other liaison units through the creation of an affiliate officers program that placed affiliate liaison unit members in each of the seven police districts. The restructuring included downsizing the central GLLU office.

LGBT activists, who said they had no objections to the creation of the affiliate program, expressed strong opposition to what they said was an initial plan by Lanier to close the GLLU’s headquarters office. Activists said at the time that the affiliate officers, who were to receive limited training on LGBT related issues, would not have the experience and depth of understanding of the LGBT community that the core GLLU officers, most of whom were gay or lesbian, had.

Lanier quickly backed down from her initial plan to disband the headquarters unit after opposition surfaced from members of the City Council. However, according to activists, she appeared to be gradually decreasing the core unit’s size.

A short time after the restructuring began, Parson requested and was given a transfer out of the unit to patrol duties. Citing budget constraints, the department replaced Parson with a sergeant who was assigned to supervise both the GLLU and the Latino Liaison Unit.

LGBT representatives said the lack of a full-time supervisor for the GLLU was a further indication that the chief was diminishing the ability of the GLLU to carry out its mission.

Other changes associated with the restructuring included restrictions on the types of events or meetings GLLU officers could attend and what appeared to critics as an increase in the frequency that GLLU officers were detailed to other assignments unrelated to the LGBT community.

Lanier has said that due to police personnel limitations, officers from various specialized units would be temporarily detailed to other, street patrol duties as needed.

In a series of recommendations, the Hate Crimes Assessment Report calls on the department to appoint a full-time supervisor of the GLLU and to ensure that the GLLU’s core unit is sufficiently staffed with officers.

In an 8-page response to the task force report, Lanier said she and the department’s leadership agree with most of the conclusions and recommendations of the report.

“Admittedly, some of this is difficult for me to read as it clearly details where the Department has fallen short in our goal to foster strong relationships with our great and diverse communities that enable us to jointly combat the scourge of crimes motivated by hate or bias,” Lanier said in a statement accompanying the report.

“Nonetheless, I strongly support the recommendations of the Task Force, and the Department will be working to implement them,” she said.

Among other things, Lanier said the department agrees with the report’s finding that neither the GLLU nor its affiliate officers “have the visibility in the community that is our goal, and we must improve that.”

She added, however, that it became clear from the report and meetings MPD officials had with the task force that some members of the LGBT community have “expectations” that the MPD cannot meet.

“While we value a strong relationship with the LGBT community, we are also responsible for being sound stewards of public resources,” she said in her response. “Members of the GLLU had attended events in the past that we have determined are inappropriate for police officers on-duty, including bar crawls, book clubs, and certain events in Leather Week,” according to Lanier.

“That said, we believe there are plenty of opportunities for MPD – GLLU as well as its affiliates – to strengthen outreach with the community,” she said.

In her response to the report, Lanier said Sgt. Matthew Mahl, who had been detailed to serve as the GLLU’s supervisor for over a year, “has been assigned to oversee GLLU exclusively since November 2013.” She added that Mahl “is a good fit for the GLLU and its next stage of development.”

In another finding, the report says there is a belief in the LGBT community that “homophobia and transphobia are widespread within MPD, with several describing it as rampant.”

Interviews with members of the community revealed that the hostility toward transgender people, especially transgender women of color, is common among many MPD officers, the report says.

“Virtually every transgender person who spoke to us at the four community meetings reported that they had been harassed or mistreated because of their gender identity or expression, ranging from acts of ignorance and insensitivity to outright hostility and overt expressions of bigotry and harassment,” the report says.

In citing hate crimes data released by the MPD, the report notes that hate crimes targeting the LGBT community make up the highest percentage of hate crimes compared to other categories of victims, such as race, ethnicity, religion, or disability. In 2012, the most recently year for which full data is available, there were 46 reported hate crimes based on sexual orientation, comprising 57 percent of a total of 81 hate crimes for all categories.

Police data show there were 9 hate crimes reported in 2012 based on gender identity or expression.

The report doesn’t say how many cases of anti-LGBT hate crimes resulted in an arrest by police or how many of the cases remain unsolved.

“It remains unclear whether the reported increase [in anti-LGBT hate crimes] reflects an actual higher level of hate violence directed against the LGBT community, better reporting by LGBT victims, or the lack of reporting by victims in other categories,” the report says.

The task force members who wrote the report are: David Friedman, Sophie Dornstreich, Michael Liberman – Anti-Defamation League; Sara Warbelow – Human Rights Campaign; Lisa Bornstein – Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights; Mara Keisling and Vincent Paolo Villano – National Center for Transgender Equality; Jack McDevitt, Associate Dean and Director of the Institute of Race and Justice, Northeastern University in Boston; and Jim Nolan, Associate Professor of Sociology and Criminology, West Virginia University in Morgantown.

“We welcome the recommendations in the ADL report,” said Hassan Naveed, co-chair of Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence (GLOV). “GLOV and other LGBT organizations plan to issue a community response to the recommendations in the next two weeks.”

The full report along with Lanier’s response can be seen here:


Uproar after arrest of trans woman in D.C.

Ruby Corado, Casa Ruby, gay news, Washington Blade, arrest

Ruby Corado said hostile D.C. police officers traumatized a group of young transgender and gay passengers in her SUV over the weekend. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Local LGBT activists on Facebook were in an uproar over the weekend when transgender advocate Ruby Corado posted a message claiming hostile D.C. police officers traumatized a group of young transgender and gay passengers in her SUV on Feb. 28 when they handcuffed and arrested a transgender woman for driving the vehicle without a valid license.

“I sat in my car as a passenger as we are driving my clients home after a support group when a police officer stopped us and in three minutes I witness a D.C. police officer turn into a very homo-transphobic cop,” Corado wrote in her Facebook posting.

Activists commenting on the incident noted it took place less than a week after Police Chief Cathy Lanier released a report conducted by an independent task force that found shortcomings in the department’s dealings with the transgender community.

Sgt. Matthew Mahl, supervisor of the department’s Gay and Lesbian Liaison Division, told the Blade he looked into the matter after speaking with Corado and reading her Facebook comments. Mahl said that aside from one of the officers referring to the arrested woman by an incorrect pronoun and gender in a police report, he could not immediately identify any improper action by the officers on the scene.

“Anyone involved is welcome to file a formal complaint, which would enable us to look into this further,” he said.

Corado told the Blade she asked Patrice Williams, 51, a volunteer at Casa Ruby, the LGBT community center that Corado heads, to help her drive home three trans women and two young gay men who attended a support group meeting there last Friday night.

Saying she was too tired to drive, Corado said Williams, with Corado sitting in the front passenger seat, was driving north along the 5200 block of 13th Street, N.W. when a police car flashed its lights, prompting Williams to pull over and stop the vehicle.

Officer Ramon I. Moe states in a police report that he conducted a “traffic stop” after observing that two people were sitting in the vehicle’s cargo area “not occupying a seat without a seatbelt restraint.” He stated in the report that he requested an I.D. check for Williams by radio to the Fourth District dispatcher and discovered that Williams did not have a valid driver’s license.

“Suspect 1 [Williams] was placed under arrest for No Permit and transported to the Fourth District Station for processing,” Moe wrote in the report.

According to Corado, the transporting of Williams to the police station came after an ordeal in which the arresting officer and at least one other officer spoke to both Williams and Corado in a hostile manner. She said as many as three or four police cars arrived on the scene.

“I understand that they were going to arrest her for not having a license,” Corado told the Blade. “But my concern is the way they treated her.”

Corado and Williams, who also spoke with the Blade, said the officer’s attitude appeared to change after he saw that Williams’ identification document identified her as a male. Mahl said a more detailed police report not available to the public says Williams handed the officer her auto insurance card rather than a driver’s license.

“When the officer stopped us, I told him it was my car,” said Corado. “I said I am so sorry. I’m the director of an agency and I made the decision to seat the people in the back. I said we just got out of a meeting and it was freezing outside and I wanted to give my clients a ride home rather than have them wait for a bus.”

In her Facebook posting, Corado said, “Looking at his facial expressions, listening to his demanding voice, watching his intimidating body language as he questions and quickly arrests my black trans sister make my advocate persona come out and start questioning why my black sister is being arrested.”

Williams told the Blade the officer asked her if she was white. She said that when she told him she’s black, he appeared to be surprised.

She said she was sitting in the vehicle talking to the male officer who first approached her.

“All of a sudden hands grabbed me, the door swung open and a female officer pulled me out of the car,” Williams said. “They threw me up against the back of the car” and searched her, she said.

“It was verbal abuse and it was physical abuse,” she said of the officers’ conduct toward her.

Corado said the officers’ action and demeanor toward her and Williams caused a lot of stress for the three transgender women and the two gay men as they sat in the vehicle watching.

One of the passengers, Claudia Martinez, told the Blade she suffered an anxiety attack and Corado took her to the Washington Hospital Center for treatment after Corado drove the others home on the night of the incident.

“It just got to me,” Martinez said. “We were in the car for an hour or more.”

Added Corado: “Maybe I caused some of the hostility. I said I have people in the car who are very vulnerable. We were coming from a support group session. Could you be a little nicer?”

That’s when at least of one the officers appeared to become even more hostile toward her, she said.

She said it was then that she called Mahl of the GLLU and asked him to send a GLLU officer to the scene. Mahl said he immediately contacted GLLU Officer Juanita Foreman and asked her to respond to the scene. He said Foreman called him about 15 minutes later to confirm she had arrived on the scene, but she told him she did not see Corado and assumed that Corado left the scene.

Corado told the Blade she didn’t leave the scene until after police drove Williams to the Fourth District station. She said she assumes that Foreman missed seeing her and talked to Williams.

“If she talked to Kaprice, that’s good,” said Corado. “She didn’t need to talk to me.”

Corado and several of the dozens of people who added comments to her Facebook posting expressed concern that the officer stopped the vehicle as part of a “profiling” policy that singles out transgender women for special scrutiny.

Matt Mahl, GLLU, Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit, gay news, Washington Blade

Sgt. Matthew Mahl (center). (Washington Blade photo by Damien Salas)

Mahl, however, noted that the SUV was stopped about 10:10 p.m. on a dark street and he doubts the officer could have determined the gender of the passengers before getting out of his squad car and walking up to the SUV to question the driver.

When asked about the officer’s description of Williams as a “male” on the police report, Mahl said doing that violated a police department general order that requires officers to ask transgender people or anyone whose gender may not be obvious which gender they prefer to be identified as.

“The order says we must ask the person what is your preferred gender and preferred name,” Mahl said. “They did put down ‘Kaprice’ as an aka,” he said. “We are always required to report the legal name of a person being arrested.”

Mahl said he would suggest that police officials treat this mistake as a “teachable moment” to make sure the officers involved in the arrest know about the general order for dealing with transgender citizens.

The police report identifies Williams by her birth name of Howard Williams.

Mahl said a longstanding police policy gives motorists a 90-day grace period after their driver’s license expires in which no penalty is given if they are stopped for a driving infraction. He said Williams had not had a valid, current license for more than a year.

“She was not treated any different than anyone else,” he said, whose license elapsed for more than 90 days.

Court records show that Williams was arrested in August 2013 on an identical charge of driving with “no permit.” The records show that case is still pending and Williams is scheduled to return to court for a status hearing on April 8.

She told the Blade on Monday that she currently has a valid learner’s permit and is in the process of arranging for a road test needed to obtain a new license. She said she meant to show the learner’s permit to the arresting officer during the incident last Friday but, while nervous and reaching into her purse, pulled out her insurance card instead.

Court records also show that Williams successfully applied for and was granted a legal change of her name to Kaprice Williams on July 2, 2013. She said she’s hopeful that the legal name change will protect her from future situations where her identity is questioned.

Corado said LGBT activists plan to raise the issue of police handling of Williams’ Feb. 28 arrest at a news conference being planned later this month to discuss a report released last week that assessed D.C. police handling of anti-LGBT hate crimes and the police relations with the LGBT community.

The report, prepared at the request of Police Chief Cathy Lanier by an independent task force, offers recommendations for improving LGBT-police relations and ways to improve police response to hate crimes.


DNC to form Lesbian Leadership Council

Debbie Wasserman Schultz, DNC, Democratic National Committee, Lesbian Leadership Council, gay news, Washington Blade

‘We’re going to make sure we have a vehicle here at the DNC for lesbian leadership,’ said DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz told members of the DNC’s LGBT Caucus at a March 1 meeting in Washington that the DNC is in the process of creating a Lesbian Leadership Council to boost the leadership role of lesbians in the party.

Wasserman Schultz was among a number of high-profile Democratic Party officials that addressed the LGBT Caucus meeting on the final day of the DNC’s annual winter meetings at the Capital Hilton Hotel.

“No offense to gay men in the room, but just like in the straight community, where women sometimes have been left behind and men have vaulted ahead on the leadership track, my message was it’s time for lesbians to step up,” she said in referring to a speech she gave to a lesbian gathering last month.

“And we’re going to make sure we have a vehicle here at the DNC for lesbian leadership…so we can have lesbians catch up and get them the tools they need and make sure they can be a strong part of our leadership team,” she said.

Wasserman Schultz said more details about the Lesbian Leadership Council would be announced later.

The DNC created an LGBT Leadership Council in 2000 as a party entity charged mostly with raising money for Democratic candidates.

She told LGBT Caucus members at the March 1 meeting that she is proud of the role the Democratic Party has played in pushing for advances in LGBT rights during the years of the Obama administration, including advances in marriage equality

“And we have a lot more to do,” she said. “We need to pass a transgender-inclusive ENDA. That’s absolutely critical. We need to make sure that marriage equality” continues to move forward.

Others speaking at the LGBT Caucus meeting were Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake; gay U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), Speaker of the California Assembly John Perez, who’s gay; and New Hampshire Democratic Party Chair Ray Buckley, who’s also gay.

At the request of LGBT Caucus Chair Earl Fowlkes of D.C., the caucus voted unanimously to approve a resolution in support of D.C. statehood.

One issue that wasn’t discussed at the caucus meeting was the status of the position of director of the DNC’s LGBT Outreach Desk. The position became vacant when D.C. gay Democratic activist Jeff Marootian, who held the post since 2011, resigned recently to become White House liaison at the U.S. Department of Transportation.

DNC spokesperson Miryam Lipper said on Monday that she would inquire about the status of the vacant position with DNC officials this week and provide an update on the matter later in the week.

Fowlkes couldn’t immediately be reached to determine whether DNC officials have discussed the matter with him.

“We’re all kind of pushing that we want this now,” said LGBT Caucus member Barbra Casbar Siperstein of New Jersey. “But we want to make sure that we have truly qualified people because they will be filling big shoes. We were very happy with Jeff Marootian,” she said.

Siperstein said with the 2014 midterm congressional elections approaching, having an LGBT outreach desk at the DNC is important, especially following the shutdown just over a year ago of the National Stonewall Democrats, which closed due to financial difficulties.

Buckley told the Blade that he and other LGBT Caucus members were taking steps to re-launch National Stonewall Democrats but it was unclear when that might happen.


DNC honors Tom Chorlton

Tom Chorlton, Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, gay news, Washington Blade

Tom Chorlton died Jan. 5 in South Carolina from complications associated with leukemia. (Washington Blade archive photo by Doug Hinckle)

The Democratic National Committee adopted a resolution at its Washington meeting on Feb. 28 honoring the late Tom Chorlton, a longtime gay Democratic Party activist and former D.C. resident.

Chorlton served as founding executive director of the National Association of Gay and Lesbian Democratic Clubs from 1981-1982 before becoming D.C.’s first openly gay candidate for the City Council.

He later became a political science professor at the College of Charleston in North Carolina and author of a nationally recognized book profiling the little known 14 presidents of the American Continental Congress prior to the adoption of the U.S. Constitution.

Chorlton died Jan. 5 in South Carolina from complications associated with leukemia.

The DNC resolution states, “Therefore be it resolved that the Democratic National Committee honor Tom Chorlton for his dedication to the Democratic Party, his commitment to advancing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues, his passion for political organizing within the LGBT community, his love of American history, and his years of mentoring to future activists.”


Va. lawmakers repeal sodomy ban in unanimous vote

Adam Ebbin, Virginia, gay news, Washington Blade

‘The law was a terrible, symbolic insult,’ said gay State Sen. Adam Ebbin. ‘It will finally be off the books.’ (Photo courtesy of Adam Ebbin)

The Virginia House of Delegates on Thursday voted 100 to 0 to approve a bill that decriminalizes non-commercial sodomy between consenting adults in private, essentially repealing the state’s Crimes Against Nature statute that courts have declared unconstitutional.

The action follows a similar unanimous vote last month by the Virginia Senate to pass an identical bill. Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe was expected to sign the bill.

“The bottom line is that the General Assembly made great progress for treating sex as sex and applying the same criminal laws regardless of what kind of sex somebody is having,” said Claire Gastanaga, director of the ACLU of Virginia.

“In terms of making it clear that it’s not a criminal act for two adults to have oral or anal sex in the privacy of their own home or some other private space, it accomplishes that,” she said.

State Sen. Thomas Garrett (R-Lynchburg) introduced an earlier version of the bill that was revised last month by the Senate Courts of Justice Committee following input from the ACLU.

Garrett and others pushing the bill said it was needed because a ruling last year by the Fourth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Richmond declaring the sodomy statute unconstitutional and unenforceable made it unclear whether prostitution involving oral or anal sex could be prosecuted.

Others, including former Virginia Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli, argued that the appeals court ruling, which was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, would prevent the prosecution of adults seeking to have consensual oral sex with minors between the age of 15 and 18.

Virginia’s existing criminal code addressing prostitution and non-forcible sex was linked to the sodomy statute, which for years defined sodomy as a criminal felony regardless of whether the sex was between consenting adults in private.

“The law was a terrible, symbolic insult,” said gay State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria). “It will finally be off the books, 11 years after it was ruled unconstitutional [by the U.S. Supreme Court],” he said. “Once the governor signs it, I am glad that all consenting adults will finally be treated as adults.”

Maryland is among more than a dozen states that have yet to repeal their sodomy statutes more than a decade after the Supreme Court declared state sodomy laws unconstitutional in its landmark decision of Lawrence v. Texas.

The openly gay and lesbian members of the Maryland General Assembly — including Del. Heather Mizeur (D-Montgomery County), who’s running for governor — have not responded to requests from the Blade about whether they plan to introduce legislation to repeal Maryland’s sodomy law.

“I’m always glad to see a situation where Virginia is more progressive than Maryland,” said Gastanaga of the ACLU. “It doesn’t happen often enough.”


Gray wins vote but falls short of Stein Club endorsement

Tommy Wells, Vincent Orange, Vincent Gray, Jack Evans, Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, endorsement forum, gay news, Washington Blade

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray finished ahead of four rivals at the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club’s mayoral candidates forum. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray finished far ahead of four of his rivals at the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club’s mayoral candidates forum Thursday night but fell four votes short of the 60 percent threshold needed to win the club’s endorsement.

Gray beat D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), his closest rival, by a margin of 58 percent (112 votes) to 38 percent (74 votes) in a runoff ballot, with 4 percent voting for no endorsement.

“I am so happy about the number of people that came out and supported us tonight,” Gray said after the vote. “It really is an affirmation of our record and we’ll continue to do the things that got us here tonight.”

In a first ballot vote, Gray came in first with 115 votes, ahead of Evans, who received 56 votes. Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) came in third with 28 votes, just ahead of Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), who captured 26 votes. Council member Vincent Orange (D-At-Large) finished fifth with 8 votes. One person voted for no endorsement.

Under club rules, members have the option of holding a run-off vote between the top two vote getters in the first vote if no one obtains the 60 percent margin needed for an endorsement.

Paul Strauss, Pete Ross, U.S. Senate, District of Columbia, Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, endorsement forum, gay news, Washington Blade

Paul Strauss (left) and Pete Ross at the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club’s endorsement forum. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

In a separate endorsement vote on the contest for the city’s shadow U.S. Senate seat, challenger Pete Ross beat incumbent Paul Strauss by a vote of 93 to 85, with 33 people voting for no endorsement. Similar to the mayoral race, Ross failed to win the endorsement by falling 33 votes short of the 60 percent threshold needed for an endorsement.

Meanwhile, in a development that surprised some Stein Club members, mayoral contenders Andy Shallal and Carlos Allen were disqualified from participating in the forum because they didn’t return a candidate questionnaire that the club requires as a condition for being eligible for an endorsement. The two didn’t attend the event.

Democratic mayoral contender Reta Lewis returned the questionnaire but no one placed her name in nomination at Thursday night’s forum as part of another requirement for endorsement eligibility, according to Martin Garcia, the club’s vice president for political and governmental affairs. Garcia said Lewis also didn’t attend the event.

About 300 people, including D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large) and Council member Anita Bonds (D-At-Large), turned out to watch the forum, which was held at the Metropolitan Community Church of Washington at 474 Ridge St., N.W.

Mendelson and Bonds are running for re-election. Last week the Stein Club endorsed Mendelson but didn’t endorse in the at-large race in which Bonds and three other candidates are running in the April 1 Democratic primary because no one received the required 60 percent of the vote from the club’s membership.

Voting at Thursday’s endorsement forum took place after the participating candidates gave opening remarks and answered questions from the audience, which were submitted on index cards and read by Stein Club member Earl Fowlkes, who served as moderator.

Each expressed strong support for LGBT rights and each has a record of support for LGBT-related issues since the time they won election to the Council, with some, including Gray, pointing to their support for LGBT equality in previous jobs in government or in the private sector.

Evans, who has been on the Council for 23 years, brought with him a stack of 32 LGBT-related bills he said he introduced and helped pass during his tenure on the Council.

“I was the first elected official to support marriage equality at a time when no one was there,” he said.

Gray cited the LGBT-related initiatives he has put into effect since becoming mayor, including a first-of-its-kind transgender job training program. His LGBT supporters, who turned out in large numbers at the forum, have called him the nation’s strongest LGBT-supportive mayor.

“I’m proud to have stood up for what is right in the District of Columbia on behalf of the people who are LGBTQ in the District of Columbia,” he said. “I am proud to have led the fight on the Council of the District of Columbia to be able to approve marriage equality,” he said, referring to his role as chair of the Council in 2009 when the marriage bill came up.

Wells acknowledged that Evans, in his long tenure on the Council, and Gray, in his many LGBT-related initiatives as mayor, have done a lot for the LGBT community. Noting that his record and commitment to LGBT issues is also strong, he suggested that LGBT voters should consider turning their attention to issues such as ethics in government, that impact everyone.

“I am so proud of what we’ve done together to make this a fairer, just city for everyone,” Wells said. “Let me say that everyone on the dais has been part of that,” he said. “Your fight is my fight.”

Bowser said she is proud to have won the club’s endorsement in the past when running for her Ward 4 Council seat.

“I think Tommy is right,” she said. “There have been a lot of people who have worked long and hard so that all the institutions of the District of Columbia are equal.  Because of their hard work we’re talking about marriage equality tonight.”

Bowser, among other things, cited her role as co-introducer of a bill approved by the Council earlier this year calling for services for LGBT homeless youth.

Orange pointed to his role as a committee chair to help push through a bill introduced by gay D.C. Council member Jim Graham to add protections for transgender people in the city’s Human Rights Act.

In keeping with the club’s longstanding format for endorsement forums, the candidates were asked to leave the main hall where the event took place at the conclusion of the forum to give club members a chance to speak among themselves on who they support for the endorsement.

Among those speaking on behalf of Bowser was her gay brother, Marvin Bowser.

“Muriel has been up front in support of all of the LGBTQ issues in her campaign, including marriage equality, the anti-bullying law, and the homeless youth bill,” he said. “She’s about supporting the diversity and the vitality of the city,” he said. “She’s fully engaged in all the issues important to that.”

Martin Garcia, Angela Peoples, Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, endorsement forum, gay news, Washington Blade

Stein Club Vice President for Legislative and Political Affairs Martin Garcia (left) and President Angela Peoples. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Stein Club President Angela Peoples said that while she’s disappointed that the club was unable to make an endorsement in the mayor’s race, along with the shadow Senate seat and several Council races, the endorsement forum has been beneficial to LGBT voters.

“I’m really proud and humbled and excited to see so much energy from the entire LGBT community,” she said. “The turnout at this event really shows that our LGBT community is diverse. We have straight allies. We have transgender leadership in our organization. We have people who have been here for a long time and also people who are new and excited.”

Peoples said the strong support that all of the candidates have expressed for LGBT equality was a testament to the strength of the LGBT community.


Catania to run for mayor

David Catania, Washington D.C., District of Columbia, D.C. Council, gay news, Washington Blade

Gay Council member David Catania plans to file papers this week to run for mayor.

D.C. Council member David Catania (I-At-Large) plans to file papers this week to become a candidate for mayor in the November general election, according to Ben Young, an official with Catania’s mayoral exploratory committee.

Catania, a 16-year veteran on the Council, would become the city’s first serious openly gay contender for D.C. mayor based, among other things, on a Washington Post poll in January showing him to be in a statistical tie with Mayor Vincent Gray if the two were to run against each other.

Young declined to comment on the timing of Catania’s expected announcement, which would come just days after U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen alleged in court documents that Gray knew about an illegal “shadow campaign” that Machen said helped Gray win his race for mayor in 2010. Gray has denied the allegations.

Some had speculated that Catania would wait to see who wins the Democratic nomination in the hotly contested April 1 primary before deciding whether to enter the race as an independent. Gray is being challenged by seven candidates, including four incumbent Council members.

The most recent poll, which was conducted before this week’s allegations by the U.S. Attorney, showed Gray in the lead, with Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) as his closest rival. The poll conducted by NBC4, WAMU Radio, the Washington Informer and Marist College Institute for Public Opinion showed Gray ahead of Bowser by 28 percent to 20 percent.

Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) had 13 percent, Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) had 12 percent, businessman Andy Shallal had 6 percent, and Council member Vincent Orange (D-At-Large) had 4 percent. Former State Department official Reta Jo Lewis had 3 percent and civic activist Carlos Allen had less than 1 percent.

Veteran gay activist Bob Summersgill, former president of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, said the campaign finance allegations hanging over Gray’s head and the division among Democrats between the four Council candidates could help Catania in the November election.

“Yesterday’s news on the shadow campaign I think is not going to deter Gray’s supporters, so I still think he’s going to get the 25 to 30 percent of the vote that he needs” to win the primary, Summersgill said.

“But I don’t think the Democrats are going to line up behind him after the primary because of the scandal,” he said. “So I think that people are much more likely to look at David Catania.”

Summersgill and others watching the election believe current supporters of Wells, Evans and Bowser – including LGBT supporters of those candidates – could break from their party by voting for Catania rather than Democrat Gray.

No non-Democrat has won election as mayor in D.C. since the city received its home rule government from Congress and the first modern era mayoral election was held in 1974.

Others, however, say Gray could falter between now and the April 1 primary and another candidate, such as Bowser, could emerge as the Democratic nominee. If that were the case the D.C. electorate’s longstanding inclination to elect a Democratic mayor could once again prevail, according to some political observers.

Catania told the Blade in January when he formed his mayoral exploratory committee that he believes his long record of accomplishments as a Council member has benefited residents in all parts of the city and would make him a strong candidate.

“I think it underestimates the independence of our voters to suggest that they will vote for someone simply by virtue of their sexual orientation, or their gender or their color or geography,” he said. “I think we are entering an era where people no longer feel that they have to or are inclined to support a person who may be demographically similar to them.”


Us Helping Us debuts new HIV testing van

Us Helping Us, testing van, gay news, Washington Blade

(Photo courtesy of Us Helping Us)

An eye-catching new mobile health screening van launched on February 28 is carrying out its mission of encouraging black gay and bisexual men throughout the city to get tested for HIV, according to Ron Simmons, president and CEO of Us Helping Us, the HIV advocacy group that’s operating the van.

Simmons said the mobile health unit van is part of a national HIV testing and prevention program directed toward black gay and bisexual men through a grant from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which developed the program. The CDC says the program is aimed at lowering the HIV infection rate of black men who have sex with men, which is the highest of all the population groups deemed to be affected by the AIDS epidemic in the U.S.

Simmons is a nationally recognized expert on HIV-related services for people of color. He served as a member of a working group that advised the CDC in the development and implementation of the program, which is called “Testing Makes Us Stronger.”

That slogan along with a large drawing of a bare chested young man flexing the muscle of his raised arm appears on the side of the new van.


D.C. requires insurers to cover gender reassignment

Vincent Gray, transgender, gay news, Washington Blade, gender reassignment

‘Treatment of individuals diagnosed with gender dysphoria is a covered benefit in all individual and group insurance plans in the District of Columbia, including Medicaid,’ said Mayor Vincent Gray. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray announced on Thursday that health insurance companies doing business in the District must provide full coverage for medically recognized treatments to help transgender people change their gender, including gender reassignment surgery.

At a news conference in a meeting room outside his office, Gray said the city’s Department of Insurance, Securities, and Banking issued a bulletin directing insurers to recognize a condition known as gender dysphoria, or gender identity disorder, as a medical condition to be covered by insurance plans.

Transgender advocates note that the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association recognize gender dysphoria as a diagnosable condition through which physicians and other health care professional provide a wide range of approved medical treatments to assist people in transitioning from one gender to another.

“Today, the District takes a major step toward leveling the playing field for individuals diagnosed with gender dysphoria,” Gray said. “These residents should not have to pay exorbitant out-of-pocket expenses for medically necessary treatment when those without gender dysphoria do not,” he said.

“I’m clarifying today that treatment of individuals diagnosed with gender dysphoria is a covered benefit in all individual and group insurance plans in the District of Columbia, including Medicaid,” Gray said.

Gray’s remark drew a prolonged, standing ovation from LGBT activists, including transgender advocates, who gathered in the mayor’s ceremonial bill-signing room where Gray held his news conference.

“Those who know me know how proud I am that the District continues to be on the cutting edge and on the forefront when it relates to equality and fairness for its LGBTQ residents,” Gray said.

The bulletin, which the city sent to insurance companies on the day of Gray’s announcement, cites the D.C. Human Rights Act as among the legal grounds being used to require insurers to cover transgender related treatments. The Human Rights Act, among other categories, bans discrimination based on gender identity and expression as well as sexual orientation.

The bulletin cites the D.C. Unfair Insurance Trade Practices Act of 2001 as further grounds for not allowing insurers to exclude coverage of trans-related treatments from their insurance plans.

Among those speaking at the news conference was Mara Keisling, executive director of the D.C.-based National Center for Transgender Equality, which worked with the mayor’s office and insurance department officials to help draft the four-page bulletin.

Keisling said Gray’s action places D.C. among just five states that have adopted similar policies requiring insurers to cover treatments such as gender reassignment surgery and hormone therapy to assist an individual’s transition to another gender.

Those states are California, Oregon, Colorado, Vermont and Connecticut.

“This is really significant,” Keisling told the Blade after the news conference. “It means that transgender people in D.C. now can make their health care decisions with their doctor rather than with their insurance companies,” she said.

Mara Keisling, NCTE, National Center for Transgender Equality, gay news, Washington Blade

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Asked what treatments are involved in a gender transition, Keisling said experts with the World Professional Association for Transgender Health Standards of Care (WPATH) have developed a wide range of treatments that may vary from person to person depending on individual needs.

“It’s a whole range of transition-related care — everything from diagnostic visits to experts in the field,” Keisling said. “It can mean hormone treatments. It can mean lab tests to make sure your hormones are working correctly and not causing any harm. There are various kinds of surgeries that transgender people may need. So it covers a whole range of things.”

D.C. transgender activist Andy Bowen, who recently joined the staff of the NCTE as a policy associate, called the D.C. initiative announced by Gray the most comprehensive among the states that have adopted similar policies.

“If you look at some of the other states they say they’re not going to cover some treatments,” Bowen said. “D.C. has not done that. It just said that if it’s one of the WPATH treatments we’re going to cover it. And that’s amazing to hear a government be that unequivocal about it.”

Philip Barlow, the city’s Associate Commissioner of Insurance, said after the news conference that requiring health insurance companies to cover the medical treatments for transgender people would likely result in a small increase in premiums over a period of time.

“It will just be incorporated into the general cost and utilization that insurers use in coming up with future rate increases,” he said. “But we don’t really anticipate it to have a significant impact on the rates.”

Michael Silverman, executive director of the New York-based Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, praised Gray for taking action that he said would “end health care discrimination against transgender residents of Washington, D.C.”

The bulletin issued by the city’s Department of Insurance that directs insurers to provide full coverage for medically approved treatments to transgender individuals in D.C. can be obtained here.