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Victory Fund endorses Catania for mayor

David Catania, Catania for mayor, D.C. Council, gay news, Washington Blade

David Catania won the Victory Fund’s endorsement even though he hasn’t yet announced his candidacy for mayor. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, an influential national group that raises money for LGBT candidates for public office, created a stir among local activists this week when it announced it has endorsed D.C. Council member David Catania (I-At-Large) for mayor.

With many LGBT activists supporting Mayor Vincent Gray’s re-election bid and others in the LGBT community supporting one of the four other City Council members running for mayor, some are asking why the Victory Fund would endorse Catania before he has formally announced he’s running for mayor.

Catania has formed an exploratory committee for a mayoral race and has said he most likely would run if Gray wins the Democratic primary on April 1.

Victory Fund Press Secretary Steven Thai said that while the group doesn’t endorse unannounced potential candidates very often, it has taken this step before. He noted that the Victory Fund endorsed former U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) for the U.S. Senate in 2012 before she officially announced she was running for the Senate.

Baldwin went on to declare her candidacy for the Senate and won that race, making history by becoming the first out lesbian or gay person to become a U.S. senator.

“David Catania brings an incredible amount of passion and commitment to his job,” the Victory Fund’s chief operating officer, Torey Carter, said in a statement released by the group on Tuesday.

“He helped guide Washington through a period of unprecedented growth and revitalization,” Carter said. “He is ideally positioned to lead a city with such a diverse and dynamic people.”

The Victory Fund also announced on Tuesday its endorsement of gay Virginia State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) in his race for the 8th District U.S. House seat being vacated by retiring Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.).

Ebbin is running in a hotly contested Democratic primary scheduled for June 10 in which two other openly gay candidates are running in an 11-candidate race.

“Adam Ebbin has distinguished himself as an outspoken voice of progressive values,” Carter said in a separate statement on Tuesday. “After ten years in the state legislature, he has remained committed to his goal of increasing equality and opportunity for those who are often left behind.”

Virginia State Del. Mark Sickles (D-Fairfax), who came out publicly last week in a column in the Washington Post, emerged as an unexpected ‘out’ candidate in the 8th District congressional race. Also running is gay rights attorney and radio talk show host Mark Levine, who worked as a legal counsel for gay former U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.). Levine says he’s been out as gay since the 1980s.

As of this week, the Victory Fund has endorsed 71 out LGBT candidates in national, state and local races and expects to endorse more than 200 out candidates across the country in the 2014 election cycle, the group says on its website.

Among those endorsed so far are at least nine gay or lesbian candidates running in D.C., Maryland and Virginia, including Catania and Ebbin.

But missing from its endorsement list so far are lesbian Maryland Del. Heather Mizeur (D-Montgomery Country), who’s running for governor, and gay D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who is running for re-election to a fifth term.

Spokesperson Thai reiterated the Victory Fund’s longstanding policy of not disclosing why the group has not endorsed a candidate. However, he said many more candidates are in the endorsement pipeline and the group could very well endorse candidates not on the list in the next few weeks and coming months.

He said the group’s criteria for endorsing any candidate, as posted on the website, include a demonstration that the candidate is viable and can show a path to victory; a record of support on LGBT rights; and the completion of a detailed application seeking an endorsement. Thai said an endorsement for a prior election doesn’t carry over to the next election and all incumbents must re-apply each time they run.

Graham couldn’t immediately be reached to determine if he applied for an endorsement in his Council race.

The Mizeur for governor campaign didn’t say specifically whether the campaign formally applied for a Victory Fund endorsement.

“We are in close communication with the Victory Fund and we would welcome their support,” campaign spokesperson Steven Hershkowitz told the Blade.

Meanwhile, in a little-noticed development, Del. Peter Murphy (D-Charles County), one of eight openly gay members of the Maryland General Assembly, announced last month that he is not running for re-election to that position. Instead, Murphy said he decided to run for president of the Charles County Board of Commissioners, a position equivalent to a county executive.

“Whether you’re a state legislator or a county commissioner president, it’s all about the quality of life for all people,” Murphy said in a Feb. 3 statement. “I’ve always been accessible and responsive as a delegate, and I look forward to the opportunity of continuing to serve all our residents with the same enthusiasm and dedication.”

As a candidate for governor, Mizeur is giving up her seat in the House of Delegates. Records with the state board of elections show that she did not file for re-election to her delegate post prior to the filing deadline of Feb. 25. The election board lists Mizeur as an “active” candidate for governor in the June 24 Maryland primary.

The departure of Mizeur and Murphy from the House of Delegates would lower the number of out gay or lesbian members of the Maryland General Assembly from eight – the highest in the nation for a state legislature – to six if all six remaining lawmakers are re-elected this year.

The others running for re-election are State Sen. Richard Madelano (D-Montgomery County) and Delegates Maggie McIntosh (D-Baltimore City), Luke Clippinger (D-Baltimore City), Mary Washington (D-Baltimore City), Anne Kaiser (D-Montgomery County) and Bonnie Cullison (D-Montgomery County).

All except Kaiser have been endorsed by the Victory Fund.

Other out gay or lesbian candidates in Maryland that have received the Victory Fund’s endorsement this year are Evan Glass, Montgomery County Council; Byron Macfarlane, Howard County Register of Wills; and Kevin Walling, Maryland House of Delegates, Montgomery County.

Walling is running in a different district than that of Mizeur and Kaiser’s districts in Montgomery County.

26
Feb
2014

Lengthy lame duck period is lame

Vincent Gray, gay news, Washington Blade, lame duck

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

In last week’s Democratic primary election, several challengers defeated incumbents. Some attribute the victories to the election being held in April rather than later in the year, among other factors. Those who assert this viewpoint are seeking excuses, as the mayoral and Council races were all won by double-digit percentages, so it is highly unlikely that the timing of the races impacted the results.

Sure, it is possible that the winning percentages may not have been as great if the primary was held later in the year, but the belief that it would have impacted the outcome of some of the races is wishful thinking by those who are unhappy with the results.

More than likely, if the primary was held later, some of the candidates may have waited longer to enter the race, so there is no guarantee that there would have been a longer campaign period. The main benefit that may have slightly shifted the winning percentages would have been the ability to campaign in the spring, rather than in the winter. That said, there is no evidence that the low turnout in the primary is the result of the election’s timing. There was plenty of information about the election in the media. Rather, it is more plausible that the electorate willingly chose not to participate for a multitude of reasons.

Nevertheless, in future elections, the primary should be held closer to the general election. By holding the primary in April, incumbents who were defeated have a nine-month lame duck period. That is simply too long and can potentially be disruptive to the District accomplishing its goals during this time. We now have a lame duck mayor presenting a budget to the D.C. Council. That’s quite an incentive for Council members to disregard some of the priorities that the mayor presents. Mayor Gray simply does not have the same power post-election as he did prior to the election. It also gives the mayor almost a year to implement changes as he sees fit, with no regard for how the electorate might react.

In addition, we have lame duck Council members in Wards 1 and 6. It will not have an impact in Ward 6 since Council member Tommy Wells’ chosen successor, Charles Allen, prevailed in the Democratic primary after Wells chose not to seek re-election to his Council seat to run for mayor. Thus, the transition between Wells and Allen will be seamless and I do not believe that Ward 6 residents will disregard Wells during the lame duck period. It may, however, impact Wells’ ability to negotiate with his Council colleagues.

In Ward 1, where Brianne Nadeau defeated Jim Graham in his Council re-election bid, Graham’s lame duck status may have more of an impact. Though Graham publicly pledged to ensure that there is a smooth transition between him and Nadeau, constituent services may be murky over the next nine months. Graham is highly regarded in the area of constituent services, but after a contentious race, there may be a portion of the electorate that is confused about whom to contact in constituent service matters. Highly engaged voters may understand that Graham is still the Council member for the next nine months, but lesser engaged residents, who often are the ones that need the most assistance, may not understand. There also is not much incentive to introduce legislation or to build coalitions with colleagues over legislative or budget battles.

Hence, the nine-month lame duck period will result in a lengthy timeframe in which some elected officials do not feel beholden to other legislators or to the voters. In reality, the negative impact will probably be limited because all three lame duck elected officials—Mayor Vincent Gray and Council members Jim Graham and Tommy Wells—have too much integrity and care too much about their legacies to not work hard until their last day in office. All the same, to be on the safe side, the primary date should be moved back in future elections, so we never have to deal with a lengthy lame duck period again.

Lateefah Williams’ biweekly column, ‘Life in the Intersection,’ focuses on the intersection of race, gender and sexual orientation. She is a D.C.-based political operative and LGBT rights advocate. Reach her at lateefah_williams@msn.com or follow her @lateefahwms.

10
Apr
2014

BestBus steers market

Asi Ohana, Richard Green, BestBus, gay news, Washington Blade

BestBus co-founders Asi Ohana and Richard Green are celebrating seven years of the successful business this month. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Less than a decade ago, the launch of independent bus services providing low-cost travel between D.C. and New York City was an evolving and unreliable transit option. Two local entrepreneurs set out to correct deficiencies plaguing prior start-ups.

Now named BestBus, co-founders Asi Ohana and Richard Green pioneered many of the protocols and amenities later adopted by others. Eliminating the practice of overbooking due to chronic no-shows with the introduction of guaranteed seats and advance ticketing, no longer would frenzied first-come curbside “cattle calls” leave passengers stranded. From a starting date that sold out three weeks in advance on the wildfire word-of-mouth promise of enhanced service, BestBus has continued to set the standard for customer satisfaction.

That distinction has fueled the long and strong marketplace popularity of BestBus as an industry leader and has allowed the enterprise to expand pick-up stops and travel destinations. Formerly known as “DC2NY” until a recent rebranding reflecting new service locations, an enduring commitment to customer service and traveler enjoyment has been as much a key to the company’s success as a full tank of diesel.

Offering convenient and affordable travel, BestBus is the discriminating rider’s choice. Often referred to as the “upscale bus,” the company counts among its clientele professionals from local corporations and trade associations to political staffers and luminaries toiling in the White House and on Capitol Hill. Bookings are available on weekdays and weekends, with variable low-cost competitive rates.

The company pioneered on-board WiFi service and at-seat electrical outlets, complementary bottled water, and passenger voting on whether to watch a movie and schedule a rest stop. Critical to this type of enterprise, a singular focus on maintaining immaculate interiors and well-stocked bathrooms earned patron acclaim. Utilizing charter coach buses, cooperatively trained accredited drivers and on-call relief operators for all routes ensures both customer comfort and a spotless safety record.

Celebrating its seventh anniversary this month, BestBus now serves six cities with 10 routes, including seasonal service to the Delaware beach towns of Rehoboth and Dewey from both Washington and Manhattan. Building on the five-year popularity of its two-way sun-and-sand transport from the District, last year BestBus inaugurated service from NYC.

“We always had requests for service from New York to the Delaware beaches,” says company president Ohana, “but were surprised how quickly it took off.” Ohana and his now-husband Green, company CEO, rode one of their buses in last weekend’s New York Pride Parade – as they did last month in D.C. The Logan Circle couple of more than eight years will celebrate their one-year wedding anniversary the same week they commemorate the annual inauguration date of the only gay-owned bus business.

This week, BestBus general manager Avi Cohen opens a new Dupont Circle operations office at 2029 P St., N.W., as BestBus prepares to expand service stops. Designated bus stops off Dupont Circle and at Union Station in Washington, Times Square in Manhattan, Vienna/Fairfax and Franconia/Springfield Metrorail stations in Virginia, and its seasonal dual beach destinations will soon include new service stops in Manassas, Silver Spring and Baltimore.

BestBus plans to add destination cities Philadelphia and Boston in coming months. Green, a recently retired 27-year veteran of global corporate hotel sales, notes that “planned, gradual growth and service expansion was always part of our vision.”

VIP and regular memberships offering high-value frequent-rider discounts and booking deals are available on the company’s website. Most BestBus riders purchase tickets online or on mobile devices.

Whether planning a last-minute trip or an affordable alternative to the hassle of driving or the expense of the train, BestBus distinguishes itself with each mile and every happy traveler.

Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow on Twitter @MarkLeeDC or reach him at OurBusinessMatters@gmail.com.

01
Jul
2014

Pride Reveal

The Capital Pride Alliance held the 2014 Pride Reveal event at the P.O.V. Lounge of the W Hotel on Thursday evening to announce the theme for Pride 2014: “Build Our Bright Future.” (Washington Blade photos by Michael Key) buyphoto 

24
Jan
2014

Pannell to run for D.C. school board

Phillip Pannell, gay news, Washington Blade

Phil Pannell (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Veteran gay rights and civic activist Phil Pannell said he’s running for the Ward 8 seat on the D.C. State Board of Education in a special election expected to take place July 15.

The Ward 8 seat was declared vacant this week by the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics following the resignation of incumbent Trayon White, who left the position to take a city government job. School board members are barred from working for the city government under a D.C. law.

Pannell lost to White in a special election for the Ward 8 school board seat in 2011 by fewer than 200 votes. Pannell ran against White again in the regularly scheduled election in 2012 and lost by a larger margin. Supporters say Pannell has a long record of involvement in school and education issues in Ward 8 and is highly qualified to serve on the board.

If he were to win in July he would become the second out gay member of the board. Gay civic activist and former Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Jack Jacobson won election to the Ward 2 seat on the school board in 2012.

19
Mar
2014

Thinking about remodeling a newly purchased home?

remodeling, gay news, Washington Blade

Involving home experts early in your home purchase process can add up to peace of mind, significant cost savings and most importantly, happy homeowners, for many years to come.

Despite the Washington, D.C. area’s extended snowy winter bringing a chilling effect to the start of the residential housing market, experts are reporting that pent up demand is expected to lead to increased competition for those seeking to make a home purchase in the coming months.

According to a recent report by the National Association of Realtors, the change in seasons and a boost in inventory will help change the current sales trend even with rates on the rise.

When area homebuyers are faced with limited inventory and competitive bid situations, they may not always be able to purchase a home that perfectly fits their needs. Many often consider buying with significant home renovations in mind.

However, buyers interested in remodeling a newly purchased home may not realize that they should consider getting a “pre-purchase” consultation typically offered at no cost by some area remodelers. This type of consultation, typically conducted before an offer is made or following a home inspection, can save you thousands of dollars in unknown problems and also arm you with important negotiation information.

At BOWA for example, our design experts review complex home inspection reports and help translate complex information to inform homeowners if the home is structurally and mechanically sound. Our team also regularly meets homebuyers at the property to evaluate whether a renovation or addition can:

• Fit within the guidelines of regulatory restrictions, property line restrictions or covenants, which may ultimately affect your decision;

• Accomplish your goals for the property;

• Be achieved given structural limitations;

• Address water issues or hazardous materials, such as lead and asbestos;

• Be constructed within your budget goals.

Having a home expert review a property in advance of purchase can help identify overlooked potential and challenges, while also allaying concerns. To the average house hunter, certain problems may seem insurmountable, but may actually be fixable.

In Potomac, for example, we evaluated a home with four inches of standing water in the basement. After identifying the source, we were able to arm the client with the information they needed to purchase the house at a discount knowing that this issue could be resolved easily during the renovation they already had planned.

Our design experts also offer creative solutions for addressing needs within the existing footprint of the home, such as whether you need an addition for an extra bedroom or an office or just need to reorganize and make better use of the existing space.

Not able to do all of your dream renovations at once? BOWA also helps clients create master plans with phases that coordinate together. For example, a client may do a kitchen renovation this year, while planning an outdoor renovation with gas grill for next year. Knowing this in advance, we can run the outdoor gas line during the kitchen project, and avoid disturbing the inside of the home the following year. A solid master plan also helps to ensure that a current project will not impede a future project.

In the end, involving home experts early in your home purchase process can add up to peace of mind, significant cost savings and most importantly, happy homeowners, for many years to come.

Josh Baker is the founder and co-chair of BOWA, an award-winning design and construction company specializing in luxury renovations, remodels and additions in the greater Washington, D.C. area. BOWA has more than 25 years of experience and has been honored with 170 local and national awards. For more information, visit bowa.com or call 703-734-9050.

02
May
2014

Longtime maître d’ Phillip Gaines dies at 62

Phillip Gene Gaines, a longtime D.C. resident who worked as a maître d’ at the popular D.C. restaurant Port of Piraeus for more than 20 years, died July 24 at a hospice in Arlington, Va., from a heart infection. He was 62.

Gaines was born and raised in Hagerstown, Md., and was a 1970 graduate of South Hagerstown High School and a member of the Hagerstown Christian Church, according to information released by a family member.

He and his brother Gregory sang with local Hagerstown bands and musical groups. He also worked as a ballroom dance instructor in Hagerstown.

Wallace Dickson, his partner of 40 years, said Gaines began work in the bar and restaurant business shortly after moving to Washington in the early 1970s. Among his first jobs in D.C. was that of a bar back at the Georgetown Grill, a popular gay bar at the time, Dickson said.

Gaines worked in several other establishments before landing a job at Port of Piraeus at its location at the time at 1155 21st St., N.W., in the city’s West End section. Dickson said that during his tenure at the popular Greek restaurant Gaines saw its ownership change from father to son.

“He knew every customer by name,” said Dickson. “He never forgot a name or a face.”

Dickson said he first met Gaines in the early 1970s at the then newly opened gay bar Mr. P’s near Dupont Circle about a year after Dickson separated from his wife and was just becoming acquainted with D.C.’s gay scene.

“He knew people all over town from the bars,” Dickson said. “He was my ambassador to the gay community. And he became my savior.”

Dickson said that in May 2008 Gaines suffered a severe stroke that resulted in the loss of his kidney function, requiring dialysis treatments three days a week. This forced Gaines to take an early retirement on disability.

The kidney problems led to further health issues that recently precipitated a severe infection of a heart valve, which was the immediate cause of his death, Dickson said.

“He had a long journey with the kidney problems,” said Dickson. “He never complained once. “He was a happy and cheerful guy. He always had a bright outlook on life. He was a dear person and he’s going to be missed by me.”

In addition to Dickson, Gaines is survived by his siblings, Arthur D. Gaines Jr., Judith Gaines, JoAnn Gaines Claybon, and Denise Gaines, all of Hagerstown; Julia Gaines Harris of Winchester, Va.; Timothy Gaines Simmons of Suitland, Md.; and many nieces and nephews, other cherished relatives and many dear friends.

Burial of his ashes is scheduled for Sept. 26 at Rose Hill Cemetery in Hagerstown to be followed by a memorial service on Sept. 27 at a location to be announced.

A gathering of friends and neighbors in Washington in a celebration of his life is scheduled for Sunday, Aug. 17, at 11 a.m., at the home of A. Cornelius Baker, Apt. 500, 1707 Columbia Rd., N.W.

07
Aug
2014

D.C. must have representation in Congress

State of the Union, 2014, Barack Obama, United States House of Representatives, United States Senate, U.S. Congress, gay news, Washington Blade

We must have our votes in Congress. But as we all work to that goal, our local government has more power than many realize. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

I serve on one of the most powerful elected legislative bodies in the nation. I am a member of the D.C. Council.

Whoa, hold on, I hear you say, how can that be when every law passed by the Council must go to, and may be changed by, Congress at will? And by a Congress where D.C. lacks any voting representation.

To be sure, D.C. statehood is one of the last remaining great human rights violations in the USA. Our city is entitled to full voting representation in the House and Senate and for that there can be no substitute.

Yet, in direct consequence of the congressional role, there is a widely held view that the D.C. government has little power.

On closer examination, that is far from the case.

D.C. may be the most unique political jurisdiction in the U.S. And since Home Rule was established on Dec. 24, 1973 — a 40th anniversary that went largely unnoticed — the D.C. government incorporates city, county and state functions. Thus, for example, motor vehicles, transportation and public works — functions that usually are not within the power of city/county government — are under our government.

Moreover, except for Nebraska, D.C. is the only unicameral state legislature in the U.S. And Nebraska’s single house has 49 members in contrast to D.C.’s 13. In our unicameral legislature, a law can be passed with the support of only seven votes and the signature of the mayor.

But what about this congressional review, where a D.C. law must lay over for 30 legislative days?

True enough. But how often do D.C. laws simply lay over in Congress without action or interference by them?

Almost always is the answer. Even though the heavy boot of a Congress where we have no vote is constantly hanging over the heads of District residents, Congress has used this authority only on rare occasions over the last 40 years — indeed only three times over the last 40 years — and not since 1991. In recent times, Congress has taken no action to disturb what in earlier times would have been viewed as enticing political targets — smoke-free workplaces and marriage equality come immediately to mind.

And D.C.’s congressional review is nothing like what many cities and counties must go through in order to take certain actions. In Virginia or New York, operating under what is known as the “Dillon Rule,” local government may only pass certain laws as expressly allowed by the state legislature. For example, in order for Mayor Bloomberg in New York City to gain control over the NYC public schools laws had to be introduced and passed in Albany in both houses and then signed by the governor. Mayor Fenty needed but seven Council members in D.C. to do about the same thing.

Congress also has the authority to impose restrictions on the District’s ability to raise funds, such as the congressional prohibition of a commuter tax, and override initiatives approved by District residents through referendum. But here again, the authority is increasingly not used. For example, prohibition on needle exchange and medical marijuana funding — both imposed in FY1998 — were lifted in recent years. Only the restriction on spending on abortions remains.

So too, Congress may use the District as a “laboratory” for its own initiatives that they think would be “popular back home.” Federal funding for opportunity scholarships for private schools and various actions related to charter schools are examples.

Forty years into the history of this relatively young government and we have accomplished a lot. The District’s legislature — among the most progressive in social policy in the country — also oversees one of the strongest economies in the country today. We must have our votes in Congress. But as we all work to that goal, our local government has more power than many realize.

12
Feb
2014

Gray, Bowser in tight race

Vincent Gray, Muriel Bowser, mayor, race, gay news, Washington Blade

Mayor Vincent Gray and Council member Muriel Bowser lead a slate of candidates seeking the Democratic nomination in next week’s primary. (Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

Supporters of Mayor Vincent Gray (D) and his main rival, City Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), were making a final appeal to LGBT voters for support this week just days before the city’s April 1 Democratic primary.

Two polls released on Tuesday and a separate poll released one week earlier each show Gray and Bowser in a statistical tie and far ahead of the other six mayoral candidates.

Bowser’s dramatic rise in the polls over the past month has prompted her campaign to step up its effort to urge supporters of the other candidates — especially Council members Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) and Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) — to switch their backing to Bowser.

Although most observers believe the LGBT vote will be divided among several candidates, some activists say LGBT voters could be a deciding factor in the race if they coalesce behind either Gray or Bowser.

One of the polls released this week by the Washington Post shows Bowser with 30 percent support from a sample of likely voters, with Gray receiving 27 percent. An NBC4/Marist poll also released on Tuesday shows Bowser with 28 percent and Gray with 26 percent.

The poll released one week earlier and commissioned by WAMU Radio and the Washington City Paper showed Gray and Bowser each receiving 27 percent. All three polls show that Gray’s support has largely remained at the same level it was more than two months ago while Bowser’s support has risen by more than 10 points.

According to the NBC4/Marist poll released on Tuesday, among likely Democratic voters, Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) was in third place with 11 percent; Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) was in fourth place with 9 percent; and Busboys and Poets Restaurant owner and progressive activist Andy Shallal and Council member Vincent Orange (D-At-Large) each had 4 percent.

Attorney and former State Department official Reta Jo Lewis had 2 percent and businessman Carlos Allen had less than 1 percent. Fifteen percent of the respondents were undecided. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.7 percent.

“The latest polls are showing what we knew all along — that this is a two-candidate race,” said gay activist and businessman Everett Hamilton, who’s supporting Bowser. “All the candidates are great on our issues and we are really fortunate to have an embarrassment of riches among the candidates,” he said.

“So this election is really not about whether someone will be good on LGBT issues,” Hamilton said. “It’s about things that need to be better in this city.”

Transgender activist Jeri Hughes, who supports Gray, said she was troubled that some opponents of Gray are arguing that people shouldn’t vote for him because of the pending criminal investigation into an illegal shadow campaign on the mayor’s behalf in 2010.

At least four people associated with Gray’s 2010 election campaign, including businessman Jeffrey Thompson, have pleaded guilty to criminal charges related to the raising of more than $660,000 in illegal campaign funds. But despite statements by U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen that more is to come in his ongoing investigation, which began four years ago, no charges have been filed against Gray, who strongly denies any involvement in illegal campaign activities.

“I don’t think the people moving toward Bowser are LGBT people for the most part,” Hughes said. “This is due to allegations against the mayor. Nothing has been proven. I’m very disappointed that so many people are buying into innuendo,” she said.

“I can’t turn away my support because of innuendo,” said Hughes. “I believe the mayor is of the utmost integrity and most people I know in the LGBT community share this view.”

Hughes and Lane Hudson, a local gay Democratic activist who founded an independent LGBT group supporting Gray called Gray Pride, are among a number of activists who consider Gray’s record on LGBT issues to be the strongest in the nation for a big city mayor.

Transgender activists have described as groundbreaking a first-of-its-kind city job training program initiated by Gray aimed at low-income transgender residents, who often face prejudice and discrimination when seeking employment. Also considered groundbreaking by activists was the mayor’s recent directive requiring health insurance companies doing business in the city to cover gender reassignment surgery and other procedures deemed medically necessary for transgender people in the process of transitioning.

Hudson, however, acknowledges that the campaign finance scandal has chipped away at Gray’s support among voters, including some LGBT voters.

“It will be a close race,” Hudson said. “The turnout will be crucial. The more activist types are favoring Gray,” he said. “I feel he is getting around half to a majority of LGBT votes.”

Evans and Wells supporters, meanwhile, questioned whether the latest polls accurately reflect the view of the people who will actually turn out to vote. They urged supporters to remain loyal to their respective candidate in a hotly contested election with an outcome that seasoned political observers, including LGBT advocates, said was unpredictable, in part, because the voter turnout is expected to be at an all-time low.

A low turnout is expected, according to political observers, because voters are unaccustomed to having a primary – or any city election – in April. In a controversial action, the D.C. Council voted last year to move the primary from September to April 1.

In addition to Democratic candidates, gay Libertarian Party candidate Bruce Majors is running unopposed in his party’s mayoral primary on April 1, ensuring that he will be on the ballot in the November general election.

Also running unopposed in the April 1 primary is Statehood-Green Party candidate Faith, a former Broadway musician who has run for public office several times in the past.

At a campaign rally Monday night at the D.C. gay bar Number 9, Evans reminded the mostly gay crowd that he has been on the front lines in support of LGBT rights since he began his tenure on the Council in 1991 when he led the effort to repeal the city’s sodomy law. In his GLAA questionnaire response, Evans lists nearly two-dozen LGBT-related bills he has introduced, co-sponsored or supported that have passed since he became a Council member.

Jack Evans, Washington Blade, gay news

‘I’m the alternative that you need,’ said Jack Evans. ‘And I can win if you vote for me.’ (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Evans said he’s telling anyone who will listen – including LGBT voters – that he has a shot at winning if everyone familiar with his long record of accomplishment on a wide range of issues votes for him.

“What I’m saying to people is I’m the alternative that you need,” Evans said. “And I can win if you vote for me.”

All of the candidates except Allen have expressed strong support for LGBT rights, including marriage equality. Although Allen has expressed general support on LGBT issues during candidate forums, he received a “0” rating from the Gay & Lesbian Activists Alliance for failing to return a questionnaire asking about specific issues. The non-partisan GLAA rates on a scale of -10 to +10.

Gray received a +10, the highest possible rating from GLAA. He received 58 percent of the vote in the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club’s mayoral endorsement forum, falling four votes short of the 60 percent threshold needed for an endorsement under the club’s rules. With support from Stein Club members divided among the candidates, the club did not endorse anyone for mayor.

Wells received a +9.5 GLAA rating; Evans received a +9, Shallal received a +6, Bowser received a +5.5, Lewis received a +4.5, and Orange received a +3.

The mayoral candidates responding to the GLAA questionnaire each expressed support for a wide range of LGBT issues and initiatives proposed by the non-partisan GLAA. GLAA President Rick Rosendall noted that none of the mayoral candidates were designated as hostile or in opposition to a significant LGBT issue.

Wells supporters point to his role as chair of the Council’s Judiciary and Public Safety Committee, where he has pushed through a number of important LGBT-related bills, including a measure easing the ability of transgender people to obtain a new birth certificate to reflect their new gender. Wells has also monitored police handing of anti-LGBT hate crimes in a series of oversight hearings on the subject.

Orange supporters, including LGBT backers from his home base in Ward 5, note that, among other things, he helped push through legislation to create the city’s Office of GLBT Affairs and worked with gay Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) in securing Council passage of an amendment that added transgender people to the D.C. Human Rights Act’s prohibitions against discrimination.

In addition to being a longtime supporter of LGBT rights, Shallal said he regularly arranges for his Busboys and Poets restaurants to host and sponsor LGBT-related events, including “a monthly queer open series that encourages self-expression for the LGBT community.”

Lewis said that as a senior State Department official in the Obama administration, she backed then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s implementation of domestic partnership benefits and spousal privileges to same-sex partners of U.S. Foreign Service employees. “I was proud to have been a part of the administration that made it possible for landmark legislation like the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act to become law,” she said on her GLAA questionnaire response.

A breakdown of the GLAA rating scores for each of the candidates and their questionnaire responses can be accessed at glaa.org.

26
Mar
2014

Use of HIV prevention pill ‘sluggish’ in D.C. area

Truvada, Gilead, gay news, Washington Blade

Truvada (Photo courtesy of Gilead)

An official with Whitman-Walker Health, D.C.’s largest AIDS treatment and service organization, said that similar to current nationwide trends, a relatively small number of people at risk for HIV infection in the D.C. area are taking a drug approved for preventing them from contracting HIV.

Dr. Richard Elion, Whitman-Walker’s director of clinical research, told the Washington Blade that fewer than 50 Whitman-Walker clients have signed up so far for the prescription drug Truvada, a daily pill approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a pre-exposure prophylaxis, or “PrEP,” to greatly reduce the chances of becoming infected with HIV.

“So the uptake on PrEP is that the District has been sluggish at most places,” Elion said in discussing the local demand for taking Truvada as a prevention pill.

“It’s important to have a lot of educational efforts on this because this is a prevention strategy that to me has not really gotten the recognition and the press that it deserves,” he said.

Officials with at least three other local organizations that provide AIDS-related services and prevention programs targeting gay and bisexual men – Us Helping Us, SMYAL, and Metro Teen AIDS – said they, too, believe PrEP is an important new prevention strategy that should be encouraged for people deemed at high risk for HIV, especially young gay and bisexual men.

“Us Helping Us fully supports PrEP and will publicize it to our clients through meetings and social media,” said Ron Simmons, the group’s executive director. Us Helping Us reaches out to black gay and bisexual men in the D.C. area on AIDS prevention and other AIDS-related programs.

Adam Tenner, executive director of Metro Teen AIDS, and Andrew Barnett, executive director of SMYAL, each said they are encouraged over the potential PrEP has for their clients, who range in age from 13 to 21. But the two said they have yet to determine whether PrEP is appropriate for youth as young as 13 through 17.

“We are encouraged over the effectiveness of the treatment in preventing infection,” Tenner said. “But we are going to be very cautious about PrEP for adolescents. For kids 18 and older there are fewer questions,” he said.

Tenner and Barnett each said they are awaiting guidance from experts, including pediatricians, on the advisability of prescribing Truvada to people as young as 13 or 14. According to Tenner, youth of that age often are sexually active and at risk for sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV.

He said Metro Teen AIDS sponsors HIV prevention programs targeting youth in that age range but has yet to embrace PrEP for young teens without having access to more information.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which earlier this month issued new guidelines advocating the wider use of PrEP for HIV prevention, and the American Academy of Pediatrics didn’t immediately respond to an inquiry from the Blade about the advisability of PrEP for youth between 13 and 17 years old.

The Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation, the nation’s largest AIDS service and treatment organization, which has facilities in D.C. and Maryland, has expressed strong opposition to PrEP, saying it has the potential to discourage condom use.

Michael Weinstein, the organization’s CEO, has pointed to studies showing that large numbers of people enrolled in the studies failed to take the Truvada pill on a daily basis as prescribed, placing them at risk for HIV infection.

Weinstein told the Blade that although AIDS Healthcare Foundation opposes the widespread use of PrEP, it believes it should ultimately be up to a patient and his or her doctor as to whether to enroll in PrEP. He said his organization’s medical clinics, including the one in D.C. and Temple Hills, Md., would not refuse to prescribe Truvada to people who specifically request to go on PrEP.

Sex workers who choose to have intercourse without using a condom would be especially suited for enrolling in PrEP, he said.

Elion disputes claims by AIDS Healthcare Foundation that large numbers of people on PrEP, men who have sex with men, are likely to stop using condoms.

“In the studies that have looked at over 12,000 patients we’ve not seen an increase in STDs in any of the people on PrEP,” Elion said. “And so I think that lack of an increase in STDs is indicative that they are not doing more risky behaviors once they start taking PrEP.”

Weinstein said a lack of an increase in sexually transmitted diseases in people on PrEP doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t engaging in risky behaviors. He said sexually transmitted diseases other than HIV are at epidemic proportions in the U.S. for gay and bisexual men or MSM.

“The baseline is already very high,” he said.

28
May
2014