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Politics, sex, activism highlight memoir on AIDS survival

Sean Strub, AIDS, HIV, Body Counts, gay news, Washington Blade

Sean Strub’s new memoir revisits closeted Washington in the ‘70s and the AIDS fight in New York. (Photo courtesy Public Impact Media Consultants)

Sean Strub’s newly published book Body Counts: A Memoir of Politics, Sex, AIDS, and Survival provides a vivid, first-hand account of how his own struggle with AIDS intersected with his role as an AIDS activist during the tumultuous early years of the epidemic in New York City.

But Strub, 55, also reveals a part of his life that those who know him as founder of the influential AIDS publication POZ magazine may not have known – his political and personal coming out following his move to Washington, D.C., from his home state of Iowa in 1976 at the age of 17.

After delaying his start at Georgetown University for a year to work on political campaigns in Iowa and through help from then-Sen. Dick Clark (D-Iowa), Strub landed a patronage job as an elevator operator at the U.S. Capitol in March of 1976.

“I couldn’t imagine anything more exciting for an ambitious political junkie than employment literally a few steps away from the Senate chamber,” he writes in his book.

Strub is scheduled to read from his book and take questions from listeners Tuesday night, Jan. 28, at D.C.’s Politics and Prose bookstore at 5015 Connecticut Ave., N.W., from 7-9 p.m.

As Strub tells it, over the next three years (from 1976-1979) he cautiously came to terms with his status as a gay man after having struggled with self-denial in his younger years. His gradual evolution toward self-acceptance, he writes, came in part through the help of closeted gay men in influential political positions in Washington and later in New York who became his mentors.

Like them, Strub writes, he became comfortable with his own sexual orientation but remained deep in the closet, fearing that public disclosure of his “hidden” life would destroy his long-held aspirations to become involved in politics and public policy making. His earlier dream of one day getting elected to public office would no longer be possible due to his sexual orientation, he concluded during the years from the late 1970s to early 1980s.

Before going on to chronicle his early career operating a direct mail fundraising business while helping to raise money for AIDS-related causes, Strub provides a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the closeted gay scene in the nation’s capital in the late 1970s.

Gay men of the Baby Boom generation who lived in D.C. at that time will likely relate to Strub’s stories about meeting and befriending Capitol Hill staffers and others involved in politics at the Lost and Found, the then highly popular gay disco located in a hidden warehouse district in Southeast D.C. less than a mile from the Capitol.

“Going to the Lost and Found marked my first appearance in a public gay venue, and that felt irreversible, crossing a threshold from which I could not return,” he writes.

“I learned that meeting gay men in a gay context – whether at a bar, private party or other circumstance – invoked an unspoken omerta-like agreement not to share the secret life with others, even if it meant pretending we didn’t know each other,” he says in the book.

Among those who became his mentor was Washington political operative turned journalist Alan Baron, publisher of the widely read Baron Report on Washington politics. Others – both gay and straight – gave him what he called the equivalent of a Harvard MBA in the field of fundraising through direct mail and telemarketing techniques.

Still others introduced him to the world of gay sex and gay male cruising spots both in D.C. and during his first few years in New York. It was at a time just before AIDS burst on the scene that epidemiologists later described as a “perfect storm” for the sexual transmission of HIV between men who have sex with men.

Through a friend he met at the D.C. gay bar Rascals, Strub says he was invited to a dinner party in 1978 at the home of D.C. gay businessman Bob Alfondre and his partner Carroll Sledz. Strub says it was there that he met and became friends with famed playwright Tennessee Williams, a guest of honor at the dinner party, who later invited Strub to visit him at his home in Key West, Fla.

Other VIPs with whom Strub met and befriended in subsequent years included Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, Gore Vidal and Larry Kramer.

In what his activist friends considered a major coup, Strub tells of how he mustered all of his courage and salesmanship in 1982 to persuade Tennessee Williams to sign his name to a fundraising letter for the Human Rights Campaign Fund, an arm of the then Gay Rights National Lobby that became the forerunner to today’s Human Rights Campaign.

The letter was written by Baron at the request of Steve Endean, the executive director of GRNL and whose idea it was to create the HRCF. Among other things, the letter urged potential donors to give money to HRCF, a political action committee or PAC, to help prevent anti-gay candidates backed by the Rev. Jerry Falwell from getting elected to Congress.

“I emphasized how influential the new PAC would be and how critical his signature on the letter would be to its success,” Strub wrote in describing his pitch to Williams at a hotel room in New York City where Williams was staying at the time. When Strub entered the hotel room Williams was dressed in pajamas and a bathrobe and had a glass of wine in his hand.

“I said he could set a powerful example to others,” Strub wrote. “Getting him to sign the letter, I declared, would be the most important thing I had ever done in my life.”

Over the next 90 minutes or more Williams talked about his plans for a new play and all kinds of things unrelated to the letter. At one point the then 24-year-old Strub nearly froze when Williams asked him what he would do to persuade him to sign the letter, thinking Williams might be making a pass at him, Strub writes.

“Almost anything, but I hope I don’t have to,” Strub says he replied.

Finally, thinking Williams was politely indicating he wouldn’t sign the letter, Strub got up from where he was sitting and put on his coat and walked toward the door. “Wait a minute, baby, what about your letter?” Strub quotes Williams as shouting.

The famous playwright signed the letter, which, according to Strub, became the most successful gay rights fundraising appeal to date, generating over 10,000 new donors to the gay rights cause and paving the way for the future HRC to become the nation’s leading LGBT rights organization.

Strub’s success in getting Tennessee Williams to sign the fundraising letter came after he moved to New York in 1979 to continue his studies at Columbia University. A short time later Strub and various partners established a direct mail fundraising businesses that did work for gay rights and other progressive causes as well as for Democratic Party candidates running for public office.

By the mid-1980s, around the time he discovered he was HIV positive, he helped raise money for AIDS advocacy groups, including New York’s pioneering Gay Men’s Health Crisis, the American Foundation for AIDS Research (AmfAR), and ACT UP.


NIH official Fauci disputes claim he was ‘uncooperative’


By 1987, Strub says he became further disillusioned over the federal government’s response to AIDS when fellow activist Michael Callen told him about a tense meeting in May of that year between Callen and several other AIDS activists and Dr. Anthony Fauci, who headed AIDS research programs at the National Institutes of Health.

Callen and the other activists urged Fauci to arrange for the NIH to issue guidelines recommending that doctors treating AIDS patients prescribe the drug Bactrim as a prophylaxis to prevent the onset of pneumocystis carinii pneumonia, the opportunistic infection that killed most people with AIDS at the time. Strub notes that Callen cited promising results in New York and other places where AIDS doctors, especially New York physician and researcher Joseph Sonnabend, reported Bactrim was succeeding in preventing patients from contracting the deadly pneumonia.

“Fauci was uncooperative,” Strub reports in his book. “He dismissed previous research, saying he wanted data proving that prophylaxis [Bactrim] helped prevent PCP specifically in patients with HIV.”

Strub noted that NIH ultimately issued the guidelines two years later after confirming through a drug trial that Bactrim did, indeed, effectively prevent PCP.  But during the two years prior to the release of the guidelines, Callen estimated that nearly 17,000 people with AIDS died of PCP, Strub says in his book. He says Callen expressed outrage that many of them might have survived if their doctors were informed of the effectiveness of Bactrim as a preventive measure.

When contacted by the Blade last week, Fauci disputed Callen’s account of what happened, saying he made it clear to Callen during their 1987 meeting that he did not have the authority to issue guidelines on prescription drugs.

“So what actually happened is that Michael came to me and said you know there is this preliminary activity and some small trials that Bactrim works,” Fauci said. “Would you come out and make a guideline to say it should be used by everybody. And I said ‘Michael I can’t do that but what I can do is help design and make sure that the grantees that we fund do a clinical trial in Bactrim to prove or not that it was safe and effective,’” he said.

“So I did exactly what I promised Michael,” Fauci said. “It took obviously longer than he would have wished. But I didn’t blow him off and say I don’t want to issue guidelines. The fact is that’s neither within my purview nor within the responsibility or authority I have to issue guidelines.”

In 1990, Strub ran for Congress in a district just north of New York City where he had been living while operating a fundraising business. Although he lost in the Democratic primary, many familiar with his race said he broke new ground by becoming the first openly HIV-positive candidate to run for a federal office.

Four years later, in 1994, he founded POZ magazine, a first-of-its-kind upscale publication reporting on the experiences of people with HIV and the trials and tribulations they faced – including Strub himself – in struggling to stay alive.

By that time Strub was out publicly, was a veteran of AIDS protests, and had experienced several years earlier the death of his first partner from AIDS.

In keeping with the belief at the time that nearly everyone with AIDS would die, Strub raised the bulk of the capital needed to launch POZ by selling two life insurance policies he had to a “viatical” investment company for $345,000.

The company expected to yield $75,000 in profit by cashing in the $450,000 combined value of the two policies when Strub died.

Although Strub survived, he tells in great detail how during the years immediately following the launching of POZ, he struggled with Kaposi’s sarcoma and pneumocystis pneumonia. His says his decision to discontinue treatment with the harsh drug AZT, which had side effects that caused fellow patients to become sick and weak, most likely kept him alive long enough to be saved by the new generation of protease inhibitor drugs.

In 2004 Strub sold POZ and began spending more time at his home in the small town of Milford, Penn., while retaining his home in Manhattan.

Following are excerpts of the Blade’s interview with Strub.


Washington Blade: What prompted you to write the book at this time?

Sean Strub: I had thought about it over the years and I kind of resisted it in the years after I left POZ. Then about five years ago enough time had passed from the very worst days that I thought I was getting more perspective on it. I felt more of a sense of wanting to remember people and I think most importantly to document a history that had not been well documented.

And there are fewer and fewer people who are around to tell the story firsthand who were really on the front lines over such a long period of time.


Blade: You describe in a moving way in your book how sick you were in the middle 1990s. You wrote that you expected to die. Why do you feel you survived long enough to benefit from the new generation of effective drugs such as protease inhibitors when others did not?

Strub: I think that is the question thousands of people who survived that time ask themselves often. I thought of it once as a sort of survivor’s guilt. But today it just seems like an existential question. It’s a question I don’t think I will ever answer but also one I don’t think I should ever stop asking.

The quality of care a person received is probably the most important factor, but there are others. When [the late New York AIDS activist] Michael Callen wrote “Surviving AIDS” in 1990 he recognized three shared traits amongst people with HIV at that time that were surviving. This was before combination treatment, of course. The three were, one, a belief that some people would survive; two, they could identify a reason to survive — raising a child, loving a partner, running a business, completing school, etc.; and, three, when asked how they treated their illness, they could list many different strategies. It wasn’t so much which strategy they pursued, but it was the length of the list that mattered because that indicated they were people who were seeking to survive. I think that is apt for me. I sought to survive…

Survival for me was a path, not a place. The bullet I narrowly missed was AZT mono-therapy. My doctor recommended it to me. Michael Callen constantly harangued me against it. I took it for a few weeks then stopped it. I believe if I had continued on AZT mono-therapy, I wouldn’t have survived to benefit from protease therapy.


Blade: To jump ahead a bit, what are you doing these days?

Strub: I’m the executive director of the Sero Project, which is a network of people and their allies fighting for freedom from stigma and injustice. And that’s our tagline. And we are particularly focused on HIV criminalization. So we have been engaged with a lot of the decriminalization advocates across the country.


Blade: You go into that in the last chapter of your book, saying in no uncertain terms that laws making it a crime for someone who is HIV positive to have sex with another person without telling them they are positive should be repealed.

Strub: You can see If you go to that website there is a little short film. It’s the trailer to a documentary I’ve been working on called HIV is Not a Crime. It really explains our work.


Blade: Wasn’t there a bill introduced in Maryland to increase the penalties for so-called intentional HIV transmission?

Strub: A couple of years ago – I think it was State Sen. [Norman R.] Stone [D-Baltimore County] who wanted to increase the maximum penalty from three years to 35 years. And that was beaten back. And then last year Del. Shirley Nathan Pulliam [D-Baltimore County] introduced a bill to get rid of the statute entirely.

In Maryland like every other state they have assault statutes and someone who maliciously intends to harm someone else they can prosecute, whether they use a gun or a baseball bat…And the HIV specific statute doesn’t contribute anything to public safety or public health. It hurts public health and it’s profoundly stigmatizing. So she introduced that bill last year. It’s been withdrawn.


Blade: Is it mostly states that have these statutes? Is there a federal statute?

Strub: There is not a federal statute. So it’s state by state. About two thirds of the states have these HIV specific statutes; although in every state they can use someone’s HIV-positive status inappropriately in some criminal prosecutions in heightened charges. In Texas and New York, for example, they don’t have HIV-specific statutes.

But there is a guy in Texas spending 35 years for spitting at a cop and a guy in New York who just got out of jail after serving six and a half years for spitting when a New York appeals court ruled that in New York State saliva cannot be considered a deadly weapon. So the specific statutes are in about two thirds of the states.

At the federal level we did just get through Congress recently an amendment to the Armed Services Appropriations bill to have the Secretary of Defense have a review of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and how it relates to HIV to make sure that their policies and procedures are consistent with contemporary science and not inappropriately stigmatizing people. So that’s our only legislative victory so far on this. There will be more to come. We’re organizing in individual states and I hope there will be some pretty good action in a couple of them this year.


Blade: So is this your main activity at this point?

Strub: That’s correct – that and here in Milford [Pa.] I also co-own a historic hotel-restaurant called the Hotel Fauchere. So that’s my sort of business here. But I spend most of my time on the advocacy work.


Blade: Are you in Milford, Pennsylvania right now?

Strub: I’m in Milford at the moment. I live in Milford and also in Manhattan. But lately, for a year or so, I’ve been much more in Milford than in New York.


Blade: That seems to be the type of thing you have done throughout your professional career – a combination of activism and as you called it entrepreneurial activity. Would that be correct?

Strub: That’s correct.


Blade: Do you have any interest in going back into the direct mail and fundraising field?

Strub: Not really – I’m always, I’m frequently giving pro-bono counsel to the efforts I support around fundraising. But I’ve really been much more focused on the advocacy work, particularly recreating a grass roots network of people with HIV engaged in advocacy on the state and local level, which we had in the ‘80s and even in the early ‘90s and then it kind of dissipated through the ‘90s. And now it’s enjoying a bit of a revival. We are recreating these networks of people with HIV.


Blade: What is your assessment of the status of the national AIDS advocacy organizations right now? Some people have referred to them as AIDS incorporated. Some people say they have overlapping functions and maybe there is duplication of efforts and there should be more consolidation.

Strub: Well, this AIDS, Inc. phrase is often used in a pejorative way. But it’s also just descriptive. It’s a big industry now. Careers are made – institutions – it isn’t the epidemic of 30 years ago by any means – and thank goodness. But in terms of the advocacy organizations, I don’t really see the advocacy organizations at the federal level…

HRC was pretty consistent in terms of advocating for the Ryan White program in some of the big funding streams. But the other issues outside of funding for service providers, for example, the issues involving privacy, confidentiality, stigma, patient autonomy, criminalization and the whole range of human rights approaches to the epidemic became an orphan in Washington and no one was really working on those.

Now what has happened in the last several years…there is sort of a growing pressure on the national LGBT groups to re-engage in the epidemic. After combination therapy came out – first of all, a lot of advocates left AIDS work because a lot of them were personally concerned about – their engagement and advocacy was due to their own fear, right? And their AIDS activism was a singular effort. It wasn’t connected to any broader social justice movement. And so a lot of those people kind of left after combination therapy came out.

And a lot of the LGBT groups turned to other opportunities and exciting things – ‘Don’t ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal and marriage equality and so on. And all of these human rights-related issues kind of got neglected. And so then we end up with things like criminalization.

Now, that is a growing and scary phenomenon that leaves every person with HIV in the country just one disgruntled, ex-partner away from being in a courtroom.

And yet the survey work has shown that gay men overwhelmingly support having it be a criminal act for someone with HIV not to disclose that fact prior to being intimate, independent of whether there is any risk involved and independent of whether there is any HIV transmission involved.

So we’re kind of playing catch up in the gay community on these issues. There are good things happening. I think HRC is certain to focus on this. They’ve been quite receptive toward us and some other groups. So I think we’re going to see more advocacy from gay groups.


Blade: What about the issue of prevention and what is possible? The issue of sex is always with us. Frank Kameny, the veteran gay rights pioneer, said back when the epidemic began and we learned the virus was sexually transmitted that you can never change the sex urge.

Strub: Well, even in the worst years when people were presumably the most frightened we never got much more than half of gay men to consistently use condoms. So there definitely is a limit on how far that will go. But I’m also not a fan of just relying on the biomedical approaches.

I think in terms of prevention the things we need to do – first we need to target prevention funding. Two-thirds of the new cases are among gay men. Only a small percentage of federal prevention funds are targeted to men who have sex with men…

That’s one thing. Second, there still is a reluctance to talk honestly about how gay men have sex. And this goes back to the first days of the epidemic. I write about that in New York – the conflict between the AIDS establishment and [AIDS activists] Michael Callen, Richard Berkowitz and [AIDS doctor and researcher] Joe Sonnabend. Too much of the prevention messaging is either fear based, which is sort of relying on what might have been effective in the epidemic 25 years ago. But the truth is the consequences of HIV infection today are very different than they were 25 years ago. And you can’t use tactics and strategies that worked for that epidemic and expect them to work for this epidemic. You need to deal with the epidemic we have today and the realities of that today…

The New York City Health Department has this one ad that centers on HIV and the next minute you’ve got a brain fog and anal cancer and your bones are snapping. And all of those things can be side effects of the treatments. And I’m not saying they don’t happen. They do happen. I’ve said a lot about the side effects. But they aren’t happening to everybody. And to gay men they know this is a wild exaggeration. I compare it to the anti-drug campaign that sort of implies that if you smoke a joint and two weeks later you’re going to be starting heroin. People know better than that.

And we’re not focusing on getting people real practical information for them to integrate into their own risk reduction analysis, which is what I think most gay men and most people do before they have sex with someone they don’t know a lot about.

We need to give people the information so that they are doing that risk analysis. We need prevention campaigns that are fact based, that are non-judgmental, and that are supportive of gay male sexuality.

You know, Joe Sonnabend said early in the epidemic and I quoted him in the book, he said we’ll never defeat AIDS until we treat the anus as a sex organ with the same respect given to the vagina or the penis. And that remains true today.


Blade: You mentioned that Dr. Anthony Fauci appeared to be an impediment to the use of the drug Bactrim back in 1987 as a prophylaxis to prevent pneumocystis pneumonia for people with AIDS.

Strub: Absolutely.


Blade: Did he have what he might consider legitimate reasons for needing more time to promote this drug?

Strub: Well I don’t know what he would say. It was written about at the time. Michael Callen referred to it as one of the most egregious examples of federal indifference to the lives of gay men. At the time Michael met with him in 1987 and begged him to support publicizing and making this a recommendation because Bactrim… was around a long time and was very effective. It has been used in immune compromised patients before. There were even clinical trials done in transplant patients. So there was a fair amount of literature on its use by immune compromised patients to prevent PCP [pneumocystis carinii pneumonia].

So Callen went and met with Fauci and Fauci was doubtful. He wanted clinical trials done to prove it…So when the trial results were in that’s when the feds came out with the recommendation around Bactrim. And in that intervening period – I have the number in there — something like 12 or 14 or 16,000 people with AIDS died of pneumocystis, which is a horrible death. You probably know people who died of it. They suffocate to death.

And if they had been on this treatment the majority of them would not have died of pneumocystis. They may or may not have lived until combination therapy came up. Who knows? Some of them surely would have. You know I don’t get into personally bashing Fauci. But this is kind of an example indicative of the federal response then and to a certain extent today and how all sorts of bureaucracy and funding get in the way of what is effective and needed.


Blade: Going back to your years in Washington you name certain members of Congress as being gay. Do you ‘out’ some of these people or were they known publicly to be gay?

Strub: The people I talk about I knew before they were outed. I talked about [former Rep.] Gerry Studds [D-Mass.]. I talked about [former Rep.] Barney [Frank (D-Mass)]. I think I referenced [former Rep.] Peter Kostmayer [D-Penn.]. I talked about the Bob Bauman scandal [former Rep. Robert Bauman (R-Md.)]. I referenced [former Rep.] Stuart McKinney [(R-Conn.)]. I don’t think I’m outing any current or former member of Congress that isn’t already known to be gay.


Blade: You appear to be more than a little critical of the Clinton administration on the AIDS front.

Strub: I thought I went easy on him.


Blade: Richard Socarides, Clinton’s White House liaison to the LGBT community, may disagree with some of the things you say in the book about Clinton.

Strub: Well, Richard Socarides – there are a lot of people who will disagree with Richard Socarides’ version of that history. I tried not to take things personally because there is always another side. But the indifference and the opportunism and the manipulation of the issue for political purposes are something I and a lot of other people saw really clearly – really visibly. And there is no question about it. The needle exchange stuff. You know, that’s a sin right up there with Fauci on the Bactrim. That is something that was so immediate, so clear.

One of the biggest reasons that the heterosexual transmission in New York has declined so precipitously is because of needle exchange.


Blade:  Would the Clinton people argue that they didn’t have the political support in Congress and elsewhere to fund and promote needle exchange?

Strub: That’s always the argument – that’s always the argument. But you know that’s also a decision. The other way of saying it is they weren’t willing to expend the political capital to do that. And that becomes a little chicken and egg-ish, right? They could have done it. They could have gotten it done. There would have been some price they would have had to pay. Maybe it would have screwed up the rest of their legislative agenda. I don’t know. And I suppose they could have tried and ended up failing. But I think if the president had shown the leadership on it I think it would have happened because the science was so clear.


Blade: Didn’t at some point Congress enact into law a funding ban on needle exchange programs?

Strub: Sure. But that isn’t a reason for the Clinton administration not to have sought to change it. There are many different strategies. The problem was they decided to roll over on it. They were not going to go out on a limb on this issue and to bring about a change was not that important to them. You can say they had other priorities. Everyone in office only has so much political capital and they have to use it on what’s important to them. And we learned that this was not something that was important to them.


Blade: What can you say about the status of your marriage to a woman friend Doris O’Donnell that you tell about in the book? You said the marriage, among other things, would have allowed her to obtain your disability benefits and pass them on to your life partner Xavier Morales in the event of your death. Are you still married to her?

Strub: No. We got married. And then when my health came back and she had qualified for Medicare and Social Security we then got divorced because for tax reasons it made sense. She subsequently has died.

Blade: I’m sorry to hear that.


Strub: She was quite elderly. She used to joke that when we got married the only good reason to get married was for money. Her parents were both journalists. Her father was the Washington bureau chief for the Daily News for decades – John O’Donnell. And her mother was Doris Fleeson, who was the first female political columnist who was syndicated and was very close friends with Eleanor Roosevelt. I think her columns started in the 1940s and went right up into the 1960s. She was in a hundred and some papers. Mary McGrory was her protégé. So that’s just an aside but she grew up in that Washington media political world.


Blade: You mention in the book that your partner Xavier was not all that pleased about your decision to get married to a woman. Is he still part of your life now?

Strub: He’s roasting a chicken in the other room. After my health came back – there was a real stress on my relationship as this is for a lot of people. For most of the time we were together – it was usually unspoken – but the assumption was I was going to die and he would go on with his life. And he had moved in with me and then I got sick. And after my health got better there were stresses on the relationship and we broke up for a while and a number of years ago we got back together. We’re now [together] 22 years believe it or not.


Record number of LGBT candidates on primary ballot

Gay News, Washington Blade, Transgender D.C.

Alexandra Beninda is the first known transgender person to run for a citywide office in the District. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Gay D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) will be one of 17 openly LGBT candidates to appear on the ballot in the city’s April 1 primary election, representing an all-time high for the number of out candidates running in a single D.C. election.

Among those running is Alexandra Beninda, a transgender activist and member of the city’s Human Rights Commission, who is seeking an at-large seat on the D.C. Democratic State Committee. She becomes the first known transgender person to run for a citywide office in the District.

Beninda is one of 11 LGBT candidates running for at-large or ward seats on the Democratic State Committee, which serves as the governing body of the city’s Democratic Party.

Graham is the only out gay person running this year in the city’s Democratic primary. He’s running for a fifth term in a hotly contested race against Democratic challenger Brianne Nadeau for the Ward 1 Council seat.

In other races, gay Libertarian Party activist Bruce Majors is running unopposed for his party’s nomination for mayor, ensuring that he will be among the mayoral candidates on the ballot in the November general election.

Gay Libertarian Party candidate Martin Moulton is running unopposed for his party’s nomination for the city’s shadow U.S. House seat, one of three unpaid elected “shadow” positions created to lobby Congress for D.C. statehood and congressional voting rights.

Moulton will face Democratic Party and Statehood-Green Party challengers in the general election in November.

In a race expected to draw widespread attention, gay Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Marc Morgan of Ward 1 is running unopposed for the Republican nomination for an at-large D.C. Council seat being vacated by gay incumbent David Catania (I-At-Large), who’s running for mayor.

Under the city’s home rule charter, the seat currently held by Catania is reserved for a non-majority party candidate, which prevents a Democrat from holding the seat. Morgan’s supporters, including Robert Turner, the gay executive director of the D.C. Republican Party, have said Morgan could have a shot at winning Catania’s seat depending on who else enters the race between now and the June cut-off date for an independent candidate.

In recent years, Democrats with widespread name recognition have switched their party registration from Democrat to independent to run for one of the two at-large Council seats reserved for a non-Democrat. As of this week, no independent candidate has filed papers to run for the seat in November.

Unlike other parts of the country, the D.C. Republican Party has embraced LGBT rights and supports the city’s same-sex marriage law.

In the D.C. primary races for Democratic Party positions, veteran gay rights advocate and Ward 8 civic leader Phil Pannell is running for the post of Alternate National Committeeman as part of a slate of candidates called D.C. Ready for Hillary. Lesbian activist Courtney Snowden is running on the same slate for the position of Alternate National Committee Woman.

Pannell and Snowden joined forces with former D.C. Council Chair Arrington Dixon and longtime Democratic Party activist Mary Eva Candon, who are running for National Committeeman and National Committee Woman respectively. All four positions are linked to the Democratic National Committee.

According to Pannell, the slate’s primary mission is to build support for a run for president by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

In other races, seven out LGBT candidates, including Beninda, are running for Democratic State Committee seats on an insurgent slate called The Rent is Too Darn High.

In a statement released earlier this month, leaders of the 30-candidate slate made it clear that the candidates are dissatisfied with the current State Committee leadership team headed by D.C. Council member Anita Bonds (D-At-Large), who serves as chair of the State Committee.

“The Committee’s recent history is riddled with mismanagement of elections, lack of transparency, and now wrestles with the perception of being complicit with scandal and corruption,” the statement says.

Gregory Cendana, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade

Gregory Cendana (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The LGBT candidates on the slate and the seats they are running for are Gregory Cendana (At-Large seat); Edgardo Ed Guerrero (At-Large seat); Beninda (At-Large seat); Nikisha Carpenter (At-Large seat);  Jessica ‘Jess’ Pierce (Ward 4 seat); Tamara Angela Ferrell (Ward 4 seat); and Andy Litsky (Ward 6 seat).

Cendana is among the leaders of the slate.

Gay Democratic activist Bill O’Field, who serves as treasurer of the State Committee, is running for re-election to a Ward 1 State Committee seat. O’Field is not running on a slate but he is widely known to be part of the State Committee faction supportive of Bonds.

Also running as Bonds supporters are gay Democratic activists Ron Collins and David Meadows. Collins, an incumbent, is running for re-election to a Ward 6 seat on the committee. Meadows is also running for a Ward 6 seat on the State Committee.

O’Field and Meadows, who works as communications director for Bond’s City Council office, have praised her leadership on the State Committee and on the Council, saying she is a strong supporter of LGBT equality and has a long record of support for city residents facing economic hardship.


SPECIAL REPORT: Poverty in the LGBT community

Kadeem Swenson, poverty, LGBT, gay news, Washington Blade

Kadeem Swenson told the Blade in 2010 that his parents kicked him out of the house for being gay. He spent a year living in abandoned buildings in D.C. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Editor’s note: This week, the Blade kicks off a special yearlong focus on poverty in the LGBT community. The occasional series will examine the problem with special reports from D.C. and around the country. To share your ideas or personal story, visit us on Facebook or email


As the 50th anniversary of the U.S. war on poverty launched by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964 is commemorated this year, LGBT advocates are pointing to little noticed studies showing that the rate of poverty in the LGBT community is higher than that of the general population.

In a 2013 report analyzing data from the U.S. Census Bureau and other data measuring poverty in the United States, the Williams Institute, a research arm at the University of California Law School in Los Angeles that specializes in LGBT issues, concludes that rates of poverty are higher than the general population among gay men and lesbians between the ages of 18-44 and gay men and lesbians living alone.

The report shows that couples – both gay and straight – tend to have a lower rate of poverty than single people and the population as a whole. But it found that the poverty rate for lesbian couples is higher than that of gay male couples and opposite-sex couples and the poverty rate of same-sex African-American couples is higher than it is for opposite-sex African-American couples.

Among the report’s findings that surprised LGBT activists were data showing that bisexual men and women had poverty rates of 25.9 percent and 29.4 percent respectively – higher than gay men (20.5 percent) and lesbians (22.7 percent). The report says the same set of data show that heterosexual men had a poverty rate of 15.3 percent compared to a rate of 21.1 percent for heterosexual women.

“The LGB poverty data help to debunk the persistent stereotype of the affluent gay man or lesbian,” the Williams Institute report says.

“Instead, the poverty data are consistent with the view that LGB people continue to face economic challenges that affect their income and life chances, such as susceptibility to employment discrimination, higher rates of being uninsured, and a lack of access to various tax and other financial benefits via exclusion from the right to marry,” the report says.

The report uses the U.S. Census Bureau definition of poverty for 2012 in its analysis of LGBT poverty levels based on family income. That definition lists the “poverty line” for a single person household as an annual income of $11,815 or less. The poverty line for a two-person household was $15,079, and for a four-person household was $23,684 in 2012.


poverty, gay news, Washington Blade

Researchers with the Williams Institute say this graph summarizes their findings of higher poverty rates among samples of mostly LGB and some LGBT people in the U.S. The bar graph on the left represents data taken from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2010 American Community Survey (ACS). The chart in the center is taken from data from the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2010 National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG). The chart at right is from a 2012 phone survey conducted by the Gallup Poll organization. (Graph courtesy of the Williams Institute)

Trans poverty ‘extraordinarily high’


A separate study prepared jointly by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in 2011, called “Injustice at Every Turn,” shows dramatically higher rates of poverty and homelessness among transgender Americans in each state, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories.

Kylar Broadus, senior policy counsel and director of the Trans Civil Rights Project for The Task Force, called the poverty rate in the transgender community “extraordinarily high.” He said a key factor leading to economic hardship among transgender people is the persistent problem of employment discrimination.

“There’s double the national rate of unemployment,” he said in discussing the trans community of which he said he’s a member. “And once we’re employed 90 percent of those surveyed reported experiencing harassment and discrimination on the job,” he noted in pointing to the NCTE-Task Force study.

“Forty-seven percent said they experienced adverse outcomes such as being fired, not hired or denied promotions because of being transgender or gender non-conforming,” Broadus said.

He said the respondents reported various forms of housing discrimination that are contributing factors to homelessness in the transgender community. According to the study, 19 percent of respondents reported having been refused a home or an apartment to rent and 11 percent reported being evicted because of their gender identity or expression.

“Nineteen percent experienced homelessness at some point in their lives because they were transgender or didn’t conform as well, and then 55 percent were denied access to shelters,” he said.

Another study released by the Williams Institute last week reports that 2.4 million LGBT adults, or 29 percent, “experienced a time in the last year when they did not have enough money to feed themselves or their family.”

The study, written by Williams Institute demographer Gary Gates, found that LGBT people are more likely to rely on the federal food stamp program for assistance than their heterosexual counterparts.

“One in four bisexuals (25 percent) receive food stamps,” the report says, “34 percent of LGBT women were food insecure in the last year; and LGBT African Americans, Native Americans, and Native Hawaiians experienced food insecurity in the last year at rates of 37 percent, 55 percent, and 78 percent respectively,” the report says.


LGBT homeless rate high in San Fran


Yet another report released last June found that 29 percent of the homeless population in San Francisco identified as LGBT. The report, which was part of the city’s biennial homeless count, included for the first time a count of the number of homeless people who identified themselves as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Brian Bassinger, director of the San Francisco-based AIDS Housing Alliance, which provides services to the HIV and LGBT communities, said although the finding to some degree reflects the high LGBT population in San Francisco, which is 15 percent, he believes LGBT people make up a sizable percent of the homeless population in other cities throughout the country.

Bassinger said he also believes the 29 percent figure for San Francisco is most likely an under count and that the actual number is higher.

“LGBT people in the shelter system here are regularly targeted for violence, harassment and hate crimes, which are very well documented,” he said.

Since much of the effort to count homeless people in the city takes place at shelters, large numbers of LGBT homeless people are not counted because they generally avoid the shelters out of fear of harassment and violence, Bassinger said.

He said his group also closely monitors a development in San Francisco threatening to push the city’s older LGBT population into poverty and which may be occurring in other cities – the enormous rise in the cost of housing due to gentrification and a booming real estate market. Those who for years have lived in popular gay neighborhoods as tenants are being displaced by the conversion of rental apartment buildings and houses into upscale condominiums, Bassinger said.

“Long-term San Franciscans who have spent decades building the system to deliver access to equal treatment under the law here in San Francisco are getting displaced by all of these people moving into our community,” he said.

And because they can no longer afford to live in San Francisco many are being forced to move to other parts of the state or other states that are less LGBT friendly and don’t have the support community they came to enjoy for so many years, according to Bassinger.

The Williams Institute’s 2013 report, meanwhile, analyzes data from four surveys of the U.S. population with a demographic breakdown that included mostly gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals as well as a smaller, combined “LGBT” sample.

The four surveys were conducted by these organizations or government agencies:

• The 2010 American Community Survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau with a sample of more than 500,000 and which included data from same-sex couple households.

• The National Survey of Family Growth conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics from 2006-2010 included a sample of more than 19,000 people throughout the country, including people who identified as LGB, the Williams Institute study says.

• The California Health Interview Survey conducted by UCLA’s Center for Health Policy Research in collaboration with California Department of Public Health surveyed more than 50,000 Californians, including LGB adults from 2007 to 2009.

• A Gallup Daily Tracking Poll conducted between June 1 and Sept. 30, 2012 with a sample of more than 120,000 adults from 18 and older, included people who identified themselves as LGBT in all 50 states and D.C. The poll was conducted by phone.

The report includes these additional findings on the subject of poverty in the LGBT community:

• African-American same-sex couples have poverty rates more than twice the rate of different-sex married African Americans.

• One-third of lesbian couples and 20.1 percent of gay male couples who don’t have a high school diploma are in poverty, compared to 18.8 percent of heterosexual couples.

• Lesbian couples living in rural areas are more likely to be poor (14.1 percent) compared to 4.5 percent of lesbian couples in large cities; 10.2 percent of gay male couples who live in small metropolitan areas are poor compared with just 3.3 percent of gay male couples who live in large metropolitan areas.

• Nearly one in four children living with a male same-sex couple and 19.2 percent of children living with a female same-sex couple is in poverty. This compares with 12.1 percent of children living with married heterosexual couples who are in poverty.

• African-American children in gay male households have the highest poverty rate (52.3 percent) of any children in any household type.

• 14 percent of lesbian couples and 7.7 percent of gay male couples received food stamps, compared to 6.5 percent of straight married couples. In addition, 2.2 percent of same-sex female couples received government cash assistance compared to 0.8 percent of women in different-sex couples. And 1.2 percent of men in same-sex couples received cash assistance compared to 0.6 percent of men in different-sex couple relationships who received cash assistance.

The report’s co-author Lee Badgett, a Williams Institute senior fellow and professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, said it’s difficult to draw a conclusion from the Williams Institute and other studies as to why there are higher poverty levels in the LGBT community.

“The people that I know who worked with LGBT people in poverty talk about the reasons being very complex,” she said.

“I suspect that there are lots of disadvantages that people face, whether it’s in the labor market or in schools and that maybe somehow they kind of come together, that they are sort of cumulative over time and make people more vulnerable to poverty. But I think we don’t really know exactly why that happens,” Badgett told the Blade.

In the Williams Institute report, she and co-authors Laura Durso and Alyssa Schneebaum call for further studies to explore the factors that contribute both to “poverty and economic resilience” within the LGBT community.

“Our analyses highlight different demographic subpopulations that may be particularly at-risk; however, we are unable to take a more fine-grained approach to identifying factors that contribute to poverty in these different communities,” the report says.

“Identifying the conditions under which individuals and families descend into and escape from poverty will aid service organizations and government agencies in designing interventions to address this significant social problem,” the report concludes.

Broadus of the Task Force said discrimination and bias make up at least some of the conditions that force LGBT people into poverty.

“We are less economically secure as a community due to suffering at the hands of discrimination in employment, marriage, insurance and less familial and societal support,” he said. “The LGBT community as a whole lives at the margins and some at the margins of the margins such as women, people of color and children. When some of our community is vulnerable we are all vulnerable.”


Bennett-Fleming for D.C. Council at-large

Nate Bennett-Fleming, gay news, Washington Blade

Nate Bennett-Fleming (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)


Many people in the D.C. LGBTQ political scene believe that we no longer need to judge candidates on LGBTQ issues because all candidates are equally supportive. I beg to differ. Not only did we see two Council members vote in opposition to marriage equality as recently as 2009, we have yet to achieve full participation of the Council in the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club’s endorsement process. It’s true that direct opposition to equality has mostly come from politicians representing Wards 7 and 8, but the borders of D.C. span the Anacostia River.

Additionally, there are some candidates who claim to support LGBTQ issues, but lack the vision and drive to achieve real change. In the race for D.C. Council at-large, there is a candidate from Ward 8 who not only champions equality, but has the preparedness and initiative to bring about substantive change. This candidate is Nate Bennett-Fleming.

I served on the board of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club for two years and personally witnessed Nate’s unwavering commitment to the LGBTQ community. Other current and former board members concur. Bennett-Fleming earned the full endorsement of the Stein Club when he was running for Shadow Representative in both 2010 and 2012 and he was also awarded the Stein Club’s Champion of Equality Award. This year, he received the majority vote of Club members by earning 68 votes in comparison to the 51 earned by the incumbent. This outcome is truly commendable given the incumbent’s length of membership in the Club. It shows that astute LGBTQ Democrats are ready to see innovation on the D.C. Council and Bennett-Fleming is their choice in the at-large Council race.

Bennett-Fleming also earned the highest score of any at-large Council candidate in the Gay & Lesbian Activists Alliance rating system. This shows that he has a deep understanding of the issues that affect the LGBTQ community and he’s not vulnerable to the misconception that the struggle is over because we’ve achieved marriage equality.

Nate has concrete solutions to pressing issues like transgender unemployment and smoking cessation among HIV-positive DC residents. In addition to connecting more transgender people with employment opportunities in D.C. government, Bennett-Fleming would help them become entrepreneurs. Being the owner of your own business can assist marginalized people in overcoming employment discrimination.

With regard to tobacco, Bennett-Fleming acknowledges in his Stein Club questionnaire that smoking can affect HIV-positive residents disproportionately and more severely. Therefore, he would push for initiatives designed to curb smoking rates specifically among HIV-positive D.C. residents.

The quest for LGBTQ equality in D.C. is not over and all candidates are not the same.  We need an advocate for our concerns who can navigate D.C.’s political scene from Anacostia to Dupont Circle.

Moreover, this individual must be committed to achieving tangible outcomes and not just offering up lip service. Nate Bennett-Fleming was endorsed by the Washington Post because it saw more promise in him than in any other candidate.

Let’s show that we support progress and productivity by casting our vote for Nate Bennett-Fleming on April 1 or during early voting.

Jimmie Luthuli is the immediate past secretary of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club. 


Ready for Hillary group hosts Town event

Ready for Hillary, Hillary Clinton, gay news, Washington Blade

Ready for Hillary is a grassroots organization that supports Hillary Clinton’s potential 2016 presidential run. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Ready for Hillary, a grassroots organization that supports former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s potential 2016 presidential run, hosts “Out and Ready for Hillary” at Town (2009 8th St., N.W.) Tuesday from 7-9 p.m.

Ready for Hillary was formed last year and has grown to more than one million supporters and 25,00 donors. The event is the LGBT kick-off in the District. Clinton has not stated her plans for the 2016 election.

Tickets are $20.16. For more information and to RSVP, visit


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:


Graham: ‘I’m not bitter, I’m not resentful’

Jim Graham, Democratic Party, Ward 1, Washington D.C., Washington Blade, gay news

D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Gay D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) said a low voter turnout and a barrage of editorials by the Washington Post attacking him on an ethics issue played a key role in his defeat in the city’s April 1 Democratic primary.

Political newcomer Brianne Nadeau, a civic activist and communications firm executive, won the primary by a decisive margin of 59 percent to 41 percent in a development many political observers considered an upset given Graham’s stature as a four-term Council member.

“The bottom line is she brought out her people and my people didn’t respond,” Graham told the Blade in an interview on Tuesday.

“I’m not bitter. I’m not unhappy,” Graham said. “I’m not resentful. You know, it took me a while to decide to even run. I got a very late start,” he said. “It’s another adventure for me in life.”

Graham acknowledges that the ethics charge filed against him over his taking sides in a Metro development contract matter that led to his Council colleagues voting to reprimand him played a role in the outcome of the election.

But he said the decision to move the primary from its traditional date in September to April 1 also prevented him from running a campaign as effectively as he would have liked. Graham noted that the traditional September primaries came at a time when the Council was in recess for the summer.

“I found it very hard to campaign, be a chairman of a committee, to be a full-time Council member, and to be a fundraiser,” he said. “It’s very, very hard to do it all in a difficult race. If you have an easy race it’s not a problem.”

Graham also took strong exception to claims by some in the LGBT community that it’s no longer necessary to have an openly LGBT Council member in a city in which virtually all elected officials and all serious candidates – including Nadeau – are strong supporters of LGBT rights.

“Well they’ve said that before,” said Graham. “So why don’t they tell the Victory Fund to shut down?”

He was referring to Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, a national LGBT organization that raises money to elect openly LGBT candidates across the country.

“And is Harvey Milk going to turn over in his grave?” he said. “It’s absurd on its face. There’s no need for a Victory Fund? There’s no need for an NAACP? There’s no need for the National Council of La Raza? It’s absurd.”


Washington Blade: We’d like to get your perspective on why the Ward 1 election turned out the way it did. Some of your supporters are pointing to the Washington Post’s criticism of you in its editorials.

Jim Graham: Well you know it was 27 editorials in about 11 months — all negative, all on a single person. It does have an impact. There’s no question about that. But I think ultimately the answer to your question is simple, because her people came out and voted and my people, for whatever reason, did not respond the same way.

So, you know, that’s what happened. So she won. And I think to some extent I was running against the Washington Post…

And the bottom line is she brought out her people and my people didn’t respond. I don’t know if it was because of the weather or the early primary or what it was. People have said to me, well run again as an independent, and there will be a greater turnout. There may be some truth to that but we’ll never know.


Blade: It was a record low turnout.

Graham: Oh my God, I had precincts where the voting was at 17 percent. And there were precincts which she carried by a vote or two that, had they voted, she would have lost. But that’s all just academic at this point.

I had a cordial exchange of emails with her. And if she wins the final election I offered to help her with the transition if she wants.


Blade: In terms of your own campaign, did you do things differently based on what you were facing?

Graham: You know you can do that Monday morning quarter backing. She got more votes, and it was a very light turnout, and that coupled with the changing demographics in the ward and the Washington Post editorials. And there was a general feeling for change because of all of my Council colleagues who have gone to jail or who are going to jail. And with Gray, what [U.S. Attorney Ronald] Machen did to Gray is unbelievable in its impact on the votes. All of that made it a very difficult election for me to win. And she was shrewd and tactical. That’s what I would say.

I’m not bitter. I’m not unhappy. I’m not resentful. You know, it took me a while to decide to even run. I got a very late start. I raised a lot of money in about five weeks, but – but I got the feeling for what I needed to get. It’s another adventure for me in life…

I’m not feeling cross or angry or any of those feelings. I really am not. I’m just feeling like, OK, let’s get on with it. Now, this nine month interregnum – oh my God. And you can see what’s happening because with Mayor Gray’s administration there are people who are leaving. He’s lost his transportation director and there’s going to be more that will follow. People have to look for jobs for themselves. It’s a very difficult time…

I found it very hard to campaign, be a chairman of a committee, to be a full-time Council member, and to be a fundraiser. It’s very, very hard to do it all in a difficult race. If you have an easy race it’s not a problem…

I never ran a campaign like this. My campaigns were always in August or September or late July. It was hot, but you only had one purpose in life, which is to run an election. I had a lot of purposes this time.

…If you have a tough campaign, wow. You’re trying to chair a hearing; you’re trying to prepare for a hearing plus all the other demands on your time. It’s very difficult actually. So I’m not sure I want to have it in June also.


Blade: Some people have said during this campaign that it may no longer be necessary to have an openly gay member of the D.C. Council because all the candidates and incumbents are so supportive. They say straight allies are now just as capable of advancing LGBT issues as an LGBT Council member.

Graham: Well they’ve said that before. So why don’t we tell the Victory Fund to shut down? And is Harvey Milk going to turn over in his grave? It’s absurd on its face. There’s no need for a Victory Fund? There’s no need for an NAACP? There’s no need for the National Council of La Raza? It’s absurd. Why are they saying that?


Grosso endorses Graham opponent

David Grosso, D.C. Council, gay news, Washington Blade

D.C. Council member David Grosso has endorsed Brianne Nadeau over incumbent Jim Graham. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

D.C. Council member David Grosso (I-At-Large) raised eyebrows within the city’s political establishment on Tuesday when he confirmed he has endorsed Brianne Nadeau, one of the candidates running against gay Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) in the city’s April 1 Democratic primary.

“I think it’s an opportunity for Ward 1 and the D.C. Council to get a strong, new, good-government voice on the Council,” Grosso told the Blade in a phone interview. “I think she’s a viable candidate who would step in and do a really good job as a Council member and be a strong ally up here on the Council.”

When contacted by the Blade for comment, Graham released a statement saying he didn’t think Grosso’s endorsement of Nadeau would make a difference in the race.

“Having a non-Democrat comment on a Democratic primary won’t mean much,” he said. “My opponent is grasping for straws and she got one.”

Graham has received strong support from the LGBT community in each of his four previous election campaigns for his Council seat. With Nadeau and another challenger, Ward 1 civic activist Bryan Weaver, having a record of support for the LGBT community, some observers think the LGBT vote could be split between Graham, Nadeau and Weaver.

But many observers believe Graham’s more than 30 years of advocacy on behalf of the LGBT community as an activist and Council member and his past role as a leader in the fight against AIDS as head of the Whitman-Walker Clinic will prompt most LGBT voters to stick with him.

Both Nadeau and Weaver have cited the Council’s decision to reprimand Graham last year over allegations that he violated a city ethics rule by improperly intervening in the contract approval process involving Metro and the D.C. lottery contracts were grounds for voting him out of office. Graham has disputed the allegation, saying he favored one contractor over another on grounds it was better qualified for the work.

Grosso said that while Graham played an important role as an openly gay member of the Council during his early years in office he doesn’t think his replacement by a non-gay Council member would have an adverse impact on the LGBT community.

“I think we’ve come to a point in this city where as leaders you’d better be accepting of every single human being and who they are as a person,” Grosso said. “And I certainly hope that whether you’re straight or gay you are standing up for that and standing up for all the people in the District.”

Added Grosso, “That doesn’t take away from having representation on the Council of every group of individuals in our city. But I think we can do a god job of representing folks ourselves whether you’re straight or gay, and that’s important to us.”

Grosso has a strong record of support on LGBT issues.

The Washington Post reported that Grosso has recorded a robocall message urging Ward 1 residents to vote for Nadeau that’s expected to be released shortly.


SPECIAL REPORT: ‘You can’t let adversity get you down’

Cedric Burgess, poverty, gay news, Washington Blade

Cedric Burgess says he lives ‘check to check’ while relying on government assistance to pay bills. Despite his struggles, he works to give back to the LGBT community. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part look at how poverty affects elder members of the LGBT community and part of a yearlong Blade focus on poverty. To share your ideas or personal story, visit us on Facebook or email Click here to read previous installments.


“I did my dirt,” said Cedric Burgess, a black gay man and longtime Washington, D.C. resident who grew up in the District. “I was young and full of fun!”

Today, Burgess, 61, is a recovering alcoholic who suffers from depression. He’s been HIV positive for more than 30 years. “I live from check to check,” said Burgess, who receives Social Security disability benefits.

Before undergoing a hip replacement four years ago, he struggled to walk up to his second-story apartment.

“It is a wonder to be able to walk without my cane,” Burgess said. “No matter what pain pills I took, I couldn’t get to sleep. You don’t realize how much pain you’re in. You adapt. I couldn’t cross my legs. Steps weren’t an option.”

At 19, Burgess came out to his family.

“I was accepted by my family. I was taken in,” he said, “that was a blessing!”

For some years, he worked in a series of clerical jobs. In 1982, Burgess, then living and working as an administrative assistant in Atlanta, was hit by a drunk driver. The accident left him with back pain, nerve damage and sciatica. For two years, unable to work, he did physical therapy. In 1984, Burgess returned to work. After returning to D.C., he went back to doing clerical work.

During the AIDS epidemic, his family confronted Burgess.

“They said ‘you gotta get tested,’” he said. “In 1991, after I found out I was positive, I took a two-week vacation. I got HIV through a blood transfusion I received when I had my accident.  They weren’t screening transfusions for HIV then.”

In 2006, his back pain became so severe that Burgess left the workforce. He said he retired from the Green Door, a D.C. organization that helps people with mental challenges, where he worked as a program assistant.

“You can’t let adversity get you down, you have to have a positive attitude,” Burgess added.  Fortunately, he said, social safety net programs help him to make ends meet. In addition to his monthly disability check, Burgess receives food stamps. His health care is covered by Medicare and Medicaid.

“I receive energy assistance from Pepco and two-thirds of my rent, with funding from the Ryan White Act, is subsidized by the Washington, D.C. Housing Coalition,” Burgess said.

These programs are a lifeline for him. “Without the rental assistance and the Medicare and Medicaid, I wouldn’t be able to afford housing and health care,” Burgess said. “I couldn’t pay for my HIV medications and I couldn’t have had my hip replacement.”

Cedric Burgess, poverty, gay news, Washington Blade

Cedric Burgess says many elders don’t know their legal rights when it comes to housing and other issues. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Despite living with economic hardship, Burgess leads an active and full life. Committed to helping others, he has volunteered for groups serving everyone from homeless youth to elders.  “I’m a goodwill ambassador for the DC Center for the LGBT Community and for AARP,” Burgess said. “I help seniors learn about their rights in housing and in nursing homes. Many seniors don’t know their rights.”

“I believe in God’s healing,” he went on, “I go to church. I have no prejudice against any other religion. I’m a spiritually free person.”

Burgess’s situation is far from unique. Many LGBT older adults (aging Baby Boomers over 50) live with economic insecurity.

“Media and marketing stereotypes view the LGBT community as an affluent niche group filled with couples with double incomes,” said Matthew J. Corso, chief communications officer and board member of the DC Center for the LGBT Community. “The poverty rate among LGBT older adults is much higher than people would think from the marketing view. Older adults can often feel isolated.”

The DC Center’s Coffee and Conversation is a safe space where older adults can connect with others in the community and discuss issues related to living with economic insecurity, Corso said.

People rarely look at economic insecurity and aging, said Robert Espinoza, senior director of public policy and communications for Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE), “People studying poverty don’t look often enough at poverty among LGBT and older people.  On the other side, people studying LGBT issues aren’t looking often enough at aging and poverty.”

But studies that have been done show that poverty is high among elders and even higher among LGBT older adults, Espinoza said. Among the findings:

• One in six Americans aged 65 and older lives in poverty, according to a 2013 Congressional Research Service report.

• The poverty rate is as high or higher among lesbian, gay and bisexual people than for heterosexual people, and lesbian couples, 65 and older, are twice as likely to be poor as straight married couples, according to a 2009 Williams Institute Report.

• There are an estimated 1.5 million gay, lesbian and bisexual elders in the United States today. The number is expected to increase to nearly 3 million by 2030, according to “Improving the Lives of LGBT Older Adults” from SAGE, the Movement Advancement Program (MAP) and Center for American Progress.

• Because historically LGBT people have not been able to marry, many LGBT older adults face the economic insecurity and health issues that come with aging without the support from families that heterosexual older adults often receive. LGBT elders are twice as likely to be single and three to four times more likely to be without children as their straight peers, according to the MAP report.

• Transgender adults encounter profound discrimination, according to a SAGE and National Center for Transgender Equality 2012 report. They experience “striking disparities in … health care access … employment and more,” the report states, “with a growing older transgender population, there is an urgent need to understand the challenges that can threaten financial security, health and overall well-being.”

Several factors contribute to poverty among LGBT elders. “In the past, many faced employment discrimination because they were LGBT. LGBT people of color and lesbians faced even more severe discrimination,” Espinoza said. “Too many LGBT older adults have little, if any, retirement savings.”

• LGBT older adults face health disparities and 47 percent of LGBT people over 50 have a disability, said Imani Woody, Ph.D., chair of SAGE Metro D.C. “More than one in 10 LGBT people aged 50-plus have been denied health care or provided with inferior health care,” she said. “This can lead to economic insecurity, which can translate to poverty. If you don’t have access to health care, what do you have?”

Even older LGBT adults with moderate incomes, who wouldn’t think of themselves as facing poverty, can become impoverished if they become disabled or need long-term care, Espinoza said. “If you only have savings of, say, $60,000, it will go quickly.”

Lack of affordable housing and housing discrimination are key reasons why many LGBT older adults live in or near poverty. Same-sex older couples encounter discrimination when seeking housing in senior living facilities, according to a report, “Opening Doors: An Investigation of Barriers to Senior Housing for Same-Sex couples,” released last month by the Equal Rights Center, a civil rights organization in partnership with SAGE.

“We saw a number of adverse treatments with a high economic impact,” said Don Kahl, executive director, Equal Rights Center. “Sometimes they were charged for having an ‘extra person.’ At other times, they were told they’d have to take a more expensive two-bedroom apartment when they wanted a one-bedroom,” he said, “In other cases, they were treated in such a manner, that they wouldn’t accept the housing even if it was offered.”

It’s a misperception to think that as people age, they accumulate wealth and live out their days in comfort, said Peter Johnson, director of public relations for the Center on Halsted in Chicago. “It’s even more true for LGBT older adults. Before we began to experience marriage equality, LGBT seniors might have shared finances unevenly with their partners,” he said. “Without marriage, if one partner dies or the relationship ends, a huge financial burden is placed on the remaining partner.”

The Halsted Center is working with the Heartland Alliance to provide LGBT older adults with affordable housing in the LakeView neighborhood of Chicago. “While not exclusively LGBT it will be LGBT focused and friendly,” Johnson said. “It will be 70 units of subsidized housing with the rent being no more than 30 percent of residents’ income.”

LGBT elders live in or near poverty nationwide — from rural to metropolitan areas, Johnson said. “We are fortunate to have Heartland [Alliance] dealing with us on these issues.”

      Next week: Meet elder members of the LGBT community coping with unemployment and economic insecurity.


Mid-City in winter

Mid-City, Logan Circle, gay news, Washington Blade

The big Mid-City winners in this category were zip code 20005 (Logan Circle) and 20004 (Penn Quarter). (Photo by AgnosticPreachersKid; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

The books are closed on January 2014 real estate stats and, in general, it was a better month for market activity than January 2013. So let’s take a look at the numbers:


Mid-City, gay news, Real Estate, Washington Blade

Mid-City statistics

First, comparing median sold prices, Mid-City properties saw growth in median sold prices for January 2014 over January 2013 — $576,101 over $511,841. These figures are higher for both Mid-City and D.C. overall in either year; additionally, Mid-City median sold prices have a greater increase year over year than D.C.—by 12.6 percent compared to 11.6 percent for D.C. The big Mid-City winners in this category were zip code 20005 (Logan Circle) and 20004 (Penn Quarter), with 63.3 percent and 53.9 percent increases respectively. However, because these two zip codes had so few solds in January (a total of eight), it might be more accurate to designate zip code 20010 (Columbia Heights, Mt. Pleasant) as the winner with 28 solds and a 35.3 percent increase. The big loser was zip code 20003 (Capitol Hill, Navy Yards) with a -2.8 percent decrease in median sold prices over January 2013.

For active listings, Mid-City had a greater percentage increase in the number of properties on the market—from 387 in January 2013 to 463 in January 2014—for an increase of 19.6 percent in available properties in comparison to only a 5.4 percent increase for DC overall. Again, the big Mid-City zip code winner was 20010 (Columbia Heights, Mt. Pleasant) with a 78.3 percent increase in active listings, while the big loser was again zip code 20003 (Capitol Hill, Navy Yards) with a decrease of -34.8 percent in the number of active listings.

Average days on the market is one indicator of the “speed of the market” and a general index of the seller’s market: the fewer the number of days on the market, the more the market is considered to be a seller’s market. Here, D.C. showed an -18.5 percent decrease in average days on the market, while Mid-City experienced a 35.3 percent increase. This means there were more properties on the market for a longer time in January 2014 over January 2013 in Mid-City, but fewer in D.C. overall. However, to put this all in perspective, there must be a six-month supply of homes on the market for it to be considered a “balanced” market between sellers and buyers. Dividing the average days on the market by 30 to obtain the number of months of supply of available homes, we can see that both D.C. overall and Mid-City have approximately a two-month supply of homes on the market—making it clear that we are still in a seller’s market.  (However, this figure is up from the fall season, when homes moved so quickly off the shelf that there was less than a one-month supply.)

Identifying winners and losers in this category depends on your point of view: if you are a seller, a lower number of days on the market is better because it means that there is less competition for your property; if you are a buyer, a greater number of days is better because it means you have more options from which to choose and sellers may be more willing to negotiate. So, for this category, winner/loser zip codes for sellers are 20002 (H Street, Atlas District, Trinidad) with a decrease of average days on the market of -66.1 percent over January 2013 and 20005 (Logan Circle) with an increase of average days on the market of 205.4 percent over January 2013. For buyers , the winner/loser zip codes are just the opposite: your buying options increased in zip code 20005, while they decreased in zip code 20002. Looks like the H Street district is heating up.

The final comparison is sold price/original list price. Here, what’s being compared is how big a percentage of the original list price sellers are getting. The higher the percentage, the more we are in a seller’s market. The D.C. market has been in the 90+ percentage range for the last five years—even through the modest real estate decline we experienced in the District. Bargains are few and far between in D.C., and this is something that newcomers trying to buy a home here frequently learn the hard way by losing a number of their first offers. In this category, there wasn’t much different between D.C. overall and Mid-City from January 2013 to January 2014: Both experienced a .7 percent increase in the ratio of sold price to original list price, with the Mid-City ratio of 98.5 percent being 1.4 percent higher than D.C.’s 97.1 percent. (This means that Mid-City homes sell for closer to asking price—surprise!) In this category, the big winners—at least from a seller’s perspective—were zip codes 20004 (Penn Quarter) and 20005 (Logan Circle), with 4.5 percent and 3.4 percent increases over January 2013. It’s worth pointing out that zip code 20005 had a sold price/original list price ratio of 101.3 percent. This means that Logan Circle properties are selling for more than their asking price—even in the dead of winter. How is that possible? It means that 20005 properties are receiving multiple contract offers.

And the big loser in this category?  Zip code 20007 (Georgetown/Burleith, Glover Park), with a -1.6 percent decrease in the sold price/list price ratio to 95.1 percent. However, at a median sold price of $885,674, that’s hardly “loser” status.

Happy Hunting!

Ted Smith is a licensed Realtor with Real Living | at Home specializing in Mid-City DC. Reach him at and follow him on, or @TedSmithSellsDC. You can also join him at free monthly seminars for first-time homebuyers or monthly tours of open houses in a different neighborhood each week. Sign up at