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Most mayoral hopefuls favor liquor-licensing reform

Mova, gay news, gay politics DC, alcohol, ANC, Adams Morgan, liquor license, licensing

This campaign cycle candidates have been asked a specific question regarding the next step in reforming the city’s alcohol licensing system for bars and restaurants. (Washington Blade file photo by Pete Exis)

Every election the non-partisan Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance elicits candidate positions on issues of interest to the LGBT community. GLAA’s policy brief and questionnaire is the basis for ratings assigned to D.C. vote-seekers. GLAA will soon release scores for candidates competing in the April 1 party primaries.

This campaign cycle candidates have been asked a specific question regarding the next step in reforming the city’s alcohol licensing system for bars and restaurants. Repairing regulations to ensure the process is fixed to be fair for local businesses has long been of compelling concern to the gay community. LGBT residents have witnessed how existing rules allow infamous “Gang of 5” ad hoc license protest groups and small “citizens groups” to directly intervene, attempting to delay or deny licensing.

With LGBT voters comprising 10 percent of the District’s adult population, and likely a higher percentage of voters, candidates covet a high rating.

The question, one of 12, is as follows: “Will you support strengthening Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) reforms by eliminating license protests filed by citizens associations and ad hoc groups, requiring stakeholders to participate in the community process provided by the Advisory Neighborhood Commission?”

While all candidates, including those competing for Council seats, were asked to respond, here’s how the seven-of-eight questionnaire-returning Democratic mayoral candidates measured up:

• Best Answer: Mayor Vincent Gray. He’s a “YES” and demonstrates his keen understanding of the need for reform while clearly enunciating why: “Frivolous licensing protests filed with the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) stand in the way of businesses operating free of special operating protocols. Protests by ad hoc groups…should not interfere with the issuance of ABC licenses to businesses.”

• Great Answer: D.C. Council member Jack Evans. He’s a “YES” and provides a rationale: “I have heard from both residents and businesses that the ABC Board takes too long to make decisions. I think this needs to be a more decisive process…Dragging out some of these cases months and months really can be very unfair to everyone and unnecessarily divisive.”

• Good Answer: Restaurateur Andy Shallal. He’s a “YES” and utilizes his direct experience with the licensing scheme: “I am familiar with the problems that face the owners of restaurants that serve alcohol. My restaurants all serve alcohol, and I have had to deal with the ABC’s regulations for each of them.”

• Straightforward Answer: D.C. Council member Vincent Orange. He’s a “YES” – his solitary affirmative response.

• “Gets It” Answer: Reta Jo Lewis. Although beginning, “I will have to study this issue with greater detail,” she notes, “I am the daughter of entrepreneurs – small business owners. I have a tremendous respect for creating great communities through small business, innovation and entrepreneurship. The current regulations…caus[e] significant barriers for small businesses…all of our processes are convoluted and outdated. I know we can do better.”

• Most Disappointing Answer: D.C. Council member Tommy Wells. He declines to answer the question, instead stating, “This is a proposal that needs further study.” He goes on to contort the issue, failing to reprise his passionate arguments in favor of this specific proposition from the dais during Council debate leading to modest initial reforms in Dec. 2012 limiting “Gang of 5” protests.

• Worst Answer: D.C. Council member Muriel Bowser. She fails to answer the question, utilizing a politician’s “dodge,” but indicates she is “not inclined to limit their ability to protest licenses,” albeit incorrectly referencing ANCs. While Bowser has consistently exhibited reluctance, ambivalence and lack of leadership on licensing reform, she notes joining a Council majority approving “some limitations” of protest groups. Trying to play both sides, however, she “continue[s] to think they lend value to the process.”

With long-overdue reforms supported by most mayoral candidates, it is hoped that courage will strengthen Council candidate backbones. Down ballot, some remain fearful of a diminishing few shrill voices while the broader electorate grows intolerant of fealty to their shenanigans.

Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow on Twitter: @MarkLeeDC. Reach him at


From Stonewall to marriage equality at lightning speed

Stonewall to marriage, gay news, Washington Blade, National Equality March

Even those of us involved in the fight for women’s rights and civil rights would never have believed the speed at which things are changing for the LGBT community. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The progress from Stonewall to marriage equality in my lifetime is amazing. My accepting who I am mirrored the evolving LGBT movement. Coming of age at 21 in New York City, a gay man deep in the closet, hiding my sexual orientation to become a teacher. At 25, starting a political career and working for the most gay-friendly politician in the nation, the congresswoman who introduced the first ENDA bill in Congress, yet still deep in the closet.

Then moving to Washington, D.C. at 31, a city that just elected a mayor who credited the LGBT community and the Stein Democratic Club with making the difference in his election. Pride events were gaining in strength and visibility and my first in Dupont Circle had me hiding behind a tree to make sure my picture wouldn’t end up in a newspaper. Then life started moving faster for me and the LGBT community. By the time I was 34, we were beginning to hear about AIDS and that coincided with my coming out to friends. Then began the process of my morphing into an LGBT activist joining in the fight against HIV/AIDS and openly participating in marches for LGBT rights, openly attending Pride events on a muddy field in Dupont, and being a regular at Rascals, the bar of the moment.

Over the ensuing years the organized LGBT community would get stronger and stand up for our rights and I would find that being “out” still had its consequences. Being rejected for a job for being gay was one of them. As the community turned to more activism, my role in politics was becoming more identified with being gay. First becoming a columnist for the Washington Blade and then finding my picture on the front page of the Washington Post supporting a mayoral candidate and being identified as among other things a gay activist.

As the fight for marriage equality heated up in D.C., GLAA activist Rick Rosendall and I met at a little outdoor lunch place on 17th Street and set the plans in motion to form the Foundation for All DC Families, which begat the Campaign for All DC Families, which helped coordinate the fight for marriage equality in the District.

For so many who grew up in the Baby Boomer generation, life continues to hold many surprises. But even those of us involved in the fight for women’s rights and civil rights would never have believed the speed at which things are changing for the LGBT community.

The courts are moving at a much faster pace than anyone could have predicted even a year ago, striking down bans on gay marriage enacted by state legislatures. State constitutional amendments banning marriage equality are being declared unconstitutional by a raft of federal judges. From Oklahoma to Kentucky, Utah to Virginia, federal judges are saying that states must recognize these marriages. While the cases are being appealed there is a clear path for one or more of them to reach the Supreme Court in its next term. While they weren’t ready to make a decision when they rejected the Prop 8 case in 2013, they will now probably have to decide the fate of marriage equality nationwide and determine whether it is constitutional to discriminate against gay and lesbian citizens.

Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen in her decision in Virginia added to the so-far unanimous group of federal judges who have thrown out these bans. Judge Allen quoted from Mildred Loving, who was at the center of the 1967 Supreme Court case that struck down laws banning interracial marriage. At the time that case was decided only 14 states had laws allowing interracial marriage and already there are 17 states and the District of Columbia that allow gay marriage. While people are hailing her decision she clearly had to be embarrassed when she had to amend her written opinion because she confused the U. S. Constitution with the Declaration of Independence. She isn’t the first and won’t be the last to do that.

Clearly the time has come in our country for full equality. The decisions made by these federal judges have been based on the Supreme Court’s decision in Windsor. Then Attorney General Eric Holder announced “the federal government would recognize legal same-sex marriages in federal matters including bankruptcies, prison visits and survivor benefits.” He stated that, “It is the [Justice Department's] policy to recognize lawful same-sex marriages as broadly as possible, to ensure equal treatment for all members of society regardless of sexual orientation.”

In what seems like lightning speed, the LGBT community is moving toward full civil and human rights.


Fallen activist honored in street-naming

Jeff Coudriet, gay news, Washington Blade

Jeff Coudriet died of lung cancer in February 2011. (Photo by Phil Attey)

A company that built a multimillion-dollar development project at the site of the historic O Street Market in the city’s Shaw neighborhood has honored the late Jeff Coudriet, a longtime gay rights leader and influential City Council staff member, by naming a street after him.

At a March 21 ceremony, officials with Roadside Development Corp. designated a one-block section of 8th Street, N.W, between O and P streets, as Coudriet Way. Although the street is open to the public and vehicular traffic it is part of the private land obtained by the company to build the project, according to Roadside co-founder Richard Lake.

“We worked with Jeff, who helped us bring about this development project,” Lake told the Blade. “Jeff worked tirelessly with us on this and died before the project was completed.”

Lake was referring to Coudriet’s role as committee clerk for the D.C. Council’s Committee on Finance and Revenue, which is chaired by Council member and mayoral candidate Jack Evans (D-Ward 2). Evans has said Coudriet acted as a facilitator on behalf of his office to help Roadside navigate the D.C. government bureaucracy to clear the way for a project supported by the community.

Among other things, it brought to a once blighted area a state-of-the-art Giant Food store, 650 residential apartments of which 90 are reserved for seniors at affordable costs, and a 182-room hotel along with 500 parking spaces.

Coudriet died of lung cancer in February 2011 at the age of 48. He was a longtime resident of the Shaw community.

He is credited with playing a lead role in efforts to repeal the city’s sodomy law and to pass the city’s first domestic partners law during his tenure as president of the Gay & Lesbian Activists Alliance from 1992 to 1995. He later served as president of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city’s largest LGBT political group.

He joined Evans’ staff in 2001 after having served on the staff of U.S. Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.). He left Evans’ staff in 2004 to take a job at the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration before returning to Evans’ staff in 2007, where he remained until the time of his death.

“It is impossible to put into words the contributions Jeff made to our city and its residents,” Evans said at the time of Coudriet’s death.


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


Guide to D.C. primary races

Phil Mendelson, Calvin Gurley, primary, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade

Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large) and Calvin Gurley. (Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

D.C. Council Chair

Incumbent Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large), a longtime supporter of LGBT rights, is being challenged in the primary by former federal government auditor and civic activist Calvin Gurley. Most political observers consider Mendelson the strong favorite to win re-election.

Mendelson received a +10 rating from GLAA and received the Stein Club endorsement. Gurley received a +1 GLAA rating. GLAA said Gurley expressed support for the city’s same-sex marriage law when it came up for a vote in 2009, but said he expressed disagreement with a number of LGBT-related proposals in his responses on the GLAA candidate questionnaire.

Mendelson has been credited with acting as the lead advocate for the same-sex marriage law during his tenure in 2009 as chair of the Council’s Judiciary Committee, which had jurisdiction over the measure.


Anita Bonds, Nate Bennett-Fleming, John Settles, Pedro Rubio, primary, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade

From left, D.C. Council member Anita Bonds (D-At-Large), Nate Bennett-Fleming, John Settles and Pedro Rubio. (Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

At-Large Council Seat

Incumbent Council member Anita Bonds (D-At-Large), another longtime supporter of the LGBT community, is being challenged by three opponents who have also expressed strong support for LGBT equality.

The challengers are attorney and adjunct law professor Nate Bennett-Fleming, who currently serves as one of two shadow U.S. Representatives; businessman and civic activist John Settles; and federal government contract specialist and Latino community activist Pedro Rubio.

Bennett-Fleming, who won the Stein Club endorsement in the past when running for his shadow House seat, received the highest vote count in the club’s Council endorsement meeting last month but fell short of obtaining the 60 percent threshold needed for the endorsement. He received a +7 GLAA rating compared to a +6 rating GLAA gave to Bonds.

Rubio received a +3 GLAA rating and Settles received a +2.5.

Each of the candidates, including Rubio and Settles, has expressed strong support for LGBT-related issues.

Gay civic activist and Ward 1 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Marc Morgan is running unopposed for the at-large seat in the Republican primary also scheduled for April 1.


Jim Graham, Brianne Nadeau, Ward 1, D.C. Council, gay news, Washington Blade

D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) and challenger Brianne Nadeau. (Washington Blade photo of Graham by Jeff Surprenant; Blade photo of Nadeau by Michael Key)

Ward 1 Council Seat

Sixteen-year incumbent Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who is one of two openly gay members of the Council, is being opposed by public relations executive Brianne Nadeau.

GLAA gave Graham a rating of +7.5 compared to the +5 rating it gave to Nadeau. The Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city’s largest LGBT partisan political group, didn’t make an endorsement in the Ward 1 race because neither candidate obtained a required 60 percent of the vote from club members needed to endorse.

However, Nadeau beat Graham by a vote of 70 to 64 in the endorsement race, a development that Nadeau’s LGBT supporters said was a sign that she has widespread support in the LGBT community. Graham is being backed by many of the city’s prominent LGBT activists and received endorsements from most of the city’s labor unions.


Ward 3 Council Seat

Incumbent Council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), a longtime supporter of LGBT rights, is running unopposed in the primary. She won the endorsement of the Stein Club and received a rating of 8.5 from GLAA.

She’s considered the strong favorite to win the general election in November against Libertarian Party candidate Ryan Sabot, who’s running unopposed in the Libertarian primary on April 1.


Kenyan McDuffy, Kathy Henderson, primary, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade

D.C. Council member Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5) and Kathy Henderson. (Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

Ward 5 Council Seat

Incumbent Council member Kenyan McDuffie, who has expressed strong support for LGBT rights, is being challenged by Ward 5 civic activists Kathy Henderson, an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner; and Carolyn Steptoe. McDuffie, who was endorsed by the Stein Club, is considered the strong favorite to win re-election.

McDuffie received a +4.5 rating from GLAA. Henderson received a “0” GLAA rating and Steptoe received a -2, the lowest rating GLAA has issued for any of the candidates running in the April 1 primary.

Henderson has told the Blade she considers herself a strong supporter of LGBT equality. GLAA said it gave her a 0 rating because she expressed opposition to a number of issues on the questionnaire deemed important by the group.


Charles Allen, Darrell Thompson, primary, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade

Charles Allen and Darrell Thompson. (Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

Ward 6 Council Seat

The Ward 6 seat is being vacated by incumbent Tommy Wells, who’s running for mayor. Wells’ former chief of staff, Charles Allen, is running for the seat in the Democratic primary against Darrel Thompson, a former deputy chief of staff for U.S. Senate Majority Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

Both have expressed strong support for LGBT rights and say they addressed LGBT issues as part of the duties of their previous jobs. GLAA gave Allen a +8.5 rating, the highest rating it awarded this year for a non-incumbent.

Thompson received a +3 rating. GLAA said he submitted a “weak questionnaire” but was given credit for the LGBT-related issues he worked on when serving on the staff of Reid as well as on the staff of former House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.) and then U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.).

The Stein Club didn’t endorse in the Ward 6 race because neither candidate received the 60 percent threshold needed for an endorsement.


Paul Strauss, Pete Ross, primary, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade

From left, Paul Strauss and Pete Ross. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Shadow Senate Seat

Incumbent Paul Strauss, an attorney, who has held the shadow seat for 17 years, is being challenged by retired Army Capt. Pete Ross in the Democratic primary. Neither one obtained sufficient votes to receive the Stein Club endorsement. GLAA does not rate candidates running for the shadow seats.

The seats were created as positions of advocacy for D.C. statehood and voting representation in Congress. They are unpaid positions without any powers or duties from the Congress.

Strauss and Ross have been longtime supporters of the LGBT community.


Shadow House Seat

Latino community activist Franklin Garcia is running unopposed for the seat.


GLAA Awards

The Gay & Lesbian Activists Alliance held its annual Awards Gala at Policy on Wednesday. (Washington Blade photos by Damien Salas) GLAA Awards 


Gray receives surprise award at GLAA celebration

GLAA, Vincent Gray, Rick Rosendall, Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, Washington Blade, gay news

GLAA honored Mayor Vincent Gray with its distinguished service award. (Washington Blade photo by Damien Salas)

The Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance surprised D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray before a crowd of about 90 LGBT activists and supporters attending its 43rd anniversary reception on April 30 by presenting him with an unscheduled Distinguished Service Award.

As he has in past years, Gray attended the event to present GLAA with a mayoral proclamation recognizing the non-partisan advocacy group for its work on behalf of LGBT equality. While introducing him, GLAA President Rick Rosendall announced that the group decided to give Gray its Distinguished Service Award because of his longstanding record of support for LGBT rights.

“For those of us working in the trenches, it is all too easy to focus on the latest flap and forget that Vince is, by the evidence, the best mayor on LGBT issues our city has ever had,” Rosendall told the gathering.

Gray was joined at the event, held at Policy Restaurant and Lounge at 1904 14th St., N.W., by six members of the D.C. City Council, including mayoral candidates Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) and David Catania (I-At-Large).

The other Council members attending were Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), David Grosso (I-At-Large), Anita Bonds (D-At-Large) and Vincent Orange (D-At-Large).

Also attending were at least three candidates running for seats on the Council along with gay congressional candidate Mark Levine (D), who’s running for the 8th District U.S. House seat in Northern Virginia being vacated by retiring Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.).

Bowser and Gray greeted each other warmly and praised one another when they spoke following a hotly contested mayoral primary in which Bowser defeated Gray on April 1, becoming the Democratic nominee in the November general election.

With Catania running as an independent, that contest has also become what most political observers are calling a competitive race in a city where the Democratic mayoral nominee has won the general election in every prior election since the city’s home rule government started in 1974.

Catania, who had another engagement to attend, left the GLAA reception before the speeches began. Bowser, breaking from her months of criticism of Gray during the primary campaign, praised Gray’s record on LGBT rights issues.

Bowser told the Blade in the week following her primary victory that, if elected mayor in November, she would continue the LGBT-related initiatives put in place by Gray and “continue to move forward” on LGBT issues.

Bowser reiterated that pledge in her remarks at the GLAA reception.

“We are not finished,” she said referring to LGBT equality.

Catania and his supporters have said Bowser hasn’t taken the initiative to introduce significant legislation during her seven years on the Council. They point to Catania’s record of introducing a wide range of bills, including the city’s marriage equality law, saying his record is much broader than Bowser’s.

The three people scheduled to receive GLAA’s annual Distinguished Service Award and who were presented with the award at the April 30 event were veteran gay rights and civic activist Jerry Clark, who serves as chair of the D.C. Statehood Coalition and political director of D.C. for Democracy; LGBT rights advocate Alison Gill, who serves as Government Affairs Director for The Trevor Project, the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services for LGBT and questioning youth; and longtime LGBT rights advocate Earl Fowlkes Jr., president and CEO of the Center for Black Equity, an LGBT rights organization that, among other things, organizes and coordinates Black Pride events in the U.S., Canada, United Kingdom and South Africa.

Bonds won the Democratic primary in her re-election bid for the at-large Council seat by a wide margin on April 1 in a multi-candidate race. She will be facing several expected independent candidates as well as gay Republican Marc Morgan and a Libertarian and Statehood-Green Party candidate in the November general election. All of the candidates except Bonds will be competing for her seat as well as the “non-Democratic” at-large seat that Catania is giving up to run for mayor.

Longtime Democratic activist Elisa Silverman, who finished a strong second behind Bonds in a special election for the at-large seat currently held by Bonds, has told supporters she plans to run for the non-Democratic seat as an independent. Silverman attended the GLAA anniversary reception, where she greeted LGBT activists, some of whom supported her in her previous race for the at-large seat.

Others attending the GLAA anniversary reception included Charles Allen, who won the Democratic primary on April 1 for the Ward 6 Council seat being vacated by Tommy Wells (D), who gave up the seat to run for mayor; and Robert White, an independent candidate running for the at-large seat.

Under the city’s election law, one of the two at-large seats up for election this year must go to a non-majority party candidate, which means a Democrat is ineligible for the seat. The highest two vote-getters in the November election are declared the winners of the two-at-large seats in accordance of the election law. Although a non-Democrat could win both seats, the Democratic candidate has won the seat in which a Democrat is eligible to run in every election since home rule began in 1974.

Veteran D.C. gay activist Paul Kuntzler, who is one of the co-founders of GLAA, continued the tradition of the group’s anniversary receptions by leading a Champagne toast to GLAA’s accomplishments over its 43-year history.


Mayoral candidates march in Pride Parade

Tommy Wells, 2013 Capital Pride Parade, gay news, Washington Blade

D.C. Council members Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) (on left), and Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) all marched in Saturday’s Pride parade. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

D.C. Council members Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), and Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) – each of whom is running for mayor – waved to thousands of cheering onlookers on Saturday as they marched in D.C.’s Capital Pride Parade.

Mayor Vincent Gray, who has yet to announce whether he will run for a second term but who many believe will throw his hat in the ring, also marched in the parade, with LGBT supporters and city employees marching in his contingent.

The fact that four prominent politicians and long-time LGBT allies are either running or expected to run for mayor in the April 2014 Democratic mayoral primary highlights what many activists say is D.C.’s status as one of America’s most LGBT supportive cities.

But for many in the LGBT community, the fact that four longtime friends are running or likely to run against each other poses a dilemma. On what basis will they choose one over the other, some are asking.

In interviews with the Washington Blade during LGBT Pride month, several activists who discussed the upcoming mayoral election said it is far too early to make a decision on whom to back, even among those who supported Gray in his 2010 mayoral election campaign.

“We don’t know who else will get in the race,” said gay Democratic activist Peter Rosenstein, who supported Gray in 2010 and who has written several commentaries for the Blade praising Gray’s administration for making important improvements in the city, including the local economy.

“It’s much too early to make a decision,” Rosenstein said.

Veteran gay and AIDS activist Cornelius Baker, however, said he remains a strong Gray supporter and he and many others in the LGBT community he knows won’t line up behind anyone else until Gray makes his intentions known.

“We’re all waiting for him to give us the word that he’s running,” said Baker at a Black LGBT Pride event two weeks ago. “I’m ready to do all I can to support him because he’s done an excellent job on the issues that are important to me.”

Rick Rosendall, president of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, a non-partisan advocacy group that rates candidates based on their record and positions on LGBT-related issues, expressed caution about basing a decision on who to back solely on a candidate’s general statements of support.

“All friends are not created equal,” he said. “It behooves us to look inside the wrappers and compare the candidates’ records on translating their friendly words into results,” said Rosendall. “But that’s for another day – it’s Pride, and we have much to celebrate.”

Rosendall backed Gray in the 2010 election.

Christopher Dyer, who served as director of the city’s Office of GLBT Affairs under Mayor Adrian Fenty, said he’s supporting Bowser, who was a strong Fenty supporter in the 2010 election in which Gray beat Fenty in a hotly contested race.

Also backing Bowser is gay activist and businessman Everett Hamilton.

If Fenty’s LGBT backers transfer their support to Bowser, who was a strong political ally of Fenty’s, the Ward 4 Council woman could receive a considerable boost for her campaign among LGBT voters. Fenty won in most of the city’s election precincts with high concentrations of LGBT residents in his unsuccessful bid for a second term in 2010.

Gay Democratic activist John Fanning said he is among the Ward 2 LGBT residents supporting Evans in the mayoral election next year.

“Jack has the experience and has paid his dues,” said Fanning, noting that Evans has been on the D.C. Council since 1991.

Mark Lee, an advocate for nightlife businesses and a business columnist for the Blade, said the mayoral contenders’ strong record of support on LGBT issues opens the way for LGBT voters to look at other issues.

“The hard work by community leaders over many years has made LGBT issues non-controversial in District politics or governance,” Lee said. “As a result, we now have both the opportunity and obligation to participate as full citizens and evaluate candidates on a wide range of issues.”

In media interviews during the past few weeks, each of the three Council contenders in the mayor’s race as well as Gray have said they welcome voter scrutiny of their positions and records on all issues.

Meanwhile, at least two others have given hints that they were considering entering the race. Gay D.C. Council member David Catania (I-At-Large) reportedly is weighing a run, according to political insiders. Should he run and win, Catania would make history by becoming the first out gay person elected mayor of D.C.

Robert C. Bobb, who served as city administrator under former D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams and later as president of the D.C. school board, is also said to be considering a run for mayor next year. Bobb expressed support for LGBT rights during his campaign for the school board post in 2006 as well as during his tenure as city administrator.

Catania, a longtime vocal supporter of LGBT rights, was the author and lead advocate for the city’s same-sex marriage law, which the D.C. Council passed in 2009. He recently switched from serving as chair of the Council’s Committee on Health to being chair of the Committee on Education, where he has emerged as a vocal advocate for school reform.

Evans, Bowser and Wells each voted for the marriage equality law after advocating for such legislation since winning election to the Council.

“I intend to spend more time focused on that, and when and if I decide to do something else I’ll make that decision, but it’s hard to do two tracks,” Catania told the Blade while marching in the Capital Pride Parade on Saturday. “People often make calculations that are not thoughtful and I want to postpone that campaign mode as long as possible,” he said.

 Michael K. Lavers contributed to this report.


D.C. marriage officiant, surrogacy bills advance

Muriel Bowser, Ward 4, Washington D.C., D.C. Council, gay news, Washington Blade

D.C. Council Member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) has expressed concern with a provision in the temporary officiant bill that would allow couples to act as their own officiant. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

LGBT activists watched with interest last week as the D.C. City Council took steps to advance one bill that would allow more people to perform marriage ceremonies and another that would repeal a little-known city law that prohibits surrogacy parenting.

On Tuesday, June 18, the Council’s Committee of the Whole, which includes all Council members, voted to schedule a first-reading vote on June 26 for the Marriage Officiant Amendment Act of 2013.

The bill, among other things, would authorize same-sex and opposite-sex couples applying for a marriage license to designate a friend, parent, sibling or any other adult as a one-time “temporary officiant” empowered to perform the marriage. The current law limits the selection of the person who can perform a marriage ceremony to licensed clergy members, judges and court employees designated as officiants.

Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) wrote the bill and co-introduced it with five colleagues, including gay Council members David Catania (I-At-Large) and Jim Graham (D-Ward 1).

In an unexpected development, Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), who is a candidate for mayor, exercised her authority to take the bill off the Council’s consent calendar, which would have enabled the Council to approve the bill on June 26 by unanimous consent without a roll call vote.

Bowser expressed concern about a provision in the bill that would allow couples that obtain a marriage license to act as their own officiant and to perform the marriage ceremony themselves. Bowser’s action prompted Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance President Rick Rosendall and National Capital Area ACLU Legal Director Arthur Spitzer to send email messages to each Council member expressing support for the “self-officiation” provision. The two urged the Council to retain the provision and to oppose a possible amendment introduced by Bowser to take the provision out of the bill.

Bowser couldn’t immediately be reach for comment to determine whether or not she plans to seek to have the provision deleted from the bill.

Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8), who supports the bill, has suggested adding members of the City Council to the list of people authorized to perform a marriage ceremony. Rosendall and Spitzer said they have no objections to Barry’s suggestion.

In a separate action, the Council’s Judiciary and Public Safety Committee held a public hearing on June 20 on a revised version of the Surrogacy Parenting Agreement Act of 2013, which was introduced earlier this year by Catania. All 12 of Catania’s fellow Council members signed on as co-sponsors of the original bill.

The measure, renamed the Collaborative Reproduction Act of 2013, would make it legal for same-sex or opposite-sex couples — or a single intended parent — to arrange for a woman to carry a fertilized egg to term on behalf of the couple or single person. The revised bill includes language that would make the intended couple or single person the legal parents of the child. Current D.C. law prohibits surrogacy arrangements.

The 15-page draft bill discussed at the hearing includes detailed legal provisions that would help potential surrogates and couples seeking a child work out a complex arrangement to compensate the surrogate for direct and indirect costs associated with a pregnancy and the delivery of a baby in a hospital.

Gay rights attorney Nancy Polikoff, an American University law professor, called on the committee to change the bill to include in all its provisions regulations for both a “gestational” and “traditional” surrogacy. Polikoff noted that the revised bill is mostly limited to addressing gestational surrogacy.

Gestational surrogacy allows the prospective parent or parents to provide a fertilized egg to be implanted in the surrogate. The process for doing this, Polikoff said, involves a medical procedure that could cost more than $100,000, making it difficult or impossible for many prospective parents to afford.

Traditional surrogacy involves the insemination of semen from one of the members of the couple or single person into the surrogate, in which case the surrogate becomes the biological mother of the child.

Polikoff said the draft bill would legalize traditional surrogacy but it lacks the detailed procedural language in the form of a regulation that it includes for gestational surrogacy, which she said is needed to help the “traditional” surrogate and prospective parents work out a legal agreement.

“With no such regulation in place, every time a gay male couple wants to conceive and raise a child, and that couple cannot afford gestational surrogacy, they are on their own, as is the woman who agrees to help them become parents,” Polikoff said in her testimony. “I don’t think the City Council should leave to their own devices that portion of this city’s population.”

Polikoff also called for a new provision in the bill to give a surrogate a short period of time after giving birth to back out of the deal and become the legal parent of and gain custody of the child.

Phillip L. Husband, general counsel for the D.C. Department of Health, who testified on behalf of the administration of Mayor Vincent Gray, said the administration supports the legislation but offered more than two-dozen suggested changes in the bill’s wording that he said would strengthen the measure and improve the city’s ability to implement it.

The Judiciary and Public Safety Committee must next draft a final version of the bill before the measure goes to the full Council for a vote.


Trans birth certificate bill set for hearing

D.C. Council, Phil Mendelson, David Catania, Washington Blade, Gay News

D.C. Council members Phil Mendelson and David Catania (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Two D.C. Council committees were scheduled to hold a joint hearing Thursday, May 16, on a bill that would enable transgender people to obtain a new rather than amended birth certificate to reflect their new gender.

The JaParker Deoni Jones Birth Certificate Equality Amendment Act of 2013 was co-introduced by seven Council members, including Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large) and Council member David Catania (I-At-Large).

Another five Council members, including Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) signed on as co-sponsors of the bill, leaving Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) as the only one on the 13-member Council not to either introduce or co-sponsor the bill.

The bill calls for amending the city’s Vital Records Act of 1981 “to require the Registrar to issue a new certificate of birth designating a new gender for any individual who provides a written request and signed affidavit from a licensed health-care provider that the individual has undergone a gender transition, to require that an original an original certificate be sealed when a new certificate is issued.”

The bill also exempts an individual from an existing city law requiring that a name change application be published in a local newspaper if the name change is “requested in conjunction with a request to change the individual’s gender designation.”

Representatives of the D.C. Trans Coalition, which has taken the lead role in lobbying for the bill, and the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, were expected to testify at the hearing and to call for some changes in the bill’s wording.