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Tom Chorlton, gay rights leader, author dies at 67

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

Tom Chorlton, a longtime advocate of LGBT rights, died Jan. 5 from complications associated with leukemia. (Washington Blade archive photo by Doug Hinckle)

Tom Chorlton, a longtime advocate of LGBT rights and former D.C. resident who taught political science at the College of Charleston in South Carolina, died Jan. 5 from complications associated with leukemia. He was 67.

Chorlton has been credited with playing a key role in the early 1980s in organizing support for gay rights within the Democratic Party. Among other endeavors, he helped found the National Association of Gay and Lesbian Democratic Clubs in 1982 and served as its first executive director from 1982 to 1987.

While living in D.C. from the mid-1970s to the early 1990s, Chorlton advocated for LGBT rights on a local and national level. He served as president of D.C.’s Gertrude Stein Democratic Club from 1981 to 1982 and ran as a candidate for an at-large seat on the D.C. City Council in 1988 under the banner of the D.C. Statehood Party.

Although he lost his Council race, his role as the first serious openly gay candidate for a seat on the Council opened the way for the election in subsequent years of gay D.C. Council members David Catania (I-At-large) and Jim Graham (D-Ward 1).

Friends and associates say Chorlton had a dual passion for LGBT rights and political science, with a strong interest in American history during the period just before and after the Revolutionary War.

As an assistant professor at the College of Charleston, Chorlton taught courses on the American Presidency and Politics of the American Revolution up until October 2013, when he was diagnosed with leukemia.

In 2012, after years of research and writing that Chorlton called a labor of love, he completed and published his book, “The First American Republic: 1774-1789.” The book consists of profiles of the 14 little-known leaders of the American Revolution who served as president of the Continental Congress from the time it was formed in 1774 to 1789, when George Washington took office as the nation’s first elected president under the new U.S. Constitution.

“What few Americans realize is that there had been a fully functioning national government prior to 1789,” Chorlton wrote in his book. “It was called the Continental Congress and it was, in every respect, the First American Republic (1774-1789).”

Deacon Maccubbin, former owner of D.C.’s Lambda Rising bookstore and a longtime friend of Chorlton’s, said Chorlton was born in Illinois, where his parents adopted him and raised him in the City of Belleville.

Chorlton received a bachelor’s in political science in 1968 from St. Louis University. Upon graduation, he served as a teacher in the Peace Corps in Kenya before returning to the U.S., where he worked in Washington in 1975 on the staff of U.S. Rep. Melvin Price (D-Ill.).

He earned his master’s degree in government administration in 1977 at Webster University in Missouri. During his time of studies there he was employed as a local government specialist with the St. Louis Area Council of Governments.

Shortly after leaving Washington in the early 1990s, Chorlton taught history and government at Columbia College’s Lake Campus in central Missouri. He began his post as an assistant professor at the College of Charleston in 2003, according to Erin Blevins, administrative coordinator for the college’s Department of Political Science.

Blevins said among the courses Chorlton taught were LGBT Politics, American Government, Contemporary Political Issues, Politics of the American Revolution, and the U.S. Presidency.

Kurt Vorndran, who served as president of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club in D.C. several years after Chorlton held that post, credits Chorlton with being among the first to organize a political fundraising dinner for a gay rights cause in 1981 on behalf of the Stein Club.

Vorndran said the Stein Club’s 1981 dinner, held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, drew hundreds of people, including members of Congress, then-D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, and many other D.C. elected officials and straight allies, such as labor union and civil rights leaders.

“At the time, very few, if any, national or local LGBT groups put on this type of political banquet that attracted big name politicians and media coverage,” Vorndran said. “This was something Tom started.”

Maccubbin and his husband Jim Bennett, who are serving as executors of Chorlton’s estate, said in a statement that plans for a memorial service would be announced shortly. The statement says a portion of Chorlton’s ashes would be interred at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Charleston and at a family plot in Belleville, Ill.

“Another small portion of his ashes will be scattered in Antarctica, the only continent Tom had not yet visited,” the statement says. “He has travelled extensively all his life, beginning with his Peace Corps service, and has been to more than 50 countries, including regions as diverse as Mongolia and Easter Island, Fiji and Kenya, Moscow, Beijing and Iran,” the Maccubbin-Bennett statement says.

“Those who believe in heaven know that Tom is there now with his mom and his canine friends who went before,” Maccubbin and Bennett said in a separate statement. “Those who don’t believe in the afterlife know that Tom created a heaven right here on earth, and shared it with all of us. He will live in all of our hearts forever.”

06
Jan
2014

Stein Club unable to endorse in 3 Council races

Jim Graham, endorsement, Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, gay news, Washington Blade

Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), a four-term incumbent, failed to secure a Stein Club endorsement Wednesday night. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city’s largest LGBT political organization, was unable to make an endorsement in three of the five City Council races it considered Wednesday night when no candidate in three of the contests was able to capture a required 60 percent of the vote from more than 140 members in attendance.

D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large), a longtime supporter of the LGBT community, easily won the club’s endorsement in his re-election bid after beating Democratic challenger Calvin Gurley by a vote of 120 to 13.

“I’m pleased and honored,” Mendelson told the Blade after the vote. “I’m very proud of my record on LGBT issues, not the least of which is marriage equality,” he said. “I’ve tried to be very supportive and I appreciate the support in return.”

Council member Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5) also won the club’s endorsement by beating Democratic challenger Kathy Henderson by a vote of 124 to 13. A third candidate running in the April 1 Democratic primary for the Ward 5 Council seat, Carolyn Steptoe, didn’t attend the forum.

endorsement

Brianne Nadeau (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

In a development that surprised some club members, challenger Brianne Nadeau finished ahead of gay Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), a four-term incumbent, by a vote of 70 to 64, with one person voting for no endorsement. Although Nadeau’s supporters called the outcome a victory for her, the vote total came nowhere near the 60 percent threshold needed for an endorsement.

Graham’s supporters, including former Stein Club President Kurt Vorndran, said the close vote between Nadeau and Graham didn’t reflect the true sentiment of LGBT voters, whom they said would vote overwhelmingly for Graham in the April 1 primary.

Nadeau supporters dispute that assessment, saying the Ward 1 civic activist and former Advisory Neighborhood Commission member has emerged as Graham’s strongest challenger in years.

The voting took place after incumbents and challengers running for Council seats in Wards 1, 5 and 6; an at-large seat; and the position of Council Chair gave opening remarks and answered questions from the audience.

Many of the questions were about non-LGBT issues, highlighting what some Stein Club members said was the perception that LGBT issues may no longer be a key factor because nearly all candidates running for public office in D.C. support LGBT equality.

Close to 200 people attended what the Stein Club called a combined endorsement meeting and candidate forum, which was held at Unity of Washington Church at 1225 R St., N.W.

In yet another surprise to some of the attendees, challenger Nate Bennett-Fleming, who holds the position of shadow U.S. Representative, finished ahead of incumbent Council member Anita Bonds (D-At-Large) by a vote of 68 to 51 in a run-off ballot.

In the first ballot vote, Bennett-Fleming beat Bonds by a vote of 60 to 53. Challengers John Settles and Pedro Rubio came in third and fourth with 14 votes and 12 votes respectively.

In the Ward 6 race, Democratic activist Charles Allen, former chief of staff for Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), finished ahead of Darrel Thompson, a former chief of staff for U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), by a vote of 68 to 65. Both have expressed strong support for LGBT rights and have worked on LGBT issues in their previous jobs.

Similar to the Ward 1 and At-Large races, the vote spread between Allen and Thompson was too close to give Allen the 60 percent margin he needed for an endorsement.

“When you have these endorsement processes it’s about who can bring their people out and who can electrify their constituency – and I think everyone did that,” said Earl Fowlkes, a member of the Democratic National Committee from D.C. and Stein Club member who served as moderator at the forum.

“That’s why there were these close races,” he said. “The people that are involved believe their candidate is better and they came out on a cold winter night and stayed for two ballots.”

Fowlkes said the club shouldn’t be disappointed in the lack of endorsements in the three Council races because the division in the vote reflects the sentiment of the club’s members.

Calvin Gurley, gay news, Washington Blade, Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, endorsement, gay news, Washington Blade

Calvin Gurley (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

All of the candidates speaking at the forum except Gurley, Mendelson’s challenger, expressed strong support for LGBT rights and promised, if elected, to be an advocate for the LGBT community.

Gurley, who received a “0” rating from the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, spoke mostly about non-LGBT issues, saying he is committed to cleaning up corruption and waste in the city, which he said would benefit all residents, including LGBT people.

GLAA said it gave Gurley a 0 rating because he didn’t return the group’s questionnaire and it had no knowledge of his view on LGBT issues. At the forum, Gurley said he never received the questionnaire. GLAA President Rick Rosendall has said the group is meticulous in making sure that questionnaires are mailed or emailed to the addresses the candidates submit to the Board of Elections when they file papers to run.

During a period of discussion among club members following the forum, speakers appeared to be equally divided in their support between Graham and Nadeau.

Lesbian activist Barbara Helmick, a longtime Ward 1 resident, praised Graham for his long record of support on LGBT issues but said it was time for “new blood” on the Council.

“Let’s give the new gal a chance,” she said, in urging fellow club members to vote for Nadeau.

Patricia Hawkins, former deputy director of the Whitman-Walker Clinic, told of her work with Graham during the years he served as director of Whitman-Walker at the height of the AIDS epidemic and prior to his election on to the Council.

“He’s an important asset to our community and every community,” she said.

The Stein Club is scheduled to hold a similar endorsement meeting and candidate forum on March 6 for the eight Democratic candidates running for mayor, including Mayor Gray. The event is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Metropolitan Community Church of Washington, 474 Ridge St., N.W.

27
Feb
2014

Taking sides in ‘painful’ mayoral race

Hillary Rosen, mayoral race, gay news, Washington Blade

Hilary Rosen, a longtime LGBT advocate and CNN commentator, endorsed David Catania for mayor. A Blade survey of prominent D.C. activists reveals a split in support for Catania and rival Muriel Bowser. (Photo courtesy of CNN)

An informal survey of 37 prominent LGBT advocates in D.C. found that 13 of them would vote for Council member David Catania (I-At-Large) for mayor if the election were held this week, 12 would vote for Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), and 12 were undecided.

All but five of the activists identified themselves in the survey conducted by the Washington Blade as registered Democrats This development suggests a significant number of LGBT Democrats who are normally loyal to their party in D.C. elections are considering voting for Catania, the openly gay independent and former Republican.

Veteran transgender activist Jeri Hughes, who was among those saying she’s undecided in the mayoral race, appeared to reflect the views of many in the LGBT community in weighing their choice between Catania and Bowser.

“Party lines become blurred when the independent candidate represents the Democratic Party line supporting the needy and social welfare to a greater extent and better than most Democrats,” said Hughes.

“I am inclined to vote along my party line, Democrat, but I need to know more about Council member Bowser’s vision for the District,” she said.

Hughes was also among about 30 mostly Democratic LGBT activists that met privately with Catania on Monday at Catania’s campaign headquarters on Connecticut Avenue, N.W., to engage in a “frank” discussion on a wide range of issues, including non-LGBT issues, according to those familiar with the meeting.

Others attending the meeting were transgender activists Earline Budd, Ruby Corado, and Alexandra Beninda and gay Latino activist Jose Gutierrez.

Gay Democratic activist Lane Hudson, who organized the meeting, said most of the attendees, including him, supported Mayor Vincent Gray in the April 1 Democratic primary and are now either undecided or are leaning toward Catania in the November general election.

Bowser beat Gray in the primary by a margin of 43 percent to 33 percent according to final returns released by the Board of Elections. Six other candidates, including another three members of the City Council, finished far behind Bowser and Gray.

Hudson said he now supports Catania. Although he said Catania’s record on LGBT rights is far more extensive than Bowser’s, his decision to back Catania is based on his belief that Catania is better qualified to lead the city.

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

LGBT advocates in D.C. are divided between David Catania and Muriel Bowser in the race for mayor. (Washington Blade photo of Catania by Michael Key; Blade photo of Bowser by Damien Salas)

Among the LGBT advocates supporting Bowser are Bil Browning, founder of the LGBT news blog Bilerico Project, and his partner, Jerame Davis, former executive director of the National Stonewall Democrats.

Other Bowser supporters, as identified in the Blade survey, include Kurt Vorndran and Lateefah Williams, both former presidents of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club; Courtney Snowden, public relations executive and former Human Rights Campaign official; A. Billy S. Jones, veteran gay rights activist; and Riley Temple, an attorney and gay rights advocate.

Gay Democratic activist and businessman Everett Hamilton, who serves as a communications consultant to Bowser’s campaign, said other Bowser supporters include Elizabeth Birch, former executive director of the Human Rights Campaign; Jeff Marootian, former LGBT outreach director for the Democratic National Committee; and veteran lesbian activist Sheila Alexander-Reid, a radio talk show producer and founder of the lesbians of color advocacy organization Women In the Life Association.

Also among Bowser’s LGBT supporters is Christopher Dyer, the gay activist who served as director of the City’s Office of GLBT Affairs under former Mayor Adrian Fenty.

Hamilton pointed to a statement released by Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz congratulating Bowser on the day following her primary victory. He said Wasserman Schultz’s strong backing of Bowser would prompt D.C. Democrats, including LGBT Democrats, to remain loyal to their party’s nominee.

“Muriel’s vision to move D.C. in a positive direction resonates with the District’s working and middle class families,” Wasserman Schultz said in her statement. “Her plans to invest in the city’s schools, infrastructure, and economic development embody the Democratic Party’s priorities to increase opportunity for all.”

Although Wasserman Schultz said she believes D.C. Democrats are committed to uniting behind Bowser following the April 1 primary, at least two nationally recognized lesbian and gay Democrats have come out in support of Catania.

Hilary Rosen, a communications firm executive, Democratic Party advocate and commentator on CNN, announced on her Facebook page last month that she’s backing Catania because, among other things, he’s a “candidate who can bring people together.”

Steve Elmendorf, chief of staff to former House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) and current principal in the Democratic leaning lobbying and public affairs firm Elmendorf-Ryan Communications, raised eyebrows in Democratic Party circles when he, too, announced his endorsement of Catania.

Among other things, Elmendorf serves as chairman of the board of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, which also has endorsed Catania. The group raises money for openly LGBT candidates for public office across the country.

“I think David is a candidate who can bring people together and most importantly has shown himself to be willing to do the work,” Rosen said in her Facebook statement. “For example, when he chaired the [D.C. Council] Health Committee he created accessible health clinics for residents all over D.C. but most importantly east of the River.”

Others who identified themselves as Catania supporters in the Blade survey include Deacon Maccubbin, former Lambda Rising bookstore owner; Joel Lawson, Dupont Circle civic activist; Roger Moffatt, Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner in the Southwest Waterfront area; Alexandra Beninda, transgender activist and member of the D.C. Human Rights Commission; and William Waybourn, former publisher of the Washington Blade. Each of them said they are Democrats.

Also identifying themselves as Catania supporters in the survey are Marvin Carter, CEO of the local LGBT charitable group Helping Our Brothers and Sisters; Charles Francis, public relations executive and founder of the Kameny Papers Project, which arranged for the preservation of the papers of the late gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny; and Berin Szoka, a Libertarian Party activist and 2012 supporter of presidential candidate Ron Paul. Carter and Francis said they are registered as independent voters. Szoka said he’s a registered Republican.

Among the 12 Blade survey participants who identified themselves as being undecided in the mayoral race, gay activist Bob Dardano, transgender activist Toni Collins, and gay ANC commissioner and Georgetown University student Craig Cassey said they are “leaning” toward backing Catania. Each said they are registered Democrats.

Gay rights advocate and journalist Isaiah Poole and gay Asian and Pacific Islander association director Gregory Cendana said they are undecided but are leaning toward Bowser. The two said they are also registered Democrats.

Others identifying themselves as undecided are A. Cornelius Baker, former executive director of the Whitman-Walker Clinic; Bob Summersgill, a Ward 3 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner and former president of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance; lesbian activist Barbara Helmick, a Ward 1 civic activist; attorney, tax preparer and Ward 1 civic activist Wallace Dickson; and attorney and Dupont Circle civic activist Edward Grandis. All five said they’re Democrats.

Another survey participant saying he was undecided was Robert Turner, the gay executive director of the D.C. Republican Party. Turner, a registered Republican, said the local GOP has the legal authority to nominate its own mayoral candidate and may do so in time for the June filing deadline for the November general election.

In addition to Bowser and Catania, gay Libertarian Party candidate Bruce Majors and Statehood-Green Party candidate Faith, a former Broadway musician and perennial D.C. mayoral candidate, will also appear on the November ballot for mayor.

Majors and Faith ran unopposed in their respective party primaries on April 1. However, Board of Elections returns show that Faith received 191 votes, 19 fewer than the 210 write-in votes cast for several people not yet identified by the Board.

A Board of Elections spokesperson said Faith was expected to be certified as the winner because she received more votes than any of the individual write-in candidates.

The returns showed that Majors received a total of 30 votes in the primary by Libertarian Party members. Three write-in votes were cast by members of his party.

The Blade’s survey included Majors’ and Faith’s names as mayoral candidates in the November election, but none of the LGBT advocates participating in the survey expressed support for them.

Majors, a D.C. real estate agent and longtime supporter of LGBT rights, has said he plans to wage an aggressive campaign espousing Libertarian Party principles and how they would benefit the city.

The Stein Club, the city’s largest LGBT political organization, did not endorse a candidate for mayor in the Democratic primary because no candidate received a required 60 percent of the vote of the club’s membership. Gray received the most votes but fell just short of the 60 percent threshold.

In a development that surprised some longtime Stein Club members, the club didn’t take immediate steps to endorse Bowser as the Democratic nominee at its regularly scheduled meeting on April 14.

Stein Club President Angela Peoples said the club’s officers would soon discuss plans for when to hold an endorsement meeting. She noted that the club’s bylaws prevent the club from endorsing a non-Democrat in races where a Democratic candidate is running.

Former Stein President Vorndran, who didn’t attend Monday’s meeting, said the club’s longstanding tradition since its founding in the 1970s has been to endorse Democratic primary winners at the club’s first meeting following the primary if the club had not already endorsed those candidates.

As a Democratic Party organization, endorsing primary winners almost never involved controversy assuming they were supportive on LGBT issues, Vorndran said.

“It was as routine as approving the minutes,” he said.

But he said the club’s apparent hesitation to endorse Bowser at its meeting this week suggests the club’s officers are uncertain that Bowser would garner the 60 percent threshold needed for an endorsement at this time.

With a number of club members supporting Catania, a sizable number of members would be expected to vote for the option of “no endorsement,” at least two club members told the Blade.

Peoples said the club and its officers are following an endorsement process adopted last year in which a club endorsement-political committee was formed to determine procedures for making endorsements.

“Our goal is to involve members in the process as much as possible,” she told the Blade. “At Monday’s meeting I said that we would take the feedback to the political committee and give them a chance to determine what the best next step is for the process,” she said.

“The only thing that can be inferred from that is that the Stein Executive Committee remains committed to an open and transparent endorsement process,” she said.

The possible complication in the Stein Club’s endorsement process is yet another example of how divisions within the LGBT community over the Bowser-Catania race may create tension between fellow Democratic activists.

“This race has been painful because I have been forced to make choices which adversely affect individuals whom I respect and admire,” said transgender activist Hughes.

“David Catania has been an LGBT champion, an exemplary and effective Councilman, and personally I love him,” Hughes said. “Muriel Bowser has supported LGBT rights and many in our community love her.”

Added Hughes, “It would be a relief to abdicate choice and rely solely on party line, but this choice will have a real impact on how the District will fare and prosper in the next four years.”

16
Apr
2014

Bowser wins Stein Club endorsement

Muriel Bowser, gay news, Washington Blade

Muriel Bowser won the endorsement of the Stein Club in her bid for mayor. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city’s largest LGBT political group, voted Monday night to endorse D.C. Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) for mayor.

The club also voted to endorse Council member Anita Bonds (D-At-Large) in her re-election bid, Ward 1 Council candidate Brianne Nadeau and Ward 6 Council candidate Charles Allen. Bonds, Nadeau and Allen each won the Democratic nomination for their respective Council seats in the city’s April 1 primary.

Bowser also won the Democratic primary, beating Mayor Vincent Gray and three other Council members who ran for mayor.

The club’s vote on the endorsements followed a town hall meeting in which Bowser, Nadeau and Allen spoke and answered questions from club members about their positions on both LGBT and other issues.

The meeting was held at the Human Rights Campaign building at 17th Street and Rhode Island Ave., N.W.

The endorsements also came after at least five club members who are supporting D.C. Council member David Catania (I-At-Large) for mayor sought to block an endorsement vote, citing provisions of the club’s bylaws that they said did not allow such a vote unless a special endorsement forum was held or unless a separate vote was taken to suspend the rules.

Stein Club President Angela Peoples said the club’s executive committee carefully reviewed the bylaws and determined they did not prevent the club from voting to endorse Bowser and the three Council candidates as well as shadow Senate incumbent Paul Straus, who also won the Democratic nomination for his post in the April 1 primary.

The vote on Monday night came in the form of a motion introduced by Stein Club member Jeri Hughes that called for endorsing all Democratic nominees that the club didn’t endorse for the primary.

The club didn’t make primary endorsements for mayor, the three Council seats and the shadow Senate seat because no candidate obtained the required 60 percent of the vote needed for an endorsement as specified by the club’s bylaws.

At Monday night’s meeting, the club voted 35 to 8 to approve a motion calling for the endorsements. There were two abstentions, two “no votes,” and one spoiled ballot. The vote for the endorsements passed with 73 percent of those voting, easily clearing the 60 percent rule.

“I’m glad the Democrats are going to support the Democrats,” Bowser said after the vote. “That’s what the Gertrude Stein is all about.”

Bowser was referring to the discussion last month by some club members, including the officers, that an endorsement vote for Bowser and the Council candidates wasn’t needed because it should be assumed that a Democratic club would support the Democratic nominees.

Other club members, however, speaking on condition that they not be identified, suggested that the club’s officers wanted to avoid a direct endorsement vote in the general election out of fear that Catania supporters might line up enough votes to block the 60 percent threshold needed for an endorsement.

Peoples said the officers never sought to avoid an endorsement vote. She said the officers waited before scheduling an endorsement vote to ensure that the process was open and club members had a chance to weigh in on the decision. Peoples said the officers also wanted to hold a town hall meeting to give members the opportunity to listen and ask questions of the candidates before voting on an endorsement.

Monday’s vote suggests that Catania supporters could only muster about 13 votes, which fell short of the 40 percent needed to block an endorsement.

The club members that spoke out against an endorsement of Bowser on Monday night were Don Haines, Paul Kuntzler, Lane Hudson, Pat Hawkins, Robin Helprin and John Klenert. All except Haines are supporting Catania. Haines said he’s undecided on whom to back for mayor.

After the endorsement vote Haines introduced a motion calling for the club to ask the City Council to withhold a salary for the mayor in his or her first two years in office. Haines said the motion was directed at Bowser, whom he said has sought to impose a similar withholding of a salary for the city’s shadow House and Senate members, who currently work as volunteers without a salary.

He noted that Bowser proposed that no salary should be approved for the Shadow positions for at least two years during which time the people holding those positions must “prove their worth.”

At the request of former Stein President Kurt Vorndran members voted to table Haines’ motion.

10
Jun
2014

DNC official says Stonewall Dems to return

Democratic National Committee, Raymond Buckley, National Stonewall Democrats, gay news, Washington Blade

Gay DNC official Raymond Buckley said the National Stonewall Democrats group would return. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Gay Democratic National Committee official Raymond Buckley said about two dozen mostly LGBT Democratic Party leaders and activists decided in an informal meeting in January and a subsequent conference call to resurrect the National Stonewall Democrats.

The LGBT Democratic organization ceased operating in December after it was unable to close a $30,000 budget shortfall. The shutdown came as some LGBT Democrats questioned whether the group was still needed at a time when the Democratic Party has shown unprecedented support for LGBT equality.

“We have informally met and we have decided that we are going to continue the Stonewall organization,” Buckley told the Blade.

“We’re not ready to make any announcements yet on exactly how it’s going to come about and who is going to be the leadership,” he said. “But there will be a National Stonewall Democrats organization in the near future.”

Buckley, a DNC vice chair, serves as one of the DNC’s nine officers in his role as chair of the New Hampshire Democratic Party and head of the DNC’s State Chairs Association.

Gay corporate CEO and philanthropist Henry Munoz of San Antonio, Texas, last month joined Buckley and gay DNC treasurer Andrew Tobias as the third out gay member to serve as a DNC officer.

At its winter meeting in Washington last month during the week of President Obama’s inauguration, the DNC elected Munoz by unanimous vote as the Democratic Party’s national finance chair, making him the party’s chief fundraiser. He was said to have been favored for the post by President Obama.

Munoz, who is CEO of the San Antonio firm Kell Munoz Architects, Inc., becomes the first Latino as well as the first out gay to hold the post of finance chair. According to the San Antonio Express-News, he helped raise a reported $30 million for Obama’s re-election campaign as part of a group of Latino leaders backing the president.

Although his role as the first Latino to hold the position was widely reported in the media, most news stories reporting his election did not mention that he’s gay.

With the National Stonewall Democrats expected to be sidelined for at least part of this year, some LGBT Democratic activists were hoping that the DNC’s outreach director, Jeff Marootian, and the party’s LGBT Caucus would take on some of the functions performed by National Stonewall Democrats, such as coordinating efforts of local LGBT Democratic clubs throughout the country.

Gay Democratic activist Kurt Vorndran, former president of D.C.’s Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, has called on the DNC to refrain from downsizing its LGBT outreach operation this year. The DNC traditionally has reduced its staff and curtailed some of its field operations in the year following a presidential election, when electoral politics slows down.

“My personal opinion is we need an LGBT desk at the DNC, even in non-election years,” Vorndran said. “I don’t think they should shut down the LGBT operation in non-election years as they have in the past.”

Rebecca Chalif, the DNC’s deputy press secretary, released a statement to the Blade on Wednesday saying Marootian would continue in his role as the DNC’s LGBT outreach person but didn’t say whether he would carry out that function full-time.

“The president has demonstrated repeatedly his commitment to the LGBT community, and as the DNC reorganizes post-election the LGBT community will continue to be a high priority for the DNC as it has been,” she said in the statement.

“In the meantime, Jeff Marootian will continue serving as the LGBT point of contact, and we will continue to organize and work with grassroots LGBT organizations nationwide,” Chalif said.

“Jeff is still working at the DNC,” Buckley told the Blade. “But everyone at this point is playing two or three roles as it all works out on who’s going to have what position going into the next several years,” he said.

Asked if he knew whether Marootian would remain at the LGBT outreach post, Buckley said he wasn’t sure.

“Everyone at the DNC right now is having multiple functions because there is a significant cutback in staff. And while decisions are being made on who’s going to play what role, everyone is pitching in and doing their very best.”

Neither Rick Stafford, the Minnesota gay Democratic activist who chairs the DNC’s LGBT Caucus, nor Jerame Davis, executive director of National Stonewall Democrats until the time it closed shop in December, could immediately be reached for comment.

Buckley said Stafford didn’t attend the DNC meeting in January and didn’t participate in the conference call Buckley organized to discuss plans for bringing back National Stonewall Democrats.

20
Feb
2013

Local gay activist tapped to lead Stein endorsement forum

Earl Fowlkes Jr., Black Pride, Washington Blade, gay news

Center for Black Equity President Earl Fowlkes, Jr. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Democratic National Committee member and gay activist Earl Fowlkes of D.C. was scheduled to serve as moderator Thursday night, March 21, at a candidate endorsement forum where five Democrats running in a special election for an at-large D.C. Council seat were expected to court LGBT voters.

The event, organized by the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city’s largest LGBT political group, was scheduled to take place at 7 p.m. at the Metropolitan Community Church of Washington, 474 Ridge Street, N.W.

“Any candidate hoping to represent the entire District must be a vocal advocate for the issues our community cares about,” said Angela Peoples, the Stein Club’s vice president for political and legislative affairs.

“As the largest LGBT organization in D.C., the Stein Club is well positioned to endorse and use the organizing and fundraising powers of our members to help our chosen candidate push for victory on April 23,” the date of the special election, Peoples said in a statement.

Fowlkes, who served as an Obama delegate at the Democratic National Convention last summer, was chosen by the club’s officers to preside over a forum in which club members appear to be dividing their support among several of the candidates with strong records of support for LGBT rights. He also serves as CEO and president of the Center for Black Equity, a national LGBT advocacy organization.

Fourteen prominent club members, including former Stein treasurer and transgender activist Alexandra Beninda, recently announced their support for Elissa Silverman, a former Washington Post reporter and current budget analyst for the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute. The 14 activists are hosting an LGBT “meet and greet” for Silverman at the 17th Street, N.W., gay bar Cobalt on April 6.

Another ten prominent club members, including former presidents Kurt Vorndran and Lateefah Williams, announced they are hosting their own “meet and greet” for Anita Bonds, chair of the D.C. Democratic State Committee. The State Committee earlier this year elected Bonds as interim Council member for the at-large seat until the special election is held on April 23.

Other club members, along with LGBT activists not affiliated with the club, are backing Michael A. Brown, a former at-large Council member; and Matthew Frumin, an attorney and Ward 3 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner.

Not as many Washington D.C. LGBT activists have surfaced as backers of the fifth Democratic candidate, attorney and marijuana decriminalization advocate Paul Zuckerberg. But Zuckerberg says he is reaching out to LGBT voters.

All five Democratic candidates scheduled to appear at the Stein Club’s endorsement forum Thursday night have expressed strong support for LGBT equality, including marriage equality for same-sex couples. Brown, the only candidate who has previously served on the D.C. Council, has a strong voting record in support of LGBT rights, including his vote for the city’s same-sex marriage law in 2009.

With the club’s membership appearing to be divided among the candidates, it was unclear going into Thursday night’s forum whether any candidate would obtain the 60 percent vote among club members needed for an endorsement under the club’s rules.

“Stein Club members care deeply about this city and the people who live in it,” said Stein President Martin Garcia in a statement. “Electing the best Council member for our city’s LGBT community is part of the responsibility we have to the District.”

The remaining two candidates in the special election who are not Democrats – Republican Patrick Mara and Statehood Green Party candidate Perry Redd – have also expressed strong support for LGBT rights.

Mara, who has run for the Council before, has attracted gay and non-gay Democrats as supporters and is considered by political observers to have a shot at winning in an election where a low voter turnout is expected.

The five Democratic candidates’ responses to a Stein Club questionnaire asking them to state their positions on LGBT issues can be viewed at www.steindemocrats.org.

21
Mar
2013

Stein Club special meeting upholds election of new officers

Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, Washington Blade, gay news

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

More than 70 members of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club voted by an overwhelming margin Wednesday night to uphold the election two weeks ago of three new officers who gained control of the club in an upset victory.

The vote came in a special meeting called one week earlier by the club’s current officers to consider whether to invalidate the Dec. 3 club election of Martin Garcia, 27, as president; Angela Peoples, 26, as vice president for legislative and political affairs; and Vincent Villano, 26, as vice president for administration.

“We were all very excited to reaffirm the election of Marin Garcia and his slate,” said outgoing Stein Club President Lateefah Williams, who lost to Garcia by a vote of 47 to 45.

“And I’m very happy that we’re going to be moving forward as a united Stein Club,” Williams told the Blade after the meeting.

In a gesture aimed at avoiding a rift between the club’s old and new members, Williams withdrew from contention for the club presidency in the event that the special meeting voted to invalidate the election of the new officers and called for a new election.

“The new members have a hill to climb here with the old members,” said Stein Club treasurer Barrie Daneker, who won re-election unopposed after Garcia and his supporters chose not to run candidates for the treasurer and secretary’s position.

Berrie Daneker, Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, Washington Blade, gay news

Berrie Daneker (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

“But I’m confident that once they see their leadership and if they produce, then Gertrude Stein will be stronger than we’ve ever been in our 37 years of existence,” Daneker told the Blade.

Some feared that a bitter argument would erupt at the special meeting over a proposed challenge to the validity of 17 of the 46 new members who joined the club less than a week before the election.

The new members, who Garcia and his supporters recruited, are believed to have given Garcia, Peoples, and Villano their razor-thin margin of victory over Williams and her slate of candidates seeking the two vice president positions.

But during nearly two hours of discussion, no one moved to take action against the 17 new members, who came under question during the past week when the home addresses for eleven of them couldn’t be verified. Others questioned the qualification of six of the 17 new members who joined under a special membership category with a reduced fee of $15 restricted to students, senior citizens, and limited income people. The club’s regular membership costs $35.

Although many expected the special meeting to divide along the lines of the longtime club members and the new insurgent members who gained control of the club, those speaking in support of upholding the election and withdrawing the challenge came mostly from the ranks of the old members.

Gay Democratic Activist and longtime Stein Club member Bob Summersgill said no one presented any evidence or valid rationale for disqualifying any of the new members.

“There is nothing in the bylaws that says anything about where you have to live,” he said. “There is nothing in the bylaws to define low income.”

Gay activists Lane Hudson and Steve Gorman, who are also club members of longstanding, said they were impressed with Garcia and his supporters’ political organizing skills that enabled bring in close to 50 new members.

Garcia told the meeting that he and the new members that supported him have been involved in local and national politics and Democratic Party activities. He said his objective are to strengthen the Stein Club by bringing in more members with diverse backgrounds so it can do more in its longstanding role as the city’s largest LGBT political organization.

Transgender activist and longtime Stein Club member Jeri Hughes, who was one of the members who challenged the club election, surprised some at the special meeting when she said the meeting should not vote on the question of invalidating the election or challenging memberships.

Instead, Hughes proposed bringing up the invalidation question at the club’s next regular meeting in January.

As she has in Facebook postings and in a Blade commentary, Hughes called the election a “farce,” saying the winning side “stacked” the election meeting with people who were “strangers” to the club.

While the new members acted within the club’s rules and bylaws, “that doesn’t make what they did right,” she said.

However, when fellow club member Ed Craft told her later that he planned to withdraw from the club because of his objection to the new officers’ takeover, Hughes urged him not to do so.

“I don’t think these are bad people,” she told Craft in a Facebook message Wednesday night. “I think they did something wrong…and foolish, but the club does good work and has done good work. We can still do good work. Leaving serves no purpose.”

Martin Garcia, Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, Washington Blade, gay news

Gertrude Stein Democratic Club President-elect Martin Garcia (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Former club president Kurt Vorndran, who was among the longtime members who called for letting the election of the new officer’s stand, introduced a resolution calling for changing the club’s bylaws to restrict the ability to vote in the election of club officers to people who have been members for at least 30 calendar days.

The club voted to table Vorndran’s motion, with the intent to bring it up at the next regular meeting in January.

Craft told the Blade he believes many of the old members will withdraw from active participation in the club due to the flap over the election and for what he said was the failure of the special meeting to enable longtime members to raise concerns and ask questions.

“I feel the meeting tonight was a complete farce,” he said. “I feel it was staged, that Lane Hudson through his motions made it impossible for the meaningful exchange of information that was the purpose of this meeting to take place.”

Craft was referring to a set of rules governing the meeting that Williams and the existing Stein Club officers proposed at the beginning of the meeting. Nearly everyone president voted to approve the rules, which, among other things, limited the time people could speak on a specific issue to two minutes.

While Craft spoke to the Blade immediately after the meeting adjourned, club member Robert Brannum shouted to the members collecting their belongings and leaving the meeting room that he was outraged he wasn’t allowed to speak during the closing session of the meeting. When Brannum, who spoke earlier in the meeting, requested to speak at the closing session, Hudson and other members objected, saying the rules adopted at the start of the meeting prevented him from doing so.

“The whole purpose of having an orderly meeting is to achieve the objectives of the meeting, and that’s what we did,” Hudson told the Blade. “People had their say, they came together and we’re in a much better place than when the meeting began.”

In a statement she sent to the Blade Thursday morning, Williams said more effort will be needed to heal the rift between all of the old and new members.

“I think the meeting was successful as an initial first step at dialogue between long term and new members and bringing both groups together,” she said. “Unfortunately, due to some motions that ended the dialogue early, some members still feel that they did not have an opportunity to have their questions addressed.”

Williams added, “I think the key is to look at this meeting as the beginning of the process of healing and not the culmination of it. I hope that all members continue to engage one another to work through any concerns that may still exist. I wish the new board well and I hope that they continue efforts to help bridge the gap between long term and new members.”

20
Dec
2012