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Catania is superior candidate for mayor

David Catania, gay news, Washington Blade

D.C. Council member David Catania (I-At-Large) (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

As a lifelong Democrat, I was interested to read Lateefah Williams’ March 12 piece in which she argues that LGBT voters should look no further than the political party of a candidate when choosing our next mayor. First, I know Williams and find her to be a passionate advocate for the causes close to her heart. However, the notion that we should blindly fall in line and support the candidate with a “D” at their end of their name does a disservice to our community and is not in the best interest of our city.

Williams would have us look only at a label rather than the quality of a candidate’s character and record. David Catania has fought for the LGBT community and stood up for “Democratic values” more than any other elected official in the District. His efforts to improve public schools, expand healthcare coverage to all District residents regardless of their immigration status, create a medical marijuana program and foster economic opportunity for the entire city speak for themselves and clearly reflect our shared values.

There is no other candidate in the race who can hold a candle to David Catania when it comes to issues affecting both the future of our city generally and our community specifically.  David not only authored the bill that brought the District marriage equality, but he was the chief executive of the tireless and relentless campaign to guide it to passage. It was David who brought the various voices of our community together behind an effective and unified strategy and it was David who fought against and stared down the prospect of a ballot initiative that could have been its undoing.

Because of David’s leadership as chair of the Council’s Committee on Health, the District increased the number of publicly funded HIV tests from 8,320 in 2005 to nearly 138,000 in 2012, the final year of his tenure as chair. Further, he was instrumental in taking the District from a place of ignorance about its epidemic to being a national leader in effectively tracking and understanding the spread of the disease. The District’s annual HIV/AIDS epidemiology report that David funded and championed is now a model for jurisdictions across the country. As a result of this work, the number of newly diagnosed cases fell from 700 in 2008 to 363 in 2012 and the number of HIV-related deaths went from 238 in 2008 to 69 in 2012. What’s more, because of his efforts to uncover and address the mismanagement of the city’s AIDS Drug Assistance Program, the number of District residents receiving life-saving medication for free has tripled since 2008 and there is no waiting list.

When the only acute care hospital east of the Anacostia River faced imminent collapse, David took action. He held hearings, rooted out the problems, championed the cause of saving the hospital, and led the effort to secure grants and loans to ensure the hospital’s survival. What was once a facility at risk of being unable to ensure basic patient safety was reborn as “United Medical Center” with new equipment, facilities and patient services. The hospital has seen patient volumes increase and its bottom line drastically improve. If not for David’s intervention, this critical component of the District’s healthcare infrastructure and social safety net would have been lost forever.

In 2013, David introduced legislation to undo the District’s prohibition on surrogacy agreements. Under District law, couples and single people wanting to have children face a fine of up to $10,000 or a year in jail if they enter into a surrogacy agreement. The District is the only jurisdiction in the country with such a prohibition. The legislation authored by David permits surrogacy agreements and establishes a legal framework to protect those agreements.

David authored and guided to passage legislation to undo laws that burdened our transgender brothers and sisters. Until last year, the District required expensive medical procedures before individuals could obtain a birth certificate that reflects their true gender identity. Seeing these laws as outdated and discriminatory, David did something about it. He introduced the “JaParker Deoni Jones Birth Certificate Equality Amendment Act of 2013,” which aligned the District’s requirements with modern medical standards and implemented privacy protections for those seeking a new birth certificate.

Yes, there was a time when David Catania was a Republican. But our community stands for being true to ourselves, true to our beliefs and true to the values of acceptance and fairness.  David Catania’s decision to leave the Republican Party more than a decade ago when it was clear that it did not align with his core values and go on to serve as an independent member of the Council is the logical extension of that same ethic.

David Catania may not have a “D” after his name, but I would put his record up against anyone who does. While some have spent their time worrying about labels, David Catania has been busy putting the District of Columbia first.

John Klenert has been a D.C. resident since the Lyndon Johnson administration. He is a longtime member of the Stein Club and serves on the Victory Fund Campaign Board.

20
Mar
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

D.C. residents a pawn in Walmart’s chess match

Walmart, gay news, Washington Blade

LRAA is not perfect legislation, but sometimes the perfect is the enemy of the good, and the LRAA is a very good step in the right direction. (Photo by Bobby P.; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

D.C. has long been a city with massive wealth disparities and those disparities only seem to be getting worse. What is different today, however, is that city officials seem to be catering to corporate interests over vulnerable residents more than ever.

I can understand why Mayor Gray and the D.C. Council’s decision over whether to support the Large Retailer Accountability Act (LRAA), which would require businesses that are more than 75,000 square feet and have more than $1 billion in sales to pay a minimum wage of at least $12.50 an hour, was difficult. On one hand, if the legislation passes, it would ensure that Walmart, the wealthiest corporation in the world, pays its employees something approaching a living wage rather than the poverty wages it is known for. The legislation also applies to a few corporations other than Walmart, but let’s be real, this is mostly about Walmart.

On the other hand, if LRAA passes, Walmart is threatening not to build the two planned stores east of the river and the one in Ward 5, which are slated to be built in communities where retail is needed most. Mayor Gray succumbed to Walmart’s threats and vetoed the legislation.  Just enough Council members appear to have followed suit to prevent overriding his veto.

Many people who oppose Walmart because of its abhorrent labor practices softened their stance solely because much-needed retail was going to underserved communities.  Although I am one of those who oppose Walmart, the argument that vetoing LRAA may delay development at Skyland Town Center in Ward 7 for a generation did give me pause.

Then it hit me.  We would not even be having this debate if Walmart built the first D.C. stores at Skyland Town Center and Capital Gateway, both in Ward 7, instead of in Northwest. Walmart’s leverage is based on the fear that it is those communities’ only hope to get major retail. I guarantee you that if the stores currently under construction were the two in Ward 7, the LRAA vote would not have even been close. It would have passed the Council by a veto-proof margin and Mayor Gray would have signed it. So, we are mere pawns in Queen Walmart’s chess match because city officials failed to request that Walmart build the Ward 7 stores first and now Walmart has backed the city into a corner.

Eric Jones, a local political operative, sees the situation differently.  “The reason the East of the River projects have not been started is not because of Walmart. There are other things that need to be done prior to Walmart coming to these locations, but if Walmart doesn’t come to these locations, the projects won’t get off the ground,” Jones said.

If that is the case, Walmart sure did not spend any time explaining why it did not build the East of the River stores first during its massive public relations blitz. Then again, it did not have to. Our city officials were too busy allowing Walmart to make the first move and then reacting to Walmart’s moves.

Some of the criticism, such as that the living wage jobs will not necessarily go to D.C. residents are potentially valid, but if the contention is that the major benefit of Walmart coming to D.C. is for residents who lack access to retail to have retail in their community, with lesser regard to the jobs aspect, then it makes even less sense that the city did not push Walmart to build the East of the River stores first.

Ask yourself this question: If Walmart had begun construction on the stores at Skyland Town Center and Capital Gateway, then threatened not to build the remaining stores, would you support the $12.50 minimum wage, knowing that Walmart is already coming to the communities that need it most?  If your answer is yes, then you have your answer about whether you should support the LRAA.

Walmart disregarded the District’s needs when it chose to build the three Northwest stores first and city officials let retail-starved communities down when they did not insist that the first stores be built East of the River. Walmart should not be rewarded for choosing to build in Northwest and then conveniently using LRAA as an excuse not to build stores in the communities where they are needed most.  I will concede that the LRAA is not perfect legislation, but sometimes the perfect is the enemy of the good, and the LRAA is a very good step in the right direction.

Lateefah Williams’ column, ‘Life in the Intersection,’ focuses on the intersection of race, gender and sexual orientation. She is the immediate past president of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club. Reach her at lateefah4@hotmail.com or follow her at twitter @lateefahwms.

18
Sep
2013

Stein Club prez to step down, run for veep

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

Martin Garcia (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

In a surprise development, Gertrude Stein Democratic Club President Martin Garcia has announced he will not seek re-election as president and will run instead next month for the club’s position of vice president for legislative and political affairs.

Garcia’s announcement comes nearly one year after he and a slate of candidates he recruited shook up the club’s established order by winning control of three of its five officer positions. In the process the challengers effectively wrested control of the club from its longtime leaders, including then President Lateefah Williams, who lost her re-election bid to Garcia.

“In my tenure as president of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, I’ve been humbled by the LGBT leaders here in the city and proud of the work that we’ve been able to do together,” Garcia said in a statement. “We have been able to accomplish a lot in this last year and ensure that the Stein Club remains as influential in the District as it has always been,” he said.

Garcia, an account manager for a D.C.-based political consulting firm that works mostly with progressive Democratic candidates, said he decided to seek the club’s vice presidential post for legislative and political affairs so he could devote more time on the upcoming 2014 D.C. elections.

He said he is endorsing the person he would replace in the vice presidential post, Angela Peoples, in her bid to succeed him as president.

“She has shown outstanding leadership this past year…and I am excited to continue working alongside her to amplify the voice of LGBT Democrats in this city,” he said.

Meanwhile, Vincent Paolo Villano, who won election last year as vice president for administration on Garcia’s slate, has announced he will not run for re-election for that or another officer position at the club’s upcoming election on Nov. 18. And club treasurer Barrie Daneker, who was re-elected last year unopposed by the Garcia slate, also announced he’s not running again for an officer’s post.

Stein Club Secretary Jimmie Luthuli, who also won re-election last year unopposed, said at the club’s Oct. 14 meeting that she plans to run for an officer’s position but hasn’t decided which post to seek.

The vote in the club’s December 2012 election came after Garcia and his supporters recruited close to 50 mostly young LGBT activists to join the club within a week or two prior to the election, with some joining on the day of the election, so they could vote for the Garcia slate. The club has since changed its bylaws to require that people become a member for at least 30 days before being eligible to vote in a club election.

24
Oct
2013

‘Incumbent’ slate wins Stein Club elections

Angela Peoples, Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, gay news, Washington Blade

Angela Peoples won election as the Stein Club’s president Monday night in a hotly contested race. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Gertrude Stein Democratic Club’s vice president for legislative and political affairs, Angela Peoples, won election as the club’s president Monday night in a hotly contested race against transgender activist and longtime club member Jeri Hughes.

Peoples ran on a slate that she and Stein Club President Martin Garcia organized after the two decided to swap positions, with Garcia stepping down as president to run for the vice presidential position currently held by Peoples.

Peoples won by a vote of 49 to 24. Garcia ran unopposed and was declared the winner of the vice president’s position by acclamation.

Stein Club members supporting both Peoples and Hughes said both candidates were well qualified to serve as president but a majority chose Peoples as part of a new, younger leadership team that won control of the club in its 2012 election on a platform of reinvigorating the organization by aggressively building a larger, more diverse membership.

“This year we saw a lot of energy and enthusiasm and I think we’re going to carry that into 2014,” Peoples said after the election results were announced. “We’re going to continue to raise money, we’re going to reach out and hold candidates accountable to move our community and our issues forward,” she said, referring to next year’s D.C. mayoral and City Council elections.

“The Stein Club will be fine,” Hughes told the Blade in a statement after the election. “It was a fair election. I truly appreciate the support that I received.”

The Stein Club, which celebrated its 37th anniversary in October, is the city’s largest LGBT political organization.

Peoples and Garcia earlier this month invited three new members of the club — Diana Bui, Terrance Laney and Bobbie Strang — to join their slate of candidates for vice president for administration, treasurer and secretary respectively. Laney and Strang won in uncontested races after incumbent treasurer Barrie Daneker chose not to run for re-election and incumbent secretary Jimmie Luthuli ran for vice president for administration.

Shortly after Luthuli announced her intent to run for the vice presidential post Bui entered the race for the position as a member of the Garcia-Peoples slate.

During a candidate discussion period on Monday, Bui described herself as a “Vietnamese-American queer” who has worked in the fields of public relations, media and social justice advocacy. She said she would become a “fearless” advocate for LGBT equality if elected to the position.

Luthuli, who was not part of the Garcia-Peoples slate in the 2012 club election, said her status as a longtime club member and LGBT rights advocate would bring continuity and more experience to the club’s leadership team.

Bui beat Luthuli in the race for the vice president for administration post by a vote of 40 to 31.

Biographical information on members of their slate released by Garcia and Peoples says Bui serves as co-chair of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum D.C. Chapter. She also heads the immigration advocacy work for the Asian Pacific Labor Alliance in the role of membership and chapter coordinator, according to the biographical information.

Laney, the club’s treasurer-elect, recently worked on the successful marriage equality campaign in Rhode Island and previously served as special assistant to the CEO at the LGBT advocacy group National Black Justice Coalition.

Strang, who will assume her duties as Stein secretary in January, has been active with the D.C. Trans Coalition, Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence (GLOV), and the D.C. Center, information released by the club says. It says she has also worked at the D.C. Office of Latino Affairs and currently works as the first openly transgender employee at the D.C. Department of Employment Services.

Monday night’s election came just under a year after Garcia, Peoples and Villano organized a successful challenge to a slate organized by then-Stein Club President Lateefah Williams, resulting in the ouster of the club’s established leadership.

Supporters credited Garcia, a political consultant, with helping to recruit as many as 50 new members in December 2012 to back his slate, prompting Hughes and other longtime members of the club to complain that the new group “stacked” the election.

But Garcia and others, including many of the club’s longtime members, acknowledged that signing up new members immediately prior and up to the time of the election meeting was permitted under the club’s bylaws.

Earlier this year the club voted to change the bylaws to require that people be members of the club for at least 30 days to be eligible to vote in a club officers election.

Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, Bob Kuntzler, gay news, Washington Blade

Members of the Stein Club cast ballots for their 2014 leadership. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Correction: This story originally reported that the vote for president was 73-24 instead of 49-24. We regret the error.

19
Nov
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

D.C. election shows need for dialogue on race

The time has come to have a citywide dialogue on race. In these so-called “post racial” times, it is considered taboo to mention race and anyone who does is blasted with the invective that he or she is “playing the race card,” a term that is offensive because it insinuates that racial disparities don’t exist and are a game played by those whose only intention is to “race-bait.” As a result, race becomes the elephant in the room that many know is relevant, but no one dares speak about.

The special election for D.C. At-Large Council member is the latest example of this.  A committed, progressive activist was maligned for daring to respond to a question about race without being politically correct enough to carefully parse her words to not really address the question. This activist was educated at the University of California at Berkeley and has a history of being committed to progressive causes, such as civil rights, gay rights, women’s rights, workers rights and poverty issues. This committed, progressive activist has been a member of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the District’s largest LGBT political organization, since 1978—only two years after its founding and long before it was popular to be supportive of LGBT rights.

If you heard such a background, most people’s first thought would probably be, “Sounds like your typical Berkeley liberal.” However, for some reason, the candidate that fits this profile, Anita Bonds, was not characterized this way. Rather, despite her long history of being liberal or “progressive” on the issues, not only was she not given the “progressive” title, but she was painted as being anti-progressive, despite all evidence to the contrary.

It’s hard to believe that the reason isn’t because of the package that this particular progressive comes in. In this city, progressive has become code for young and mostly white. While most so-called progressives are open to the idea that someone like me, a well-educated, 30-something, African-American lesbian, could be progressive, most residents did not even open their minds to the possibility that Anita Bonds, a heterosexual, college-educated, African-American grandmother in her late 60s, could be.  To many, Anita Bonds’ attributes represent conservative, middle-class, African-American culture, which is assumed to not fit the progressive profile, so she was automatically labeled as non-progressive, with no true attempt to determine if the label fit.

During a candidate forum on the Kojo Nnamdi Show, Bonds was posed with a question about whether race was a factor in the campaign and she responded in a manner that addressed the concerns of some residents who fear that their needs may not be adequately addressed if they don’t have somewhat proportionate representation on the Council. That doesn’t mean that those people, or Bonds when speaking of their fears, feel that only African Americans can represent African Americans.

To put it another way, there are two openly gay members of the D.C. Council—David Catania and Jim Graham. If, in 2014, David Catania gives up his seat to run for mayor or attorney general and Jim Graham is defeated in the Ward 1 primary, both very real possibilities, there is a chance that a city as “progressive” as D.C. will not have any LGBT representatives on the Council. If that occurs, we would likely see a movement to find and/or groom an openly LGBT candidate for the following Council race. In fact, if such a scenario were to occur, I could see the Victory Fund, whose mission is to help LGBT candidates get elected, actively working to recruit and train LGBT candidates and this would be a great service to the city. After all, marginalized communities have struggled for visibility and representation and are therefore particularly sensitive to losing that representation.

That is why it was disheartening that when Bonds honestly mentioned this concern when responding to a question addressed to her, instead of trying to understand the concern and getting at the root cause of why some people in this city feel marginalized, she was demonized and cast as a bigot. This rhetoric is not only false, but it’s extremely harmful to the city because we can’t move forward as a united city if we are not willing to listen to others’ perspective. When we silence views that make us uncomfortable and challenge the myth that race is no longer a factor, it actually exacerbates tensions because it causes those who feel marginalized to allow those feelings to fester among themselves.

Many African Americans felt that several white candidates were also playing racial politics by using terms like “progressive” or “reform” that appeal to white voters and expressing concern about splitting votes in the western part of the city among the other “progressive” or “reform” candidates. Thus, both white and African-American candidates realized the sad reality that most of their votes would come from those of the same background.

Bonds had strong multiracial support from people who have worked with her in the past and the same can be said for some of the other candidates. I truly hope that those who did not support Bonds use the next 20 months to learn more about her, and reach out to her office so she can understand their concerns and address their needs. I think they may be pleasantly surprised. In the meantime, we should all commit to creating a forum to openly discuss racial divisions, instead of pretending they don’t exist. It’s the only way for us to unite as a city and move forward.

Lateefah Williams is a writer, attorney and community activist in D.C. She is the immediate past president of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the District’s largest LGBT political organization. Read her blog at dcprogressivepotpourri.com, email her at lateefah4@hotmail.com or follow her @lateefahwms.

07
May
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