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Gray says D.C. should recognize Utah marriages

Vincent Gray, gay news, Washington Blade

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray told a meeting of the Stein Club that the city should recognize same-sex marriages performed in Utah before the Supreme Court issued a stay and halted the weddings. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray told a meeting of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club Monday night that he believes the city should recognize same-sex marriages performed in Utah.

Gray said he would consult with D.C. Attorney General Irvin Nathan on the matter. But he said he sees no reason why the city shouldn’t recognize the Utah marriages performed prior to a Supreme Court decision putting same-sex nuptials on hold in the state until the courts resolve the issue.

“I’ll talk to Irv Nathan about it,” Gray said. “But my position would be unequivocally that we ought to do that.”

Gray’s statement on the Utah marriage issue came in response to a question by Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance President Rick Rosendall.

Gray’s response came three days after U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced on Jan. 10 that the federal government would recognize the Utah same-sex marriages. On that same day, Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler told the Blade that Maryland would also recognize the Utah same-sex marriages.

A spokesperson for Nathan told the Blade on Monday that Nathan and his legal team were reviewing the Utah marriage question and would likely develop a position for the District to take on the matter shortly.

A U.S. District Court Judge in Utah startled the state’s conservative political establishment on Dec. 20 when he ruled that Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage violates the U.S. Constitution and refused to put a stay on his ruling while state officials appealed his decision. The Tenth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals also refused to place a stay on the right of gay and lesbian couples to obtain marriage licenses in the state.

During the period between the District Court judge’s Dec. 20 ruling and the Supreme Court’s decision to issue the stay on Jan. 6, more than 1,300 gay and lesbian couples married in Utah. Utah’s Republican governor, Gary Herbert, responded to the Supreme Court stay order by declaring the same-sex marriages invalid.

Gay rights attorneys quickly disputed Herbert’s assertion, saying the marriages were performed at a time when the District Court ruled they were legal under the federal Constitution.

Stein Club President Angela Peoples said the club invited Gray to speak before its regularly scheduled monthly meeting Monday night as part of a series of appearances the club has arranged for mayoral and City Council candidates competing in the city’s April 1 Democratic primary.

She said other mayoral candidates, including City Council members Jack Evans (D-Ward 1), Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) and Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) have already appeared before the club.

Others who spoke at the Stein Club meeting on Monday were Council members Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who’s running for re-election; Anita Bonds (D-At-Large), who is also up for re-election; and Vincent Orange (D-At-Large), who is running for mayor.  Also speaking was shadow U.S. House member Nate Bennett-Fleming, who is one of four candidates running against Bonds, and Shadow U.S. Senator Paul Strauss, who is running for re-election.

Gray, who spoke for about 20 minutes before answering questions from club members, acknowledged that several of the eight candidates challenging him in the primary have strong records of support on LGBT issues.

“But the fact of the matter is I’m the only one who’s actually been in the seat where you really implement and have the ability to influence policy as the mayor,” he said. “And as a result, while I think they have done some good things, I don’t think they have come near matching what I have done and I don’t think they will.”

Gray said his support for the LGBT community dates back to his days as a student at D.C.’s Dunbar High School when he observed firsthand how his class valedictorian, who was gay and later realized he was transgender, was subjected to hostility.

“It was painful to me watching what he had to go through, what he had to endure as a human being,” Gray said. “And I said to myself if I ever had the chance I’m going to do something to be able to ensure equality for people who should have the opportunity to be themselves.”

Years later, when he was chair of the D.C. Council at the time the city’s same-sex marriage law came up for a vote in 2009, Gray said he experienced hostility and rejection from same-sex marriage opponents in response to his support for marriage equality.

“Frankly, what I went through as chairman nobody hopefully will ever have to go through,” he told Stein Club members. “I had people screaming at me. There were some ministers that supported me for Ward 7 Council member and then for Chair. And they don’t speak to me anymore,” he said.

“And I said fine. If that’s the way you want to row, that’s all right with me. I know who I am. I know what I stand for and I am not flinching. I am not blinking. This is the right thing to do and we’re going to continue to do the right thing in the District of Columbia. And you all let me know when you get on board, OK?”

The latter comment drew applause from club members, many of whom are supporting Gray’s re-election.

The Stein Club’s former president and current vice president for political affairs, Martin Garcia, announced at the meeting that the club will hold a joint candidate forum and endorsement meeting for City Council candidates on Feb. 26 and a combined mayoral candidate forum and endorsement meeting on March 5.

Garcia said the club has yet to decide whether to make endorsements in other races, including  the congressional delegate seat current held by Democrat Eleanor Holmes Norton; the races for “shadow” U.S. senator and U.S. representative; and Advisory Neighborhood Commission races.

14
Jan
2014

Restaurant manager says he fired server for writing slur on check

gay news, Washington Blade

A bartender at Bistro 18 wrote the words ‘GAY BITCHES’ on the check of a transgender customer and eight friends last summer. (Photo courtesy of Lambda Legal)

The manager of an Adams Morgan restaurant whose bartender wrote the words “GAY BITCHES” on the check for a transgender customer and eight friends who were with her said he immediately fired the bartender for writing the slur and apologized, according to gay blogger Bil Browning of the Bilerico Project.

The New York-based LGBT litigation group Lambda Legal announced in a press release on Tuesday, June 10, that it filed a discrimination complaint against Bistro 18 restaurant and hookah bar at 2420 18th St., N.W., over the slur and other alleged discriminatory actions by the restaurant before the D.C. Office of Human Rights.

Lambda said it filed the complaint on behalf of Amira Gray, a transgender woman who was sitting with eight friends, two of whom are gay men, when a female bartender who’s not identified in the complaint delivered the check to their table.

The issue of whether the bartender printed the slur on the check is not in dispute.

But in a development not common in LGBT discrimination cases, at least two prominent gay activists — Deacon Maccubbin, founder and owner of D.C.’s now closed Lambda Rising bookstore and Rick Rosendall, president of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance — are siding with the accused party. Both say Bistro 18 shouldn’t be held responsible for a single employee’s action and that the restaurant has taken all necessary steps to remedy the situation.

The incident took place in August 2013, the complaint states. A Lambda Legal official told the Blade that Gray chose to come forward to file the complaint this week after considerable reflection, deciding that she and her friends were wronged, even though the manager cancelled the bill that came to $152.30.

Lambda Legal’s announcement of the filing of the complaint, which is posted on its Facebook page, triggered a flurry of social media postings highly critical of Bistro 18. Some of the postings called for a boycott of the restaurant.

Browning, editor and publisher of the Bilerico Project blog, triggered a separate flurry of postings by some LGBT activists and others condemning Lambda Legal for publicizing an allegation implying that Bistro 18 was a homophobic or anti-trans establishment that condones discrimination.

The Blade could not reach a representative of Bistro 18 for comment through repeated phone calls and through a visit to the bar Thursday night. The Washington Post and Washington City Paper reported their attempts to reach a representative of the restaurant were also unsuccessful.

According to Browning, Mohammad Elhoda, Bistro 18’s manager, told him his restaurant welcomes LGBT customers, gay employees currently work at the establishment, the restaurant has hosted LGBT events, and it has a strict policy of non-discrimination covering everyone, including LGBT people.

Gray states in her complaint that in addition to the anti-LGBT slur on the check, which she kept and turned over to Lambda Legal, her party was being denied service at the table in which they were seated. She walked to the bar and ordered drinks for her friends, which she brought to her table, the complaint states. No server came to the table except one who delivered the hookah smoking pipe while people seated at nearby tables were being waited on regularly by servers, the complaint says.

Browning reports that Elhoda said service at the restaurant was slow on the night Gray and her friends were there and he intervened to help his staff, providing Gray’s party with at least one round of free drinks to make up for the delays. At least some of the people in Gray’s party returned to the restaurant in the following weeks and appeared to be enjoying themselves, Browning reports Elhoda as saying.

Elhoda also claims that some of the people in Gray’s party yelled insults at the bartender and threatened her after the check with the slur was delivered to their table, prompting the restaurant’s security staff to intervene, Browning reports.

Browning, who appears to be the only media representative with whom Elhoda has spoken so far, wrote in his blog that Lambda should have investigated the allegation of discrimination further before publicizing it on Facebook.

“With LGBT activists and netizens constantly ready to retaliate against any perceived slight and conservative Christians regularly claiming that many businesses are unfairly attacked by activists, what responsibility does Lambda Legal have to ensure that they aren’t damaging a business’ reputation without reason?” Browning wrote. “Should they be held responsible for any harm they cause the establishment – particularly if the bar is found innocent by the city’s human rights commission?”

In a follow-up statement posted on its website, Lambda Legal questioned the accuracy of Elhoda’s version of what happened.

“The statements of the restaurant’s manager, as recounted in the blog as if they were accurate, however, are in sharp contrast to what our client and her friends experienced,” the Lambda statement says.

“Lambda Legal doesn’t make decisions lightly about how to proceed, and gathered confirmation of the allegations in the OHR complaint before it was filed,” the statement says. “Not only do we have the receipt clearly showing the anti-gay slur, but multiple members of a large group of friends who were with Amira at Bistro 18 have corroborated what actually happened that night.”

Maccubbin, who notes that he helped lobby for passage of the city’s Human Rights Act in the 1970s, said in a comment posted with the Blade that Bistro 18 was getting a “raw deal” by Lambda Legal.

“There is no history of discriminatory actions on the part of this business, its management or employees, other than this one incident by this one former employee,” he said. “The business responded appropriately and should not be castigated, by Lambda Legal or anyone else.”

Maccubbin added, “It’s fine for Lambda Legal to represent the complainant, but they should do so within the parameters of the complaint process, not by fomenting unjust and defamatory vigilantism in social media.”

In her complaint Gray said, “As a transgender woman, I was extremely hurt, embarrassed and upset. I felt that the slur was meant as a slap in the face because of my gender identity and expression, my perceived sexual orientation, my personal appearance, and my association with my friends who are or may have been perceived as being lesbian or gay.”

14
Jun
2014

Anti-gay consultant working for Gray campaign

Bob King, National Organization for Marriage, NOM, gay news, Washington Blade

Vincent Gray’s campaign manager says Robert King is ‘not a political adviser’ to the campaign. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

A Ward 5 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner who was paid by an anti-gay group in 2010 to work on the unsuccessful effort to overturn D.C.’s same-sex marriage law in a voter referendum is working for Mayor Vincent Gray’s re-election campaign as a get-out-the-vote consultant aimed at senior citizens.

Chuck Thies, Gray’s campaign manager, said he hired Robert “Bob” King to assist with the effort to transport senior citizens to the polls on the day of the city’s April 1 Democratic primary.

“Bob is not a political adviser to this campaign,” Thies told the Blade. “He has no influence whatsoever on public policy, internal policy, or strategy — nothing — zero,” said Thies.

Instead, King, who has had ties to the city’s senior citizen community for more than 30 years, will organize logistics to transport mostly low-income seniors to the polls by bus on Election Day, Thies said.

King’s role as a paid consultant in 2010 for the National Organization for Marriage, which opposes same-sex marriage, surfaced last April when he emerged as an early supporter of the mayoral campaign of D.C. Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4). The Bowser campaign at the time listed King as a member of the host committee for the campaign’s kick-off celebration and fundraiser.

In a telephone interview on Tuesday, King said he’s been a longtime friend of the Bowser family and decided to support Bowser for mayor before Gray announced he was running for a second term, believing Bowser was the best candidate at that time.

However, he said the Bowser campaign never responded to a proposal he submitted last spring to do get-out-the vote work targeting senior citizens for her campaign. So after Gray announced his candidacy in December and Gray supporters approached him to organize Gray’s senior citizen outreach effort he decided to join the Gray campaign, King said.

“I looked around and I said the lowering crime rate, the improvement in the schools, the bond ratings – and I thought he had done a great job in advancing Mayor Williams and Mayor Fenty’s blueprint” for the city were factors that prompted him to switch his support to Gray, King said.

The Gray campaign’s Jan. 31 report filed with the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance shows that the campaign paid King $2,500 on Jan. 8 for his services during the campaign’s first reporting period.
King told the Blade last April, at the time he was supporting Bowser, that he has never taken a public position for or against the city’s same-sex marriage law. He said he was retained as a consultant by the National Organization for Marriage to coordinate a campaign to place the marriage law on the ballot in a referendum.

“My position was to give the people the right to vote on the issue,” he said. “My personal view is not the issue. The issue was democracy and whether the people should be given the right to vote.”

Rick Rosendall, president of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, said at the time that King and others who clearly opposed marriage equality for same-sex couples have sought to “hide behind the ‘let the people vote mantra’ in their efforts to kill same-sex marriage laws in D.C. and elsewhere.

“The fact is that no other people’s rights are put to a plebiscite,” Rosendall said.

Thies noted that Gray is a strong supporter of marriage equality and LGBT rights and has taken heat from clergy members and many residents – including black senior citizens – for his outspoken advocacy for gay marriage.

“And so when it comes to Mayor Gray’s position on same-sex marriage and other LGBT issues, I don’t think anyone can question his commitment and his dedication to equal rights,” Thies said.

According to Thies, King told him he now accepts the city’s marriage equality law as the “law of the land.”

“I talked to him before I hired him,” said Thies. “I said Bob, I have a problem with this and you need to address this. And he said that’s the past. I accept the law and that is the status quo now.”

King reiterated that on Tuesday, saying he’s interested in meeting with representatives of the LGBT community to open the door to working together on future projects. He said he’s also doing senior citizen outreach on behalf of the re-election campaigns of D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large) and Council member Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5).

“They are marriage equality supporters and I am working with them,” he said.

Thies said King’s efforts to arrange transportation for senior citizens to the polls will be open to everyone regardless of who they are supporting for mayor.

“We will hire buses and bring them to the senior centers and anyone can board them, including someone wearing a sticker that belongs to one of our opponents,” he said.

04
Feb
2014

GLAA opposes ENDA over religious exemption

Jeri Hughes and Risk Rosendall

Jeri Hughes and Rick Rosendall. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, D.C.’s leading non-partisan LGBT advocacy group, voted at its regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday night to declare its opposition to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA.

GLAA becomes one of the first prominent local LGBT groups to join a growing number of national LGBT advocacy organizations that have announced their opposition to ENDA within the past two weeks.

The groups have cited a religious exemption provision that was added to ENDA at the time it passed in the Senate last year as the main reason for the opposition to the pending federal legislation. The groups, including GLAA, say the exemption clause would allow an unacceptably large number of religious organizations to continue to discriminate or fire LGBT employees working in non-religious positions.

“In its current form, sweeping religious exemptions in ENDA could enshrine anti-LGBT discrimination into law by allowing far more organizations to bypass civil rights protections than are permitted under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,” GLAA President Rick Rosendall said in a statement.

He was referring to the landmark 1964 civil rights law that bans discrimination in employment and other areas based on race, religion and ethnicity. The law does not include sexual orientation or gender identity and thus excludes LGBT people from being protected from discrimination.

Various forms of ENDA have been pending in Congress for more than 40 years. Leaders of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives have refused to take a vote on the version of ENDA passed by the Senate. Most political observers don’t believe any version of ENDA could pass in the House as long as the current GOP leadership remains in control of the body.

 

10
Jul
2014

From Stonewall to marriage equality at lightning speed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

18
Feb
2014

Hobby Lobby plans D.C. Bible museum

Bible museum, gay news, Washington Blade

A Bible museum is scheduled to open in 2017 in a sprawling building at 300 D St., S.W., that was the home of the Washington Design Center. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The evangelical Christian family that owns the Hobby Lobby chain of craft stores plans to open a Bible museum in Washington two blocks from the National Mall, prompting outrage from some LGBT advocates.

The concern expressed by LGBT advocates comes just one month after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby’s contention in a controversial lawsuit that corporations with religious owners cannot be forced to provide health insurance coverage for contraception.

“Leaders in Washington should soundly reject a theme park for extremism disguised as a legitimate museum,” said Wayne Besen, executive director of the LGBT advocacy group Truth Wins Out.

“The project, conceived and funded by Hobby Lobby owner Steve Green, would make a mockery of surrounding museums, which are based on research, history and scholarship,” Besen said in a July 16 statement.

Representatives of the Museum of the Bible, Inc., a non-profit organization created by Green, president and CEO of the multi-billion dollar Hobby Lobby store chain, say the museum will include a collection of rare and ancient biblical documents and artifacts of proven historical significance.

“The museum won’t be interpreting the Bible but presenting it from a scholarly perspective,” said museum spokesperson Mark DeMoss in a statement released to the Blade.

“This museum is about a book: the best-selling, most read and, arguably, most influential of all time,” DeMoss said. “A lot of people are making assumptions about a museum that hasn’t even been built yet.”

Information on the Museum of the Bible website says the museum is scheduled to open in 2017 in a sprawling building at 300 D St., S.W., that has been the home of the Washington Design Center and its interior designers and furniture showrooms for more than two decades.

The building, which has been designated as a historic landmark, was used between 1923 and 1959 as a cold storage and ice making plant. At one point it was owned by a Chicago-based company founded by Joseph P. Kennedy, father of President John F. Kennedy.

DeMoss’s office told the Blade that the Museum of the Bible, Inc., purchased the building in July 2012 for $50 million.

Last week, the D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board gave final approval of the Museum of the Bible’s architectural plans to convert the building into a museum.

Gay Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Andy Litsky, former chair of ANC 6D, which has jurisdiction over the area where the museum will be located, said the ANC also voted to approve the use of the building as a museum.

“It’s private property,” Litsky said. “They showed us their architectural drawings and explained the changes they plan to make,” he said. “We did not question the content of the museum. I don’t believe that is our role.”

Besen of Truth Wins Out said he believes it is within the role of the D.C. government to raise questions about a museum that he says would promote misinformation and discrimination. He called on D.C. government officials to invoke zoning restrictions to block the museum from opening so close to the National Mall, where he said tourists and visitors would mistakenly assume it is part of the federal Smithsonian Institution’s museum system.

“It’s not designed to be a museum but to be a Trojan horse to get their ideas and make it look and feel like a museum,” Besen told the Blade. “These are hard core rigid politicized, radicalized ideologues that want to pretend they represent Christianity when in fact it’s just a narrow version of it and the most virulent and dangerous version of it.”

Besen was the only LGBT advocate reached by the Blade who called for preventing a Bible museum operated by the Green family from opening near the National Mall. Officials with other local and national LGBT groups, including the D.C. Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, cited First Amendment grounds for allowing a privately owned museum to open on private property, even if they disagreed with its message.

“LGBT groups should not seek to suppress the First Amendment rights of those who oppose us,” said GLAA President Rick Rosendall. “As we are told by our friends in the ACLU…the proper response to offensive speech is more speech,” he said in an email to the Blade.

“Urging the government to suppress ignorant and obnoxious viewpoints is not only heavy-handed and improper, it is unnecessary since we have the better arguments and science on our side,” Rosendall said.

Rosendall and representatives of other LGBT organizations said they nevertheless remain concerned that a Green family-sponsored Bible museum could be used to promote an interpretation of the Bible that considers homosexuality an abomination – an interpretation that activists and many biblical scholars say is no longer supported by scholarly biblical research.

Green and his Museum of the Bible spokespersons have given conflicting signals on what, if any, message the museum would present on issues like homosexuality and same-sex marriage.

Museum of the Bible spokesperson DeMoss, founder of an Atlanta-based, religious-oriented public relations firm bearing his name, did not respond to written questions from the Blade asking about Steve Green’s views on LGBT rights, homosexuality and the Bible, or whether the museum would address those issues.

However, The New Republic magazine reported in a March 25, 2014 article that the museum’s chief operating officer, Cary Summers, said the museum “won’t mention homosexuality, abortion, or any other ‘political commentary.’”

On Wednesday, one of DeMoss’s assistants, Adrienne Young, responded to the Blade by email, saying, “We can confirm that The New Republic report accurately reflects what will (not) be presented in the museum’s exhibits.”

The New York Times reported in a July 16 story about the Bible museum that Green himself has referred to the Bible as “a reliable historical document” and said he is developing a public school curriculum “to reintroduce this book to this nation” as part of the museum project.

“This nation is in danger because of its ignorance of what God has taught,” the Times quoted Green as saying in a speech last year in New York. “There are lessons from the past that we can learn from, the dangers of ignorance of this book. We need to know it. If we don’t know it, our future is going to be very scary,” the Times quoted him as saying in his speech.

Observers who favor a scholarly, non-judgmental approach to the planned museum point to Green’s expenditure of $30 million of his own money to acquire in recent years a vast collection of Bible-related documents and artifacts from sites throughout the world that are to be part of the museum’s exhibits.

Known as the Green collection, the objects and documents include early recordings of the New Testament in the Aramaic language, ancient manuscripts, Torahs, and a nearly completed book of Psalms on papyrus paper, according to Scott Carroll, an archaeologist and historian who acted as an adviser to Green on the acquisition of the artifacts.

Although Carroll’s role as director of the Green Collection gave Green’s plans for the museum credibility, Carroll, a former Baylor University professor, told the New York Times he decided in 2012 to withdraw from the Green Collection and museum project.

“While he believes in the scholarly roots and historical significance of the collection, he is concerned that the Green family faces a difficult challenge in balancing its passion for ministry with the objective mission of a museum,” the Times reports.

Brent Childers is executive director of Faith In America, a national group that seeks to protect LGBT youth from mistreatment and abuse due to what he says is an incorrect interpretation of the Bible pertaining to homosexuality. He said the Green family has a right to open a Bible museum in Washington. But he’s concerned that it could be harmful to LGBT young people visiting its exhibits if it promotes a message of hostility toward homosexuality.

“If you walk into that museum and you see a section on biblical interpretation and how this historical book has been misinterpreted in the past, that could be a great service,” Childers said. “But from what I’m reading I don’t know if I could expect to see such a section in Green’s private museum.”

Added Childers, “If it’s going to be a museum where only his interpretation of the Bible is going to be on display, then I think that would be an unfortunate endeavor for everyone because it would open up divisiveness.”

Rev. Dwayne Johnson, pastor of Metropolitan Community Church of Washington, an LGBT-oriented congregation, said he, too, would oppose an effort to block the Green family’s museum from opening on private property.

“Those of us who come from another perspective will have to be very alert and monitor the messaging and offer a counter voice when that messaging is going to have anything that would potentially lead to self-hatred or violence or an anti-gay message,” he said.

“At this point the weight of scholarship does not support the Bible as condemning homosexuality,” Johnson said. “The Bible does not speak to homosexuality as we experience it today. That’s why you’re seeing so many churches that are now becoming more accepting and affirming,” he said.

“It’s based on further weight of scholarship as they continue to do research on the original languages and looking at the context,” according to Johnson.

“I don’t think this proposed Bible museum is appropriate for the National Mall because the museums on the Mall should reflect the non-religious values of our nation,” said Earl Fowlkes, president and CEO of the national LGBT advocacy group Center for Black Equity.

“However, I would be careful not to say that a Bible museum should not be built in Washington, D.C.,” he said. “The same argument could be used by those who would be opposed to an LGBT museum in Washington, D.C., which I support.”

Tim Gold, founder and director of the Velvet Foundation, a non-profit, tax-exempt group created to build and maintain a National LGBT Museum in Washington, said the foundation is currently finishing a comprehensive master plan for the museum and hopes to have a site selected by the end of the year.

Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, said HRC supports religious freedom for all people and recognizes that people of faith increasingly are supporting LGBT equality and viewing that support as an extension of their faith.

“To the extent the National Bible Museum empowers and enlightens then it will be a welcome addition,” he said. “But if the museum misuses the holy document as a cudgel for discrimination against LGBT people then it will have not only sullied the Bible, it will have exposed a dastardly political agenda.”

Wayne Besen, Truth Wins Out, Bible Museum, gay news, Washington Blade

‘The project, conceived and funded by Hobby Lobby owner Steve Green, would make a mockery of surrounding museums, which are based on research, history and scholarship,’ said Wayne Besen. (Photo by Michael Murphy)

30
Jul
2014

In reversal, Kameny heir says no ashes for public memorial

Timothy Clark, gay news, gay politics dc

Timothy Clark, who earlier said he would release half of Frank Kameny’s ashes to be interred at Congressional Cemetery, changed his mind and now plans to inter the ashes at an undisclosed location. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Timothy Clark, the man D.C. gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny named in his will as heir to his estate, has released a statement through his lawyers saying he has decided to inter Kameny’s ashes at an undisclosed location.

The statement released Feb. 20 by the D.C. law firm Ackerman Brown represents a dramatic change from Clark’s earlier statements, including comments in an interview with the Blade in 2012, that he would release half of the ashes for burial at a memorial site in the city’s historic Congressional Cemetery. He reiterated his intent to inter ashes in D.C. in another Blade interview in July 2013.

“We reached an agreement on that so I’m going to keep the burial plot,” Clark said at that time. “I just have to decide on when I want to have something,” he said in referring to a burial ceremony at Congressional Cemetery.

Clark, 37, Kameny’s housemate and longtime friend, had said in the months following Kameny’s death on Oct. 11, 2011, that he planned to keep some but not all of the ashes for his personal reflection and possible interment elsewhere. Kameny died in his Washington home of natural causes at the age of 86.

“The decision regarding interment of Frank Kameny’s ashes rests solely with Timothy Clark, the Personal Representative of the Estate of Franklin E. Kameny,” the Ackerman Brown statement says.

“Mr. Clark has decided to inter the ashes at an undisclosed location. Mr. Clark asks the community to respect his wishes and his privacy,” the statement says.

Clark’s announcement through his attorneys comes more than two years after the local LGBT charitable group Helping Our Brothers and Sisters (HOBS) purchased a burial plot for Kameny’s ashes at Congressional Cemetery.

HOBS and some of Kameny’s gay activist friends and supporters who worked with the group to choose the location of the cemetery site said it would become a monument to Kameny’s legacy and a place where people could go to pay their respects to a nationally known figure considered a hero to the LGBT rights cause.

The site they selected is located just behind the gravesite of the late gay rights leader and U.S. Air Force Sgt. Leonard Matlovich, who, with Kameny’s assistance in 1975, became the first active duty military service member to come out of the closet and challenge the military’s ban on gay service members. Matlovich died in 1987.

A planned ceremony and burial of Kameny’s ashes scheduled for March 2012 was abruptly cancelled at the request of the estate, according to Patrick Crowley, who worked as senior manager of Congressional Cemetery at that time. Lawyers for the Kameny estate wanted HOBS to transfer ownership of the cemetery plot to the estate, Crowley said.

Although HOBS agreed to the transfer, a dispute arose over the terms of an agreement proposed by lawyers for both parties, and negotiations dragged on for nearly two years.

Last July, both sides said a tentative agreement had been reached, raising hopes among Kameny’s friends and admirers that a burial ceremony and the official opening of a Kameny memorial site at Congressional Cemetery would soon take place.

“The estate has always been, and remains willing to work with gay community representatives who knew Frank Kameny in organizing a burial service and appropriate gravesite at which members of the community could pay tribute to Kameny,” said attorney Christopher Brown of Ackerman Brown at that time.

However, no announcement of an agreement emerged since that time. When Ackerman Brown released its statement last week saying Clark decided to inter the ashes at an undisclosed location, neither Ackerman Brown nor HOBS would disclose where things stood with the cemetery plot.

“The estate has no further comment,” said Glen Ackerman, principal partner of Ackerman Brown, in a Feb. 23 email to the Blade.

Matthew Cook, an attorney with the national law firm Fried Frank, which is representing HOBS, sent the Blade a separate statement from HOBS that made no mention of whether ownership of the cemetery plot had been transferred to the estate or whether HOBS would seek to set up another memorial site for Kameny at Congressional Cemetery.

“Dr. Kameny was a true gay rights pioneer and local legend,” the HOBS statement says. “HOBS was proud to work with and for Dr. Kameny during the last years of his life. Of course, as the executor of the Kameny Estate, it is Mr. Clark’s decision where to inter Dr. Kameny’s ashes.”

Veteran D.C. gay activist Paul Kuntzler, who worked with Kameny on gay rights activities beginning in 1962, and San Francisco gay activist Michael Bedwell, a friend of Kameny’s, each told the Blade that the LGBT community should now take immediate steps to arrange for another memorial site for Kameny at Congressional Cemetery, even though the ashes won’t be interred there.

The four local activists and Kameny friends who initiated plans to inter Kameny’s ashes at Congressional Cemetery in early 2012 – Marvin Carter, CEO of HOBS and LGBT rights advocates Charles Francis, Bob Witeck and Rick Rosendall – have declined to comment on Clark’s decision to inter the ashes at another location.

They also declined to comment on what, if anything, they may do to set up a Kameny memorial site at the cemetery now that the ashes are out of the picture.

“Frank Kameny’s monumental legacy may be best remembered by laws he helped overturn, the hateful policies he defeated and the causes of equal rights he unselfishly advanced for the LGBT community,” said Witeck in an email statement on Sunday.

The relationship between the four men and the Kameny estate became strained in 2012 shortly after they announced plans for a Congressional Cemetery memorial site and burial when Clark stated through his attorneys that Clark was never given the courtesy of being consulted about those plans.

Carter, however, has said Clark was informed about the plans and invited to participate in the planned ceremony.

The relationship between the four men and the estate became further strained when the estate filed individual lawsuits against each of them, charging that they took without permission items from Kameny’s house that belonged to the estate shortly after Kameny’s death. The men disputed the allegations, saying Clark along with Clark’s lawyer at the time, Michele Zavos, gave them permission to enter the house and take an inventory of Kameny’s papers and other possessions to arrange for their safe keeping.

The lawsuits, which were filed by Ackerman Brown on Clark’s behalf, were later dropped after undisclosed settlements were reached in three of the cases. The court dismissed the case against Rosendall on grounds that no cause was shown to justify the complaint, according to Rosendall’s attorney, Mindy Daniels.

Upon learning of Clark’s decision to inter the ashes in an undisclosed location, Bedwell expressed concern that Clark, who among other things, inherited Kameny’s house that the estate sold in 2012 for $725,000, was not doing his part to promote Kameny’s legacy.

“Frank’s trust and affection made Mr. Clark a wealthy man,” Bedwell said. “His sacrifices helped make him, like all LGBTs, a freer man,” Bedwell said.

“Now that Mr. Clark has disappeared with Frank’s ashes along with any hopes of his repaying Frank’s extraordinary generous friendship by sharing them for a memorial, I trust that others will create one without them,” he said.

Clark didn’t respond to a phone message from the Blade this week.

In a 2012 interview with the Blade, Clark described himself as a private person who shunned the spotlight, saying he intentionally remained in the background during the 19 years he lived in Kameny’s house.

Frank Kameny, gay news, gay politics dc

(Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Also remaining unclear this week is what will become of a headstone and separate grave marker that HOBS and the activists working with the group installed at the cemetery site before the dispute with the estate surfaced.

Francis, the founder of the Kameny Papers Project, which arranged several years before Kameny’s death to have Kameny’s voluminous collection of letters and gay rights documents donated to the Library of Congress, obtained the headstone from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Francis and others working on the memorial site said the military headstone would recognize Kameny’s role as a World War II combat veteran. The stone is identical to gravestones used for soldiers and veterans buried at Arlington National Cemetery, and is issued free of charge to all deceased military veterans.

HOBS purchased a separate footstone inscribed with the slogan Kameny coined in the 1960s, “Gay is Good.” Carter said HOBS paid for the footstone along with the cemetery plot through funds donated by members of the LGBT community.

HOBS had both stones installed at the gravesite in March 2012 in anticipation that plans for burial of the ashes would move forward as planned.

Cemetery officials later removed the headstone and the “Gay is Good” marker and placed them in storage, saying it was inappropriate for them to remain in place while the ownership of the gravesite was in dispute.

Bedwell, who has played a role in managing the Matlovich gravesite, said he owns a separate plot next to the Matlovich site that he offered to donate for the Kameny burial shortly after Kameny died. HOBS instead chose to buy a plot a short distance away. Now, Bedwell said he is open to donating the plot he owns for a new Kameny memorial site at the cemetery.

“Neither [Clark’s] permission or Frank’s ashes are required for anyone to create a memorial to Frank anywhere,” Bedwell said in a comment to the Blade in October. “Millions more visit Lincoln’s Memorial in Washington every year than his actual gravesite in Springfield, Ill.,” he said.

“I’m confident many would be eager to contribute to the purchase of another marker bearing Frank’s name,” Bedwell said, in the event that the Veterans Administration stone or the “Gay is Good” stone won’t be released by the estate.

Ackerman, while repeating his firm’s written statement that the Kameny estate would have no further comment on Clark’s decision to inter the ashes in a private location, said the estate would welcome inquiries “by anyone” interested in establishing a public memorial for Kameny.

“All they have to do is call us,” he said.

25
Feb
2014

GLAA revises ratings for Evans, two others

Jack Evans, Washington Blade, gay news

GLAA upgraded its evaluation of Jack Evans. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance on Tuesday changed its rating for D.C. Council member and mayoral candidate Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) from a +8 to +9, saying it based the revision on new information that Evans submitted to the group.

At its regularly scheduled monthly meeting on March 11, the group also upgraded its ratings for Democrat Calvin Gurley, who’s running for D.C. Council Chair against incumbent Phil Mendelson, from a 0 to a +1; and for Darrel Thompson, a Democrat running for the Ward 6 D.C. Council seat, from +2 to +3. GLAA gave Mendelson a rating of +10 in its initial round of ratings.

The group’s ratings are based on a scale of -10 to +10, with +10 being the highest possible rating.

“The leading development in this round of mid-campaign adjustments is the revised rating of Democrat Jack Evans (+9), which puts him in a tight cluster with Democratic Mayor Vincent Gray (+10) and fellow Democratic challenger Tommy Wells (+9.5),” GLAA President Rick Rosendall said in a statement. Wells is a Ward 6 Council member who’s giving up his Council seat to run for mayor.

GLAA says Gurley’s original rating of 0 was based on his not turning in a GLAA questionnaire, which asks about candidates’ positions on LGBT-related issues. When Gurley later returned the questionnaire it only resulted in a one point increase because his answers were “uninformed, argumentative, and lack substance,” GLAA says in a statement.

The group’s statement says Thompson’s original questionnaire responses were “weak” and lacked a response to a question asking about his record or accomplishments on LGBT issues. He later submitted information on his record, GLAA says, resulting in a boost in his rating from +2 to +3. The new information discussed Thompson’s past work on LGBT-related issues as a staff member for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), former House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.), and then Sen. Barack Obama.

GLAA’s rating system assigns a maximum of plus or minus three points to a candidate’s record.

Thompson has said through a spokesperson that his GLAA rating doesn’t reflect what he considers his strong support across the board for LGBT rights. GLAA has said its ratings are based on its assessment of whether a candidate’s questionnaire responses go beyond an expression of support to show an understanding of the issues and insight into how they can be addressed.

12
Mar
2014

Gray, Bowser in tight race

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jack Evans, Washington Blade, gay news

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

26
Mar
2014

Attack ad blames Mendelson for rise in hate crimes

Phil Mendelson, D.C. Council, Washington Blade, gay news

‘Rather than doing nothing, I publicly disagreed with the MPD’s decision to reorganize the GLLU,’ said Council Chair Phil Mendelson. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

LGBT activists are defending D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large) against an election campaign ad by the D.C. police union that accuses him of failing to take steps to prevent the number of anti-LGBT hate crimes from nearly doubling between 2009 and 2011.

The Fraternal Order of Police, Metropolitan Police Department Labor Committee (FOP), which serves as a police union, is calling on city residents to “vote no on Phil Mendelson” in the April 1 primary in which he is running for re-election.

Rick Rosendall, president of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance; transgender activist Jeri Hughes; and gay activist and Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Bob Summersgill called Mendelson a champion of LGBT rights and disputed the FOP’s claim that he didn’t adequately respond to hate crimes targeting the LGBT community.

In what appears to be a first-of-its-kind attack ad accusing a politician of failing to protect the safety of the LGBT community, the FOP ad says that when Mendelson was chair of the Council’s Judiciary and Public safety Committee in 2009, he “sat by and did nothing as the Metropolitan Police Department’s Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit (GLLU) was dismantled.”

The ad, which the FOP posted on its website and placed in the Washington Blade, goes on to say, “The result of Mendelson’s failure to act? The police department’s effectiveness in responding to hate crimes was weakened and it led to an almost 50 percent jump in hate crimes based on sexual orientation.”

Kristopher Baumann, chair of the FOP, told the Blade that LGBT organizations and activists joined the FOP in 2009 in criticizing a decision by the police department to reorganize and restructure the GLLU in a way that most activists said would decrease its effectiveness.

Baumann noted that concerns about the GLLU reorganization were found to be correct by a report assessing the police handling of anti-LGBT hate crimes released earlier this year. The report was prepared by an independent task force created and led by the Anti-Defamation League of the national capital area at the request of D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier.

Most LGBT activists don’t dispute the findings of the task force report that the reorganization of the GLLU by Lanier led to its becoming less effective in addressing hate crimes and led to strains in relations between the LGBT community and the police department. But Mendelson and some of his LGBT supporters, including Rosendall and Hughes, dispute the claim that Mendelson was responsible for these developments.

“The charge is inaccurate and false,” Mendelson told the Blade in a statement on Monday. “Rather than doing nothing, I publicly disagreed with the MPD’s decision to reorganize the GLLU, and this was the subject of a number of public hearings that I held — including several specifically focused on hate crime and MPD’s handling of hate crime,” he said.

Mendelson said he held separate hearings on hate crimes and determined that the increase in hate crimes targeting the LGBT community was likely due, in part, to improved reporting of hate crimes on the part of LGBT victims rather than an actual increase in the number of such crimes.

“It’s easy for negative campaigns to level false charges days before an election, but the charges neither comport with the facts, nor are echoed by any of the LGBT groups that have actually worked on this problem,” Mendelson said.

“This campaign to hold Phil Mendelson accountable is nothing more than an egregious campaign to smear and malign,” said Hughes. “I know several rank and file officers,” she said. “None of them feel that Phil Mendelson deserves this abuse – none.”

Baumann, who has been a longtime critic of Chief Lanier, said Mendelson held “hearing after hearing” but chose not to take legislative action to correct longstanding problems associated with hate crimes reporting and the police Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit.

Mendelson said the hearings were productive and that none of the LGBT advocacy groups or Baumann proposed legislative changes at that time.

“They forced MPD to address the issue — prior thereto they were downplaying it,” Mendelson said of the hearings. “Police handling of [hate crimes] reports improved.”

According to Mendelson, the hearings also prompted the independent Office of Police Complaints, which investigates citizen complaints against police officers, to weigh in on the issue and led to the revival of the then inactive group Gays and Lesbians Against Violence (GLOV).

Baumann said the FOP has not endorsed Mendelson’s Democratic opponent in the primary, Calvin Gurley. Baumann said the police union’s ad campaign was aimed at urging voters to “take another look” at Mendelson and decide how best to vote both in the primary and, if Mendelson wins on Tuesday, as expected, whether to vote for an opponent that surfaces in the November general election.

GLAA gave Mendelson a +10 rating on LGBT issues on a rating scale of -10 to +10, the highest possible score. The group gave Gurley a +1 rating.

Although most political observers believe Mendelson is the odds-on favorite to win Tuesday’s primary, Gurley received close to 69,342 votes when he ran against Mendelson in a special election in 2012. According to Board of Elections returns, Mendelson won that election with 174,742 votes, with 3,017 voters writing in someone else’s name on the ballot.

Hassan Naveed, co-chair of Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence, and Jason Terry, an official with the D.C. Trans Coalition, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the FOP’s attack ad targeting Mendelson.

31
Mar
2014