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My National Coming Out Day

Michael Key, gay news, Washington Blade, National Coming Out Day

The writer in his senior year of high school. (Photo courtesy of Michael Key)

I parked my car on the tree-lined road behind my school. I had waited for months to do this: I reached into my glove compartment and pulled out the rainbow magnet that I had bought at Lambda Rising over the summer. I positioned the rainbow in its place of honor on my bumper and then stepped back to admire it. I didn’t dare get an actual bumper sticker: while my parents knew that I was gay, they were not yet in a place where they could conceive of me being out and proud. They would be pretty upset if I came driving into the neighborhood with a car that they bought for me sporting such a controversial symbol. The magnet would have to do.

It was Oct. 11, 1995. I was a 17-year-old senior at a large Northern Virginia high school and I was going to come out that day.

I started the process a year earlier. My family had just moved from ultra-conservative rural Oklahoma. I knew there was no life for me there. Growing up where the Bible Belt buckles, I had heard the most appalling things said about LGBT people by peers and even public school teachers. I recall with particular rage a bloated football coach who somehow passed for a social studies teacher spending an entire class period lecturing students on how he didn’t want his daughter to ever have to see two “faggots” holding hands walking down the street together. The one kid who came the closest to coming out was constantly humiliated by teachers and students alike: so much so that he attempted to kill himself and was sent away by his parents. So, when my father was offered a job in D.C., I enthusiastically gave my blessing and prepared for a new life.

When I got to D.C., I desperately sought a community I knew had to exist. In 1994, there were few positive images of LGBT life to be found in the mass media, but those that did exist, I voraciously consumed. Watching the lonely character of “Rickie” on “My So-Called Life” was the first time I had ever seen the struggles of a gay teen portrayed on television. Around the same time, the tragic story of Pedro Zamora on “The Real World: San Francisco” began to soften the hearts of the largely anti-gay American public, but we were far from the level of acceptance that we have achieved today. There were few Gay-Straight Alliances and certainly nothing of the sort existed in my new school.

But, there were resources. I found SMYAL, then called the Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League, and began to regularly attend its drop-in sessions each Saturday. I made friends and met my high school boyfriend there. My new friends and I would often go out after SMYAL meetings to Lambda Rising, an LGBT bookstore in the heart of what was then the “gayborhood.” Afterwards, we would go to a coffee shop and talk and hang out until the evening. My Saturdays were filled with joy and wonder, but every Monday, I would return to school. While I had several new friends at school, I felt completely alone.

My senior year came along. In many ways, I was excelling. I had good grades, I was president of my school’s Young Democrats, I was in the Honor Society, I was captain of the student congress team and was in the top symphonic band as a French horn player. But, I had a secret.

I wouldn’t dare tape pictures of my boyfriend in my locker, even though I was proud to be with him. I had a rainbow-colored “freedom rings” necklace (a ’90s fad that has thankfully long since been put to rest), but I wore it inside my shirt. Though the rings gave me strength, I would only take them out on Saturdays when no one from my school would see. But slowly, I was building the confidence that I would need to become the only openly gay student in a school of several thousand.

Finally, the day had come. I knew that Oct. 11 was National Coming Out Day and I had been mentally preparing all week. I stepped away from my car and walked toward my school. I clutched my freedom rings under my shirt and paused for a moment to catch my breath. As students began to stream into the building, I pulled out my rings and marched in. I spotted among the throng of students starting their day the biggest gossip I knew. I walked up to her and said, “Hi. It’s National Coming Out Day. I’m gay and coming out. Tell everyone.”

I didn’t stick around to see her reaction; instead I quickly went to my locker. I pulled three pictures of my beautiful boyfriend out of my backpack and prominently taped them to the inside of my locker door. It was then that I decided that I was going to ask him to be my date at the school’s upcoming Winterfest Dance and that we were going to dance as a couple, no matter what anyone else said or did.

I went through my day normally, though proudly displaying my freedom rings for anyone who knew what they were. As the day progressed, my peers began to stare at me and whisper to themselves as I walked down the hallway. Rather than feeling scared or ashamed, I felt emboldened and proud. It wasn’t to come to a head, though, until symphonic band practice.

Everyone in band reacted, mostly by giving me a wide berth or by flashing a knowing smile. I sat in my section and began to get out my instrument. I could feel the eyes of the tuba section behind me locked on the back of my neck. Before practice could start, the biggest bully of the bunch got my attention.

“Is it true what people are saying about you?” He asked with a “gotcha” smirk.

“What, that I’m gay?” I asked.

He nodded, ready to pounce.

“Yes. I’m gay. So?” I responded as nonchalantly as I could manage in such a nerve-wracking moment.

His face registered such a shock that I could never get it out of my mind. He, like the other bullies at school, derived his power from the fear in others. My refusal to deny and shrink back caught him completely unprepared.

“Uh,” he babbled, flabbergasted for a moment. “Just so long as you don’t hit on me.”

I looked up and down his flabby, pockmarked face and perhaps unkindly quipped, “You have absolutely nothing to worry about.”

I turned back around as the teacher began to start our warm-up.

And so the day passed largely without incident. All of my fears vanished and I was filled with so much peace and pride. By the next day, my coming out was old news and I began making new friends immediately. By the end of the semester, I had taken my boyfriend to the Winterfest Dance and had a magical night of slow dancing to Whitney Houston. By the end of the year, that removable rainbow magnet had been replaced with a permanent rainbow sticker that I proudly displayed as I drove into my neighborhood.

Michael Key is photo editor of the Washington Blade. Reach him at mkey@washblade.com and on twitter as MichaelKeyWB.

10
Oct
2013

Queery: Stephen Decker

Stephen Decker, Queery, gay news, Washington Blade

Stephen Decker (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Stephen Decker always knows the day of Scarlet’s Bake Sale is going to be a long one. He’s typically on site at the Eagle from noon until about 9 p.m. but he says it’s always worth the effort. And he should know — he’s been one of the volunteers for about 20 years. For the last three years, he’s been the chair.

“It’s so much fun to watch the competition,” he says. “Trying to see them all outbid each other for that cake or item. It’s just full of fun.”

Scarlet’s Bake Sale, named after the late Ed Nesbit (whose drag name was Scarlet), is now in its 42nd year. This year’s event is Sunday from 5-8:30 p.m. at the D.C. Eagle (639 New York Ave., N.W.). Look for the event page by searching “Scarlet’s Foundation” on Facebook. This year’s proceeds will benefit SMYAL. Typically about 80 people attend. In addition to the auction, four awards are presented each year. Last year, Decker says about $8,800 was raised for LGBT charities.

The most memorable entry over the years?

“Oh my goodness, there’ve been so many,” Decker says. “One year we had a group bring in a watersports-themed cake. It actually had a figure standing up and a recycling pump in it, so he would actually be peeing on a man down in a pond. It, to me, was the most spectacular.”

Another year, an elaborate 3-D chocolate sculpture of a tree was so impressive it raised $2,400 in three different auctions (each winner kept putting it back up for auction knowing it was a hot item) only to be destroyed on the ride home.

Decker, a Scenery Hill, Pa., native, came to Washington for work in 1980 and has been here ever since. He previously lived in Maryland, Virginia, Mississippi and elsewhere during his growing up years and a stint in the Air Force.

He and husband Ed Moore live together in Brookland. After a long stint as a grant manager with the International Association of Firefighters, he’s looking for a new job.

He enjoys baking, cooking, the leather community and times with friends and extended family in his free time.

How long have you been out and who was the hardest person to tell?
I have been out to myself since high school, but could never do so as the community would have never allowed it and I may not be here now if I did. One of my favorite statements when asked when I knew — it was in seventh grade with the cutest ass that sat in front of me in most all of my classes. I came out to myself in the 1980s but the hardest person to come out was more a fear of my own, it was my mother, who politely told me, “This is supposed to be news to me?” I came out to her in 1995.

Who’s your LGBT hero?
Leonard Matlovich. He received a medal of honor for killing two men and a dishonorable discharge for loving one.

What’s Washington’s best nightspot, past or present?
Loved the old DC Eagle on 7th Street before it closed. Today you will find me quite often at the Green Lantern.

Describe your dream wedding.
Our wedding was a dream. Who would ever guess that after being with my love for 22 years we would be able to wed in 2010? I wanted to elope, but our friends would not hear of that. We had an engagement party, two bachelor’s parties and a wedding with two receptions. We had about 30 great and close friends with us at the wedding and over 100 other friends that celebrated us in the other events. We were surrounded by love and it was worth every second.

What non-LGBT issue are you most passionate about?
Children with no love or home. Everyone deserves love, no matter who provides it.

What historical outcome would you change?
DOMA

What’s been the most memorable pop culture moment of your lifetime?
The first Liza with a Z Concert I attended in the 1970s with another Air Force buddy who I think may have liked me for the same reason I liked him.

On what do you insist?
I insist that all are honest with me. I have always stated we can solve all issues.

What was your last Facebook post or Tweet?
It was about the Scarlet’s Bake Sale. Ask everyone to come and have fun with us.

If your life were a book, what would the title be?
“Vanilla? I Don’t Think So”

If science discovered a way to change sexual orientation, what would you do?
Hide from it. I am happy to be who I am and with whom I have chosen to live.

What do you believe in beyond the physical world?
That we are created by God to be who and what we are.

What’s your advice for LGBT movement leaders?
Keep moving forward, the job is not done. We should all have the equal rights just like every other person. Thank you, so far as we have made major movements.

What would you walk across hot coals for?
The love of my life and maybe a cup of hot chocolate on this cold day.

What LGBT stereotype annoys you most?
People who feel they have to be “straight acting.”

What’s your favorite LGBT movie?
“Rent” — it tackled AIDS, which affects everyone.

What’s the most overrated social custom?
The handshake — why not a warm hug?

What trophy or prize do you most covet?
Black Roses Community Service Award

What do you wish you’d known at 18?
That it was OK to be who I am and not ashamed of it. I let so much get away from me.

Why Washington?
I guess it is the only place I know that the museums are free and that there is so much history here. It’s hard to believe that the Supreme Court area has so much history itself. Check it out sometime.

06
Feb
2013

Scarlet’s Bake Sale

The D.C. Eagle hosted the 42nd annual Scarlet’s Bake Sale on Sunday to raise money for a local charity. This year’s beneficiary was the Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League. (Washington Blade photos by Michael Key) buyphoto 

12
Feb
2013

Glory days

Tracks, nightlife, gay news, Washington Blade

Tracks (Washington Blade file photo)

The planning and organizing has taken on all the earnestness and care of a high school or college reunion.

But in a series of events scheduled for this weekend at three D.C. clubs, patrons and employees of a gay nightclub called Tracks — which entertained and some say mesmerized thousands during its run from 1984 to 1999 — will come together for a reunion that may have a far greater meaning for them than a school reunion, according to organizers.

“Tracks nightclub is widely revered as the legendary nightclub of Washington, D.C.,” says a statement on the event’s website, TracksDC.com.

“And although there have been many other nightclubs, parties, events and gathering places that may hold fond memories for many from Washington, Maryland, Virginia and the surrounding region, there is no denying that Tracks meant considerably more to considerably more people for considerably more years than any other nightclub in D.C. history,” the statement says.

Patrick Little, a Tracks bartender and manager and one of the lead organizers of the reunion, said 100 percent of the proceeds for the reunion will go to seven non-profit charitable groups, including Whitman-Walker Health, the House of Ruth shelter for homeless women, the Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League (SMYAL) and the Mautner Project for lesbians with cancer and other serious illnesses.

Other recipients of the proceeds include the AIDS service group Us Helping Us, the D.C. Center and the Metropolis Fund, which raises money to support local and national AIDS causes.

Denver-based businessman Marty Chernoff, founder and owner of Tracks, has been credited with bringing to D.C. a gay nightclub that offered features that no other nightclub offered in the area, gay or straight, from the time it opened in 1984 through at least a decade or longer, Little and others working on the reunion say.

Tracks, nightlife, gay news, Washington Blade

(Washington Blade file photo)

Little and Ed Bailey, who worked as a Tracks DJ and later as its director of promotions, pointed to some of the features of Tracks that set it apart from other clubs. Located in a sprawling warehouse building at 1111 First St., S.E., the club’s main room or hall included the region’s largest dance floor at the time.

Chernoff, who had been operating a Tracks nightclub in Denver, installed in the D.C. club the same state-of-the-art theatrical lighting and sound system he had been using in the Denver club. Chernoff also built in the D.C. club a separate video room with its own dance floor and sound system.

According to Bailey, the video screens were among the largest of any of the existing clubs in the area at a time when video screens were just starting to be installed in clubs in big cities like New York and Los Angeles.

And unlike most other clubs at the time, Chernoff had a large outdoor space as part of the Tracks property in which he installed a volleyball court with beach sand. He also built an 18-inch-deep pool surrounded by a large deck with chairs and an outdoor bar and grill, where hot dogs and hamburgers, among other food items, were served.

The outdoor space also featured yet another dance floor and sound system that became popular in the warm months.

“I built what I thought would work well, including some things where people said, ‘Are you crazy? Who ever heard of a volleyball court in a nightclub?’” Chernoff says. “And I said, ‘Well I tried it in Denver and it worked pretty well. Let’s give it a try here.’”

Bailey and others familiar with Tracks say the volleyball court along with the numerous other amenities at the club worked well, as capacity crowds came to the club on most weekends.

“The video, sound system and lighting were way ahead of their time,” Bailey says. “The music was always cutting edge. And it was far more laid back than other nightclubs.”

Tracks featured nationally known live performers almost once a month for several years. Among them were Gloria Gaynor, Thelma Houston, Crystal Waters, The Village People, Robin Ess, Martha Washington and CeCe Peniston.

Unlike many other gay clubs at the time, Tracks attracted a diverse cross section of the LGBT community, including whites, blacks, men and women, Latinos and Asians, Bailey and Little say. As word got out about Tracks’ grand scale, straights began to come to the club at various times.

Before long, Little says, Friday nights became known as “straight night,” even though gays continued to come to the club on that night.

“It was the biggest, coolest club in the city so other people started going,” Bailey says. “The straight crowd knew it was a gay club but they couldn’t find anything like it anywhere else.”

Chernoff says he and his staff welcomed the diversity of the crowds that packed the club, which sometimes exceeded its occupancy limit of 1,300 people.

He made it clear in no uncertain terms on a sign posted at the entrance that while everyone was welcome, Tracks was a gay club “and if that is a problem for you then you shouldn’t come in.”

“The one absolute we had is we were not going to discriminate,” Chernoff says.

Tracks, nightlife, gay news, Washington Blade

(Washington Blade file photo)

Little says the three nights of the reunion set for this weekend — Friday through Sunday — were put together to reflect the different types of music and crowds that came to Tracks on different nights.

Chernoff says he was especially proud of the lighting system and other features in the Tracks main hall. The enormous dance floor was surrounded by an elevated standing area where people could watch the action on the floor. He arranged for a small platform to be placed high above the main hall dance floor from which a giant mosaic mirrored disco ball was suspended that could be lowered and raised.

A heavy-duty cable was sometimes used to lower performers from the platform above the dance floor. During one of the club’s New Year’s Eve parties, a “heavy-set drag queen dressed only in a diaper” was lowered from the perch above the dance floor “to the hoots and hollers of the crowd below, which was taken by complete surprise.”

Celebrity encounters

Chernoff says one of the “horror stories” he recalls during the years he operated Tracks was when singer Grace Jones, who was booked for a live performance, refused to go on stage when the time for her act was scheduled to begin.

“She was just impossible to work with,” Chernoff says. “She said, ‘I’ll decide if I go on or not go on. I’ll see how I feel about it.’ I said, ‘You owe it your fans out there. Please go on stage.’ She said, ‘I’ll decide if I want to go on or not. Maybe I don’t feel like going on.’ So finally I said, ‘Enough is enough. Just get the hell out of my building. I don’t need to put up with this crap.’”

He says Tracks refunded the money for everyone who paid for admission to see Jones perform, writing off the episode as “one of our biggest disasters.”

Among the most pleasant encounters with a performer or group booked at Tracks was the appearance of the Village People, one of the most popular disco-era acts, especially for gay audiences, Chernoff says.

“It was such a great experience and such a great vibe,” he says. “So after they put the show on they didn’t leave. They stayed and partied with everybody until 5 or 6 in the morning. They said, ‘We don’t want to go home. We’re party people and this is the best party in town.’”

Changing times

Tracks, nightlife, gay news, Washington Blade

(Washington Blade file photo)

“It became a home for a lot of people,” says Reg Tyson, who was part of a group that partnered with D.C. businessman Paul Yates, who bought Tracks from Chernoff around 1990.

“I think it was the right place at the right time,” Tyson says. “It was a new place that allowed people to be free to be themselves, to express themselves.”

The club flourished under Yates’ ownership as Bailey, who had been working as a DJ, was moved by Yates to the post of director of promotions.

Chernoff says around 1996 Yates decided to withdraw from the business, and Chernoff resumed his position as Tracks owner until the time the club closed its doors in 1999. By that time Bailey had left Tracks to become involved with a new and even bigger nightclub located one block away called Nation, which started a Saturday night gay dance party called Velvet Nation.

“Like everything else, Tracks’ time had come,” Chernoff says. “You can’t hang on to the previous concept and expect it to move into the next decades and next generations. What made Tracks unique and phenomenal — it had run its course.”

Ongoing negotiations with a developer that had expressed interest in buying the Tracks property to build a new office building reached the stage where a deal was finalized, Chernoff says.

Bailey says he was honored to have worked for Chernoff and credits him with teaching him the ins and outs of operating a nightclub, skills that Bailey says helped him in his work at Nation.

“Tracks innovated the nightclub scene in a way that Nation benefited,” Bailey says.

Bailey says he was also honored that Chernoff and the Tracks staff invited him to work as DJ at Tracks during its closing night party in November 1999.

Kevin Brennan, a Tracks customer who was later hired as a lighting technician at the club, says he and his partner of 18 years, Don Oberholzer, have especially fond memories of Tracks.

“That’s where we met,” Brennan says. “I think he was dancing on one of the dance boxes in the big room and we just started talking.” They had their first date about a week later and have been a couple ever since. The two were married in D.C. last year.

“It made an impression on me in the sense that nothing else has ever compared,” Brennan says of the club. “I never felt like there was another club that had everything that Tracks had.”

25
Apr
2013

Working to build a stronger network for youth

SMYAL, Supporting and Mentoring Youth Advocates and Leaders, gay news, Washington Blade

SMYAL leaders unveiled a new logo, name and expanded mission at an event last week. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Many may not know the history of SMYAL. The organization was formed in 1984 when local youth service professionals and community activists organized a conference on LGBT youth issues after learning that “cross-dressing” youth from the local school system had been hospitalized at St. Elizabeth’s Public Psychiatric Hospital. From this conference, the Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League was founded to meet the needs of LGBT youth living in the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area.

Since its founding nearly 30 years ago, SMYAL has grown to become an organization with an annual budget of more than $700,000 and a staff of seven. Today, SMYAL serves LGBTQ youth in a wide assortment of programs.

Last week the acronym SMYAL took on a new meaning. The Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League officially became Supporting and Mentoring Youth Advocates and Leaders. Same acronym, new definition. I must be honest I like the old meaning better and I think it has more relevance to the ongoing work of SMYAL. While they will do more work training and mentoring advocates and leaders, they will keep their programs that assist all youth and we know that most youth, as most adults, aren’t leaders but rather followers and meeting their needs is as important as ever. But that aside, by either definition SMYAL is an amazing organization and continues to deserve the unstinting support of the entire community.

In the last quarter of 2011, SMYAL’s board of directors, along with the staff, began a strategic planning process that has led them to this rebranding and to add a new mission. They will be working closely through a collaborative agreement with the Gay-Straight Alliance network to replicate their program in this region and build a strong D.C.-area GSA network. SMYAL has long served youth in the entire metro area and by supporting and strengthening the GSA network in the District, Maryland and Northern Virginia they will be able to reach and help many more young people than ever before.

In a recent conversation with SMYAL Executive Director Andrew Barnett, an amazing young man and leader, I learned some things about my community I hadn’t known before. From the age of 12 I realized I was different but couldn’t put a name to it. What I did know is that as I was going through puberty my interest in sex was related to men not women. But back then there were no organizations like SMYAL and as a result I was 34 before being comfortable enough to come out. Andrew told me that today LGBT youth are actually coming out at the age of 12 and 13. Because of that, GSAs, which were once needed only in high schools, are now just as crucial in middle schools. We have certainly moved ahead by leaps and bounds but the fact that our youth are coming out earlier than ever before doesn’t mean that their teachers, parents or even friends are ready to accept them. So organizations like SMYAL and the GSAs are more important than ever before.

As part of its new mission this summer, SMYAL is planning to implement an Activist Camp for 30 LGBTQ youth and will organize three youth-led GSA training summits one each in D.C., Northern Virginia and Maryland. They will be hiring a part-time Youth Leadership Specialist to assist with program implementation and contracting with the GSA network for staff training, technical assistance, program curriculum and materials. A very ambitious undertaking to say the least.

As SMYAL grows, serves more young people and takes on new projects, it will be expensive. The estimated three-year budget for these new projects with the GSA will be more than $300,000. So I urge all those who are donors to SMYAL already to dig a little deeper this year and for those who haven’t donated before think about SMYAL when you think about your charitable contributions. While $300,000 may sound like a lot, it is a drop in the bucket if SMYAL can impact the lives of the thousands of children in our area who are sometimes struggling to grow up and learning to live full and productive lives.

01
May
2013

Marriage opponents to head LGBT, AIDS committees

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

Council Chair Phil Mendelson assigned Council members Marion Barry and Yvette Alexander to key committees related to LGBT and AIDS issues. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

In a development that may surprise some local activists, the two D.C. Council members who voted against the city’s same-sex marriage law have been assigned by Council Chair Phil Mendelson to head committees that oversee all of the city’s LGBT and AIDS-related programs.

Although they emerged in 2009 as the only two on the Council to oppose same-sex marriage, Council members Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) and Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7) have said they support the LGBT community on most other issues and are committed to efforts to fight AIDS.

“There are always going to be disagreements and things that we’re not going to think the same on,” said Alexander, who replaced gay Council member David Catania (I-At-Large) as chair of the Council’s Committee on Health.

In a phone interview with the Washington Blade, Alexander was asked if she thought LGBT activists burned their bridges with her when the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club endorsed her opponent in last year’s Democratic primary and the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance gave her a rating of -3.5 on LGBT issues on a rating scale of -10 to +10.

“No, that’s a thing where I’m not that kind of person,” she said. “So no one has burned a bridge with me…But we need to just find our commonality. We all want to end the high instance of HIV/AIDS. We want to rid our city of HIV and AIDS and all other diseases that plague our city.”

Barry, who had a strong pro-LGBT record during his years as D.C. mayor, angered many LGBT activists in 2009 when he joined Alexander in voting against the same-sex marriage bill after speaking at an anti-marriage equality rally organized by anti-gay groups.

In his reorganization of the Council’s committee assignments in December, Mendelson changed the committee that Barry chaired in the previous Council session from the Committee on Aging and Community Affairs to the Committee on Workforce and Community Affairs. The change added to the committee’s portfolio more government agencies that deal with work and employment related issues.

Among the agencies that the committee oversees is the D.C. Office of Human Rights and the Commission on Human Rights, which enforce the city’s LGBT non-discrimination law; the Office of GLBT Affairs; and the Mayor’s Advisory Commission on GLBT Affairs.

The Stein Club, the city’s largest LGBT political group, chose not to endorse Barry’s re-election bid last year and GLAA also gave him a -3.5 rating on LGBT issues. Barry, like Alexander, won election to another term by a lopsided margin.

GLAA President Rick Rosendall said that despite GLAA’s strong criticism of Barry during the Council’s 2009 debate over the marriage bill, Barry was friendly toward him when he testified last year before Barry’s committee. Rosendall was one of the witnesses testifying in support of Mayor Vincent Gray’s nomination of transgender activists Earline Budd and Alexandra Beninda to seats on the D.C. Human Rights Commission.

Barry praised Budd and Beninda during the hearing and later joined fellow committee members in voting to approve their nominations.

During his tenure as chair of the Health Committee, Catania has been credited with helping to strengthen the city’s HIV/AIDS programs through aggressive Council oversight hearings examining the workings of the D.C. HIV/AIDS agency. Some AIDS activists have lamented his departure as Health Committee chair, even though Catania remains a member of the committee.

It was in response to Catania’s request that Mendelson appointed him chair of the reorganized Committee on Education, where Catania has vowed to provide aggressive oversight of the city’s troubled public school system.

Catania aide Brendan Williams-Kief, who switched from serving as Catania’s press spokesperson to director of the Committee on Education, said Catania plans to bring up the issue of school bullying, including anti-LGBT bullying, during his first oversight hearing on the schools in late February.

Last year, the Council passed a long awaited anti-bullying bill that requires D.C. public and charter schools to put in place policies to curtail school bullying. Williams-Kief said Catania intends to monitor the public school system’s implementation of the legislation.

Andrew Barnett, executive director of the D.C.-based Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League (SMYAL), said he welcomes efforts by Catania and the Education Committee to monitor the anti-bullying policies.

“I think we still have a ways to go to make sure D.C. public schools are free from bullying and safe for LGBT students,” Barnett said.

LGBT advocates said they are pleased over Mendelson’s appointment of Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) as chair of the Council’s Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, which has jurisdiction over D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department.  Wells, a longtime supporter of LGBT rights, has said he would carefully monitor the police handling of anti-LGBT hate crimes.

Gay D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) retained his post as chair of the Committee on Human Services, which, among other things, oversees the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA). Graham was praised by LGBT nightlife advocates for shepherding through a liquor law reform bill last year that eases what hospitality industry representatives said was an overly burdensome and unfair process for bars, restaurants and nightclubs to obtain and renew liquor licenses.

Don Blanchon, executive director of Whitman-Walker Health, which provides medical services for the LGBT community and people with HIV/AIDS, said he looks forward to working with Alexander on upcoming AIDS-related issues.

“We absolutely will be reaching out to her on how we can help her in her new role,” he said. “The Council member has in her ward many of the same health disparities and public health challenges that Whitman-Walker is dealing with every day, which is a still too high prevalence rate of HIV/AIDS, disparities within the African-American community and more so within the African-American LGBT community,” Blanchon said.

16
Jan
2013

Inauguration and more planned for MLK weekend

Presidential Inauguration, Washington Blade, gay news, United States Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps

2009 Presidential Inauguration Parade (Washington Blade file photo by Henry Linser)

Inauguration events galore planned for weekend

If you’re excited about the upcoming inauguration but have nowhere to go, here are a few parties happening over the weekend that will celebrate the inauguration in full LGBT fashion:

  • Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League and the D.C. Center host the 2013 Youth Inaugural Ball tonight at 6 p.m. at THEARC Community Center (1901 Mississippi Ave., SE). The party includes free food and drinks, including Chipotle burritos, a photo booth, a DJ and exciting performances. There will also be free and confidential HIV testing. Attendees are asked to “dress to impress.” The ball is open to youths between the ages 13-21. For more information, visit thedccenter.org.
  • Town (2009 8th St., N.W.) hosts DJ Hector Fonseca for the Inaugural Party Saturday night 10. Cover is $8 before 11 p.m. and $12 after. For more information, visit towndc.com.
  • Human Rights Campaign hosts a cocktail reception for supporters and leaders in town for the inaugural events Sunday at 6 p.m. at Number Nine (1435 P St., NW). For more information, visit action.hrc.org.
  • Bachelor’s Mill (1104 8th St., S.E.) hosts “Barack Obash” presented by DW Promotions tonight at 10 p.m. There will be a special surprise guest. A free buffet will be provided. Cover is $10. For more information, visit bachelorsmill.com.

MLK Freedom Walk slated for Saturday

To celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, Washington will host the 35th MLK’s Peace and Freedom Walk Saturday morning beginning at 7:30 a.m.

The first walk is the Freedom Walk beginning at Lansburgh Park. Assemble time is 7:30 a.m. Departure time is 8:45 a.m. Attendees are encouraged to make signs reflecting “peace.” For more information, email freedomwalkdc@gmail.com.

The next site is the “Peace Walk,” which begins at 2500 MLK Ave., SE. It departs at 10 a.m. Those who do not want to do the “Freedom Walk” can meet at this site at 8:30 a.m. For more information, visit info@mlkholidaydc.org.

The final destination is Shepard Park where the walkers will arrive at noon. Those who won’t walk may arrive at 10:30 a.m. for the program agenda. For more information, visit mlkholidaydc.org.

17
Jan
2013

Robert Henry LaRiviere, 61

Robert LaRiviere, gay news, obituary, Washington Blade

Robert LaRiviere

Robert Henry LaRiviere, a resident of Washington since the 1970s, died of arteriosclerosis on Nov. 13. He was 61.

LaRiviere came of age during the intellectual fervor of the gay liberation days of the early 1970s and continued to participate in major LGBT events and support gay culture. LaRiviere maintained a lifelong love of literature, opera, theater and film, and had an extensive library of classical and contemporary literature, gay fiction and non-fiction, and camp books and films. He was a member of the Washington Psychotronic Film Society.

LaRiviere was born on May 19, 1951 in Methuen, Mass., and grew up in New Hampshire, where he received a bachelor’s degree in education from Plymouth State University. He taught high school in New Hampshire before moving to D.C. Once in D.C., LaRiviere earned a programming certificate from the Computer Learning Center and had a long and successful career working for Advance Inc., INTELSAT, Otsuka America and the Federal Trade Commission. He specialized in electronic document management and brought his skill set to his own private collection.

For the past 25 years, LaRiviere lived in the Eckington neighborhood. An urban person, he walked everywhere in the city, relying only when necessary on public transportation. In his walks, he was often accompanied by one of his beloved rescue dogs. His love of cities led him to travel to Paris, Barcelona, San Francisco, and especially to New York, which he referred to as his Oz.

LaRiviere is survived by four siblings — Elaine Marcum and Lynne Bova of New Hampshire and June Troth and Craig LaRiviere of Texas; and many friends, including two special lifetime friends, Alayna Waldrum and Chuck Goldfarb. A celebration of LaRiviere’s life is planned for March.

Bob was a caring and generous person who quietly provided financial support to friends in need as well as to community organizations. Donations may be made in his memory to Americans United for the Separation of Church and State (au.org), the Washington Animal Rescue League (warl.org) or the Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League (smyal.org).

23
Dec
2012