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Mayor Gray has earned our support

Lane Hudson, Vincent Gray, gay news, Washington Blade

Lane Hudson at Mayor Gray’s re-election campaign kick-off event on Sunday. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

It was nearly four years ago that a man with an impeccable reputation decided to challenge the incumbent mayor. Up to that point, Vince Gray had a lifelong career in non-profit management dedicated to improving the lives of others. He served for two years on the D.C. Council before being elected as its chair. By all accounts, his tenure was seen as a time of civility and productivity.

Once he put his hat in the ring to challenge Adrian Fenty, what followed was terrible to watch. The Fenty campaign worked vigorously to cast Gray as the new Marion Barry and the Washington Post editorial board was happy to play the accomplice. The largely white half of the city was mostly willing to go along with it.

While it could not be further from the truth, the betrayal of a few people furthered the notion that Vince Gray was just as the Fenty campaign had sought to portray him.  Those people are in jail or rightfully headed there soon. In the meantime, Mayor Gray has focused on doing his job.

Last week, he addressed the 2010 campaign in a wide-ranging interview with WUSA reporter Bruce Johnson and also during his re-election kickoff rally. He expressed remorse for the embarrassment that the misdeeds of his former staff had brought to the District. More importantly, he asked us to forgive him for it.

That’s exactly what we should do. He has said repeatedly that he had no knowledge of the misdeeds of the 2010 campaign and three years of an investigation by the U.S. Attorney has given us no reason to think otherwise.

On the issues, Mayor Gray is superior to every other candidate. He is the most LGBT friendly mayor in the country and is incredibly proud of it. He has always been a supporter of marriage equality in spite of coming from Ward 7, where support for marriage equality is among the lowest in the District. Under his leadership, D.C. developed a job training program for transgender residents and began the very first, and only, transgender awareness publicity campaign run by a local government. D.C. public schools have taken a much more proactive stance against bullying LGBT students and some high schools are actually sponsoring LGBT student pride days.

At this week’s Stein Club meeting, Mayor Gray said he absolutely supported D.C. recognizing the marriages performed in Utah before the Supreme Court stayed the lower court’s ruling pending appeal. Responding to a question from transgender Stein Club Officer Bobbie Strang, he also expressed support for outlawing transgender exclusions in insurance plans that are regulated by D.C. government. This would make a huge difference for the transgender community. These are positions that no one else in the race has taken.

In addition to his record, Vince is unmatched in strength of character. He was born and raised in the District and chose to stay here to build a life, a career and a family. His entire professional career, other than a brief stint running the D.C. Department of Health, was managing non-profits that provided services for people with mental disabilities and homeless teens. This is a man whose entire life has been about serving the neediest among us. That is exactly the kind of person I want leading our city.

Also, in a stark change from the previous mayoral administration, Mayor Gray and his staff have been readily accessible and very responsive to the LGBT community. He doesn’t only make himself and his staff available to our community and our advocacy organizations, he has also been very generous with his time, attending more LGBT events than any previous mayor.

Needless to say, the District is doing pretty darn good too: Cranes in the air, $1.5 billion in the bank, more than 1,000 new residents each month, rapidly improving test scores in public schools, nearly $200 million for affordable housing projects, lower unemployment numbers, burgeoning development east of the river, a growing technology sector and many more good things happening here. We are starting to appear on lists for good reasons instead of bad ones.

To sum it up, we’ve got a good thing going with Mayor Vince Gray. Let’s keep things headed in the right direction. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Lane Hudson is a D.C.-based Democratic activist and writer.

14
Jan
2014

Arena launches Summit discussion series

Arena Stage, Mead Center for American Theater, gay news, Washington Blade

Arena Stage’s Mead Center for American Theater. (Photo by Nic Lehoux; courtesy Bing Thom Architects)

Washington Post theater critic Peter Marks will host a series of panel discussions about theater at Arena Stage (1101 Sixth St., S.W.).

The first is slated for Monday at 7 p.m. at Arena’s Kogod Cradle and will feature Arena’s Molly Smith, Ryan Rilette of Round House Theatre, Eric Schaeffer of Signature Theatre, Paul R. Tetreault of Ford’s Theatre and Paata Tsikurishvili of Synetic Theater.

The discussions will focus on addressing challenges of the art form. Future installments are set for March 24 and April 28. Tickets are free but reservations are encouraged. Visit arenastage.org for details.

13
Feb
2014

Vote for next generation of leadership in D.C.

vote, elections, leadership, slate, gay news, Washington Blade

Honing in on four key problems facing our community: a lack of good jobs, ever increasing costs of housing, prohibitive wages for our workers, and the denial of D.C.’s claim to statehood.

By ANGELA PEOPLES

For some time now, wooing and turning out young voters is the name of the game for Democratic candidates at all levels of government. In the District of Columbia, an influx of young professionals over the last decade and the racial and socio-economic shift that have followed make engaging this group more important, yet more elusive than ever.

It’s hard to believe that this city’s main draw for newcomers is the opportunity to work in politics and government, and somehow, that would mean local politics would take “a back seat to the existential angst of being a 20- or 30-something in this city,” as Robert Samuels wrote in a Washington Post article last week referring to youth involvement in local elections.

But Robert Samuels hasn’t met the leaders behind the Rent Is Too Darn High slate.

I moved to D.C. in 2008 with a laser-like focus on being a part of the movement for social change at the national level. As an advocate for the United States Student Association, a national youth advocacy organization, I was inspired daily by the energy, passion and ability of my peers working to make higher education affordable. Over the years, I developed roots in the District community. This community is comprised of people in similar circumstances: 20- and 30-year old D.C. transplants with deep progressive values and a belief in the power of people to change their surroundings.

The fact that our views at times clashed with our role in the rapidly gentrifying city we called home — and yes, we do call D.C. home — was not lost on me. Having been raised in a household of school board presidents and churchgoers, the call to contribute to my local community grew stronger.

That calling brought me to the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club to help serve as the voice for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Democrats in D.C. This group connects my passion for politics and progress with my commitment to being a community leader in the city I call home. And now, in the middle of my second term on the executive board of the Club, we’ve made it a point to engage young community members.

Serving as a leader of the largest constituent group in the D.C. Democratic Party has its challenges. There were those who questioned my authenticity, my ability to lead and even my sexuality. But for every one person who cast doubt on the spirit of this new generation of community leaders, there were two others who stood firmly behind us.

I continue to be inspired by many of these leaders who answered the call to fight for change at home and across the country. Many of these folks are now running for City Council, leading local organizations like the Washington Interfaith Network, the Youth Pride Alliance, TransLaw, and the Latino/a GLBT History Project.

One such group is the Rent Is Too Darn High slate for D.C. Democratic State Committee, the largest and most diverse slate seeking to give this body a fresh start. So while the Washington Post might make a debatable argument about youth involvement in the mayoral election, what is absolutely clear is that young people and LGBT people are energized by and driving engagement in local politics.

Representing the wisdom of long-standing community leaders joined by the fresh perspectives of young organizers, this slate is honing in on four key problems facing our community: a lack of good jobs, ever increasing costs of housing, prohibitive wages for our workers, and the denial of D.C.’s claim to statehood.

I’m convinced that one path to changing these conditions is through the effective stewardship of the D.C. Democratic State Committee. For too long, this organization has fought against transparency and accountability, and now wrestles with the perception of being complicit in corruption.

Unlike other candidates and slates, the Rent Is Too Darn High candidates bring native Washingtonians together with D.C. transplants to tackle head-on the policies depriving our communities of what they need to support their families. With Rent Is Too Darn High candidates at the helm of the D.C. Democratic State Committee, we can have a significant role in bringing these issues in front of the mayor’s office and the City Council.

So as a fellow D.C. community member, come April 1st, I’m giving my support to all the candidates bearing the Rent Is Too Darn High name. And I urge all LGBT people committed to a new generation of Democratic leadership in D.C. to do the same.

Angela Peoples is president of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club.

25
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

Graham fires back at opponent, files ethics complaint

Jim Graham, gay news, gay politics dc, homeless youth, complaint

D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) filed a complaint with the city’s Inspector General against his Democratic opponent Brianne Nadeau. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Gay D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) added fuel to the fire in the hotly contested Ward 1 D.C. Council race this week when he revealed he filed a complaint last Friday with the city’s Inspector General against his Democratic opponent Brianne Nadeau.

The complaint, which Graham released to the Washington Post, accuses Nadeau of underreporting her income in 2009 to enable her to be eligible for an interest-free city loan to purchase a condominium under a city program for low- to moderate-income residents.

Nadeau released a statement saying she did “everything 100 percent by the book” to obtain her loan and accused Graham of “abusing his office and spending taxpayer dollars to attack a political opponent.”

The Ward 1 Council seat for which Graham and Nadeau are competing is one of six Council seats up for grabs in the city’s April 1 Democratic primary. The other seats in contention are the Council Chair position, one of two at-large seats, and the seats representing Wards 3, 5 and 6.

Also on the primary ballot is D.C. congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), who’s running unopposed; and candidates running for the shadow U.S. Senate and House seats.

Graham, who has held the Ward 1 Council seat for 16 years, is running for a fifth term in office in what observers say is his toughest re-election bid to date.

In his complaint, Graham charges that he observed what he believes to be “serious irregularities” and “perhaps fraud” in a loan application filed by Nadeau in which she allegedly failed to report that her income had increased from the time she initially applied for the loan two years earlier.

Under rules for the Home Purchase Assistance Program, known as HPAP, Nadeau would have been eligible for a loan of $33,050 to cover her down payment and closing costs if her income was below $50,000, which Graham says it was when she first applied for the loan in 2007.

But according to Graham, Nadeau’s income rose to over $50,000 by 2009, when she received the loan while employed by the office of U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.). Under the HPAP program, Nadeau’s higher income meant she was only eligible for a loan of $14,450. The fact that she received the higher amount, according to Graham, raises serious questions about her ethical conduct as well as to whether she committed fraud.

Tom Fazzini, Nadeau’s campaign manager, told the Blade on Wednesday that Nadeau fully reported all of her income, including the income above $50,000, to the Greater Washington Urban League, which the city had retained to administer the HPAP program. He said Graham took out of context an email Nadeau sent to the Urban League saying her income had not changed since 2007.

When asked by the Post to explain a possible discrepancy in her reported income in the email in support of her loan application, “Nadeau said that her base salary had not changed but that she had received bonuses that increased her pay,” the Post reported.

“I have made all the documentation publicly available, which clearly shows that Jim Graham is distorting communications I had with him when I sought his help as a constituent five year ago,” Nadeau said in her statement.

“This is the same corrupt behavior that caused the D.C. Council to reprimand him and strip him of responsibility,” she said.

Fazzini said HPAP officials initially approved her loan at the higher amount when her income was at a lower level but cancelled the loan contract when she was unable to complete the purchase of the condo within a one-year deadline. He said the purchase couldn’t be completed because the condo building was still under construction and the delay in its completion prevented Nadeau from making the purchase at that time.

According to Fazzini, HPAP officials may have had the discretion to allow Nadeau to obtain the higher loan amount under a new contract the following year, even though her income rose above the $50,000 limit, because the missed deadline for the earlier contract was the fault of the condo developer rather than Nadeau’s.

Graham’s allegation against Nadeau follows a barrage of attacks against him by Nadeau during the past two months over a vote last year by the City Council to reprimand Graham on an ethics violation. The Council’s action, in the form of an 11 to 2 vote, stemmed from allegations that he improperly intervened in the approval process for a Metro development project.

Graham has said he acted in what he believed to be in the best interests of his constituents by arguing against one of two developers seeking the Metro contract on grounds that the developer was unqualified to do the work.

26
Mar
2014

Graham: ‘I’m not bitter, I’m not resentful’

Jim Graham, Democratic Party, Ward 1, Washington D.C., Washington Blade, gay news

D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Gay D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) said a low voter turnout and a barrage of editorials by the Washington Post attacking him on an ethics issue played a key role in his defeat in the city’s April 1 Democratic primary.

Political newcomer Brianne Nadeau, a civic activist and communications firm executive, won the primary by a decisive margin of 59 percent to 41 percent in a development many political observers considered an upset given Graham’s stature as a four-term Council member.

“The bottom line is she brought out her people and my people didn’t respond,” Graham told the Blade in an interview on Tuesday.

“I’m not bitter. I’m not unhappy,” Graham said. “I’m not resentful. You know, it took me a while to decide to even run. I got a very late start,” he said. “It’s another adventure for me in life.”

Graham acknowledges that the ethics charge filed against him over his taking sides in a Metro development contract matter that led to his Council colleagues voting to reprimand him played a role in the outcome of the election.

But he said the decision to move the primary from its traditional date in September to April 1 also prevented him from running a campaign as effectively as he would have liked. Graham noted that the traditional September primaries came at a time when the Council was in recess for the summer.

“I found it very hard to campaign, be a chairman of a committee, to be a full-time Council member, and to be a fundraiser,” he said. “It’s very, very hard to do it all in a difficult race. If you have an easy race it’s not a problem.”

Graham also took strong exception to claims by some in the LGBT community that it’s no longer necessary to have an openly LGBT Council member in a city in which virtually all elected officials and all serious candidates – including Nadeau – are strong supporters of LGBT rights.

“Well they’ve said that before,” said Graham. “So why don’t they tell the Victory Fund to shut down?”

He was referring to Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, a national LGBT organization that raises money to elect openly LGBT candidates across the country.

“And is Harvey Milk going to turn over in his grave?” he said. “It’s absurd on its face. There’s no need for a Victory Fund? There’s no need for an NAACP? There’s no need for the National Council of La Raza? It’s absurd.”

 

Washington Blade: We’d like to get your perspective on why the Ward 1 election turned out the way it did. Some of your supporters are pointing to the Washington Post’s criticism of you in its editorials.

Jim Graham: Well you know it was 27 editorials in about 11 months — all negative, all on a single person. It does have an impact. There’s no question about that. But I think ultimately the answer to your question is simple, because her people came out and voted and my people, for whatever reason, did not respond the same way.

So, you know, that’s what happened. So she won. And I think to some extent I was running against the Washington Post…

And the bottom line is she brought out her people and my people didn’t respond. I don’t know if it was because of the weather or the early primary or what it was. People have said to me, well run again as an independent, and there will be a greater turnout. There may be some truth to that but we’ll never know.

 

Blade: It was a record low turnout.

Graham: Oh my God, I had precincts where the voting was at 17 percent. And there were precincts which she carried by a vote or two that, had they voted, she would have lost. But that’s all just academic at this point.

I had a cordial exchange of emails with her. And if she wins the final election I offered to help her with the transition if she wants.

 

Blade: In terms of your own campaign, did you do things differently based on what you were facing?

Graham: You know you can do that Monday morning quarter backing. She got more votes, and it was a very light turnout, and that coupled with the changing demographics in the ward and the Washington Post editorials. And there was a general feeling for change because of all of my Council colleagues who have gone to jail or who are going to jail. And with Gray, what [U.S. Attorney Ronald] Machen did to Gray is unbelievable in its impact on the votes. All of that made it a very difficult election for me to win. And she was shrewd and tactical. That’s what I would say.

I’m not bitter. I’m not unhappy. I’m not resentful. You know, it took me a while to decide to even run. I got a very late start. I raised a lot of money in about five weeks, but – but I got the feeling for what I needed to get. It’s another adventure for me in life…

I’m not feeling cross or angry or any of those feelings. I really am not. I’m just feeling like, OK, let’s get on with it. Now, this nine month interregnum – oh my God. And you can see what’s happening because with Mayor Gray’s administration there are people who are leaving. He’s lost his transportation director and there’s going to be more that will follow. People have to look for jobs for themselves. It’s a very difficult time…

I found it very hard to campaign, be a chairman of a committee, to be a full-time Council member, and to be a fundraiser. It’s very, very hard to do it all in a difficult race. If you have an easy race it’s not a problem…

I never ran a campaign like this. My campaigns were always in August or September or late July. It was hot, but you only had one purpose in life, which is to run an election. I had a lot of purposes this time.

…If you have a tough campaign, wow. You’re trying to chair a hearing; you’re trying to prepare for a hearing plus all the other demands on your time. It’s very difficult actually. So I’m not sure I want to have it in June also.

 

Blade: Some people have said during this campaign that it may no longer be necessary to have an openly gay member of the D.C. Council because all the candidates and incumbents are so supportive. They say straight allies are now just as capable of advancing LGBT issues as an LGBT Council member.

Graham: Well they’ve said that before. So why don’t we tell the Victory Fund to shut down? And is Harvey Milk going to turn over in his grave? It’s absurd on its face. There’s no need for a Victory Fund? There’s no need for an NAACP? There’s no need for the National Council of La Raza? It’s absurd. Why are they saying that?

10
Apr
2014

Washington Post publishes pro-Russia supplement

Washington Post, Russia, Kremlin, gay news, Washington Blade

The Washington Post on October 9 ran a paid supplement from a Kremlin-backed Russian newspaper.

The Washington Post’s Oct. 9 print edition included a paid supplement produced by a Kremlin-backed newspaper that lacked any references to the ongoing controversy over Russia’s LGBT rights record.

Rossiyskaya Gazetá produced the insert – Russia Beyond the Headlines – that contained, among other things, an op-ed from Jeffrey Mankoff of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in D.C. He cited portions of the speech that Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered during a meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club, a Russian think tank, that took place last month.

“Discussing his own view of Russian identity, Putin criticized the West for abandoning its Christian roots and ‘placing on the same level families with many children and single-sex partnerships, belief in God and belief in Satan,’” Putin said, according to Mankoff. “This cultural relativity, according to Putin, is ‘a direct path to degradation and primitivization, to a deep demographic and ethical crisis.’”

The Oct. 9 supplement is not the first time the Washington Post has published a Russia-specific insert.

The newspaper first published a Russia-themed supplement – Russia Now – in 2007.

Russia Beyond the Headlines said in a press release last month it decided earlier this year to redesign and revamp the supplement. It reappeared under the aforementioned name in the Washington Post’s Sept. 11 issue with a lead story that focused on the controversy surrounding the Russian law that bans gay propaganda to minors.

The article quoted Lyudmila Alexeyeva of the Moscow Helsinki Group, an organization that monitors human rights in Russia, as describing the statute that Putin signed in June as “a step toward the Middle Ages.” The Sept. 11 supplement reported Kirill Kobrin of Radio Free Europe’s Russia Service said he feels “it was unthinkable to even discuss these issues 20 years ago in Russia.”

“Under the Kremlin’s lead, LGBT rights are the focus of public attention and debate in Russia – albeit censored debate,” the Russia Beyond the Headlines article reads.

The New York Times on Sept. 18 published an eight-page Russia Beyond the Headlines supplement that contained articles about the gay propaganda law and coming out in the country. Putin reiterated his opposition to air strikes in Syria in an op-ed that ran in the newspaper less than a week earlier.

Ketchum PR, a public relations firm that represents Putin, placed it in the New York Times. Pro Publica reported the New York-based company received more than $1.9 million in fees and expense reimbursements from the Russian government from December 2012 through May.

The New York Times included another Russia supplement in its Oct. 16 print edition that contained an article on the arrest of 30 Greenpeace members last month who tried to board a Russian oil platform. The insert also contained a reference to the LGBT advocates who protested Russia’s gay rights record during the Metropolitan Opera’s opening night gala in New York last month.

Washington Post spokesperson Jennifer Lee declined to tell the Washington Blade how much the Russia Beyond the Headlines insert cost, but she confirmed it was a paid supplement and the advertiser provided the content. It contained a disclosure on the front page that said “it did not involve the news or editorial departments of the Washington Post.”

The top margin of each subsequent page contained a disclosure that stated the insert was “a paid supplement to the Washington Post.”

Observers and even journalists themselves have questioned the way Russian media outlets have covered the gay propaganda law, Russia’s LGBT rights record and the controversy surrounding it.

Gay American journalist Jamie Kirchick on Aug. 21 challenged Russia’s LGBT rights record during an interview with the Kremlin-backed television network RT on the sentencing of former U.S. Army private Chelsea Manning to 35 years in prison for leaking classified documents to Wikileaks.

“Being here on a Kremlin-funded propaganda network I’m going to wear my gay pride suspenders and I’m going to speak out against the horrific anti-gay legislation that Vladimir Putin has signed into law, that passed unanimously by the Russian Duma that criminalizes homosexual propaganda,” Kirchick told anchor Yulia Shapovalova. “It effectively makes it illegal to talk about homosexuality in public. We’ve seen a spate of violent attacks on gay people in Russia.”

RT aired a segment on calls to boycott the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, in response to the country’s LGBT rights record less than two weeks before Kirchick appeared on the network to discuss Manning. The journalist further criticized Shapovalova and her colleagues before RT took him off the air.

Anton Krasovsky, the former editor-in-chief of the pro-Kremlin Kontr TV, said the television station fired him in January after he came out as gay during a segment on the gay propaganda law.

The Washington Post in recent weeks has published a number of stories on the controversy over Russia’s LGBT rights record and how it threatens to overshadow the Sochi games. These include a Sept. 26 article on the International Olympic Committee’s position that it has no authority to challenge the gay propaganda law and Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals’ response to a question about it during the lighting of the Olympic torch in Greece late last month.

Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, who bought the Washington Post in August and contributed $2.5 million to a group that backed a successful 2012 ballot measure that secured marriage rights for same-sex couples in Washington State, did not return the Blade’s request for comment.

Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute, a media ethics watchdog, told the Blade that paid supplements and advertorials have become common in newspapers. She noted the Washington Post’s use of different fonts throughout the Russia Beyond the Headlines supplement is “common practice” and “is amazingly effective at cueing regular readers to advertising content.”

“Combined with the disclosures, it looks to me the [Washington Post] is within the standard practice of the industry,” McBride said.

16
Oct
2013

Putin’s unlikely American allies

Vladimir Putin, Russia, gay news, Washington Blade

Russian President Vladimir Putin (Photo public domain)

Vladimir Putin has found some unlikely U.S. allies in his efforts at smearing lipstick on the pig that is his oppressive government.

MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts, who’s gay, released a self-important announcement last week that he plans to co-host the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow, crowing that “courage is contagious.”

“I am not going to boycott,” Thomas writes. “Boycotting and vilifying from the outside is too easy. Rather, I choose to offer my support of the LGBT community in Russia by going to Moscow and hosting this event as a journalist, an anchor and a man who happens to be gay. Let people see I am no different than anyone else.”

Let’s unpack this fantastical statement. First, those who have assailed Putin’s anti-gay laws aren’t “vilifying” Putin or Russia. They are rightly condemning harsh laws that have led to violent attacks on Russian gays. That chorus has included figures from President Obama to Bravo’s Andy Cohen (who turned down the Miss Universe hosting job) to newly out actor Wentworth Miller. They have condemned Russia’s push to criminalize pro-gay “propaganda” and efforts to ban couples from countries where same-sex marriage is legal from adopting children.

Second, touting your journalistic credentials while accepting a cheesy gig from none other than Donald Trump, who owns the pageant, is downright laughable. Trump has been outspoken in his staunch opposition to marriage equality. Rather than take questions from actual journalists, Roberts interviewed Trump on his own show to discuss the controversy last week. The two talked a big game of taking on Putin’s anti-gay laws.

“The gay groups in Moscow are loving the fact that we are going over there,” Trump said. “ … So I think that you’re going to do something about it, and I think that I’m going to do something about it.”

They didn’t elaborate on what exactly they plan to do about it, nor did they name any Russian gay groups that are allegedly celebrating this tawdry pandering.

Finally, Roberts thinks that allowing viewers to see that he’s “no different from anyone else” will somehow improve life for Russian gays. The reality is that viewers won’t see anything that Russian censors don’t want to be shown. Viewers will see the photogenic Roberts dutifully reading his teleprompter, towing the line for his homophobic boss Trump.

Roberts’ ego knows no bounds as he compares his “courage” to that of Harvey Milk, writing, “I go to prove there’s hope.” Roberts’ actions — accepting a big fat paycheck from a homophobic Tea Party birther like Trump to host a beauty pageant — bare no resemblance to activism or journalism. Roberts is shilling for Trump’s corporate interests and, in the process, giving cover to an oppressive government. He should reconsider and drop out of this train wreck if he hopes to preserve whatever is left of his credibility.

And Roberts isn’t alone in giving cover and comfort to Putin. The Washington Post and New York Times continue to publish supplements, thinly disguised as “advertorials,” paid for by the Russian government. The special sections are inserted into the print editions of the newspapers and amount to nothing more than pro-Putin propaganda.

Publishers make decisions all the time about what kinds of advertising to accept and reject, including ads for alcohol, cigarettes and sexually oriented businesses, among others. The Post and Times cover Putin’s anti-gay efforts on their editorial pages but then, as readers turn the page, they are subjected to unchecked pro-Putin propaganda. Surely Jeff Bezos, the Post’s new owner and $21 billion man, doesn’t need Putin’s money. He’s talked of reinventing newspapers for the digital age. Let’s hope the industry’s future doesn’t lie in trading credibility for a quick buck from dictators, despots and killers like Putin.

Kevin Naff is editor of the Washington Blade. Reach him at knaff@washblade.com.

21
Oct
2013

AIDS groups coping as contractor stops paying Medicaid claims

Vince Gray, Washington D.C., Gay News, Washington Blade

‘In light of the financial problems of Chartered, I will be taking steps to protect the District’s health care provider network,’ said Mayor Vincent Gray in a statement. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Whitman-Walker Health and several other D.C. health care organizations say they are continuing to provide services to Medicaid clients with HIV/AIDS following the announcement in April that a city contractor had stopped paying Medicaid claims.

Whitman-Walker and several other local providers serving HIV/AIDS patients told the Blade they have so far managed to get by without getting paid for patients on Medicaid following the financial collapse of a city contractor that has operated D.C.’s Medicaid program.

A Washington Post story on Sunday reported that many small health care providers, including doctors’ offices and small clinics serving low-income clients, were struggling to keep their doors open since the Medicaid payments stopped last month.

The Medicaid problem began earlier this year when Chartered Health Plan, the company that arranged for Medicaid payments to doctors, hospitals, and other health care providers entered into voluntary receivership after encountering severe financial problems.

Under its contract with the city, Chartered managed Medicaid related issues for more than 100,000 low-income D.C. residents, according to a statement released in April by the D.C. Department of Health Care Finance.

The Post reported that Chartered Health Plan, once a multimillion dollar company, faced near financial collapse this year as an apparent result of revelations in late 2010 that its owner, Jeffrey E. Thompson, allegedly financed a “shadow campaign” in support of Vincent Gray’s 2010 mayoral election.

The United States Attorney’s office continues to investigate issues surrounding the campaign, which the city’s Office of Campaign Finance has said violated the city’s campaign finance law. Gray has said he had no knowledge of the so-called shadow campaign and has cooperated with investigators looking into the matter.

Whitman-Walker spokesperson Chip Lewis said Chartered owes Whitman-Walker just over $40,000 in back Medicaid payments for patient services.

“Whitman-Walker Health is absorbing the delay in payments from Chartered Health Plan within our current operations,” Lewis told the Blade. “Going forward, we do not anticipate this outstanding balance will create a major financial burden as it is a relatively small amount of funds compared to our monthly operating budget of $2.2 million.”

Ron Simmons, executive director of Us Helping Us, and Lloyd Buckner, executive director of MetroHealth, formerly known as the Carl Vogel Center, said the city’s Medicaid payment delays haven’t adversely impacted their respective organizations at this time.

Both organizations provide services for people with HIV/AIDS and both accept patients on Medicaid, the two said.

Michael Weinstein, director of the Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which operates an AIDS clinic and pharmacy in D.C., said, “Medicaid is not a big funder to our clinic” and the interruption of Medicaid payments in D.C. “is not significant to us.”

An official with La Clinica del Pueblo, a D.C. clinic that provides AIDS-related medical services for the Latino community, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

“In light of the financial problems of Chartered, I will be taking steps to protect the District’s health care provider network that has taken years for us to develop,” Mayor Gray said in a statement in April.

“My primary goal is to protect the stability of the community-based providers that will be at risk of closing their doors and turning away patients if there is a significant delay in being paid,” Gray said.

Gray said that he directed his Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services, BB Otero, and the Department of Health Care Finance to develop a plan to provide relief for providers hit the hardest by the Medicaid payment cutoff.

The Post reported that since the time of the mayor’s announcement last month the city has retained a new company, AmeriHealth Caritas of Philadelphia, to replace Chartered Health as the city’s lead contractor for Medicaid services.

30
May
2013

Donald Despertt, 30

Donald Despertt. (Screen shot via LinkedIn.com)

Donald Despertt. (Screen shot via LinkedIn.com)

Donald Allen Despertt, a senior advertising coordinator at the Washington Post who was involved with a separate business that produces entertainment events, including LGBT and AIDS fundraising events, died in Washington on June 17. He was 30.

In recent years, Donald Despertt served as a volunteer event organizer for D.C. Black Pride, one of the city’s largest LGBT events, in his role as chief operating officer at Omega Entertainment, an event planning company, according to his friend Michael Stratton.

Despertt’s interest in business and entrepreneurship surfaced in a May 1999 article in the Washington Times when he was a junior at D.C.’s Theodore Roosevelt High School. The article noted that he began training for a career as an entrepreneur in the sixth grade and started his own baking business when he was 15.

Biographical information posted on his LinkedIn page says he won the National Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award from the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship in 1999. One year earlier, the same organization named Donald Despertt first place winner in its Business Plan Competition contest.

He graduated from Roosevelt High as class valedictorian in 2000 before beginning his undergraduate studies at Georgetown University in marketing, operations and information management. He later served as advertising manager for The Hoya, the Georgetown University student newspaper.

In 2010 and 2011 Despertt served as director of men’s promotion for the White Attire Affair fundraising event for Al Sura, a D.C. charitable foundation that gives money to AIDS service organizations.

“He was a wonderful person who did all he could to help community organizations that helped people,” said Abur-Rahim Briggs, president of Al Sura.

A viewing and funeral service were scheduled for 10 a.m. Wednesday, July 3, at Peace Baptist Church at 712 18th St., N.E. Interment was scheduled to follow the service at D.C.’s Glenwood Cemetery.

02
Jul
2013