December 18, 2009 | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Activists denounce changes to gay police unit

Four local LGBT organizations have issued a joint statement calling D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier’s plan to overhaul the department’s Gay & Lesbian Liaison Unit “ill-conceived” and a “severe disappointment” to the community.

“Today a broad coalition of D.C.’s LGBT community groups stand together to express our severe disappointment with the Metropolitan Police Department’s ill-conceived plan to restructure the Gay & Lesbian Liaison Unit,” says the Dec. 9 statement.

“An award-winning unit has been effectively dismantled without meaningful input from the very community that unit serves,” it says. “Lanier is quick to point out that she and her staff have held meetings with community members to discuss their plans, but she fails to mention that not one critique of her plan was accepted.”

Groups that signed the statement include the D.C. Trans Coalition, Gay & Lesbian Activists Alliance, Gays & Lesbians Opposing Violence, and Gertrude Stein Democratic Club.

Lanier has insisted her reorganization plan would strengthen the GLLU and three other special liaison units serving the Latino, Asian-Pacific Islander, and deaf and hard of hearing communities.

She has said that by decentralizing the units to each of the seven police districts and assigning more officers to each unit, the units would be far more responsive and effective than under the old system, where the units worked out of a central headquarters.

But representatives of the four groups that issued the statement said Lanier has effectively dismantled the central GLLU by reducing its staff through attrition from seven to one full-time officer and one part-time sergeant. At the same time, they argue that Lanier only this month began to train new officers to staff the decentralized structure, and no GLLU officers have been assigned to any of the seven districts.

The two-page statement, published on the GLAA web site, cites 10 specific deficiencies in the GLLU’s reorganization plan, including what it calls an inadequate training program for GLLU or GLLU affiliated officers. The statement says the training, among other things, doesn’t devote enough attention to transgender-related issues and gay-related domestic violence cases, which have comprised 82 percent of the GLLU’s caseload.

LOU CHIBBARO JR.

Local gay chamber of commerce hires director

The Capital Area Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce has named a gay businessman as its first executive director.

Mark Guenther, the Washington Blade’s former sales and marketing director, is leaving his current job as operations director at GSI Specialties to work full time for the chamber. His new job — the chamber’s first paid position — begins in January.

“This is a dream position for me,” he told DC Agenda. “I want to fulfill the vision that we put out there, the objectives that we feel are obtainable.”

The Capital Area Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce works to advocate, promote and facilitate the success of LGBT businesses and their allies in the metro D.C. region. It’s known for hosting Network Thursday socials and other professional development sessions. The organization was previously known as the Potomac Executive Network or PEN.

Guenther, who has served on the chamber’s board for four years, said he helped develop a plan for the organization “to earn and spend money over the next 12 months” that included the executive director position. He declined to comment on his slated pay as executive director.

“You can look at this as an expense or as an investment,” he said. “I think the board all looks at this as an investment for the future, for what we can achieve for the community.”

Ken White, the chamber’s president, agreed. He said the board’s vote Dec. 8 to establish the executive director position and hire Guenther was “a leap of faith” for the previously all-volunteer organization.

“This has been a really great year for the chamber with our name change and increased excitement about our activities and programs and services,” White said. “We came to a point where we were thinking that we could take this chamber to the next level if we brought aboard someone dedicated to this on a full-time basis.”

White said Guenther will focus on increasing chamber membership and corporate partnerships, and work to “add value” to the organization’s members and supporters.

Guenther said he’s planning to work from his home office as executive director, but the chamber “would love to have a real address” and is evaluating an office space option.

JOSHUA LYNSEN

Cheatam elected to D.C. Democratic Party committee

Veteran lesbian activist Carlene Cheatam was one of two openly LGBT people elected this month to fill vacant seats on the D.C. Democratic State Committee, which serves as the governing body of the city’s Democratic Party.

The committee on Dec. 3 elected Cheatam and D.C. gay Democratic activist Ed Potillo, both from Ward 7, to at-large seats on the 82-member committee. Gay Democratic activist David Meadow, a member and spokesperson for the D.C. Democratic State Committee, said the election of Cheatam and Potillo brings the total number of open gays on the panel to 11.

Earlier this year, the committee passed a resolution endorsing legislation to legalize same-sex marriage in the District. Cheatam has been among the lead local advocates for same-sex marriage.

LOU CHIBBARO JR.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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