A spokesperson for D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty issued an apology Thursday for a mayoral Certificate of Appreciation awarded to the leader of the anti-gay group Parents & Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays known as PFOX.
PFOX characterizes homosexuality in its literature as a psychological disorder and says gays can change their sexual orientation to become heterosexual through “reparative therapy.” LGBT organizations have pointed to scientific literature refuting such claims and have denounced reparative therapy, saying it’s harmful and based on “junk science.”
“A staff level error was made when the request for the certificate in question was fulfilled,” Mafara Hobson, Fenty’s communications director, told the Gay & Lesbian Activists Alliance in an e-mail.
“The mayor is proud of his ardent support of the LGBT community as illustrated in his championing of the Marriage Equality legislation he signed into law on December 18, 2009,” Hobson wrote in her e-mail.
Hobson’s apology on behalf of the mayor came after GLAA and other LGBT groups learned of the November certificate from a PFOX press release. PFOX issued the press release Wednesday — some six months after the mayor’s office issued the certificate.
The certificate says, “Government of the District of Columbia — Certificate of Appreciation is hereby awarded to Regina Griggs — In recognition of your dedication, commitment and outstanding contributions as Executive Director of Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays.” The document bears Fenty’s signature.
Hobson told the Washington Blade on Thursday that similar to the hundreds of honorary certificates and proclamations that the mayor’s office issues each year, the mayor’s signature was affixed to the PFOX award by an “auto pen.”
She said Fenty neither saw nor knew anything about the matter until activists brought it to the attention of the mayor’s office Wednesday.
GLAA Vice President Rick Rosendall noted that in 2007, the mayor’s office issued a ceremonial proclamation to an organization calling for abstinence until marraige as a policy for curtailing AIDS in the city. In response to complaints by LGBT and AIDS activists, the mayor’s office acknowledged the award application was not properly vetted and noted the office processing such awards would tighten its vetting process.
One District government source familiar with the newest misstep, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said a staff person within the Mayor’s Office of the Secretary, which processes ceremonial certificates and proclamations, failed to follow the standard vetting procedures required for such documents.
The source said the staffer apparently treated the PFOX application for the award for Griggs as a request to honor a private citizen for an occasion such as a 90th birthday or graduation, which calls for a less rigorous vetting.
According to the source, procedures established in the Office of the Secretary call for including the Mayor’s Office of GLBT Affairs in the vetting of all LGBT-related applications for certificates and proclamations. Christopher Dyer, the head of the GLBT Affairs Office, was never contacted about the matter, which amounted to a breach of the procedures, said the source.
On its web site, GLLA noted that Fenty pledged during his 2006 mayoral campaign not to issue awards or ceremonial tributes to individuals and groups that advocate discrimination against minorities, including LGBT people.
Gay activist Bob Summersgill posted a message on the GLLA web site forum saying the mayor’s office did not go far enough in its apology. He noted that Hobson’s public statement did not answer GLAA’s specific questions of who in the mayor’s office approved and processed the certificate and what actions have been taken to prevent a similar development from happening again.
GLAA members also called on Fenty to issue a statement denouncing the so-called ex-gay movement that Griggs represents.
A separate District government source who spoke on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to speak to the media said the mayor’s office has issued numerous ceremonial tributes to LGBT organizations and events, including the Mid-Atlantic Leather Weekend events.
“Our record is clear on where we stand on the LGBT community,” said that source.
But mayoral candidate and D.C. Council Chairman Vincent Gray called the decision by Fenty’s office to issue an award to the leader of anti-gay group an “embarrassment” to the city.
“For the mayor to issue a certificate of appreciation honoring an organization that has done so much to alienate so many is not only an insult to the LGBT community, it is yet another example of the insensitivity of his administration,” Gray said in a statement.
“It is an embarrassment to our city that he would make such an offensive mistake,” he said. “It was the mayor’s signature on the certificate, not a staff-member’s, and I hope the mayor will personally take responsibility.”
Gray’s decision to weigh in on the situation was expected to interject the matter into a mayoral campaign in which the LGBT community is expected to be divided between Fenty and Gray. Both politicians have strong records of support for LGBT rights.
Griggs did not return calls from the Blade seeking comment, but she told the Washington Post, “I obviously didn’t nominate myself. This was brought to the mayor by a D.C. resident, and I was given an award.”
She told the Post that ex-gays “have a right to self-determination.”