March 25, 2011 | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
GLAA grades Council hopefuls

GLAA (Blade file photo)

D.C. City Council candidates Sekou Biddle and Bryan Weaver, both Democrats, each received a rating of +5.5 this week from the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, the highest score given by the group for the nine Council candidates running in the city’s April 26 special election.

GLAA, a non-partisan political group, rates candidates on LGBT and some non-LGBT issues on a scale of -10 to +10. The group says it bases its ratings on responses given by candidates to a GLAA questionnaire and on their past record on LGBT and AIDS issues.

“No candidates in the April 26 special election for At-Large D.C. Council member approached the ‘perfect tens’ from the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance that were earned in recent elections by Council members Jack Evans, David Catania, Jim Graham, and Phil Mendelson,” the group said in a statement. Catania and Graham are openly gay.

Republican candidate Patrick Mara and Statehood-Green Party candidate Alan Page each received a +4 rating. Democrat Vincent Orange, a former Ward 5 Council member, received a 3.5 rating; and Democrat Joshua Lopez, an aide to former Mayor Adrian Fenty, received a +2.5.

Democratic candidates Tom Brown and Dorothy Douglas and independent candidate Arkan Haile each received a rating of “0.” GLAA said the three failed to return the questionnaire and the group automatically assigns a 0 rating to such candidates unless it can verify a past record on LGBT related issues.

Each of the candidates that returned the questionnaire expressed support for LGBT rights, including support for the city’s same-sex marriage law.

In a statement accompanying the release of its ratings, GLAA acknowledged that the candidates indicated in their questionnaire responses that they support GLAA’s positions on nearly each of the 14 issues the group raised in its questions. It said most of the candidates lost points by not providing sufficient substance to their responses, which, according to the group, would demonstrate a better grasp and understanding of the issues.

“We just don’t want yes or no answers,” said GLAA Vice President Rick Rosendall. “We want the substance behind the answers.”

Rosendall said the substantive issues surrounding each of the questions asked of the candidates are included in a 24-page GLAA “agenda” briefing paper for the D.C. LGBT community published on the group’s website. He said the group sent each candidate a copy of the paper along with the questionnaire.

The subjects covered in the questionnaire, among other things, include marriage and family, public health, public safety, human rights, youth, and protection for LGBT consumers and businesses – all in connection to how they pertain to the LGBT community, according GLAA.

One question asks what steps the candidates would take to improve the performance of the city’s AIDS office. Another asks, “Do you support the right of adults in the District to choose adult-oriented entertainment for themselves, and the right of appropriately licensed and zoned businesses to provide it?”

All of the candidates answering the questionnaire responded with a “yes” answer to the latter question, although they gave differing explanations of their views on the subject of adult businesses.

Each of the candidates except one — Statehood-Green Party candidate Page — gave a “no” answer to a question asking if they would consider supporting decriminalizing, zoning, taxing, and regulating prostitution in the District. GLAA noted in its questionnaire that marginalized groups such as low-income LGBT and transgender youth sometimes turn to prostitution as a means of economic survival and often are subjected to further difficulties if arrested for engaging in the sex trade.

Page and the other candidates said their favored solution to the problems of LGBT and trans youth is city sponsored job training , substance abuse counseling, and enforcement of non-discrimination laws that would eliminate the need for marginalized groups to turn to prostitution for survival.

GLAA said Biddle’s questionnaire was “generally positive but offered limited substance and was often vague.” The Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city’s largest LGBT political group, endorsed Biddle.

Mara, who is currently a member of the city’s board of education from Ward 1, has expressed strong support for LGBT rights, including same-sex marriage. GLAA said he lost points on his rating, among other things, because he lobbied Congress for a federal school voucher program. The program pays D.C. students’ tuition in private, religious elementary and secondary schools that are exempt from the city’s human rights law, which bans discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

In his questionnaire response, Mara said he backs the program because it allows students from low-income familiar to attend schools considered better academically than city public schools.

Mara this week received the endorsement of the GLBT group Log Cabin Republicans of Washington.

Copies of the candidates’ responses to the GLAA questionnaire and a breakdown of their ratings by points can be viewed at www.glaa.org.

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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