Frank Kameny’s death is our pick for the top local news story of 2011. Here are the rest of the top 10 local news stories of the year.
#2 Md. marriage bill killed, resurrected
A bill to legalize same-sex marriage in Maryland died in the state legislature in March following a controversial behind-the-scenes decision by supportive lawmakers and leaders of LGBT rights groups to cancel a final vote on the bill on grounds that they lacked enough votes to pass it.
The action to pull the bill took place March 11 when the Maryland House of Delegates approved a motion by voice vote to recommit the bill to committee following an emotional two-and-a-half-hour debate over the measure on the House floor. The withdrawal of the bill came less than a month after the Maryland Senate passed the measure, the Civil Marriage Protection Act, by a vote of 25-21.
A little over a month after the bill’s demise, the board of directors of Equality Maryland, the state LGBT advocacy group that led lobbying efforts for the bill, fired its executive director Morgan Meneses-Sheets. The firing prompted the group’s development director, Matthew Thorn, to resign in protest, worsening the group’s existing financial problems and leading to a major shakeup of the board and staff.
Meanwhile, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who backed the bill but didn’t aggressively lobby for it, promised later in the year to take a lead role in pushing the measure in the legislature’s 2012 session, which convenes in January. Supporters are hopeful the bill will pass this time around but are uncertain whether it could survive an expected voter referendum.
#3 Rash of anti-trans violence in D.C.
More than a dozen reported violent attacks against transgender women in D.C. in 2011, including two murders, prompted transgender activist Ruby Corado to declare that the transgender community of D.C. was in crisis.
D.C. police, who made arrests in some of the assaults but not for the two murders, said they have no evidence to indicate a single perpetrator is responsible for the attacks.
In August, an unidentified male suspect shot 23-year-old transgender woman Lashai Mclean to death on Dix St., N.E., near the D.C.-Maryland line. Eleven days later a male suspect fired a gun at another transgender woman just a block from where Mclean was killed. The woman was not hit, but police expressed concern that trans women might have been targeted in that area, which is known as a location where transgender prostitutes congregate.
In September, aerospace engineer Gaurav “Gigi” Gopalan, 35, was found dead on a sidewalk in a residential section of the city’s Columbia Heights neighborhood. Most of his friends said he identified as a gay man, but he was dressed in women’s clothes when found unconscious by police, who said the cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head. No suspects have been identified in the case.
The string of attacks and two murders of victims believed to be targeted because of their gender identity prompted at least two protests by trans activists, who called on police to devote more resources to investigate the mostly unsolved cases of anti-trans violence.
#4 Beating of Md. trans woman caught on video
The beating of 23-year-old transgender woman Chrissy Lee Polis at a McDonald’s restaurant outside Baltimore in April created a national sensation when a video of the attack went viral over the Internet.
The video, made by a McDonald’s employee, showed two teenage girls punching and kicking Polis as she was sprawled on the floor covering her face and head with her arms. At one point, the video showed one of the female attackers dragging Polis across the floor by her hair.
Polis, who suffered non-life threatening injuries, became a human face for what transgender activists say is the longstanding prejudice, misunderstanding and hate-related violence experienced by the transgender community. Public officials, including Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, promised in the wake of the Polis attack to redouble efforts to pass a transgender non-discrimination bill in the Maryland Legislature in 2012.
The two women who attacked Polis, a 19-year-old and a 14-year-old, pleaded guilty to assault and hate crime charges. The 19-year-old was sentenced to five years in prison. Authorities said the 14-year-old was given an undisclosed sentence in the state’s juvenile justice system.
PHOTO: Adam Ebbin
CAPTION: Notoriously anti-gay Virginia elected its first openly gay state senator, Adam Ebbin, who has served in the House of Delegates since 2004.
#5 Adam Ebbin elected first gay Va. state senator
Gay Democrat Adam Ebbin, who has served in the Virginia House of Delegates since 2004, won election in November to the Virginia Senate, becoming the state’s first openly gay senator.
Ebbin defeated Republican challenger and political newcomer Timothy McGhee by a margin of 64 percent to 35 percent. He ran in a district in Northern Virginia with a solid Democratic majority that includes parts of the City of Alexandria and Arlington and Fairfax Counties.
He emerged as an outspoken advocate for LGBT equality during his tenure as the state’s only out gay member of the House of Delegates. He said one of his top priorities in the Senate will be to push legislation to ban job discrimination against state government employees based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
“I am honored by the trust the voters have shown in me,” Ebbin said following his election to the Senate. “During the campaign I listened to the voters’ concerns and will work on behalf of the values we all share: improving our public schools, expanding our transit system and cleaning up Virginia’s environment.”
#6 Ganymede, D.C. Cowboys, Apex say goodbye
Two popular gay arts and entertainment groups announced plans in 2011 to disband and a third venue, the Dupont Circle gay nightclub Apex, closed its doors for good in July.
Ganymede Arts, D.C.’s only gay-specific theater and arts company, announced in April it was closing after a four-year run that included Broadway-style productions of shows such as “Naked Boys Singing” and “Falsettos.”
Members of the company’s board, including director Jeffrey Johnson, cited financial difficulties as the main reason for their decision to close the company.
“Artistically it’s always been very successful,” Johnson said. “But there’s never been anything left over after each production.”
The D.C. Cowboys, a local dance troupe for gay men, also announced its closing, in this case in 2012, after 18 years of performances at clubs, gay rodeos, and the city’s annual LGBT Pride parade and festival.
The group, which some considered a gay Chippendale troupe geared to country-western music, has been praised for the dance talent of its members who sometimes perform bare-chested.
Apex surprised many of its loyal customers when it closed in July without advance notice. Owner Glen Thompson, who also owns the nearby gay bar Omega, sold Apex to Alan Carroll, the owner of the D.C. gay clubs Ziegfelds-Secrets and the lesbian club Phase One. Carroll said he plans to open a new club in the Apex building at 22nd and P St., N.W., that will cater to a mostly lesbian clientele.
#7 New Md. trans group forms after bill dies
A transgender non-discrimination bill died in the Maryland Legislature in April after the State Senate startled supporters by voting 27 to 20 to send the Gender Identity Non-Discrimination Act back to committee.
LGBT advocates lobbying for the bill, including officials with the state LGBT group Equality Maryland, said at least seven Democratic senators who promised to vote for the bill changed their positions and indicated they would vote no if the measure came up for a vote.
The Senate action came one month after the House of Delegates voted 86 to 52 to approve a compromise version of the bill that included protections against discrimination in employment and housing but did not include a prohibition against public accommodations discrimination. Supporters of the bill in the House, including its lead sponsor, said they didn’t have the votes needed to pass the bill if it included a public accommodations provision, which would cover public bathrooms and locker rooms in facilities such as health clubs and gyms.
The bill’s demise prompted transgender activists in the state to launch Gender Rights Maryland, the state’s first statewide transgender advocacy organization. Transgender activist Dana Beyer of Montgomery County, one of the group’s co-founders, said Gender Rights Maryland would coordinate efforts to pass a transgender rights bill in the legislature’s 2012 session.
#8 Delaware approves civil unions
The Delaware Legislature in April approved a civil unions bill that provides same-sex couples with all of the rights and benefits of marriage under Delaware law.
The measure cleared the Delaware House of Representatives by a vote of 26-15 and cleared the State Senate by a vote of 13-6. Gov. Jack Markell, a Democrat, signed the bill.
Lisa Goodman, president of the board of Equality Delaware, a statewide LGBT group coordinating lobbying efforts for the bill, said the group and other LGBT organizations and advocates determined they didn’t have the political support in the state to pass a same-sex marriage bill.
Goodman, an attorney, said the civil unions law would provide same-sex couples and their families, including children, with crucial legal protections that they would not have without the civil unions measure.
#9 Local groups celebrate milestones
The D.C. Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, the city’s oldest continuously operating LGBT rights group, celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2011.
And Whitman-Walker Health, the city’s largest private clinic treating people with HIV and AIDS, organized its 25th annual Washington AIDS Walk, the group’s main fundraising event.
Nov. 15 marked the 50th anniversary of the founding by the Mattachine Society of Washington, the city’s first gay rights advocacy organization. That milestone became less of a celebration than had been expected due to the death a few weeks earlier of Frank Kameny, the group’s co-founder and leader.
Mattachine Society of Washington ceased operating as an organization in the early 1970s, when Kameny and other leaders of the group shifted their efforts to the then newly formed Gay Activists Alliance, which later became the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance. But activists familiar with the city’s gay movement history say Mattachine Society of Washington left an important legacy as a groundbreaking gay advocacy group.
#10 Wone case settlement
Three gay men named as defendants in a $20 million wrongful death lawsuit over the 2006 murder of attorney Robert Wone inside their Dupont Circle area townhouse agreed in August to an out-of-court settlement in the case with Wone’s widow, who filed the lawsuit.
A statement released Aug. 3 by attorneys representing Kathy Wone said defendants Joseph Price, Victor Zaborsky, and Dylan Ward “have agreed to a monetary settlement, including payments to the Robert E. Wone Memorial Trust.”
The statement didn’t disclose the amount of money the defendants agreed to pay Mrs. Wone. It said she would use some of the money to advance the causes her husband believed in, including college scholarships and free legal services to people in need.
The three gay defendants were found not-guilty at a criminal trial in which they were charged with obstruction of justice, conspiracy to obstruct justice and evidence tampering in connection with Wone’s murder. Authorities haven’t charged anyone with the murder. D.C. police and the U.S. Attorney’s office say the case remains open and they continue to seek more evidence to charge someone with Wone’s murder.
Price, Zaborsky, and Ward and their attorneys didn’t respond to requests for comment.