By ANGELA FERRELL-ZABALA
As a queer woman of color and committed activist, I am saddened by the efforts to invalidate the recent election and the allegations of voter fraud. As a former member of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club (GSDC), I’m surprised that the executive committee would not jump at the chance to have people that look like me as an integral part of the organization.
The Gertrude Stein Club was founded to fight disenfranchisement of LGBT people, and to ensure a strong voice for our community. I joined Stein in 2008 as the national narrative around LGBT individuals and families grew increasingly inflammatory and divisive. It was important for me to be a part of an organized community that would be active in representing the interests of queer people locally, both members and non-members. After attending a couple of Stein meetings and events I felt that the club did not have diverse representation in age, race or economic status, and did not seem to do the intentional outreach to the most marginalized within our community.
As a result of a lack of work that addressed queer people of color communities, I made the choice to allow my membership to expire. I left with no hard feelings, but instead had the understanding that Stein just didn’t do the kind of work closest to my heart.
Fast-forward to December 2012 when I learned that three vibrant individuals were elected to the Executive Committee of GSDC. I was absolutely thrilled — their election reignited my interest in Stein’s future work. Disappointment quickly followed as I heard that new members were being questioned and rumblings of invalidating the election results were being thrown around. Was this the conclusion made by the entire membership or just the urging of a few? Exclusionary tactics and frivolous claims of voter misrepresentation are not consistent with the Stein bylaws, and is an affront to the leaders who have fought against these suppression tactics for women, people of color and young people.
On Dec. 3, 2012, the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club narrowly elected Martín Garcia as President (47-45), Angela Peoples as Vice President for Political and Legislative Affairs (47-44), and Vincent Paolo Villano as Vice President for Administration (48-41), upending the established leadership of the Stein Club. Organizing efforts in the days leading up to the election added nearly 50 new voting members, and raised more than $1,100 in additional club revenue. These new voters are primarily young, low-income and people of color who are eager to contribute to the challenging task of improving the lives of LGBT people in the District.
These new members believe, as I do, that the Gertrude Stein Club is the right home for them to lend their time and talent. To greet these newcomers with accusations of fraud or be forced through an arbitrary voter verification process is an abuse of power by the Executive Committee, and does injury to the mission and history of Stein.
We should be making it easier — not harder — for members to participate in Stein Club activities. Burdening members with an intrusive process of income or address verification, neither of which is listed in the bylaws as requirements for membership, wrongly sends the message that these new members are unwanted.
I did not attend the election and could not cast a vote, but I am confident that each candidate presented a powerful vision for Stein’s future. Each member voted for the candidate they thought best. And I applaud Garcia, Williams and anyone willing to step up as leaders of the Club. The results of the election are clear, however, the integrity and vitality of the organization faces doubt. I have reinstated my membership and added my wife as a new member to help give voice to these concerns.
Low-income, youth and people of color are often the hardest communities to engage in the political process and are significantly affected by the policies brought about by changes in elected leadership. The Stein Club cannot afford to create a perception that low-income, youth and people of color are unwelcome.
I along with many others within our community am ready to embrace the new leadership and get to work on the many issues that are impacting LGBT folks in the District. These tactics serve only as distracting and polarizing. I would like to see us move forward.
The Executive Committee that so willingly risked the reputation of Stein should cancel the special meeting, honor the election outcome and support Garcia, Peoples and Villano in a proper leadership transition.