At least a dozen LGBT activists joined more than 500 city residents on Saturday for Mayor Vincent Gray’s first rally to launch his 2014 re-election campaign.
Several of the activists said Gray’s mention of LGBT people two times in his speech at the rally highlighted his long record of support for the LGBT community.
The event was held in a packed auditorium at an arts and recreation center on Mississippi Avenue in Southeast D.C. known as THEARC.
“I look around this room and I see folks from every part of our city,” Gray told the gathering. “I see enormous talent and tireless dedication. I see white, I see black, I see brown, and every color in between,” he said.
“I see straight, I see gay, and I see transgender. I see rich and I see poor,” he said. “But above all, I see what makes us the greatest city in the greatest country on Earth — I see a community.”
In another part of his speech Gray said the accomplishments of his first term included his longstanding effort to unify the city’s diverse and growing population.
“We are bringing together young and old, black, brown and white, Latino, Asian, immigrants from throughout the world, gay, straight, able and disabled,” he said.
Gray is being challenged by eight candidates in the city’s April 1 Democratic primary, including four City Council members, all of whom have records of support on LGBT issues.
Much of the coverage of Gray’s speech by the media focused on his apology to the city for the campaign finance irregularities associated with his 2010 mayoral campaign, which led to criminal charges and guilty pleas by four of his top campaign staff members. Gray has said the campaign finance law violations by the four staffers happened without his knowledge.
“I know that the 2010 campaign caused many people great pain,” Gray said in his speech. “I know that our city suffered embarrassment. Today, I apologize to you for the pain that my campaign caused. I ask for your forgiveness.”
Gray added, “Although I cannot apologize for the misdeeds of others, the 2010 campaign was my campaign, and I am deeply sorry for the pain and embarrassment it caused.”
The LGBT activists attending the rally joined virtually everyone one else in the packed auditorium in rising to their feet to give Gray a prolonged ovation in response to his apology. Many in the audience chanted, “Four more years, four more years” before sitting down to listen to the remainder of Gray’s speech.
“I thought it went extremely well,” said gay Democratic activist Lane Hudson, a member of Gray’s 2014 campaign finance committee.
“It’s an overflow crowd. There are hundreds and hundreds of people here,” Hudson said. “The mayor gave a great speech. He addressed very well the 2010 election issue and laid out a real clear vision for the next four years.”
Asked how the LGBT vote is likely to break down in the April 1 primary, Hudson said, “I think it will probably split just like it did in the last election. But one thing that’s clear is Vince Gray is the best mayor in the entire country on LGBT issues.”
At least four prominent transgender activists attended the rally, including Earline Budd, Jeri Hughes and Alexandra Beninda. Budd and Beninda were appointed by Gray to the D.C. Human Rights Commission as the first-ever transgender people to serve on the commission.
“He has done what I think is vital to this city in so many ways in terms of economic development,” said Beninda. “Within our transgender community he definitely has a place in our hearts because he has done so much – with Project Empowerment, with the Transgender Awareness Campaign,” she said in referring to a city-sponsored job training program and a trans related non-discrimination campaign initiated by Gray.
“He has done more than anybody else has ever done in the city for the transgender community,” Beninda said.
Hughes and Budd said Gray, while breaking new ground in his support for the transgender community, has an exceptionally strong record in support of the entire LGBT community. The two also said the city as a whole has prospered under Gray’s tenure as mayor.
LGBT activists who are backing other candidates, including Council members Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) and Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), have said those candidates are also strong supporters of LGBT rights and that LGBT people should select a candidate based on non-LGBT issues.
Longtime gay activists Deacon Maccubbin and Bob Summersgill said they are backing Wells over Gray, among thing things, because Wells has a stronger record on ethics in government issues.
Gay rights advocate and D.C. Department of Health official Ivan Torres, who attended the Gray rally on Saturday, said he believes Gray comes out ahead on non-LGBT issues.
“You can have any preferences that you like,” Torres said in referring to LGBT people supporting candidates running against Gray. “But you cannot deny that in the past four years Washington, D.C. has gone forward — forward in so many ways — economic development, the unemployment rate has gone down, and development is there, and the integration of us gay people, the gay and lesbian community, the transgender community into governance.”