The leader of a local organization that opposes youth gang violence and supports ex-offenders startled participants of a memorial for the late D.C. Mayor Marion Barry on Monday by saying ex-offenders should develop a political agenda and stop acting like “faggots” and “prostrating themselves like females,” according to a report by Washington City Paper columnist Will Sommer.
The report by Sommer, who writes the City Paper’s Loose Lips column, says the anti-gay comment by Al-Malik Farrakhan took place on the steps of the John Wilson Building, which serves as D.C.’s city hall, during an unofficial memorial for Barry.
Farrakhan is the founder and president of the non-profit group Cease Fire: Don’t Smoke The Brothers and Sisters, Inc., which has been praised for persuading youth at risk not to join criminal gangs. He made the anti-gay remark while standing next to D.C. Council member Vincent Orange (D-At-Large), Sommer reported.
Also attending the memorial was Barry’s son, Christopher Barry, and former D.C. Council member Harry Thomas (D-Ward 5), who resigned from the Council in 2012 before pleading guilty to a felony charge of theft of government funds and filing false tax returns. Thomas is completing a prison sentence at a city halfway house.
Orange helped arrange for Farrakhan and representatives of other ex-offender groups to obtain access to the front entrance of the Wilson Building as the site for the Barry memorial ceremony.
People reading the City Paper column immediately began posting comments on social media criticizing Orange for not speaking out at the event against Farrakhan for hurling an anti-gay slur on the steps of city hall at a tribute to Barry who, for most of his career in politics, was a strong supporter of LGBT rights.
“Would you have stood there silent if ‘faggot’ had been [the] ‘N-word?’” asked gay business and nightlife advocate Mark Lee in a Twitter posting.
Political commentator and radio talk show host Chuck Thies, who served as campaign manager for Mayor Vincent Gray’s unsuccessful re-election campaign, posted his own Twitter message criticizing Orange for doing “nothing” while standing next to a speaker who said “faggot.”
In his own Twitter postings Orange insisted he did respond to Farrakhan’s comment during the Barry memorial.
“My statement was ‘manly deeds, scholarship and love for ALL mankind,’” Orange said repeatedly in a Twitter exchange with Thies and Lee.
“Still not an answer to the questions, sir,” Lee replied in Twitter posting.
James Brown Jr., chief of staff for Orange’s City Council office, told the Blade on Tuesday he agreed that it would have been inappropriate for Orange to interrupt the Barry memorial to respond to Farrakhan’s comments. Brown said Orange is a longtime supporter of LGBT rights and the Council member’s Twitter posting was a proper response to Farrakhan’s anti-gay remark.
But as criticism of Orange continued on Tuesday, he released a more strongly worded statement.
“I wholeheartedly disagree with anti-gay slurs made at the Marion Barry memorial,” he said. “I believe in equality for all citizens of the District, regardless of race, creed, religion, or sexuality. The anti-gay slurs were inappropriate and it’s unfortunate that they have overshadowed a positive event honoring the late Marion Barry.”
Gay D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) told WJLA TV, “I don’t know the whole context, but if I had been there I would have objected right away…I think someone should have stood up and said, ‘This is intolerable. This cannot be said.'”
Farrakhan or a representative of his organization couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
People familiar with the event said it was not part of the official Barry funeral and memorial events scheduled to be held Dec. 4-6 and are sponsored by the Barry family, the Office of the Mayor and the City Council.
Barry, a four-term mayor and long-time member of the City Council, died Nov. 23 of natural causes at the age of 78.