The Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city’s largest local LGBT political organization, voted Tuesday night to endorse Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton over rival Sen. Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.) by a margin of 75.9 percent to 24.1 percent.
The vote took place after representatives of the Clinton and Sanders campaigns told more than 100 people attending a club endorsement forum at Unity D.C. Church at 1225 R St., N.W. that the two presidential contenders have strong records of support for the LGBT community.
Allida Black, a George Washington University professor and co-founder of the group Ready for Hillary, called Clinton a “champion” of LGBT rights in her roles as Secretary of State and U.S. senator.
Black said Clinton’s longstanding support for LGBT rights was highlighted by her groundbreaking remarks at a United Nations session in which she declared, “gay rights are human rights and human rights are gay rights.”
Catalina Velasquez, the Sanders representative, identified herself as an “undocumented transgender Latina woman.” She said the fact that the Sanders campaign has embraced her and named her as a member of its LGBTQ Steering Committee demonstrates the strength and depth of Sanders’ support for LGBT rights.
“I am here to speak for someone who has stood up for the right side of history,” Velasquez said.
In a development likely to surprise some LGBT activists, gay former Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner David Garber, who is one of two candidates challenging Council member Vincent Orange (D-At-Large) in the city’s June 14 Democratic primary, received just two votes from Stein members at the Tuesday night forum.
Orange received 44 votes. The third at-large candidate, attorney and longtime civic activist Robert White, received 37 votes after he, Orange and Garber each expressed strong support for LGBT equality.
With neither of the candidates receiving a required 60 percent of the vote under the club’s endorsement rules, a second ballot runoff vote was taken for the two top vote getters. In that second round, Orange received 37 votes compared to 31 votes for White, with Orange falling five votes short of the 60 percent threshold needed for an endorsement.
“We hereby declare that there shall be no endorsement” in the at-large Council race, declared Stein Club President Earl Fowlkes.
“The no endorsement for the race for the at-large seat just goes to show how our community is split down the middle on how they feel about Vincent Orange and how they feel about Robert White,” Fowlkes told the Washington Blade after the forum.
In the only other contested race considered at the Tuesday forum, Ward 4 Council member Brandon Todd (D) won the Stein Club endorsement by capturing 60 votes (71 percent) in a four-candidate race. Challenger Calvin H. Gurley, who, along with Todd, appeared at the forum, received just one vote.
Ward 4 candidate Ron Austin, who did not attend the forum, received 7 votes. The name of the fourth candidate, Leon T. Andrews Jr., did not appear on the ballot distributed to club members at the forum. Sixteen Stein Club members voted for “no endorsement” in the Ward 4 contest.
In other races, D.C. Congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, Ward 2 Council member Jack Evans, and Shadow Representative Franklin Garcia, who are running unopposed in the Democratic primary, each won the Stein Club’s endorsement by a unanimous voice vote.
Norton and Evans have held their respective offices since 1991. They are considered by LGBT activists to be among the city’s most LGBT supportive elected officials. Both told the gathering they look forward to continuing their role as LGBT advocates if re-elected in November.
Todd took office in 2015 after winning a special election to fill the Ward 4 Council seat vacated by Muriel Bowser, who won election as mayor. He had served on Bowser’s Council staff, where he worked on LGBT-related issues and got to know many of the city’s LGBT activists who backed him in his first Council race.
At the Stein Club forum on Tuesday, Gurley criticized Todd for not being aggressive enough in addressing a number of issues, including what he called D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier’s “dismantling” of the department’s LGBT Liaison Unit. He was referring to concerns raised by some LGBT activists that Lanier was not replacing officers who left the unit to take other assignments.
Todd told the forum he has served as a strong advocate for the LGBT community on the Council and will continue to be an “advocate and friend” of the community if re-elected.
Stein Club members attributed Garber’s low vote count to the fact that, as a political newcomer, he is not well known among club members. Orange and White, on the other hand, have been on the political scene for many years and have regularly attended Stein Club meetings and events, club members said.
On Monday night, one day before the Stein Club forum, White hosted an LGBT meet and greet event at a restaurant on U Street, N.W., that drew more than 75 mostly LGBT supporters, including several well-known activists.
Among those who signed on as co-hosts for the event were former Stein Club President Lateefah Williams, veteran transgender activist Jeri Hughes, lesbian activist Amy Loudermilk, LGBT seniors advocate Imani Woody, and gay Ward 1 civic activist Matt Abbruzzese.
Among the LGBT activists backing Orange, many of whom attended the Stein Club forum, are gay Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners Alex Padro and Lee Brian Reba and gay activists Alex Morash and Michael Williams.
The Stein Club has scheduled a second endorsement forum on May 9 to consider endorsements for the Ward 7 and Ward 8 Council races. The Ward 7 race is of interest to many in the LGBT community because former D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray is challenging incumbent Council member Yvette Alexander.