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Council casts ‘historic’ vote for marriage

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D.C. Council member David Catania thanked those on both sides of the marriage debate for conducting a ‘civil discussion’ of the issue. (DC Agenda photo by Michael Key)

The D.C. City Council on Tuesday voted 11-2 to give preliminary approval to a bill that would allow same-sex marriages to be performed in the city.

Council members backing the bill said its overwhelming support on the 13-member Council means it would sail through its required second-reading vote set for Dec. 15, sending it to Mayor Adrian Fenty for his signature. Fenty has pledged to sign the measure.

“It’s a day I never thought I would see and never thought I would have the privilege to participate in as a gay person,” said Council member David Catania (I-At Large), the bill’s author, during the Council’s 40-minute debate on the measure.

“And I want to thank, again, everyone on both sides of this discussion who, by and large, engaged in an extraordinarily civil discussion on what is a difficult matter for many,” Catania said.

Council member and former mayor Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) and Council member Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7) were the only ones to vote against the bill. Alexander didn’t speak during the debate.

Barry noted his long record of support for LGBT rights during his 39-year tenure in D.C. politics as school board president, mayor and Council member, saying same-sex marriage was the only issue in which he has not been in lock step with the gay community.

“I am firm in my commitment to this community,” he said. “But I’m going to vote no because my conscience says so and because the majority of my constituents say so.”

Those voting for the bill were Council Chair Vincent Gray (D-At Large), and Council members Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5), Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), Kwame Brown (D-At Large) and Michael Brown (I-At Large).

“This bill is the next step, a logical step, in the progress we have made in significantly expanding our domestic partnership law over the last 17 years,” said Phil Mendelson, chair of the Committee on Public Safety & Judiciary, which shepherded the bill through the Council.

“I don’t think it’s a giant step,” he said. “It’s a final step in a process in a steady march since 1992 as the District of Columbia, as a matter of public policy, has proceeded toward full equality regardless of marital status or sexual orientation.”

The Council chamber was not quite full as members debated and voted on the marriage bill, a development that surprised news reporters and Council staff members. Some had expected the turnout to be similar to the overflowing show among gay rights supporters and a raucous crowd of opponents during the Council’s spring vote on a separate bill that called for legally recognizing in D.C. same-sex marriages performed in other states and countries.

That measure passed by a similarly lopsided margin, with Barry emerging as the only Council member to vote against it. It cleared its required congressional review in July, becoming law July 7.

A coalition of LGBT organizations and mainline civil rights groups viewed the earlier measure as a trial run for the full same-sex marriage bill that the Council passed on first reading this week.

Bishop Harry Jackson, pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Md., and leader of a coalition of social conservative and Christian groups opposed to same-sex marriage, watched the Council’s vote Tuesday from a front-row seat in the audience.

He told reporters after the vote that his coalition would continue to urge Congress to step in to overturn the same-sex marriage law. He said he and his supporters also would continue their court challenge of a D.C. Board of Elections & Ethics decision in October that refused to place on the ballot a voter initiative seeking to ban same-sex marriage in the District.

The board concluded that an initiative banning gay marriage would violate the city’s Human Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. Jackson filed suit in D.C. Superior Court seeking to overturn the election board’s action. He has said he would appeal the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court if he and his backers lose in lower courts.

“Our desire is to let the people vote,” he told reporters after the Council’s approval of the marriage measure Tuesday.

Bishop Harry Jackson, leader of a coalition of conservative and Christian groups opposed to same-sex marriage, watched the Council’s vote Tuesday from a front-row seat. (DC Agenda photo by Michael Key)

“It’s clear that the other side in D.C. has been organized, has been systematic,” he said. “They dotted all their I’s and crossed all their T’s and, in a sense, this battle today was won two-and-a-half, three years ago by folks lobbying behind the scenes. The people have not had a chance to weigh in as of yet.”

Jackson and Barry have said they believe a majority of D.C. residents — particularly African-American residents — oppose same-sex marriage and are upset with the Council’s action on the issue.

But Michael Crawford, chair of same-sex marriage advocacy group D.C. for Marriage, disputed Jackson and Barry’s assessment of voter sentiment in the city.

“I am African American, there are a lot of folks working on marriage equality who are African American, there are a lot of straight African Americans who are supporting marriage equality,” Crawford said. “And the majority of African-American members of the City Council voted for marriage equality.

“Today is an amazingly historic day,” he said. “The City Council voted overwhelmingly to end discrimination against gay and lesbian families. They have stated without hesitation that they believe gay and lesbian families should not be treated as second-class citizens in the District.”

D.C. gay activist Bob Summersgill, who has coordinated same-sex couples’ rights issues in the city, including efforts to pass domestic partnership legislation, called the Council’s approval of a gay marriage bill the last major hurdle in providing equal rights for gays.

“I’m thrilled that the last major place in the law where we aren’t equal is being amended,” he said. “So now the promise of full equality under the law is being provided.”

Summersgill’s comment picked up on a theme sounded by gay D.C. Council member Jim Graham during the Council’s debate Tuesday on the marriage bill. Graham noted that on the heels of the Council’s actions in the 1970s to include gays in the Human Rights Act, which bans discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations, the Council in the early 1990s began approving a series of measures to provide rights to same-sex couples.

He noted that the protections focused on domestic partnership amendments, beginning with the first domestic partnership bill approved by the Council in 1992. Graham said a steady stream of LGBT-related measures followed, including non-discrimination protections for transgender residents.

“I have been privileged to be on this Council for almost 11 years,” Graham said. “And the times that I have been most privileged to be here have been the times when this Council has acted to enhance and to protect human rights.”

Mendelson said he and Catania sought to reach a compromise with the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, which has called for expanding the bill’s religious exemption clause.

The bill exempts religious institutions and clergy from having to perform same-sex marriages or make their facilities, products or services available for such marriages if doing so is contrary to their religious beliefs.

Archdiocesan officials asked the Council to go further by exempting one of their charitable entities, Catholic Charities, from having to provide employee benefits to the same-sex married partners of their workers providing services to needy residents under city contracts.

Mendelson said he and Catania met with Catholic Charities representatives Monday to determine if the group would back down on its threat to withdraw from city contracts providing services to as many as 68,000 people, including operation of homeless shelters, unless the Council grants it the employee benefits exemption.

“It’s their choice,” Mendelson said after the Council vote, in discussing whether Catholic Charities withdraws from city contracts.

Mendelson said he and Catania, with the backing of other Council members, declined to add language to the marriage bill allowing the group to withhold employee benefits for same-sex married partners of their employees because doing so would be a violation of the D.C. Human Rights Act.

Mendelson said he and Catania remain open to discussing other options for Catholic Charities during the two-week interval between Tuesday’s first-reading vote on the marriage bill and the final vote Dec. 15.

Wells noted during Council debate on the marriage bill that the city has access to other vendors and contractors who would step in to replace Catholic Charities.

“There’s Lutheran Social Services, Methodist Board of Child Care, Family Matters, D.C. Family Child Services, Pathways to Housing,” said Wells in naming some of the groups that provide similar services.

“They do not ask to be exempt from any D.C. laws,” he said. “Choosing to be a contractor to serve functions in the District of Columbia is not a right. You’re part of a bidding process.”

Susan Gibbs, an Archdiocese of Washington spokesperson, said after the vote that archdiocesan officials also look forward to a “continuing dialogue” with Council members over the issue.

“Catholic Charities has been here for 80 years,” she said. “The archdiocese, the Catholic Church, has been here since before there was a City Council. So we’re committed to continue doing the services we can with the resources we have. We’re not stopping providing services.”

Thomas told his colleagues during Tuesday’s debate that his Ward 5 constituents were “torn down the middle” on the gay marriage issue. He said he recognizes the strong religious beliefs of many of his constituents, but decided to vote for the bill on grounds of human rights to help ensure equality under the law.

“As a legislator, I cannot allow my personal preferences or my religious practices, or anything that in my personal life, that would allow the disenfranchisement of any individual in the District of Columbia,” he said.

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District of Columbia

Ruby Corado withdrew $400,000 of Casa Ruby funds: D.C. att’y gen’l

Complaint says she transferred money to banks in El Salvador

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Ruby Corado faces new allegations after her organization collapsed earlier this year. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The Office of the D.C. Attorney General on Monday filed an amended civil complaint in D.C. Superior Court against Casa Ruby and its founder and former executive director Ruby Corado that includes new allegations, including claims that Corado withdrew more than $400,000 of Casa Ruby funds for unauthorized use in El Salvador. 

The 25-page amended complaint adds multiple new allegations to the Attorney General office’s original complaint against Casa Ruby filed on July 29. That complaint, among other things, charged the nonprofit LGBTQ community services organization and Corado with violating the D.C. Nonprofit Corporations Act in connection with its financial dealings.

The amended complaint also follows the approval by D.C. Superior Court Judge Danya Dayson of a request in August by the Attorney General’s office to place Casa Ruby under receivership and to appoint the Wanda Alston Foundation as the receiver. The D.C.-based Alston Foundation provides housing services for homeless LGBTQ youth.

On Oct. 28, the Alston Foundation released its Receiver’s Second Interim Report on its findings related to Casa Ruby’s finances. The report points to some of the same unexplained and unauthorized expenditures and transfers of Casa Ruby’s funds by Corado that are included in the AG office’s amended complaint.

The Alston Foundation had been scheduled to release its Receiver’s Third Interim Report also on Monday, Nov. 28. But Alston Foundation Executive Director June Crenshaw told the Washington Blade the foundation requested an extension of that deadline to give it a chance to review the new allegations in the AG office’s amended complaint.

Among other things, the AG office’s amended complaint adds three new defendants to what legal observers say is the equivalent of a lawsuit by the D.C. government against Corado and Casa Ruby. The new defendants named in the complaint are limited liability companies created and controlled by Corado to purportedly perform services in support of Casa Ruby.

They include a new version of Casa Ruby called Casa Ruby LLC doing business as Moxie Health; Pneuma Behavioral Health LLC; and Tigloballogistics LLC doing business as Casa Ruby Pharmacy.

The amended complaint notes that Corado, who claimed the new companies, especially the pharmacy, were part of Casa Ruby’s mission, never received approval to create the companies from the Casa Ruby board of directors, which the AG’s office has said rarely met and failed to provide any oversight of Corado’s actions.

According to the amended complaint, Corado transferred large sums of money from the original Casa Ruby to these companies and at some point, transferred funds from the new companies to her own personal bank account.

Both the earlier complaint filed in July and the amended complaint allege that Corado transferred as much as $500,000 of Casa Ruby’s funds to create what she said was a new Casa Ruby in El Salvador approved by the Casa Ruby board. But the earlier and amended complaints allege that the board never authorized the El Salvador operation.

Between April 2021 and September 2022, the amended complaint says, Corado transferred over $400,000 from two Casa Ruby related accounts “to accounts she held under her birth name in two El Salvador banks.” It says the Casa Ruby board “never authorized any of these transfers.”

In addition to the financial related allegations, the amended complaint charges Casa Ruby and Corado with violating D.C.’s Wage Payment and Collection Law and the D.C. Minimum Wage Revision Act by failing to pay Casa Ruby employees all the wages they earned for their work several months before Casa Ruby closed its operations in July 2022.

“At various times between July 2021 and July 2022, while Corado was freely supplementing her $260,000 salary with additional funds drawn from Casa Ruby’s bank accounts, many of Casa Ruby’s employees were paid only $15.00 per hour, less than the minimum wage in the District of Columbia as of July 1, 2021,” the amended complaint says. “None of these employees received the full wages they earned,” it says.

One of the former employees told the Washington Blade most of the remaining employees during Casa Ruby’s final months before its shutdown were paid late or not paid at all. Under the two labor related laws the amended complaint has charged Casa Ruby and Corado with violating, an employer could be required to pay the employees any lost or missing wages.

But the Receiver’s Second Interim Report filed in October by the Alston Foundation says among other improper financial dealings, Casa Ruby failed to pay the U.S. Internal Revenue Service payroll taxes withheld from its employees. The AG office’s amended complaint says that as of June of this year, Casa Ruby owed the IRS $127,435 in employment taxes, not including interest and penalties.

The receiver’s report points out that under federal law, employers that owe back taxes to the IRS must pay those claims first. “Thus, after all outstanding payroll taxes have been paid off, there is little chance that there will be anything left for any other debts or obligations like past rent or wages,” the report says.

The amended complaint filed by the AG’s office says a copy of the amended complaint was sent to Corado through an email address, which has been the only known way of reaching Corado. Former Casa Ruby employees have said she had been spending most of her time over the past year or longer in El Salvador. The complaint says that as of October, Corado still had not retained an attorney to represent her and was representing herself in a process known as pro se representation.

The Blade couldn’t immediately reach Corado for comment on the amended complaint through the same email address.

During a virtual court hearing in September, Corado denied any improper or illegal financial practices and blamed the D.C. government for Casa Ruby’s collapse, saying city agencies cut off funding for Casa Ruby without a legitimate reason. However, the D.C. Department of Human Services, which provided much of Casa Ruby’s funding through grants, has said the funding was stopped after Casa Ruby failed to submit financial reports required for all grant recipients that account for how the grant money is spent.

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Film ‘Wonderfully Made LGBTQ+R(eligion)’ set for D.C. premiere

Documentary explores challenges faced by queer Catholics

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‘Wonderfully Made LGBTQ+R(eligion)’ premieres in D.C. on Dec. 12.

A feature-length documentary film called “Wonderfully Made LGBTQ+R(eligion),” which explores how religion has played a leading role in perpetuating anti-LGBTQ attitudes and highlights the challenges and aspirations of LGBTQ Catholics, is scheduled for a special D.C. screening on Dec. 12 at the E Street Cinema.

The film’s director is gay filmmaker, actor, and LGBTQ rights advocate Yuval David. It was jointly produced by David and his husband, attorney and LGBTQ Catholic advocate Mark McDermott. The premiere D.C. showing of the film is being hosted by Real Affirmations, D.C.’s LGBTQ film festival.

“The film focuses on the Catholic Church because it is one of the largest religious organizations in the world, and because its anti-LGBTQ+ stance is known and growing more hardline, at least in some circles,” a statement announcing the D.C. showing of the film says.

“The narrative of the film is shaped by the process of a fine art project creating unprecedented, photographic iconography depicting Jesus as a member/ally of the LGBTQ+ community, represented by multiple LGBTQ+ models,” the statement says.

David and McDermott told the Washington Blade in a Nov. 21 interview that production of the film was completed at the end of August of this year, and it has since been shown at film festivals across the U.S. and overseas. It was honored as the Best Feature Film at the LGBTQ Toronto Film Festival.

“One of the things we discuss in our film and the way this makes it contemporary, and even pertaining to this horrible shooting [at the LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado] and the various other attacks on the LGBTQ community, is the fact that the vast majority of anti-LGBTQ and homophobic beliefs, including laws and legislation, are on the basis of religion,” David said.

“Ninety something percent of homophobia and anti-LGBTQ beliefs are on the basis of religion,” David said he and McDermott saw in research findings.

David and McDermott said one of their objectives for the film, which includes interviews with leading LGBTQ Catholic activists and supportive Catholic priests, was to show how images of the church and Jesus through art and iconography going back several centuries has impacted the religious views of Catholics, including LGBTQ Catholics.

Among the LGBTQ supportive people interviewed in the film include Sister Jeannine Gramick, a Catholic nun who co-founded New Ways Ministry, the LGBTQ Catholic advocacy organization; Marianne Duddy-Burke, president of Dignity USA, the national LGBTQ Catholic group; and Father James Martin, a Jesuit priest, author, and outspoken advocate for LGBTQ supportive policies in the Catholic Church.

The film also discusses the fact that the top leader of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis, has issued statements in support of LGBTQ Catholics while at the same time some if not many Catholic cardinals and bishops have continued to promote traditional church doctrine condemning homosexuality.

David and McDermott point to their film’s groundbreaking use of a form of iconography that they and their creative team, including photographers, created as part of an art project to make the church’s imagery more welcoming to LGBTQ people.

“The idea behind this is in Christianity and Catholicism, Jesus has always been portrayed one way for the last 1,700 years,” McDermott told the Blade. “That he has been portrayed as a white man of Northern European descent with blond hair and blue eyes. And as we set up the film, we wanted to challenge that history of art, change it,” he said, to show that “the divine is in all of us,” including LGBTQ people.

McDermott and David told how they conducted a casting call for actors and models to portray Jesus as LGBTQ people who were highly diverse by way of ethnicity, gender, and gender expression. To their amazement, about 500 people responded to the casting call.

“And out of that enormous group we selected nine models,” David said. “And the people we cast are truly a diverse array of LGBTQIA+ people representing different ethnicities, different races, different genders, different body types,” he said. “We wanted to cast people who not only were models but actors and people who truly identify with this topic,” David said.

Several of the actor-models are interviewed in the film, with some describing their own experiences as a person of faith in a church that is sometimes not accepting of them.

David said several thousand still photos were taken of the nine model-actors selected to portray Jesus. He said about 160 of the photo images were selected to be shown in the film in which the actor-models portray Jesus in various stages of his life as described in the scriptures, including scenes of the crucifixion.

The still photos are shown in a dramatic presentation at the conclusion of the film, with each of the model-actors exhibiting highly emotional facial expressions, especially as they are shown tied to a cross with a crown of thorns.

McDermott said he and David came up with the film’s “Wonderfully Made” title from a biblical passage known as the Book of Psalms in which the biblical figure David says while praying to God, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”

Biblical scholars have said the word “fearfully” as used in that biblical passage by David was intended to mean with great reverence, heart-felt interest and with respect.

Mark McDermott and Yuval David told the Blade that while their film shows the hardship faced by LGBTQ Catholics and people of faith, many people of faith, including the religious experts they interview in the film, believe Catholicism and religion in general can be interpreted to be supportive of all people, including LGBTQ people.

But the two say a positive perspective on how religion has and continues to impact LGBTQ people, such as the story told in their film, is needed.

“Forty percent of our homeless kids are LGBTQ – 40 percent,” McDermott said. “And we know why they ended up homeless. They got thrown out of their houses by their own family,” he said. “And it’s almost always because of their family’s religious views.”

Added McDermott, “One in three LGBTQ kids in the last year contemplate or seriously think about suicide.”

According to he and David, stress or conflict with their family’s religious beliefs is very often the root cause of stress and depression among LGBTQ people. They are hopeful, they said, that their film will be seen by many facing these problems and who may be helped by the film’s strong message that it’s ok to be a person of faith and LGBTQ.

“We created this for those who must see this, so they don’t feel that way,” said David.
Tickets for the Dec. 12, 7 p.m. screening of “Wonderfully Made LGBTQ+R(eligion),” which is open to the public, can be purchased online or at the E Street Cinema at the time of the showing if tickets are still available.

A trailer preview of the film can be viewed here: wonderfullymadefilm.com; you can follow news of the film on social media, instagram.com/WonderfullyMadeMovie. Tickets can be purchased from the Reel Affirmations website and more information can be found on the Facebook event page here.

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District of Columbia

Man charged with assaulting lesbian activist pleads guilty, gets 14 months in jail

Aiyi’nah Ford hit in head with barstool at Congress Heights restaurant in August

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Lesbian activist Aiyi’nah Ford was attacked in August. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

A D.C. Superior Court judge on Nov. 17 sentenced a 46-year-old D.C. man to 14 months in jail after he pleaded guilty in September to an assault charge for an incident in which he attacked lesbian activist Aiyi’nah Ford at a restaurant on Aug. 3

An arrest affidavit filed by D.C. police on Aug. 12 states that Donnell Anthony Peterson allegedly knocked Ford to the floor at the Player’s Lounge restaurant and bar in the city’s Congress Heights neighborhood before hitting her in the head twice with the metal legs of a barstool.

Ford told the Washington Blade that Peterson, who was a regular customer at Player’s Lounge as was she, assaulted her while repeatedly calling her a “dyke bitch” after the two got into a verbal argument over, among other things, the city’s violence interruption program. Ford said she told Peterson and others who were having a discussion that she considers the program to be ineffective and a “joke.”

According to court records, witnesses reported seeing Ford bleeding profusely from the head before an ambulance took her to George Washington University Hospital, where she received multiple stitches to treat a serious head wound.

Court records show that D.C. police, who were called to the scene at the time of the assault, initially charged Peterson with Assault With a Dangerous Weapon. The records show that Peterson through his attorney agreed in September to accept a plea bargain offer by prosecutors with the Office of the U.S. Attorney for D.C.

The offer called for lowering the charge to Assault With Significant Bodily Injury in exchange for pleading guilty with a promise by prosecutors to seek a sentence of no more than 14 month in jail.

The court records show that Superior Court Judge James A. Cromwell sentenced Peterson to 32 months of incarceration but suspended 18 months, requiring that he serve 14 months after which he would be released on probation. Court records show the probation was to last 18 months. Under court rules, if someone violates the terms of their probation, which almost always prohibits them from breaking the law or threatening a person they were charged with assaulting, the released person is ordered back to jail to serve the remaining time that had been suspended.

At the time Peterson was arrested in August a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s office, in response to a question from the Blade, declined to disclose why prosecutors chose not to classify Peterson’s assault against Ford as a hate crime based on her sexual orientation.

Ford told the Blade this week that the lead prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Alec Levi, was supportive of her throughout the case and told her a hate crime designation sometimes makes it more difficult to obtain a conviction if a case goes to trial. Ford said Levi told her prosecutors wanted to do all they could to bring Peterson to justice for his attack against her.

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