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Activists denounce changes to gay police unit

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Four local LGBT organizations have issued a joint statement calling D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier’s plan to overhaul the department’s Gay & Lesbian Liaison Unit “ill-conceived” and a “severe disappointment” to the community.

“Today a broad coalition of D.C.’s LGBT community groups stand together to express our severe disappointment with the Metropolitan Police Department’s ill-conceived plan to restructure the Gay & Lesbian Liaison Unit,” says the Dec. 9 statement.

“An award-winning unit has been effectively dismantled without meaningful input from the very community that unit serves,” it says. “Lanier is quick to point out that she and her staff have held meetings with community members to discuss their plans, but she fails to mention that not one critique of her plan was accepted.”

Groups that signed the statement include the D.C. Trans Coalition, Gay & Lesbian Activists Alliance, Gays & Lesbians Opposing Violence, and Gertrude Stein Democratic Club.

Lanier has insisted her reorganization plan would strengthen the GLLU and three other special liaison units serving the Latino, Asian-Pacific Islander, and deaf and hard of hearing communities.

She has said that by decentralizing the units to each of the seven police districts and assigning more officers to each unit, the units would be far more responsive and effective than under the old system, where the units worked out of a central headquarters.

But representatives of the four groups that issued the statement said Lanier has effectively dismantled the central GLLU by reducing its staff through attrition from seven to one full-time officer and one part-time sergeant. At the same time, they argue that Lanier only this month began to train new officers to staff the decentralized structure, and no GLLU officers have been assigned to any of the seven districts.

The two-page statement, published on the GLAA web site, cites 10 specific deficiencies in the GLLU’s reorganization plan, including what it calls an inadequate training program for GLLU or GLLU affiliated officers. The statement says the training, among other things, doesn’t devote enough attention to transgender-related issues and gay-related domestic violence cases, which have comprised 82 percent of the GLLU’s caseload.

LOU CHIBBARO JR.

Local gay chamber of commerce hires director

The Capital Area Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce has named a gay businessman as its first executive director.

Mark Guenther, the Washington Blade’s former sales and marketing director, is leaving his current job as operations director at GSI Specialties to work full time for the chamber. His new job — the chamber’s first paid position — begins in January.

“This is a dream position for me,” he told DC Agenda. “I want to fulfill the vision that we put out there, the objectives that we feel are obtainable.”

The Capital Area Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce works to advocate, promote and facilitate the success of LGBT businesses and their allies in the metro D.C. region. It’s known for hosting Network Thursday socials and other professional development sessions. The organization was previously known as the Potomac Executive Network or PEN.

Guenther, who has served on the chamber’s board for four years, said he helped develop a plan for the organization “to earn and spend money over the next 12 months” that included the executive director position. He declined to comment on his slated pay as executive director.

“You can look at this as an expense or as an investment,” he said. “I think the board all looks at this as an investment for the future, for what we can achieve for the community.”

Ken White, the chamber’s president, agreed. He said the board’s vote Dec. 8 to establish the executive director position and hire Guenther was “a leap of faith” for the previously all-volunteer organization.

“This has been a really great year for the chamber with our name change and increased excitement about our activities and programs and services,” White said. “We came to a point where we were thinking that we could take this chamber to the next level if we brought aboard someone dedicated to this on a full-time basis.”

White said Guenther will focus on increasing chamber membership and corporate partnerships, and work to “add value” to the organization’s members and supporters.

Guenther said he’s planning to work from his home office as executive director, but the chamber “would love to have a real address” and is evaluating an office space option.

JOSHUA LYNSEN

Cheatam elected to D.C. Democratic Party committee

Veteran lesbian activist Carlene Cheatam was one of two openly LGBT people elected this month to fill vacant seats on the D.C. Democratic State Committee, which serves as the governing body of the city’s Democratic Party.

The committee on Dec. 3 elected Cheatam and D.C. gay Democratic activist Ed Potillo, both from Ward 7, to at-large seats on the 82-member committee. Gay Democratic activist David Meadow, a member and spokesperson for the D.C. Democratic State Committee, said the election of Cheatam and Potillo brings the total number of open gays on the panel to 11.

Earlier this year, the committee passed a resolution endorsing legislation to legalize same-sex marriage in the District. Cheatam has been among the lead local advocates for same-sex marriage.

LOU CHIBBARO JR.

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District of Columbia

D.C. house with rainbow Pride flag set on fire

Investigators seeking help from public in search for suspect

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A Pride flag remained displayed at the house in Shaw this past Sunday, one week after the fire in the rear of the house which fire officials have listed as arson. (Washington Blade photos by Lou Chibbaro Jr.)

The D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department has classified as arson a June 19 fire at a two-story row house on the 1800 block of 8th Street, N.W. in the city’s Shaw neighborhood that had an LGBTQ rainbow Pride flag prominently displayed on the front of the house.

A Fire & EMS Department spokesperson said the fire was ignited in a detached wooden garage in the rear of the house accessible only through an alley, and fire investigators have yet to identify a suspect or a motive for what evidence shows was an intentionally set fire.

Although the front of the brick rowhouse where the Pride flag was displayed was not damaged, the fire in the garage spread to the rear of the house, destroying a wooden outdoor deck, and caused extensive damage to the kitchen, bathroom, and second floor bedroom. Fire investigators have sealed the house, requiring its three occupants to find a temporary residence as the investigation continues.

One of the three occupants of the house, who was the only one at home when the fire started at about 2 a.m., escaped without injury, according to sources who know the occupants.

“The Pride flag on the front of the house was present at the time of the fire,” Jennifer Donelan, director of communications for the Fire & EMS Department, told the Washington Blade. “We do not have any information, at this time, that suggests the arson was related to the presence of the flag, however we are still working on the case,” she said.

“We are aggressively working to identify a suspect and a motive,” Donelan said. “Until such time, we won’t be able to make a determination as to whether or not this was a hate crime.”

She said the Fire & EMS Department is seeking help from the public in its effort to identify one or more suspects responsible for the fire. Anyone with information that could be helpful to the investigation is asked to call fire investigators at 202-673-2776.

The fire at the D.C. house with the Pride flag took place less than a week after Baltimore police said a house in that city’s Waverly neighborhood on which “Pride décor” was displayed was set on fire on June 15, causing extensive damage to the house and nearby houses.

Baltimore police and fire department officials said a Pride flag on a house across the street from the house set on fire was also ablaze when firefighters arrived on the scene. Two men were hospitalized in critical condition and a woman was listed in serious condition because of the fire ignited in the house.

Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott released a statement saying fire department officials had yet to determine a motive for the fire.

“At this point, we cannot confirm that this was a hate crime,” Scott said. “However, my agencies will bring every appropriate resource to bear to get to the bottom of this tragic event,” he said. “I continue to stand in solidarity with our LGBTQ+ community.”

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District of Columbia

D.C. officials vow to fight any GOP effort to ban abortion in nation’s capital

Without statehood, District vulnerable to congressional interference

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D.C. Congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton vowed to fight to protect abortion access in the city. (Blade file photo by Drew Brown)

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, D.C. Congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, and six members of the D.C. Council said they were united in fighting an attempt by Congress to ban abortions in the nation’s capital following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

At a press conference on the day the Supreme Court handed down its controversial decision, the D.C. officials pointed out that unlike any of the states, D.C. is vulnerable to the authority Congress has over the city under its limited Home Rule Charter, including the authority by Congress to pass a law to ban abortions in the city.

The press conference was held at the headquarters in Northeast D.C. of Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, D.C., whose leaders said they would continue to provide abortion services in the District at the present time.

At this time, “Nothing has changed in Washington, D.C.,” Bowser said at the press conference. “Abortion remains legal, and women and girls we know, however, are worried,” the mayor said. “We are worried because we know we are vulnerable as a jurisdiction because of our lack of statehood.”

Norton told news media representatives and others attending the press conference that she expects at least some congressional Republicans to introduce legislation to ban abortions in D.C. now that the Supreme Court has given them the authority to do that.

“We are subservient still to the House and Senate,” she said. “I’m calling on the Congress to immediately codify the right to an abortion in federal law,” Norton said. “That is the very least the District needs to save this city from what will surely be an attempt by Republicans in Congress to move first on the District of Columbia to make sure that abortions are not available for women in our city.”

Norton added, “We always have more work cut out for us than other jurisdictions. But I assure you I am up to the task. There is a lot to fight for here, and I’m ready for that fight.”

Norton and Bowser also pointed out that Congress over a decade ago added a permanent provision to D.C.’s annual budget that prohibits the city from using any of its funds to pay for abortions either directly or through the funding of private organizations like Planned Parenthood that provide abortion related services.

With the prospect that Republicans might regain control of the House or Senate or both in the November congressional elections, D.C. officials said they were especially concerned about an attempt to ban or greatly restrict abortions in the city.

D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson said he was hopeful that such an attempt would be blocked by a Democratic-led filibuster in the Senate as well as by a presidential veto if President Biden or another Democrat continues to occupy the White House.

Bowser, Mendelson, and D.C. Councilmember Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) also pointed out that the legal reasoning used by the justices to overturn Roe v. Wade, especially the rationale given by Justice Clarence Thomas, could be used in future cases to overturn previous court rulings establishing a constitutional right to same-sex marriage and the right to intimate sexual acts between same-sex couples.

“We are about to enter into decades of darkness with this court that we have,” Cheh said at the press conference. “And don’t be fooled. We’re told, OK, it’s just abortion,” she said. “Don’t you believe it. The very reasoning of the case – and I spend a lot of time teaching constitutional law – means that many other liberties will be in jeopardy.”

LGBTQ rights advocates have pointed to the concurring opinion handed down by Justice Thomas on the day the court overturned Roe v. Wade that specifically calls on the high court to “reconsider” the 2003 ruling of Lawrence v. Texas, which overturned state laws banning sodomy between consenting adults, both gay and straight. Thomas’s concurring opinion also called for reconsidering the high court’s 2015 Obergefell ruling, which legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.

Others speaking at the June 24 press conference included Laura Meyers, president of Planned Parenthood of the D.C. area, and D.C. Council members Elissa Silverman (I-At-Large), Christina Henderson (I-At-Large), and Brooke Pinto (D-Ward 2). 

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Virginia

Va. delegate comes out as bisexual

Del. Kelly Convirs-Fowler spoke at Hampton Roads Pride

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(Public domain photo)

Virginia state Del. Kelly Convirs-Fowler (D-Virginia Beach) came out as bisexual on June 25 during an appearance at Hampton Roads Pride in Norfolk.

“I’m bisexual,” the Virginia Beach Democrat told Pride attendees. “I just never felt like I could say that out loud.”

Convirs-Fowler has represented Virginia’s 21st House District since 2018.

State Del. Mark Sickles (D-Fairfax County) is gay and state Del. Dawn Adams (D-Richmond) is a lesbian. State Del. Danica Roem (D-Manassas) in 2018 became the first openly transgender person seated in any state legislature in the U.S.

“For those who don’t know, Del. @FowlerforVA and I are both part of the Class of 2017 #RedToBlue legislators who flipped seats that Nov. 7,” tweeted Roem on Monday. “We’ve both earned re-election twice since then and I couldn’t be more proudof her declaration of Pride =).”

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