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D.C. Jail guards accused of beating gay inmate

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A 39-year-old gay man being held in the D.C. Jail has accused jail guards of severely beating him last month, saying they carried him, handcuffed, down three flights of stairs while deliberately knocking his head against the walls and handrails.

The gay inmate, John Burrows, a D.C. resident, gave a detailed account of the incident to his mother and sister, who released the information this week to the DC Agenda.

“They handcuffed his hands behind his back and handcuffed his feet, picked him up and carried him down three flights of steps and in the process they were banging his head against the railings and into the wall,” said Margaret Groat, Burrows’ sister, in an e-mail.

“[T]hey beat him in the stairwell and choked him,” she said. “I think they were trying to kill him. He has two black eyes, a concussion; he still can’t feel three of his fingers from the handcuffs being so tight.”

A spokesperson for the D.C. Department of Corrections, which oversees the jail, said the Dec. 17 incident was under investigation and the department had no immediate comment.

“Please be advised that this matter is currently under investigation by the Department of Corrections,” said department spokesperson Sylvia Lane in an e-mail to the Agenda. “There is no further information available at this time.”

Groat said Burrows gave a detailed description of the incident in two letters he mailed to their mother, Judy Burrows. She said her brother noted in one of his letters that the beating may have been triggered when he threw a bar of soap at one of the guards after the guard “harassed” him.

According to Groat, jail officials have refused to allow her and her mother to contact John Burrows by phone and informed them that they could not visit him at the jail.

“They said they put him in protective custody and that he can’t have any visitors until Jan. 27 at the earliest,” Groat said.

Lane did not respond by press time to questions by the Agenda about why D.C. Jail officials placed Burrows in protective custody and have refused to allow his sister and mother to visit him.

Mafara Hobson, a spokesperson for Mayor Adrian Fenty, said she would look into the matter. But she added, “Ms. Lane is correct in that the matter is under investigation, so we can’t comment further on the incident.”

When informed about Burrows’ alleged jail beating, D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), who chairs the Council committee that oversees the jail and Department of Corrections, said he, too, would make inquires to learn more about what happened.

Court records show that Burrows is being held in jail without bond on felony charges of first-degree sexual abuse and robbery of a senior citizen in connection with an October 2008 encounter with a D.C. man over age 60. The records show that Burrows was arrested for the two offenses in September while he was incarcerated in an out-of-state prison for an unrelated theft charge, to which he pleaded guilty.

A D.C. Superior Court charging document says the two charges for which Burrows is currently being held were filed against him by a man who told police he engaged in consensual oral sex acts with Burrows on Oct. 5, 2008, in the man’s Northwest Washington apartment. The man, who is listed as the complainant in the case, told police he paid Burrows $100 in cash after the sexual encounter for the purpose of having Burrows use the money to purchase marijuana for the man, according to the charging document.

The next day Burrows returned. But the man said that instead of handing over the marijuana, Burrows grabbed him in a “choke hold,” bound him “by ligatures,” and forced him into his bedroom, according to the charging document. It says the man told police that Burrows then sexually abused the man before stealing $100 in cash and his ATM card. The man told police that Burrows pressured him into revealing the PIN number for the card.

The charging document says police obtained surveillance video from the complainant’s bank showing Burrows making an illegal withdrawal of $500 with the use of the complainant’s ATM card.

Margaret Groat, Burrows’ sister, acknowledged that her brother has a substance abuse problem and a record of arrests on drug and theft-related charges, all of which, she said, were non-violent offenses. Groat said her brother denies assaulting or sexually abusing the complainant in the case pending against him.

Premal Dharia, an attorney with the D.C. Public Defender Service who is representing Burrows, did not return calls seeking comment on the alleged jail beating or the criminal charges pending against her client.

According to Groat, her brother said the sexual encounters between Burrows and the complainant were entirely consensual. She said her brother told her a dispute arose over a prior agreement that the complainant would pay Burrows for the sex and that Burrows may have taken some money for the payment he believed he was owed. She said the complainant had requested to be bound as part of a pre-arranged “bondage” encounter, according to her brother’s account of what happened.

“Whatever he did or didn’t do in terms of his arrest, he didn’t deserve to be beaten in jail,” Groat told the Agenda in a telephone interview. “He’s had problems and issues with the law, but I can tell you that he’s not a violent person.”

Groat said she contacted the Gay & Lesbian Activists Alliance and the D.C. LGBT community center about her brother’s allegation that he was the victim of a prison beating by guards.

“We have been in touch with the family and we’re following this closely,” said David Mariner, executive director of the LGBT Center. “This raises concerns.”

Court records show that Burrows was scheduled to appear in D.C. Superior Court on Thursday, after the Agenda press deadine, for a status hearing and possible discussion of a plea bargain offer by the government.

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District of Columbia

Capital Pride announces 2024 Pride honorees

Nine LGBTQ leaders, Destination DC to be honored

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Iya Dammons is among this year’s Pride honorees. (Washington Blade file photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

Capital Pride Alliance, the group that organizes D.C.’s annual LGBTQ Pride events, has announced its selection of nine individuals and one D.C. organization as recipients of its annual honors awards recognizing outstanding service for the LGBTQ community and the cause of LGBTQ equality.

“Each year, the Capital Pride Alliance honors outstanding individuals, leaders, and activists in the National Capital Region who have furthered causes important to the LGBTQ+ community,” the group said in a statement. The statement says the honorees chosen this year “tirelessly contribute to our collective advocacy, outreach, education, and programming in support of our intersectional community.”

The awards were scheduled to be presented to the recipients at a Capital Pride Honors ceremony on Friday, May 31 at the MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Md. A statement released by Capital Pride says the event will be hosted by WUSA9 TV news reporter Lorenzo Hall, with entertainment by special guests, including singer-songwriter Crystal Waters, DJ Honey, and the Black Leaves Dance Company.

The award recipients as released by Capital Pride Alliance include the following:

Hero Award recognizing  “individuals who have furthered the causes important to LGBTQ+ community in the national capital region” and “have brought about positive changes to our lives and our community.”

• Hope Gisselle, nationally recognized author, artist, and activist who advocates for LGBTQ rights through organizations she has been a part of, including her founding of a human resources organization called AllowMe and her current role as CEO and Executive Director of the National Trans Visibility March.

• Jamison Henninger, has served as leader of the D.C. Area Transmasculine Society, known as DCATS, a community-based organization that aids transmasculine individuals in the D.C. metro area, serves on the board of Trans Pride DC, and serves as a consultant for Gender Illumination, a nonprofit group.

• Kenya Hutton, a social justice, equity, HIV prevention, and sexual health advocate who has worked to address issues impacting communities affected by HIV and other health disparities for over 20 years. He currently serves as deputy director of the D.C.-based national LGBTQ organization Center for Black Equity and is set to become its acting CEO and executive director in August.

• Carol Jameson has worked for more than 35 years in Northern Virginia developing and administering programs that address health care disparities and provide access to health care services, including HIV/AIDS related services. She has served as executive director for NOVAM, a nonprofit group providing HIV prevention and HIV care for adolescents and young adults in Northern Virginia.

• Tula, an esthetician and hair stylist by day, has been a widely recognized drag performer for more than 30 years and host to D.C. cabaret shows. A former title holder and member of the Academy of Washington, D.C. drag organization, “she brings a plethora of stage experience to any show,” according to a Capital Pride writeup.

• Jose Alberto Ucles has been involved with a wide range of LGBTQ supportive events and projects both culturally and politically while working in his day job for the past 23 years as the Hispanic Outreach Spokesperson and Public Affairs Specialist for the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Some of his many involvements include past work with the Whitman-Walker Clinic, Capital Pride organizing in the 1990s, and currently a member of the Arts & Culture Committee for World Pride 2025 DC.

Breaking Barriers Community Impact Award recognizes individuals or organizations who have demonstrated significant impact on the LGBTQ+ community and helped eliminate barriers for social, personal or professional growth of the LGBTQ+ community.

• Iya Dammons, a widely recognized transgender and LGBTQ rights advocate is the founding Executive Director of DC Safe Haven and Maryland Safe Haven, the nonprofit organizations credited with providing support and services for LGBTQ people experiencing homelessness, substance use problems at risk of an overdose, and discrimination based on their gender identity or sexual orientation.

The Bill Miles Award for Outstanding Volunteer Service acknowledges exemplary contributions to the Capital Pride Alliance and its programs, initiatives or other Pride sponsored activities.

• Bryan Davis is an accomplished Sign Language interpreter trained at D.C.’s Gallaudet University who currently serves as Volunteer Chair with Capital Pride Alliance and previously has served as Executive Producer and Chair for Accessibility and Interpreter Coordinator for Capital Pride.

• William Hawkins has since 2017 been a committed volunteer for Capital Pride as part of its production team and as Executive Producer of Health and Safety and later as Health and Safety Chair. He is credited with helping to form alliances with G.W. Hospital, the D.C. Fire & Emergency Medical Services Department, and the D.C. Licensing Division.

Larry Stansbury Award for Exemplary Contributions to Pride recognizes outstanding efforts related to programs and initiatives of the annual Capital Pride Alliance or Pride movement.

• Destination DC, a private, nonprofit corporation, serves as the lead organization to successfully manage and market Washington, D.C. as a premier global convention, tourism, and special events destination, with a special emphasis on the arts, cultural and historical communities. It is credited with generating economic development for the city through visitor spending.

Further details about the Capital Pride honorees and the May 31 event, including availability of admission tickets, can be accessed at their website.

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District of Columbia

D.C. mayor to hold 2nd annual LGBTQ flag raising ceremony

Event set for June 3 outside District Building

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Mayor Muriel Bowser speaks at last year's flag ceremony outside of the John A. Wilson Building. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs announced this week the mayor will lead the city’s second annual LGBTQIA+ Flag Raising Ceremony at 4 p.m. on June 3 outside the John A. Wilson Building at 1350 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W., which serves as the D.C. government’s city hall.

“We are delighted to invite you to the LGBTQIA+ Flag Raising Ceremony, a significant event celebrating the visibility and diversity of our LGBTQIA+ community,” said Japer Bowles, director of the Mayor’s LGBTQ Affairs Office, in a May 21 statement.

“Join us as we raise the LGBTQIA+ flag alongside Mayor Muriel Bowser, D.C. Council members, and community leaders,” Bowles said in the statement. “This event is free and open to the public, and we encourage everyone to attend,” the statement says.

“Washington, D.C. is proud to be a leader in LGBTQIA+ rights and advocacy,” the statement adds. “This ceremony symbolizes our ongoing commitment to equality and the vibrant diversity of our community.”

The event was expected to take place on the sidewalk in front of the Wilson building at the site of its flagpole.

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District of Columbia

Capital Stonewall Democrats clarifies ‘no endorsement’ of Pinto

Says it postponed action on Ward 2 D.C. race until November

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D.C. Council member Brooke Pinto. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The president of the Capital Stonewall Democrats, D.C.’s largest local LGBTQ political group, expressed regret that he did not clarify in an announcement earlier this week that the organization chose to postpone deciding whether to endorse D.C. Council member Brooke Pinto (D-Ward 2) in the city’s June 4 primary election because she is running unopposed in the primary.

“I misspoke, and I take responsibility for that,” Michael Haresign, the group’s president, told the Washington Blade on Thursday. Haresign said that he regrets that he did not inform the Blade in a May 21 interview at a post endorsement party the group held that Pinto’s name was not on the endorsement ballot the group sent to its members earlier this month to vote on the endorsements.

Based on a press release issued by the group on May 21, the Blade reported that Capital Stonewall Democrats announced it had endorsed just four candidates appearing on D.C.’s June 4 primary ballot – President Joe Biden, D.C. Council members Robert White (D-At-Large) and Janeese Lewis Geroge (D-Ward 4), and D.C.’s U.S. Shadow Representative Oye Owolewa (D).

Among the candidates not endorsed that surprised some in the LGBTQ community were Pinto and D.C. Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D),  who, like Pinto, is a strong LGBTQ community supporter. In the group’s May 21 press release it did not disclose that Pinto’s name was not on the group’s endorsement ballot.

Elizabeth Mitchell, Capital Stonewall’s Vice President for Legislative and Political Affairs, and Austin Naughton, a member of the group’s endorsement committee from Ward 2, contacted the Blade by email on May 23 to point out that the group decided at the committee’s recommendation to postpone a decision on whether to endorse Pinto, and the membership did not vote on a Pinto endorsement.

 “We made a careful and considerate decision as an election committee to not impose upon CM Pinto’s busy schedule at this time as there was no challenger for the primary,” Mitchell told the Blade in an email. “We assured CM Pinto and her campaign that we would revisit the subject of endorsement after the primary as it’s possible a challenger may emerge at that time,” said Mitchell, who added that the group was unaware of anyone emerging to challenge Pinto in the November election.

“As such, we did not include her on our endorsement ballot,” Mitchell said. Mitchell was also referring to the decision not to invite Pinto to one of the group’s candidate forums related to the June 4 primary, even though Pinto made it clear she would be happy to participate in a forum.  

No candidates have emerged in the June 4 primary to challenge Pinto either as Democrats or as members of the city’s two other registered political parties – the Republican and Statehood Green parties. An independent candidate could emerge to challenge Pinto in the November general election, and voters are eligible to vote for a write-in candidate in both the primary and general election.

Mitchell said Norton’s office did not respond to an invitation to participate in the Capital Stonewall Democrats first of two candidate forums and told the group a conflict in her schedule prevented Norton from attending the group’s second candidates forum.

“Her office sent us a very professional letter explaining that she had a prior engagement the evening of our forum and would be unable to attend,” Mitchell said. “We explained that to our members,” according to Mitchell, who added, “She was on our ballot and failed to receive enough votes to win an endorsement.”

 Under the group’s endorsement policy, candidates must receive at least 60 percent of the vote from the members to receive an endorsement. Under that policy, Haresign said the group also did not make an endorsement for the Ward 7 and Ward 8 D.C. Council races or in the race for the D.C. U.S. Shadow Senator seat because no candidate received a 60 percent vote threshold.

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