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Local firm working toward a greener D.C.

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Local gay businessman Joe Andronaco said his sexual orientation was never an issue in the workplace. (DC Agenda photo by Michael Key)

Ask someone how to save the earth from ourselves and you likely will get a range of advice. Trade your gas-guzzler in for a fuel-efficient hybrid vehicle, or better yet, an electric car. Attach solar panels to the roof of your home and use them to wean your house off of non-renewable resources. Invest in tree replanting efforts.

Local gay businessman Joe Andronaco has a less expensive, though admittedly less sexy suggestion that he says will not only have a greater collective environmental impact, but will also end up saving you money before too long: have your home inspected for energy inefficiencies, and take steps to address those inefficiencies.

“Conservation is something that doesn’t require new technologies or a major investment,” said Andronaco. And with an estimated 75 percent of the city’s carbon emissions coming from building energy use, the potential environmental benefit “is huge.”

Andronaco not only sees value in conservation, he also believes there is a good business opportunity there. Last year, he helped launch a company called Access Green, which conducts home energy audits in the greater Washington area. The company’s base product, the knowledge audit, provides homeowners with valuable information about their home – where air is coming into the house, which appliances are creating dangerous chemical emissions, and how their energy consumption stacks up against comparable dwellings, to name but a few of the items addressed in the audit.

“One of the biggest issues with green,” observed Andronaco, “is follow through. You can talk green all you want but are you going to get it done?”

For those who choose the company’s premium product, the fulfillment audit, Access Green technicians will come to your home and make some of the repairs and upgrades recommended in the knowledge audit, from changing out HVAC filters to caulking windows and doors. It is this marriage of green advice and implementation that Andronaco says sets his company apart as an innovator.

“We come with a trades knowledge to green,” said Andronaco. “We know how to practically do the things that will achieve the savings. There are lots of inexpensive, couple-hundred-dollar items that can save you thousands.”

Access Green is part of a larger corporation called USA Technologies, a $12 million business that Andronaco has led since 2003. The well-known local commercial heating and air conditioning company Argent, which received the Angie’s List Super Service Award for the past two years, is also part of USA.

“We really take a whole house approach to the way we do systems,” explained Andronaco. “Before you do something like put a new heating or air conditioning system into your home, you really need to do a whole house analysis.”

Access Green is the first company that Andronaco himself has launched, along with lawyer David Julyan and environmental lobbyist Sam Brooks, known by many locally for his spirited attempts a few years ago to win a seat on the D.C. City Council. Brooks and Julyan are principals of 360 Green, a firm that markets green knowledge and services to the business community.

Andronaco was born in Caracas to a Venezuelan mother and an American father. The family moved to Miami when Andronaco was eight and he lived there until going to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to get a degree in history. He got his start in business while working for local utility giant Washington Gas. After leaving D.C. briefly to get his MBA from the Wharton School of Business, which he received with honors, Andronaco came back to D.C. and again worked for Washington Gas before leaving to pursue his dream of being an entrepreneur.

Though Andronaco has been openly gay since his days at business school, his sexual orientation isn’t something that he trumpets in the workplace. So imagine Andronaco’s surprise when his mentor, USA founder Mike Berard, an elderly, staunchly Republican, Vietnam veteran he befriended while working at Washington Gas, called Andronaco into his office to discuss Andronaco’s “lifestyle.”

“He goes, ‘I’m not going to have someone run my business and be in a closet.’ I said, ‘Mike, some people might be offended.’ He said, ‘I don’t give a shit. If they have a problem, I’ll fire them.’”

Aside from one of the company’s top salesmen expressing misgivings about how company morale would fare with a gay man in charge, a line of questioning that Berard quickly shut down, Andronaco said he has received zero negative reaction in the workplace.

“Most people thought that especially these sort of roughneck good ‘ole boy electricians and HVAC guys would have issues, but they don’t,” said Andronaco. “People are multi-faceted and you can’t take them for caricatures that are created by the media and even by ourselves.”

The 43 year old is quick to stress that being gay is just one facet of who he is, and he is extremely active in the wider community. He sits on several local boards of directors, including Goodwill and the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Washington, and is active with the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund as well. He is also on the D.C. Mayor’s Green Collar Jobs Advisory Council and the Sustainable Energy Utility advisory board, which partners with the D.C. Council to administer sustainable energy programs. In 2008, he was recognized by the Washington Business Journal with a Greater Washington Minority Business Leader Award.

A proud D.C. resident, Andronaco lives with his partner in the Northwest neighborhood of Crestwood. Their 1925 Dutch colonial home doubles as a training and demonstration facility for his company. Earlier this week, in fact, Andronico’s colleagues at Argent used his house to demonstrate how to install programmable thermostats.

Andronaco is also a strong supporter of the city and he sees expansion of the green economy as a way to boost the District’s tax base and address its high unemployment rate. He made a conscious choice to base Access Green in the District, along the H Street corridor in Northeast, and said he likewise makes a point of hiring city residents.

Access Green conducted more than 200 home energy audits last year. According to Sara Loveland, who left her job at D.C. Greenworks last year to be Access Green’s chief operating officer, 2010 is already off to a strong start.

The company is working with the Corcoran on its green roof and recently it scored a contract with the Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative to be the sole provider of home energy audits for SMECO clients in Prince George’s and Calvert counties. They are also busy supporting legislation before the D.C. Council right now that would simplify funding options for energy efficiency improvements and renewable energy products.

“The homeowner wouldn’t have to go through a credit application as long as they have equity in their home,” explained Brooks. “If they move before the loan is paid off, it’s attached to the house and stays there. “ This is an innovative way to finance energy improvements, particularly for homeowners, that Brooks said will solidify D.C.’s place at the leading edge of the green movement.

Brooks is quick to note that this legislation is one of the rare instances where the public interest is perfectly in alignment with the interests of “green collar” businesses like his, a trend he sees continuing.

“The better a firm like ours does,” he said, “the closer the government comes to realizing its object to reduce the city’s carbon footprint.” Moreover, he added, there is opportunity here for private sector companies like Access Green to provide market-based solutions to environmental challenges, rather than rely wholly on the government for leadership.

Said Loveland: “People are so dazzled by super sexy projects like solar paneling. Not enough attention is paid to conservation. We can generate all the alternative energy we want, but without conservation we won’t achieve the results we need to meaningfully reduce our carbon footprint.”

The Access Green knowledge audit currently runs $249 while the fulfillment audit starts at $599. For more information on Access Green’s products, visit http://www.greenerhome.com or call 202-559-6061.

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Missing gay man found ‘alive and well’

Police say Richard ‘Rick’ Woods found in good health

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Richard G. ‘Rick’ Woods, a 65-year-old gay man, was found alive and well.

D.C. police announced on Friday that Richard G. ‘Rick’ Woods, a 65-year-old gay man who police said was reported missing and last seen on July 14, has been located. But the announcement doesn’t provide information on where he was found or why he went missing.

Friends who know Woods say he operated for many years an antique wood furniture restoration business in various locations in D.C. The most recent location of his business, friends said, was in Georgetown a short distance from where police said he was last seen on the 1600 block of Wisconsin Avenue, N.W.

“MPD does not publicly disclose the circumstances surrounding a missing person and how they are found, however we do release their flyer as well as a notification when they are located,” said D.C. police spokesperson Brianna Burch. “Mr. Woods was found in good health,” Burch told the Blade.

Police sought help from the public in their initial announcement that Woods was missing. The announcement said he was reported missing to police on Friday, July 23.

Logan Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner and LGBTQ rights advocate John Fanning, who said he has been friends with Woods for many years, said he was delighted to hear Woods was found in good condition.

“Rick is known by many in our community,” Fanning told the Blade at the time Woods was reported missing. Fanning said he and others who know Woods stand ready to provide support for him should he be in need of such support.

The Blade couldn’t immediately reach Woods for comment.

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Some D.C. gay bars to require proof of COVID vaccination

Action prompted by mayor’s order reinstating masks indoors

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Adams Morgan’s A League of Her Own is among the area queer bars requiring proof of vaccination for entry.

At least four D.C. gay bars announced this week on social media that they will require patrons to show proof that they have been vaccinated for COVID-19 as a condition for being admitted to the bars.

They include the Logan Circle area gay bars Number Nine and Trade, which are operated by the same co-owners, and the Adams Morgan gay sports bars Pitchers and A League of Her Own, which are also operated by the same owner and share the same building.

The four bars, which also offer dining service, announced their proof of vaccination requirement shortly after D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser on Thursday issued a new order reinstating the city’s requirement that facial masks be worn inside all businesses and other public establishments.

The mayor’s order applies to all vaccinated and unvaccinated people over the age of two. It was scheduled to take effect 5 a.m. Saturday, July 31.

At a July 29 news conference, Bowser pointed to a new U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance issued two days earlier recommending that fully vaccinated people resume wearing masks indoors in places where transmission of the coronavirus is considered “substantial” or “high.”

The mayor said that, at the advice of her public health experts, she decided to issue the new order to help curtail the rising number of COVID cases in D.C. over the past month or more due to the rapid spread of the virus’s delta variant, which is surging throughout the nation. Like other parts of the country, Bowser and D.C. Department of Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbit said people who are unvaccinated in D.C. make up nearly all of the newly infected cases.

“I know D.C. residents have been very closely following the public health guidelines, and they will embrace this,” Bowser said in referring to the new mask requirement.

The four-page order released by the mayor’s office, similar to the city’s earlier mask requirements, allows indoor patrons of restaurants and bars to remove their masks while “actively” eating or drinking.

But some representatives of restaurants and bars have pointed out that other jurisdictions, including Maryland and Virginia, have followed the CDC’s initial policy of making mask wearing a recommendation rather than a requirement.

“Mayor Bowser’s announcement that nightlife hospitality patrons must wear a mask indoors when not ‘actively eating or drinking’ renders the reinstated mandate essentially unenforceable and results in the rule being reduced to a largely theatrical requirement,” said Mark Lee, director of the D.C. Nightlife Council, a local trade association representing bars, restaurants, nightclubs, and other nightlife related businesses.

“The greatest disappointment for many venue operators and staff, however, is that the mayor’s decision does not allow an option for establishments to admit only fully vaccinated patrons and be exempt from the mandate, as a number of other jurisdictions across the country have done,” Lee said.

John Guggenmos, co-owner of the bars Trade and Number Nine, told the Washington Blade he and his co-owners adopted the proof of vaccination policy as an added means of protecting the safety of both patrons and employees of the two bars.

“We’re hopeful that this will be in effect for just a few weeks or a month or two,” Guggenmos said. “Our patrons have always been very supportive,” he said in referring to the city’s public health directives last year and early this year in which masks were required up until May of this year.

Guggenmos said Trade and Number Nine will allow an alternative to the vaccination requirement if patrons provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test conducted within the previous three days of their admission to the bars.

In its social media postings, Pitchers and A League of Her Own said their proof of vaccination requirement was based on the concern for the health of their patrons and staff.

“We will require proof a COVID vaccination until further notice at Pitchers/ALOHO and masks per the mayor,” a Facebook posting says. “We take guidelines and the health of our patrons and staff very seriously. We will accept a picture or hard copy of your COVID vaccination card,” it says. “No exceptions, no arguing, no talking to the manager.”

Tammy Truong, owner of the gay bar Uproar Lounge at 639 Florida Ave., N.W., told the Blade the bar has no immediate plans to require proof of vaccination as a requirement for admission, but Uproar will fully comply with the mayor’s order requiring indoor masks.

Justin Parker, co-owner of the nearby gay bar The Dirty Goose at 913 U St., N.W., told the Blade he and his staff decided on Friday to also put in place a requirement that patrons show either proof of vaccination or proof of a negative COVID-19 test within the past five days. He said a 5-day window for the COVID test, which the CDC allows in some cases, was chosen rather than a three day requirement to accommodate people who may not be able to get tested during weekends.

Owners of other D.C. gay bars couldn’t immeidately be reached. But the Blade could not find any announcements by the other gay bars as of Friday afternoon that they planed to put in place a proof of vaccination requiremenet. 

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Judge dismisses lawsuit against Va. school guidelines for transgender students

Christian Action Network and other conservative groups filed suit

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Connor Climo, gay news, Washington Blade

Lynchburg Circuit Court Judge J. Frederick Watson on Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit that challenged the Virginia Department of Education’s model policies for transgender students that are to be implemented for the 2021-2022 school year.

The VDOE introduced the policies in March to better protect and affirm trans and non-binary students in schools, considering they are more likely to face discrimination and harassment from their peers and students. The directives would require Virginia schools to allow them to use school bathrooms and locker rooms that conform to their gender identity and pronouns and a name that reflects their gender identity.

Several conservative organizations, including the Christian Action Network, and families whose children attend Lynchburg public schools had sought to overturn the VDOE’s policies. The groups cited their need to protect their right to free speech and religion under the First Amendment.

Challenging the enactment of non-binary and trans-inclusive school policies in Virginia is not a new occurence. 

Tanner Cross, a Loudoun County teacher, was suspended in May after stating he would not use trans students’ preferred pronouns. Circuit Judge James E. Plowman, Jr., who invoked Pickering v. Board of Education,  a 1968 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in favor of a teacher that stated they have the right to provide commentary on issues of public importance without being dismissed from their position, reinstated Cross after he filed a lawsuit,  

Equality Virginia on Tuesday a statement celebrated what they described as “a win for Virginia schools and students.”

“This ruling is important progress and emphasizes the continued need to protect transgender and non-binary youth in Virginia,” said Executive Director Vee Lamneck. “These policies will create safer classrooms and will reduce bullying, discrimination and harassment. It’s imperative school boards adopt these policies as soon as possible because the lives of transgender students are at risk.”

Equality Virginia, ACLU of Virginia, and more than 50 other organizations and school board leaders across the state filed an amicus brief earlier this month encouraging the court to deny the lawsuit.

The brief’s arguments included references to historic lawsuits like Brown v. Board of Education and Grimm v. Gloucester City School Board that specifically addressed inequalities in schools for minority students.

While Tuesday’s ruling is a win for LGBTQ rights advocates in education and their respective students, there still remains a final barrier to ensure that the VDOE’s policies are sanctioned in the fall. 

“The dismissal clears one statewide hurdle for the guidelines and limits future challenges,” reports the Virginian-Pilot newspaper. “But it leaves the fight to continue at local school boards, which are currently debating how or if to implement policies before the start of the school year.”

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