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Evans, Brown enter race for Council chair

Anti-gay candidate runs in at-large contest

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D.C. City Council member Jack Evans, seen here at an event celebrating the passage of same-sex marriage, is running for the Council chairman’s seat. He will run against Council member Kwame Brown. (DC Agenda photo by Michael Key)

D.C. City Council members Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) and Kwame Brown (D-At Large) have announced they are candidates for the Council chairman’s seat, creating another citywide contest where LGBT voters must choose between friends.

Evans and Brown entered the Council chairman race after the current chairman, Democrat Vincent Gray, declared his candidacy for mayor, challenging Mayor Adrian Fenty’s bid for a second term in September’s Democratic primary.

Much as they did with the mayor’s race, most gay Democratic activists have said they are not ready to take sides in the Council chair contest, expressing an interest in seeing the LGBT-friendly candidates for mayor and Council chair speak out on both gay and non-gay issues.

However, Evans’ strong support for LGBT rights extends over 20 years in his role as the Council’s most senior member. His longer record on LGBT issues is expected to give him an edge over Brown for the gay vote — at least in some parts of the city.

“We have a process for endorsing candidates and we’re going to follow that process,” said Jeffrey Richardson, president of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city’s largest LGBT political group.

In a timetable approved earlier this year, the club will hold an endorsement meeting June 14 for Democratic mayoral candidates, who will be invited to speak and answer questions from club members. The club is scheduled to vote on an endorsement after the candidates speak.

Stein Club officials scheduled a similar endorsement meeting July 12 for Democratic candidates running for the Council chairman seat as well as one of two at-large Council seats up for grabs, in which gay Democratic activist Clark Ray is challenging pro-gay Democratic incumbent Phil Mendelson.

City Council insiders have said Mendelson is considering running for the Council chairman seat now that Gray is giving it up to run for mayor. But unlike Evans and Brown, Mendelson remained silent this week on his intentions, leading some City Hall observers to speculate that he has decided to run once again for his at-large post.

A decision by Mendelson to give up his at-large seat to run for Council chairman was expected to greatly boost Ray’s chance of becoming the Council’s third openly gay member. Gay Council incumbents David Catania (I-At Large) and Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) are also up for re-election this year.

Meanwhile, in a little noticed development, gay rights opponent Richard Urban, who has testified repeatedly in favor of a ballot measure to kill the city’s same-sex marriage law, filed papers to run as an independent candidate for an at-large Council seat.

Under the city’s unusual election rule governing the Council’s at-large seats, Urban would be competing for the seat held by Catania, the author and lead advocate for the gay marriage law.

The city’s election law, which Congress wrote at the time it approved the city’s home rule charter in the early 1970s, requires at least one of the two at-large seats up for election this year to go to a non-majority party candidate. Since Democrats make up the majority party, only one of the two seats can go to a Democrat and both, theoretically, can go to a non-Democrat.

So far, Mendelson and Ray are the only Democrats competing for the Democratic nomination for the majority party seat. The Washington City Paper reported this week that Kelvin Robinson, who served as chief of staff to former Mayor Anthony Williams, is strongly considering entering the Democratic primary contest against Mendelson and Ray. Robinson is believed to share Williams’ strong views in support of LGBT rights, including same-sex marriage.

Most political observers consider Mendelson the strong favorite to win the nomination and the general election should he decide to stay in the race, with the gay vote expected to split between Ray and Mendelson. Mendelson, a longtime supporter of LGBT rights, is credited with shepherding Catania’s same-sex marriage bill through the Council in his role as chair of the committee with jurisdiction over the bill.

Urban’s candidacy, while considered a long shot, could potentially galvanize voters who oppose gay marriage, possibly turning Catania’s re-election bid into a surrogate referendum on marriage. Catania, however, could benefit from yet another independent candidate who also opposes same-sex marriage, Rev. Anthony Motley, who has been campaigning for the so-called non-Democratic at-large seat since June.

Unlike Urban, Motley has expressed support for LGBT rights in all areas other than marriage, saying he supports civil unions instead of same-sex marriage. Urban’s candidacy could potentially split the anti-same-sex marriage vote, strengthening Catania’s chances of winning the second, non-Democratic at-large seat.

In addition to opposing same-sex marriage and calling for a voter initiative to overturn the same-sex marriage law, Urban has campaigned against including gay-related content in the D.C. public school system’s sex education curriculum. He has also emerged as one of the city’s strongest advocates of abstinence until marriage as the main method of preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS. He’s expressed strong opposition to the city’s current policy of distributing free condoms to all groups considered at high risk for HIV, including high school students.

On his campaign web site, Urban lists at the top of his platform a call for “marriage defined as the union of one man and one woman only.” In a position paper on the city’s public schools curriculum, he calls for eliminating all references to sexual orientation and gender identity from school sex education courses — components of the curriculum that LGBT activists lobbied to put in place.

Urban, who is white, is expected to reach out to socially conservative black voters in wards 7 and 8, as well as in other parts of the city, who have expressed strong opposition to gay marriage.

Under the city’s election law, the two at-large seats are awarded to the two candidates — regardless of their party affiliation — who receive the highest vote counts in the general election in November.

Catania enjoys widespread support among voters across the city on a wide range of issues, and he’s considered the strong favorite to retain the non-Democratic seat. But Urban’s status as the first full-fledged anti-gay candidate to run for a City Council seat in many years is expected to put to the test the strength of a vocal group of socially conservative ministers who have vowed to push for the defeat of Council members who voted for the gay marriage bill.

Numbers filed with the city’s Office of Campaign Finance, however, show Urban had raised just $570 for his campaign as of the reporting period ending March 10, an amount that would lead most political observers to conclude he has yet to become a serious candidate.

Catania, by comparison, raised slightly more than $134,000 as of the same reporting period, according to records.

Each of the remaining Council members up for re-election this year have strong records of support for LGBT rights and each voted for the same-sex marriage bill. They include Graham (D-Ward 1), Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), Harry Thomas (D-Ward 5) and Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6).

So far, each of the four is considered favorites to win re-election, although Graham and Thomas face candidates who could wage a competitive race. Gay marriage opponents in Ward 5 vowed to target Thomas for defeat. The views on same-sex marriage among three of the four candidates running against Thomas could not be immediately determined.

One of Thomas’s challengers, gay Republican Timothy Day, said he supports same-sex marriage and would run against Thomas on non-gay issues.

Among the few gay Democratic activists who have taken sides in the mayor’s race, most emerged as supporters of Gray, including two of the 12 openly gay members of the D.C. Democratic State Committee, the governing body of the city’s Democratic Party. Five of the gays on the committee said they would remain neutral in the race for the time being. Among the gay State Committee members remaining neutral is Stein Club Vice President Sheila Alexander-Reid, a prominent Fenty backer in 2006. Gay State Committee member Stephen Gorman did not respond to a call seeking his position on the mayor’s race.

But three prominent gay civic leaders this week said they enthusiastically support Fenty’s re-election, based on his approach to gay and non-gay issues. The three are Alex Padro, an elected Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner from the Shaw area; Scott Rogerson, president of the French Street Neighborhood Association in the Logan Circle area; and Martin Moulton, president of the Convention Center Community Association, which represents the neighborhood surrounding the D.C. Convention Center.

All three said Fenty’s administration took important steps to improve their respective neighborhoods. When asked whether they agreed with Fenty critics, including some in the gay community, that have described the mayor as aloof and not directly engaging community groups and rarely attending gay events, the three did not dispute that criticism but noted that the mayor’s personality didn’t bother them.

“I don’t have to have my mayor be touchy feely to make me happy,” Rogerson said. “I want him to be an effective mayor, keep the budget in line, and get projects done. I don’t need the warm hug, I need results, and he has produced results.”

Gay backers of Vincent Gray, including gay Democratic activist Lane Hudson, have said Fenty’s aloofness and failure to speak out publicly on issues like anti-gay hate crimes have prevented his administration from having a greater impact on such issues.

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Virginia

Woman in standoff with Fairfax police charged with kidnapping ex-girlfriend

Incident began in Laurel, Md. led to shutdown of Richmond Highway

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Brittany A. Copelin is charged with kidnapping her ex-girlfriend before getting into a 30+ hour standoff with police. 

A 29-year-old woman armed with a gun in her car who was engaged in a standoff with police on Richmond Highway in the Hybla Valley section of Fairfax, Va., for at least 34 hours before surrendering to police has been charged with kidnapping her ex-girlfriend.

According to statements released by Fairfax County and Laurel, Md., police, Brittany A. Copelin, a resident of Charles County, Md., allegedly kidnapped her former girlfriend, Lauren Kingsbury, 25, outside Kingsbury’s home in Laurel on March 24 and reportedly drove her to a destination in Fairfax before Kingsbury was able to escape from her ex-girlfriend.

The Fairfax police statement, released on March 30, says Fairfax police received a tip that Copelin, who was reported missing by the Charles County, Md., Sheriff’s Office, might be located around the 7200 block of Fordson Road in Alexandria. When officers arrived at that location they were approached by Kingsbury, who told them she had been abducted by Copelin.

After searching the area, the officers found the 2016 Jeep SUV that Copelin had been driving in a parking lot along the 7300 block of Richmond Highway, the statement says. It says the officers attempted to stop the jeep, but it drove away, prompting the officers to engage in a “short pursuit” until the Jeep stopped again on a service road on Richmond Highway near Arlington Boulevard.

 “Copelin displayed a firearm to officers and refused to exit the Jeep,” the statement says. “To ensure the safety of our community, our officers and Copelin, Richmond Highway was closed between Lockheed Blvd. and Boswell Ave.,” the statement continues. “Officers from our Special Operations Division and Crisis Negotiations Team responded to work to peacefully resolve the situation.”

After more than 30 hours of negotiations with Copeland and with support from Alexandria police, Virginia State Police and George Mason University Police, Copelin surrendered and was taken into custody Thursday morning, March 30, according to the statement.  

“She was then taken to the Adult Detention Center where she was charged with two counts of abduction, two counts of use of a firearm in commission of a felony, and felon in possession of a firearm,” the statement says. It says she was being held without bond.

Fairfax County Police Chief Kevin Davis said crisis negotiators and clinicians were in contact with Copelin during the standoff, and that Copelin was experiencing a mental health crisis, NBC 4 Washington reported.

Laurel, Md., police issued their own statement saying they became involved in the case when Lauren Kingsbury’s mother reported her daughter missing on March 26. The statement says the mother reported her daughter was last seen through surveillance camera video “leaving her residence on Friday, March 24, 2023, in the company of Ms. Copelin.”

The statement adds, “Detectives from our Criminal Investigations Division are still in the investigative stages of establishing what happened in the days leading up to the kidnapping and during the time Ms. Kingsbury was missing.”

The statement says Laurel police have charged Copelin with Kidnapping, Home Invasion, First Degree Assault, Second Degree Assault, Third Degree Burglary, Firearm Use in the Commission of a Felony, Loaded Handgun on Person, and False imprisonment.

“The Laurel Police Department commends the Fairfax County Police Department for their commitment and perseverance in finding a peaceful resolution in bringing Ms. Copelin into custody,” the statement concludes. “We are grateful that Ms. Kingsbury has been returned to her family. We would also like to thank Ms. Kingsbury’s family for their continued cooperation and determination in bringing their loved one home,” it says.

Neither Copelin’s attorney nor Lauren Kingsbury could immediately be reached for comment.

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Maryland

Gay former College Park mayor indicted on 80 counts of child porn

Grand jury adds 24 additional counts of felony ‘intent to distribute’ allegations

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Gay former College Park Mayor Patrick Wojahn faces 80 counts related to child pornography.

A Prince George’s County, Md., grand jury on March 28 issued an indictment charging gay former College Park mayor Patrick Wojahn with 80 counts of possession and intent to distribute child pornography.

The indictment comes just under four weeks after Prince George’s County police announced on March 2 that they had arrested Wojahn, 47, on 56 counts of possession and distribution of “child exploitive material.”

The former mayor and longtime LGBTQ rights advocate has been held in jail since the time of his arrest after a judge on March 6 denied his request for bail.

Police charging documents said Wojahn allegedly had uploaded and/or shared at least 56 videos or still images on the social media app Kik depicting explicit sexual acts between adult men and prepubescent boys, depicting prepubescent boys engaging in sex with each other or engaging in masturbation.

The initial charges filed against Wojahn by police and prosecutors with the Prince George’s County State’s Attorney’s Office included 40 misdemeanor counts of possession of child pornography and 16 felony counts of intent to distribute child porn, comprising a total of 56 counts.

But this week, Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy, the lead prosecutor in the case, issued a statement saying the grand jury on March 28 handed down 24 new counts of intent to distribute child porn.

The grand jury’s action, which usually comes at the request of prosecutors, brought the total number of counts against Wojahn to 80 – 40 for misdemeanor possession allegations and 40 for felony intent to distribute allegations.

“This is an unprecedented case in our county in which a former elected official has been accused of a crime of this nature,” Braveboy said in her statement. “The charges contained in the indictment are serious, and we will continue to work with law enforcement to investigate and follow any new leads that may be uncovered,” she said.

“It is important to note that the defendant is presumed innocent, and my office will continue to focus on achieving justice for the victims in this case,” Braveboy said.

At the time of his arrest, Wojahn issued his own statement announcing he had resigned from his position as mayor and was cooperating with authorities in their investigation into the charges against him. “I have cooperated fully, and will continue to cooperate fully,” he wrote.

Wojahn added, “I am stepping away to deal with my own mental health. I ask that you continue to keep me and my family in your prayers.”

In a charging document filed in court, P.G. County police said at the time of his arrest that Wojahn waived his Miranda rights to remain silent and provided police with a statement acknowledging having downloaded files containing child pornography.

Court records show Wojahn is scheduled to appear for a preliminary hearing following the indictment on April 21 in Prince George’s County Circuit Court in Upper Marlboro.

“The indictment was an expected next step in the case, which will now proceed in Circuit Court,” Wojahn’s attorney, David Moyse, told the Washington Blade in a brief statement. “Mr. Wojahn continues to cooperate with authorities and focus on his own mental health during this process,” Moyse said.

Wojahn’s arrest came as a shock to his colleagues on the College Park City Council, on which he served for eight years before winning election as mayor in 2016. The arrest also stunned LGBTQ rights advocates in D.C. and across the country, who had praised Wojahn’s advocacy work both locally and nationally for LGBTQ equality.

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Maryland

D.C. man charged in murder of trans teen outside Maryland bar

Victim’s family, police disagree over whether incident was hate crime

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Darryl Carlton Parks Jr. was arrested in the case of a trans woman who was shot to death in Maryland. (Photo courtesy St. Mary's County Sheriff's Office)

The St. Mary’s County, Md., Sheriff’s Office announced on Wednesday that it has charged a 29-year-old D.C. man with the March 24 shooting death of an 18-year-old transgender woman outside a bar in Mechanicsville, Md.

In an earlier announcement last week, the St. Mary’s Sheriff’s Office said Tasiyah Woodland of Lexington Park, Md., was found shot to death shortly after 1 a.m. in a parking lot outside the Big Dogs in Paradise bar and grill after “some type of confrontation” occurred.

The earlier announcement said investigators did not believe Woodland had been targeted for the murder because of her gender identity, although Woodland’s family members disputed that claim, saying they believed the murder was a hate crime.

In its announcement on Wednesday, March 29, the Sheriff’s Office said its Criminal Investigations Division on March 24 – the day of the murder – identified District resident Darryl Carlton Parks Jr. as a suspect in the case. Later that same day investigators obtained an arrest warrant for Parks, the announcement says.

On Tuesday, March 28, according to the latest announcement, the Sheriff’s investigators along with the assistance of the D.C. police Homicide Unit, located and apprehended Parks on the arrest warrant. He is being held in D.C. while he awaits extradition to St. Mary’s County, the announcement says.

It says Parks has been charged with First-Degree Murder, Second-Degree Murder, Firearm Use/Felony-Violent Crime, two counts of Reckless Endangerment from Car, and Illegal Possession of a Regulated Firearm.

The latest announcement does not disclose whether Sheriff’s Office investigators have determined a motive for the 18-year-old trans woman’s murder.

Woodland’s sister, Ty’aliyah Woodland, told News 4 Washington that she and members of her family believe the killing was a hate crime based, in part, on the fact that Woodland had been subjected to “hate” in the recent past because of her gender identity. Ty’aliyah Woodland told News 4 Washington that her sister was an outspoken person who sometimes got others upset.

“She was one of a kind. She had no filter. She told you what it was and what it wasn’t, and nobody like that,” Ty’aliyah Woodland told the TV news station. “I mean, she was the true definition of living life to the fullest.”

Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Jason Babcock told the Washington Blade on Wednesday that there were multiple witnesses who informed investigators that Tasiyah Woodland had been inside the Big Dogs in Paradise bar and reported a confrontation took place after Woodland left the bar and entered the parking lot.

“When she came back out there was some kind of confrontation between the suspect and the victim that led to the shooting,” Babcock said. “But they were not in a relationship, and the investigation has determined that the victim’s gender identity was not a factor in the shooting,” he said.

Babcock added that investigators determined the shooting took place while suspect Park was inside his own car, leading to one of the charges being Reckless Endangerment from Car.

“The Sheriff’s Office thanks the community for its assistance in this investigation and urges anyone with additional information to contact Deputy David Lawrence at 301-475-4200, ext. 78130,” the latest statement released by the office says.

In its earlier statement prior to the announcement this week of an arrest in the case, the Sheriff’s Office said its investigators had reached out to the victim’s family and to the LGBTQ community while its investigation was still under way.

It said the investigators had been “in regular contact” with members of Woodland’s family to offer support and updates on the investigation.

“The Sheriff’s Office has also been in contact with members of PFLAG Southern Maryland and the LGBTQ+ community to address concerns of personal and public safety,” the earlier statement said. “At this time, it does not appear that Woodland was targeted because of her gender identity,” it said.

PFLAG, or Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, is a national organization with chapters in states and cities across the country.

Under Maryland law, people under the legal drinking age of 21 are allowed to patronize bars and other places that serve alcohol if they do not consume an alcoholic beverage. The Sheriff’s Office has said it was investigating whether Woodland was served alcohol, News 4 Washington reports.

Big Dogs Paradise Bar (Screen Capture via NBC4 Washington)
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