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PR expert Cathy Renna among business chamber honorees

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Cathy McElrath Renna, founder of Renna Communications, an LGBT media strategy firm, says she laughed when told she was this year’s recipient of the Business Leadership Award from the Capital Area Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.

“I just laughed, because I would have never imagined my activism as a business,” she says.

Renna will receive her award tonight at CAGLCC’s 20th anniversary awards dinner.

Longtime New Yorker and current Mount Pleasant resident Renna is quick to share credit for the success of Renna Communications with her wife.

“I wouldn’t have this business if it weren’t for my wife,” she says. “Don’t ask me to even balance a checkbook,” she added, pointing out that her wife Leah McElrath Renna has experience as a financial planner and “I trust her more than anyone in the world.”

The firm was founded in March 2006, when their daughter Rosemary — now 4 — was just 6 months old. “On Friday I’m not going to step from that podium until Leah joins me on the platform,” Renna said, “because she so deserves to do so.”

They’re not legally married yet. “But we’re working on it … we’ve just been too busy working on D.C. marriage equality.”

Helping to spearhead the media coalition work of the D.C. Campaign for All Families, D.C. for Marriage and D.C. Clergy for Marriage Equality has ironically been getting in the way of planning their own wedding. But the couple made time to take Rosemary to the White House Easter Egg Roll this week. Renna Communications got a big boost from the White House Easter Egg Roll event in April 2006 — just a month after the firm opened.

“It was the first big thing the firm did,” she says. “In 2006 there were about 150 LGBT families, about 400 people. We understood it was not a political issue, but for us I like to say that just like breathing, our existence is political.

“So we wore rainbow leis, so festive and appropriate, and lots of straight families had them on also, they knew who we were, and they were supportive. In some ways it was a political statement,” she concedes, “to highlight that families can come in all shapes and sizes, and we’ve gone every year since.”

She calls that kind of direct messaging “the goal of the work we do as a firm — and the tagline for our firm is ‘we’ll get your story told.'” She says the LGBT community has come of age in the last 20 years.

“We are no longer abstract — we exist. … Change won’t come until people understand the stories behind that need for marriage equality or for employment rights. We’re doing a better job now, but we still have a long way to go, but we’re getting there because now we’re a whole lot smarter.”

Also being honored at the awards dinner on April 9 are:

• David von Storch, owner of Capitol City Brewing Company and Vida Fitness among other businesses, for Excellence in Business;

• Jonathan Blumenthal, co-founder and president of Burgundy Crescent Volunteers, as Volunteer of the Year;

• Thomas Sanchez, principal of Wamwaw LCC, a web development and strategy firm, as Emerging Entrepreneur;

• Bob Summersgill, longtime LGBT activist instrumental in passing the marriage equality law in D.C., for Community Advocacy;

• and Wachovia, a Wells Fargo Company, as Corporate Partner of the Year.

The awards dinner is at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, 1330 Maryland Ave., S.W. It begins with a silent auction and networking at 6:30 p.m. Individual tickets are $180 for CAGLCC members and $195 for nonmembers.

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Rehoboth Beach

Former CAMP Rehoboth official pleads guilty to felony theft

Salvatore Seeley faces possible jail time, agrees to reimburse $176,000

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Salvatore “Sal” Seeley, who served as an official at the Rehoboth Beach, Del., CAMP Rehoboth LGBTQ community center for 20 years, has pleaded guilty to a felony charge of Theft In Excess of $50,000 for allegedly embezzling  funds from the organization for at least a two-and-a-half-year period, according to a Sussex County, Del., Superior Court indictment and a spokesperson for the Delaware Office of the Attorney General.

The spokesperson, Mat Marshall, sent the Blade a copy of the indictment, which he said was handed down against Seeley on Feb. 27 and which provides the only specific court information that the Washington Blade could immediately obtain.

“Salvatore C. Seeley, between the 27th day of February 2019 and the 7th day of September 2021, in the County of Sussex, State of Delaware, did take property belonging to Camp Rehoboth, Inc., consisting of United States currency and other miscellaneous property valued at more than $50,000, intending to appropriate same,” the indictment states.

“I can further confirm that the Defendant entered a guilty plea to one count of Theft in Excess of $50,000,” spokesperson Marshall told the Blade in an email message. “Mr. Seeley also agrees to make restitution of $176,199.78 to CAMP Rehoboth,” Marshall said. “He will be sentenced on April 5 and does face the possibility of prison time.”

Marshall declined to provide additional information on the findings of the law enforcement investigation into Seeley’s alleged theft. The restitution figure of $176,199.79 suggests investigators believe Seeley embezzled at least that amount from CAMP Rehoboth during the time he worked for the organization.

Seeley couldn’t immediately be reached for comment

CAMP Rehoboth describes itself as a nonprofit LGBTQ community service organization and the largest organization of its type “serving the needs of LGBTQ+ people in Rehoboth, greater Sussex County, and throughout the state of Delaware.” The statement adds that the organization “is dedicated to creating a positive environment inclusive of all sexual orientations and gender identities in Rehoboth and its related communities.”

Kim Leisey, who began her job as executive director of CAMP Rehoboth in July of 2023, said it was her understanding that officials with the organization discovered funds were missing and opened an investigation in September of 2021, a short time before Seeley left the organization. Leisey said that at the time of his departure, Seeley served as CAMP Rehoboth’s director of health and wellness programs. 

At that time, former D.C. Center for the LGBT Community director David Mariner was serving as CAMP Rehoboth’s executive director and reportedly took steps to open an investigation into missing funds. Wesley Combs, CAMP Rehoboth’s current board president, said Seeley resigned from his job around that time in 2021.

“I know that I took this job knowing there was a concern and a problem and an investigation,” Leisey told the Blade. “And I also know that the board of CAMP Rehoboth has done everything it needs to do to ensure that we were compliant, cooperative and that things are going really well here at CAMP Rehoboth.”

Leisey said CAMP Rehoboth currently has a staff of six full-time employees and several contract employees. She said the organization has a current annual budget of $1.4 million.

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District of Columbia

Capital Pride announces 2024 Pride theme

‘Totally radical’ a nod to 80s and 90s

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Capital Pride Alliance Executive Director Ryan Bos, on left, announces this year's Pride theme at the Pride Reveal party on Thursday. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Capital Pride Alliance on Thursday announced this year’s Pride theme is “totally radical.”

The organization made the announcement at Penn Social in Downtown D.C.

“Capital Pride’s 2024 theme celebrates the courageous spirit and unwavering strength and resilience that defined the LGBTQ+ community during the transformative decades of the 1980s and ‘90s,” said Capital Pride Alliance Executive Director Ryan Bos. “It’s about embracing our authenticity, pushing boundaries and advocating for a world where everyone can live their truth without fear or discrimination.”

Capital Pride on Thursday announced this year’s Pride parade, which will take place on June 8, will begin at 14th and T Streets, N.W., and end at Pennsylvania Avenue and 9th Street, N.W.

The Capital Pride Block Party and Family Area will once again take place on 17th Street in Dupont Circle. A Tea Dance will also take place on Constitution Avenue, N.W., near the end of the parade. 

The Capital Pride Festival and Concert will take place on Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., on June 9.

Capital Pride has also launched a campaign to raise $1.5 million for a new D.C. LGBTQ community center. 

WorldPride will take place in D.C. in 2025. The event will coincide with the 50th anniversary of Pride events in the nation’s capital.

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District of Columbia

D.C. ceremony welcomes affirming church as ‘full standing’ UCC congregation

Bishop Abrams officially installed as pastor of UCC Empowerment Liberation Cathedral

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Bishop Allyson Abrams (far right) was installed as pastor of UCC Empowerment Liberation Cathedral.

The Mt. Rainier, Md.-based Empowerment Liberation Cathedral, which Washington Blade readers have selected for five years as the D.C. area’s Best LGBTQ Church, was honored as an official United Church of Christ congregation in a ceremony on Sunday, Feb. 25, at the Plymouth United Church of Christ on North Capitol Street in D.C.

The ceremony, organized by the Potomac Association of the United Church of Christ, which admitted Empowerment Liberation Cathedral as a UCC congregation last fall, also officially installed lesbian Bishop Allyson Abrams as pastor of the now UCC-affiliated Empowerment Liberation Cathedral.

Abrams founded Empowerment Liberation Cathedral in 2014 at its original location in Silver Spring, Md., as a nondenominational Protestant church that she declared would be a welcoming and affirming congregation “where all of God’s children are welcomed,” including LGBTQ people of faith. Washington Blade readers have also named Abrams the D.C. area’s Best Clergy for seven years.

Although many consider Empowerment Liberation Cathedral a “gay” church, one of its spokespersons, Kendrick Keys, told the Washington Blade ELC considers itself a welcoming church and congregation open to everyone, even though he said a majority but not all of its members are LGBTQ.  

A biography of Abrams prepared by the LGBTQ Religion Archives Network says her founding of Empowerment Liberation Cathedral came one year after she resigned as pastor of the Zion Progress Baptist Church in Detroit in 2013 and two years after she was consecrated as a bishop at Pneuma Christian Fellowship, a religious order in Orange County, Calif.

The biography says Abrams created a stir in 2013 shortly before her resignation as pastor of Zion Progressive Baptist Church, when she announced to the congregation that she had just married another female bishop, Diana Williams, who at the time was Bishop Emeritus of the Imani Temple African American Catholic Congregation.

A short time after that, Abrams and Williams moved to the D.C.-Maryland area where Abrams mapped out plans to open the Empowerment Liberation Cathedral known as ELC.

 “Bishop Abrams came to the Washington, D.C. area with a new blitz about her marriage to another female bishop,” a statement released by ELC says. “She was outcast by many organizations and religious groups for declaring you could be gay and Christian,” the statement says.

“When Abrams decided to open a church in the Washington Metropolitan Area many media outlets discussed her keeping her faith and opening a church for those who have been marginalized and disenfranchised from the church and from their legacies in churches across America,” the statement continues.

“Bishop Abrams has remained on the forefront of ministry and has united with a denomination that believes in justice and equality for all – the United Church of Christ,” says the statement.

It was referring to the United Church of Christ’s status as an LGBTQ-affirming church that welcomes LGBTQ people into its services and congregations.

A separate ELC statement says among those attending and participating in the Feb. 25 ceremony at Plymouth Church were pastors, bishops, ministers, parishioners, community leaders, organizations affiliated with ELC and the United Church of Christ’s Potomac Association.

Among them was Japer Bowles, director of D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs, who delivered a statement from Bowser.

“As Mayor of Washington, D.C., I congratulate Empowerment Liberation Cathedral as you join the United Church of Christ (UCC) family and install Bishop Alyson Abrams as pastor,” the statement says. “As you gather to celebrate this momentous occasion, may both pastor and congregation be inspired to even higher heights of achievement and service to our communities,” the mayor’s statement says.

The Capital Pride Alliance, the group that organizes D.C.’s annual LGBTQ Pride parade and festival, issued its own statement congratulating Empowerment Liberation Cathedral. The statement mentions that in 2016, Capital Pride honored Bishop Abrams as a Capital Pride Hero “in acknowledgement of her work in the faith community for the acceptance and affirmation of LGBTQ+ Christians.”

ELC spokesperson Keys said the church holds its weekly Sunday services at the Mt. Rainier Arts Center at 3311 Rhode Island Ave., Mt. Rainier, Md.

He said a nonprofit community services organization created by ELC called Empowerment Justice Center, is located at 1015 15th Street, N.W., Room 653 in D.C. The church office is also at that location, Keys said. 

Further information about church services and events can be obtained by contacting ELC at 202-798-4371 or at empowermentliberationcathedral.org.

But Keys said the church’s location in Maryland had not been updated on the website, which lists its former location in Lanham, Md., rather than its current location in Mt. Rainier.

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