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Three teens charged in gay D.C. principal’s murder

Police say victim met killers through sex chat line

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Four people were arrested this week in connection with the murder of Brian Betts, the gay principal of Shaw Middle School in D.C. (Photo by Bel Perez Gabilondo; courtesy of D.C. Public Schools)

Three 18-year-old men who allegedly met gay D.C. middle school principal Brian Betts through a telephone sex chat line were arrested this week in connection with his shooting death, police said.

Alante Saunders, whom Montgomery County Police said had no fixed address, and Sharif Tau Lancaster, who lives along the 5300 block of Fifth Street, N.W., in D.C., were charged Monday with first-degree murder, armed robbery and the use of a handgun in a felony crime of violence.

Deonatra Q. Gray, who lives along the 1300 block of Southview Drive in Oxon Hill, Md., was charged Tuesday with first-degree murder, one count of armed robbery, and one count of conspiracy to commit armed robbery.

“While the motive of the crime is still being investigated, we believe that it is most likely going to be robbery,” said Montgomery County Police Chief J. Thomas Manger during a news conference Monday.

Betts, 42, was found shot to death April 15 in a second floor bedroom of his house in Silver Spring, Md. Police said they found his fully clothed body after colleagues at D.C.’s Shaw Middle School, where he worked as principal, became concerned when Betts failed to report to work.

On the day they discovered Betts’ body, investigators disclosed they found no signs of a forced entry into Betts’ house, leading them to believe he invited his killer or killers inside.

Also charged in the case was Artura Otey Williams, 46, Lancaster’s mother. Police she was arrested Monday at the home on Fifth Street, N.W., on charges related to her alleged use of one of several credit cards taken from Betts’ house. She was not charged with the murder itself.

In a related development, D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles separately disclosed Monday that Lancaster and Sanders had recently escaped from a juvenile home where they were in custody by the city’s Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services. Nickles did not say the criminal offense or offenses the two youths had been charged with to land them in DYRS custody.

Manger, when asked by a reporter at the Montgomery County Police news conference whether the chat line through which Betts allegedly met his killers catered solely to gay clientele, said, “I’m not aware of that. I don’t know.”

He said he also didn’t know the name of the chat line, saying only, “It’s been described as a sex chat line, a social networking chat line.” But he noted that investigators believe Betts met one or all of the three 18-year-old men implicated in the case through the chat line on the night he was murdered.

After the news conference, police spokesperson Capt. Paul Sparks described the system as a “national chat line” linked to an Internet site. Sparks said he didn’t know the name of the chat line or Internet site.

Many gay-oriented sex chat lines are advertised in local and national gay publications and web sites.

Manger’s news conference outside Montgomery County Police headquarters in Rockville came the same day that teams of police officers and detectives in Montgomery County, Prince George’s County and D.C. used search warrants to conduct early-morning raids on four residences where they believed evidence and suspects in the case were located.

Manger said Williams was arrested during a search of her house on the 5300 block of Fifth Street, N.W.

He said Saunders, Lancaster and the third 18-year-old man were taken into custody during the search of an apartment along the 1300 block of Southview Drive in Oxon Hill, Md., which is located in Prince George’s County.

Among the items found during the Southview Drive search was Betts’ wallet, which was in possession of one of the men implicated in the case, Manger said. He noted that police found a receipt in the wallet for a pair of Nike shoes that were purchased using one of Betts’ credit cards shortly after the murder.

Police also used warrants Monday to search residences along the 4300 block of Third Street, S.E., in D.C., and along the 2400 block of Southern Avenue in Temple Hills, Md., in Prince George’s County.

Neighbors reported seeing police remove items from the residences, including several large bags containing items from the home on Fifth Street, N.W., which is near the border of D.C. and Silver Spring.

According to Manger and statements released Monday by Montgomery County Police, investigators began piecing together evidence linking the murder to the arrested suspects less than a week after Betts’ body was discovered.

The first break came when investigators discovered that Williams had used one of several credit cards stolen from Betts’ house on the night of the murder to purchase $111 worth of groceries from a Giant supermarket in Silver Spring on April 16, the day after Betts’ body was found. The Giant is located less than two miles from Betts’ house. Police said Williams was recorded using the credit card on a video surveillance camera at the store.

Police charged her with two counts of knowingly receiving a stolen credit card with the intent to use it, attempted theft of items less than $1,000 in value, and attempted fraudulent credit card use. She was being held in D.C. while awaiting extradition to Montgomery County.

“Lancaster was identified through fingerprints obtained from the crime scene inside Betts’ residence,” says one of two statements released Monday by Montgomery County Police.

“Through the course of the investigation, it was confirmed that Lancaster has no known ties to Betts,” says the statements. “Saunders, also with no known ties to the victim, was identified through fingerprints obtained inside and outside the vehicle belonging to Betts, a 2007 Nissan Xterra, which was stolen from his residence on the night of the murder.”

D.C. police recovered the vehicle April 17, two days after Betts was found dead in his house along the 3900 block of Fourth Street, S.E.

“It was determined that several credit cards belonging to Betts were stolen from the residence,” one of the police statements says. “The continuing investigation revealed that Betts’ credit cards were used to make purchases throughout the area, including Silver Spring, Oxon Hill, Hyattsville, Northwest and Southeast Washington, D.C.”

The statement notes that surveillance photos show Lancaster, Saunders and Williams using the credit cards.

“This remains still a very active investigation,” Manger said during his news conference.
In response to reporters’ questions, he said he didn’t know whether Lancaster, Saunders and Gray used the chat line to rob or harm other people. He also told reporters that he didn’t know what promoted one of the suspects to allegedly shoot Betts to death if the motive was robbery.

“The interviews have not been completed, so we don’t have that information,” he said.

Sparks, the police spokesperson, said more arrests could be made in the case.

Officials with the D.C. group Gays & Lesbians Opposing Violence have said that law enforcement agencies in the D.C. area should issue a public alert about criminals targeting gays for robberies and assaults through online social networking sites or phone chat lines.

GLOV co-chairs Kelly Pickard and Joe Montoni said during the group’s regular monthly meeting in April, one week after the Betts murder, that plans were made to distribute flyers and other alerts urging members of the LGBT community to exert caution when using such sites or chat lines.

On Dec. 27, gay D.C. resident Anthony Perkins, 29, was shot to death in his car in Southeast D.C. by a suspect who met him through a phone chat line, according to D.C. police and the U.S. Attorney’s office. Authorities have so far declined to name the chat line.

D.C. police charged 20-year-old Antwan Holcomb with first-degree murder while armed in connection with Perkins’ death.

And in January, gay Maryland resident Gordon Rivers, 47, was fatally shot inside his car while it was parked on Naylor Road in Southeast D.C. Police later arrested 17-year-old William Wren of Southeast D.C. and 22-year-old Anthony Hager of Temple Hills, Md., on murder charges in connection with the case.

D.C. police said in an arrest affidavit that Wren admitted knowing Rivers before the murder and having called Rivers by phone to arrange a meeting with him on Naylor Road, intending to rob him.

Police and the U.S. Attorney’s office have declined to disclose how Wren met Rivers, spurring questions as to whether the two met online or through a phone chat line.

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Virginia

Man who killed one in 2000 Roanoke gay bar shooting dies in prison

One of the worst bias attacks targeting LGBTQ community

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Ronald Edward Gay died while serving life sentences for attacking a Virginia gay bar. (Washington Blade clipping from Sept. 29, 2000)

A man sentenced to four consecutive life terms in prison for the September 2000 shooting at a gay bar in Roanoke, Va., in which one man lost his life and six others were wounded, died of natural causes on Jan. 15, according to the Virginia Department of Corrections.

A spokesperson for the Department of Corrections told WSLA 10 TV News that Ronald Edward Gay died while being treated at a hospital near the Deerfield Correctional Center, a state prison where he had been living as an inmate. He was 75. 

Witnesses and law enforcement officials reported at the time of the shooting that a middle-aged man later identified as Gay arrived alone at Roanoke’s Backstreet Café, a popular gay bar, on the night of Sept. 22, 2000.

According to an account by an eyewitness to the incident who spoke last week with the Roanoke Times newspaper, after ordering a beer and standing next to the bar for a short time, Gay reached into the long trench coat he was wearing, pulled out a 9mm pistol, and fired a round “straight into the chest of 43-year-old Danny Overstreet, before opening fire on the rest of the bar.”

Overstreet, a beloved regular patron at the Backstreet Café, died at the scene of the shooting. Six others, who were wounded by bullets fired by Gay, later recovered, but they and many others who were present and witnessed the shooting were left emotionally scarred, the Roanoke Times reported.

In the weeks following the shooting, news media outlets, including the Washington Blade and the Washington Post, reported findings of an investigation by local police that Gay told police he went to Backstreet specifically to target gay people because he became bitter after years of being taunted and teased for his last name of “Gay.”

The Roanoke Times reported that, among other things, Gay told police “God told him to do it” and that he once wrote that there was an evil inside of him telling him “to shoot or have no rest.”

Gay later pleaded guilty to multiple charges against him, including murder. On July 23, 2001, he was sentenced to four consecutive life sentences in prison for the shooting incident and the murder of Overstreet.

The Backstreet incident in Roanoke was considered by LGBTQ rights advocates and others to be one of the worst incidents in which LGBTQ people were targeted for a shooting until the June 2016 shooting at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., in which 49 people died and 53 more were wounded in a mass shooting by 29-year-old Omar Mateen.

Mateen, who was shot and killed by Orlando police after a three-hour standoff, told police in a phone call from inside the nightclub after the shooting began that he swore allegiance to the leader of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and his attack against the gay nightclub was motivated by the U.S. military intervention in Iraq and Syria. The FBI later classified the incident as a terrorist attack.

The Roanoke Times reported that the shooting incident at Backstreet Café prompted LGBTQ residents and allies to gather in the days and weeks after the incident for vigils and marches. About 1,000 people walked through the streets of downtown Roanoke to honor the life of Overstreet and to urge Congress to pass federal hate crimes legislation, the newspaper reported.

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Va. senator introduces anti-transgender student athlete bill

Democrats have vowed to thwart anti-LGBTQ measures in state Senate

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transgender, Gender Conference East, trans, transgender flag, gay news, Washington Blade
(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A Virginia lawmaker has introduced a bill that would ban transgender students from joining school sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity.

Senate Bill 766, which state Sen. Jennifer Kiggans (R-Virginia Beach) introduced on Friday, would require “each elementary or secondary school or a private school that competes in sponsored athletic events against such public schools to designate athletic teams, whether a school athletic team or an intramural team sponsored by such school, based on biological sex as follows: (i) ‘males,’ ‘men,’ or ‘boys’; (ii) ‘females,’ ‘women,’ or ‘girls’; or (iii) ‘coed’ or ‘mixed.'”

“Under the bill, male students are not permitted to participate on any school athletic team or squad designated for ‘females,’ ‘women,’ or ‘girls’; however, this provision does not apply to physical education classes at schools,” adds the bill. “The bill provides civil penalties for students and schools that suffer harm as a result of a violation of the bill. Such civil actions are required to be initiated within two years after the harm occurred.”

Kiggans introduced her bill less than a week after Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin took office.

Youngkin during his campaign said he does not support allowing trans children to play on sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity. Elizabeth Schultz, an anti-LGBTQ former member of the Fairfax County School Board, has been named the Virginia Department of Education’s Assistant Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The General Assembly’s 2022 legislative session began on Jan. 12 with Republicans in control of the state House of Delegates. Democrats still control the state Senate, and they have pledged to thwart any anti-LGBTQ bills.

“Let’s be clear: This is part of an ongoing, nationwide effort to exclude trans people from enjoying the benefits of sports like their cisgender peers,” tweeted the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia on Friday after Kiggans introduced SB 766. “We won’t tolerate this.”

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Comings & Goings

Hazen inducted into Cooperative Hall of Fame

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Paul Hazen

The Comings & Goings column is about sharing the professional successes of our community. We want to recognize those landing new jobs, new clients for their business, joining boards of organizations and other achievements. Please share your successes with us at: [email protected] 

The Comings & Goings column also invites LGBTQ+ college students to share their successes with us. If you have been elected to a student government position, gotten an exciting internship, or are graduating and beginning your career with a great job, let us know so we can share your success. 

Congratulations to Paul Hazen on his being inducted into the 2022 Cooperative Hall of Fame.  On receiving the honor, he said, “I am very lucky to be given the opportunity to combine my work in international development with my volunteer cooperative development work in Washington DC.”

Hazen is executive director, U.S. Overseas Cooperative Development Council (OCDC) and has devoted his career to elevating the cooperative voice domestically and internationally. U.S. co-ops include Ace Hardware, Land O’Lakes, Inc., Sunkist, REI and the Associated Press. Hazen helped establish federal legislation promoting rural co-op development.  

Prior to joining OCDC, he was CEO of Washington, D.C.-based National Cooperative Business Association CLUSA International. During his 25-year tenure with the organization, he held key positions, including chief operating officer, vice president of public policy, vice president of member services and director of consumer cooperatives.

He worked for Rep. Al Baldus (Wisc.). He was executive director of Rural Housing Inc. in Madison, Wisc., where he developed co-ops and affordable housing projects in rural communities. 

As a volunteer, Hazen formed the Community Purchasing Alliance (CPA) with 12 congregations in D.C.  In 2020, CPA secured more than $18.7 million in contracts resulting in an investment of $13 million in D.C.-based small businesses owned by people of color.

Ben Finzel

Congratulations also to Ben Finzel, who was inducted into the National Capital Public Relations Hall of Fame. Upon receiving the honor, he said “To be recognized by your peers is wonderful; to be honored by them is amazing. I still can’t quite believe I have done enough to be worthy of this recognition, but I know enough to be thankful and appreciative of this high honor. Thank you PRSA National Capital Chapter for including me in such inspiring company; I will be forever grateful.”

Finzel is president of RENEWPR, a D.C.-based public affairs, communications consulting firm. In 2004, he helped launch FH Out Front, the first global LGBTQ communications practice at an international firm, Fleishman Hillard, and served as its first global chair. He started DC Family Communicators, a professional networking group for LGBTQ communications professionals. Finzel served on the Victory Campaign Board of the LGBTQ Victory Fund from 2007 to 2017.

His firm is currently celebrating its seventh year in business. To recognize that accomplishment, Finzel is launching an endowed scholarship at his alma mater, Texas Tech University. His business is certified as an LGBT Business Enterprise by the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce.

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