A Washington Post poll showing that the largely unknown D.C. shadow senator, Michael D. Brown, is leading incumbent Council member Phil Mendelson by 17 points in the at-large City Council race has shocked the city’s political establishment and raised the question of whether LGBT voters could save Mendelson from defeat.
Virtually all political observers agree that Brown’s lead over Mendelson, by a margin of 38 to 21 percent among registered Democrats, is due to voter confusion over Brown’s name, which is the same as that of incumbent D.C. Council member Michael A. Brown (I-At-Large).
The Post poll found that 29 percent of respondents said they were undecided in the at-large Council race among candidates running in the Sept. 4 Democratic primary.
The better-known Michael A. Brown, who enjoys widespread support across the city, is not running for re-election this year and has endorsed Mendelson. At a news conference Tuesday, he accused Michael D. Brown of engaging in “political identity theft” to capitalize on the name confusion. Michael D. Brown is listed on the ballot only as “Michael Brown.”
Michael D. Brown did not immediately return a call seeking comment. At a candidates’ forum earlier this year, he expressed support for LGBT equality, including same-sex marriage. Brown, a Democratic Party activist and political consultant, isn’t actively campaigning and has raised only a token amount of funds for his candidacy.
The poll, released by the Post on Tuesday, shows that gay former city parks and recreation director Clark Ray, who is also running for the at-large seat, garnered only 7 percent support from voters eligible to cast their ballots in the Sept. 14 Democratic primary.
With Council member Brown and mayoral candidate Vincent Gray, chairman of the City Council, endorsing Mendelson and participating in an aggressive campaign to overcome the name confusion, some political observers think Mendelson may have a shot at overtaking shadow senator Brown to win the race by a narrow margin.
That means LGBT voters as well as other voters supporting Ray could provide Mendelson with a razor-thin margin needed to win re-election if they switch sides in the race, according to LGBT activists following the contest.
“I think that would be the best situation,” said gay Democratic activist Phil Pannell, in urging Ray backers to vote for Mendelson. “I cannot see Clark picking up the votes needed to win. Phil Mendelson has been not just a friend and advocate for our community, he’s been a true champion,” said Pannell.
Many LGBT activists have said they would have backed Ray if he had run against someone other than Mendelson, who is widely recognized as a longtime supporter of LGBT rights and a lead supporter of the city’s same-sex marriage law.
The Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city’s largest LGBT political group, endorsed Mendelson over Ray. And the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, a non-partisan group, gave Mendelson a rating score on LGBT related issues of +10, the group’s highest score. Ray received a GLAA rating of +5.5.
Ray, meanwhile, said he will continue to campaign for votes and push for the LGBT and non-LGBT issues he’s been running on since he entered the race more than a year ago.
“I got into this with a clear conscience that it was going to be a tough race and I am certainly not going to step out of it with 14 to 15 days to go,” he told the Blade Tuesday.
Gay Democratic activist Peter Rosenstein, one of Ray’s campaign advisers, said the name confusion over shadow senator Michael Brown also has hurt Ray. According to Rosenstein, many voters mistakenly supporting the “wrong Brown” would have voted for Ray and may still do so if the name confusion issue is resolved.
In what some political observers say is yet another ironic twist in the at-large Council race, a Mendelson defeat on Sept. 14 could make it more difficult for Ray to win another at-large seat on the Council in an expected special election in 2011.
Council member Kwame Brown (D-At-Large) is expected to win his race for the Council Chair seat being vacated by Vincent Gray, who is leading Mayor Adrian Fenty in the city’s mayoral contest. A win by Kwame Brown would create a vacancy in his at-large seat, which would be filled in a special election next year.
Many LGBT activists said they would strongly back Ray for that seat, and Ray has hinted that he would consider running for the seat if he lost his race against Mendelson. But if Mendelson loses to shadow Sen. Brown in the Sept. 14 primary, many political observers expect him to enter the race for Kwame Brown’s seat in the special election next year, making it far more difficult for Ray to win the seat.
Gay GOP candidates
dispute low GLAA ratings
Two gay Republicans who are running for D.C. City Council seats this year complained that the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance exhibited partisan bias against the two Republicans by assigning them rating scores lower than what they believe they deserve.
The local gay GOP group Log Cabin Republicans and the gay chair of the D.C. Republican Party, Robert Kabel, backed up the two candidates’ allegation.
“It’s outrageous that GLAA thinks they can rate two gay men so low for ‘gay-supportiveness’ and get away with it without anyone asking questions,” said D.C. Log Cabin President Robert Turner in a press release.
Marc Morgan, who is running for the Ward 1 Council seat, received a GLAA rating of +3. Tim Day, who is running for Council in Ward 5, received a GLAA rating of +1.5.
The GLAA rating system includes scores ranging from -10 to +10 based on the group’s evaluation of candidates’ responses to a GLAA questionnaire and their record on LGBT and other issues the group deems important.
GLAA Vice President Rick Rosendall disputed complaints that Morgan and Day were singled out for partisan bias in a statement on the group’s online forum. He said their questionnaire responses did not show a full understanding of some of the complex issues raised in the questionnaire, even though the two expressed support for LGBT causes and concerns.
GLAA noted that Day lost points when he appeared to state on the questionnaire that he supports a proposal by D.C. Council member Yvette Alexander calling for adding a “conscience” clause to the city’s same-sex marriage law. The clause, which was defeated in committee, would have allowed businesses providing wedding-related services that are not linked to religious institutions to refuse on religious or moral grounds to provide those services for same-sex weddings.
Morgan told the Blade that GLAA apparently wasn’t aware of his longstanding record of support on LGBT issues in other states, such as Arizona, where he worked on efforts to oppose ballot measures seeking to ban same-sex marriage. Morgan said he and Day plan to submit a revised questionnaire to GLAA for the November general election, which he said would better elaborate on their positions and records.
GLAA allows candidates running in the general election to revise their questionnaires, and the group sometimes makes changes in its rating scores based on changed questionnaire responses.
Morgan and Day are running unopposed in the Sept. 14 Republican primary. Morgan would be up against gay D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) in the November general election if Graham wins his primary race on Sept. 14. Graham received a +10 GLAA rating. Day would be the challenger to Council member Harry Thomas (D-Ward 5) if Thomas wins the Democratic nomination in the primary. Thomas received a GLAA rating of +6.
Monika Nemeth to run for Ward 3 D.C. Council seat
First known trans elected official in city
Ward 3 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Monika Nemeth, who became the first known transgender person to win election to public office in D.C. when she won her ANC seat in 2018, says she plans to run as a Democrat for the Ward 3 D.C. Council seat currently held by incumbent Democrat Mary Cheh.
Nemeth is a former president of D.C.’s Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, which recently changed its name to the Capital Stonewall Democrats. She currently serves as chair of the ANC Rainbow Caucus, which advocates for LGBTQ issues. She holds the seat for ANC 3F 06, which represents the neighborhoods of North Cleveland Park and Wakefield.
Nemeth’s LinkedIn page says she has worked for more than 25 years in the Information Technology field. She says she currently manages a team of software developers for an IT company.
“Yes, I am planning a run for Ward 3 D.C. Council in 2022,” Nemeth told the Washington Blade. “I will be running as a Democrat, so I plan to be on the Democratic primary ballot,” she said. “I will pursue the public finance option for my campaign.”
When asked what she would do differently from Cheh, who is a longtime supporter of LGBTQ rights and who is expected to run for re-election, Nemeth said only that she will announce her platform at the time she formally announces her candidacy, which she expects to happen in early September.
Cheh was first elected to the D.C. Council in 2006. She is an attorney and tenured professor of constitutional law at George Washington University Law School.
The Washington City Paper has reported that at least one other candidate is considering running against Cheh for the Ward 3 Council seat – Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority attorney Petar Dimtchev. Dimtchev received the Washington Post endorsement when he ran unsuccessfully against Cheh in 2018 as an independent, according to the City Paper.
UDC hit with anti-trans discrimination complaint
University accused of misgendering student
A female transgender student at the University of the District of Columbia on Aug. 2 filed a discrimination complaint against the university on grounds that it is violating the city’s Human Rights Act by continuing to use her legal name on school documents and class enrollment lists unless she obtains a legal name change.
Emma K. Alexandra, 28, a part-time student who was admitted to UDC in April, states in her complaint filed with the D.C. Office of Human Rights that she informed UDC officials that she was not ready to immediately undertake a legal name change. She states in her complaint that she has repeatedly asked that her chosen name alone be used on all documents and student lists that can be viewed by fellow students and professors.
She said she understands that her legal name may be needed for legal admissions and academic transcript related documents. But to her dismay, Alexandra told the Washington Blade, UDC officials put in place what they consider a compromise position that identifies her on all public university documents and student class lists by both her legal name and her chosen name.
She said the university began and currently continues to identify her by her male legal name with her preferred name written next to her legal name inside parentheses in this way: Legal First Name (preferred name Emma); Legal last name (preferred name Alexandra).
“This is an egregious solution,” Alexandra told UDC President Ronald Mason Jr. in a July 4 email. “This is the name that appears everywhere now,” she wrote Mason. “Most notable, it’s the name that was displayed to my fellow students and professor during the class I took this summer on Blackboard,” she said, which is an online site like Zoom on which UDC conducts classes.
“This effectively outed me as trans to every other student and my professor,” she told Mason. “I assume the same will continue when I go to campus in the fall and get an ID. My ID will have this name and out me to everyone I show it to,” she wrote. “This is completely unacceptable, disrespectful and dangerous.”
Alexandra said she currently works full time as a Web Application Architect for Bloomberg Industry Group as part of its News Engineering team. She said the company is fully accepting of her using her chosen name without obtaining a legal name change. She said she has enrolled at UDC to take courses she needs to qualify for applying to medical school to fulfill her dream of becoming a psychiatrist.
Under longstanding procedures, the D.C. Office of Human Rights investigates discrimination complaints and usually calls on both parties to consider reaching a conciliation agreement over the complaint if possible. If conciliation cannot be reached, OHR makes a determination of whether probable cause exists that discrimination occurred in violation of D.C. law.
If such a determination is made, the case is sent to the D.C. Commission on Human Rights, which conducts a trial-like hearing that includes testimony by witnesses before it issues a ruling on the case.
In response to a question from the Blade about whether a refusal by a D.C. university to use a transgender person’s chosen name violates the Human Rights Act, OHR Director Monica Palacio said OHR cannot provide legal advice on such a question. But in a statement to the Blade, Palacio said for educational institutions, the Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on 15 protected characteristics, including gender identity and expression.
OHR’s regulations related to educational institutions “prohibit creating a hostile environment which could include deliberately misgendering a student,” Palacio said. “If anyone believes the statute has been violated, they may file a complaint with OHR,” she said. “OHR investigations are confidential.”
Alexandra said she had yet to receive a direct reply to her email message to Mason as of early this week. But last week she was contacted by phone by an official from the university’s admissions office and from Dr. William Latham, UDC’s Chief Student Development and Success Officer on behalf of Mason.
According to Alexandra, the two explained that her legal name was needed on certain legal documents. She said Latham explained that a software system the university uses to manage student records known as the Banner system, doesn’t support preferred names and currently prevents the school from displaying only her preferred name.
The officials said the university planned to upgrade to a newer version of Banner in October and the new system “may” support using preferred names, Alexandra said.
“Overall, I thought this was a really ridiculous conversation where folks from UDC tried to convince me that they are using my preferred name while also stating that they cannot use my preferred name as it should be used, mostly due to limitations of software,” Alexandra told the Blade. “I don’t think the Human Rights Act has an exception for software systems,” she said.
The Blade contacted UDC President Mason by email on July 20, asking him to comment on Alexandra’s concerns and asking him what, if any, problems would be caused if the university used Alexandra’s chosen name rather than her legal name on the various public, external documents and lists in which her legal name is being used.
“In response to your July 20 email, the Office of the Registrar can enter the student’s preferred name in Banner (via all access screen for faculty and staff awareness), however all official documents, such as the academic transcript, will require the use of the student’s official legal name,” Mason told the Blade in a one-sentence response.
His response didn’t address the issue raised by UDC official Latham in his phone conversation with Alexandra in which Latham said the Banner software system couldn’t currently identify Alexandra only by her chosen name. Mason also didn’t respond to the Blade’s question of why UDC could not adopt a policy like the D.C. Public Schools system, which accepts a request by transgender students to use their chosen name without having to obtain a legal name change.
Alexandra, meanwhile, points out that UDC’s refusal so far to allow her chosen name alone to be used on all public university documents and student lists without her legal name being attached to it appears to be at odds with a May 4 open letter Mason released to the university community expressing strong support for using the appropriate pronouns for transgender and gender non-conforming students.
“The University of the District of Columbia (UDC) strives to be an inclusive campus that supports and values all members of our community, including LGBTQIA+, nonbinary, intersex and gender non-conforming students,” Mason says in his letter.
“Choosing to not use or ignore the pronouns someone has requested you to use implies that person shouldn’t and doesn’t exist and does not deserve respect,” Mason wrote in his letter. “Therefore, we encourage all faculty and staff to use pronouns in their email signatures as an act of solidarity and to foster a culture of respect for every Firebird,” he concludes in referring to the symbolic name used for members of the UDC community.
UDC is governed by a 15-member independent Board of Trustees. Eleven of the members are appointed by the D.C. mayor and confirmed by the D.C. Council. Three are appointed by UDC alumni and one by students, according to information on the UDC website.
LULAC Lambda announces 2021 scholarship awards
Castro, Javier Rodriguez win $1,000 honors
The D.C.-based LGBTQ Latinx organization LULAC Lambda has announced it has selected two D.C. residents bound for graduate studies in foreign affairs and higher education to receive its 2021 annual scholarship award.
“For a fourth year in a row, LULAC Lambda will provide scholarships to outstanding scholars who come from our LGBTQ+ Latinx community,” said Erik Rodriquez, the LULAC Lambda president, in a statement released by the group. “Our scholarship program will help these scholars achieve their academic goals and reduce their student debt,” Rodriquez said.
The statement says one of the two scholarship awards, for $1,000, will go to Brian Castro, who will begin studies for a master’s degree in the fall of 2021 at Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service.
“The generous scholarship provided by LULAC Lambda will complement my studies by going directly into my tuition costs,” Castro said in the statement. “Though I have been a resident of Washington, D.C., working full-time at a leading public health consulting firm, I am grateful to have received the support from an organization that is also committed to social justice,” he said.
The other scholarship, for $1,300, will go to Victor Javier Rodriguez for his doctoral work in education at Florida State University. The LULAC Lambda statement says Javier Rodriquez’s academic interest lies in “exploring the relationship between school communities and districts’ implementation of anti-racist practice and student success.”
In his own words, Javier Rodriquez said, “A long-term career goal of mine is to affect change at the federal level through the United States Department of Education, in which I would work to address our nation’s education crisis by advocating for equitable policies and practices that improve the outcome for all our students, especially those who are most vulnerable.”
LULAC Lambda says it was founded in October 2014 “to mobilize and strengthen the LGBTQ+ and Latinx communities of Washington, D.C. through community and civic engagement.” It is one of 1,000 chapters across the country affiliated with the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the nation’s largest and oldest Latinx volunteer-based civil rights organization, the group’s statement says.
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