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2009 equality march yielded $90K surplus

Spinoff group Equality Across America dissolved one year later

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The Oct. 11, 2009 National Equality March on Washington for LGBT rights closed its books with about $90,000 in surplus funds, according to organizers and records released by a non-profit financial services group that managed its funds.

March organizers, led by San Francisco gay activist Cleve Jones, had hoped to use the surplus funds to launch a new grassroots organization intended to promote LGBT activism in each of the nation’s 435 congressional districts.

But the new group, Equality Across America, dissolved one year later after organizers engaged in protracted disputes over a governing structure and strategies for carrying out its mission, activists familiar with the group said. Its once enthusiastic volunteer organizers gradually withdrew their support, and a succession of coordinators came and left, creating instability and uncertainty, observers said.

“As disappointed as I am that the group was unable to move forward together, I remain really proud of the work that they did and the way we handled ourselves in that march,” Jones said.

“This may be the only national march we’ve had that didn’t end with financial disputes and bills unpaid and lawsuits and missing money,” he added.

In October 2010, the Tides Center, the San Francisco-based financial services organization that managed the funds for both the march and Equality Across America, said it decided to dissolve EAA due to the group’s “lack of dedicated staff and unified direction.”

After conferring with the remaining “parties who continued to show interest in EAA,” Tides officials announced they would donate approximately $70,000 in funds remaining from the march to three LGBT organizations in equal amounts.

Among the groups to receive the funds were GetEqual, the direct action LGBT organization founded in March 2010 by the National Equality March’s two co-directors, Robin McGehee and Kip Williams.

The remaining two-thirds share of the funds went to an LGBT youth scholastic achievement award fund operated by the Colin Higgins Foundation and to the Face Value Campaign, a group that conducts research and educational campaigns to overcome “social stigma against LGBT children and adults.”

McGehee and Williams resigned from Equality Across America less than two weeks after the march due to irreconcilable disagreements with Jones, the two told the Blade. Jones said their departure led to a split in the coalition of activists and groups associated with EAA that was largely responsible for its demise.

McGehee and Williams dispute that assertion, saying others who operated EAA over the next several months were responsible for its dissolution due to internal bickering over its governing structure and mission.

Jones, meanwhile, said he stepped down from his leadership role in Equality Across America shortly after McGehee and Williams resigned. He told the Blade this week that he made it clear months before the march that he would turn over the helm of the new organization to other LGBT activists and organizers.

Jones said McGehee and Williams appeared to be more interested in “doing their own thing” with GetEqual than supporting what he called the “team” of activists and organizers of the march who aspired to move forward with Equality Across America.

“Given the fact that Robin and Kip had pulled out and launched GetEqual made it very difficult” for EA organizers to continue, Jones said.

He said he learned later that McGehee and Williams had met privately with gay businessman and philanthropist Jonathan Lewis, who later promised them hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants to launch a new group that became GetEqual.

McGehee and Williams said gay D.C. political consultant and former Clinton administration official Paul Yandura approached them on Lewis’ behalf during the week of the march. They said Yandura informed them that Lewis admired their organizing skills and offered to provide them with funding to create a new LGBT organization to carry out the mission of the march.

Yandura told the Blade Wednesday that Lewis would not have objected if McGehee and Williams worked with Jones to use the funds for Equality Across America, but he said Lewis wanted the two to lead the new group.

According to McGehee and Williams, they informed Jones about Lewis’ funding offer and Jones rejected the offer, saying he wanted to “go in a different direction” with EA,” Williams told the Blade.

Jones disputes that claim, saying Williams and McGehee gave him an “ultimatum” on the night of the march that he commit to hiring Williams in a two-year contract to head the Equality Across America project.

“When I told them I could not do that on such a short notice, that I didn’t have the authority to do that, they left,” said Jones. “Then they immediately began telling people that I had fired them, which was ridiculous.”

McGehee and Williams said Jones made it clear to them that they would not have a role in Equality Across America if they didn’t embrace his vision for the new group. They said their departure was based solely on a philosophical disagreement over the mission and role of the new group.

McGehee said she and Williams both informed Jones that while they agreed with the need for organizing in congressional districts, they believed a “435 district” plan would not be the best strategy and use of limited resources for the period between the October 2009 march and the November 2010 congressional elections.

“We, like many others we talked to, believed this was a window that would soon close and we should use all of our resources to pressure the president and the Democratic leaders in the Congress to do more than what they were doing” for LGBT legislation, including repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” McGehee said.

McGehee said the congressional district project should be taken up in some form but she and others working with her believed a highly visible direct action approach, involving non-violence civil disobedience arrests, was the best approach for the 2010 election cycle.

Yandura said Lewis, a multimillionaire philanthropist who was becoming impatient with the White House and congressional Democrats wanted the new group to “shake things up” before the congressional elections, when many expected the Republicans to gain more strength in Congress.

When McGehee and Williams were unable to reach an agreement with Jones, they submitted a plan to Lewis for the creation of GetEqual, which Lewis agreed to support through grants totaling $450,000, said Yandura.

He and Williams told the Blade they expected GetEqual and Equality Across America to work side by side in pushing for LGBT equality.

“My thought was the more the merrier,” said Yandura.

He, McGehee and Williams said the fact that Equality Across American began to falter and later dissolved had nothing to do with GetEqual or McGehee and Williams’ departure but most likely was due to internal disputes over strategy and leadership.

Activists familiar with the EAA, including Jones, said the plans to establish special “Congressional District Action Teams” in all 435 congressional districts never got off the ground.

Jones said the 2009 LGBT equality march had an important impact in motivating young people in the LGBT community to become involved in activism and politics. He said a new generation of activists spawned by the march would do the work in their homes states and districts ultimately would have an impact on members of Congress.

Activists involved in Equality Across America, meanwhile, point to a series of regional conferences that EAA put together in the spring and summer of 2010 to train grassroots LGBT organizers. A report about the conferences posted on the EAA website, which was still online as of last week, said the conferences strengthened the LGBT movement in many parts of the country by generating new activists.

The Tides Center refused a request by the Blade to release a finance report for the march and Equality Across America.

Christine Coleman, Tides’ director of communication, said the group considers such documents confidential.

Jones said he recalls that the march cost about $154,000 to put on. McGehee put the cost at $178,000. The two agreed that most of the funds for the march came from a few large donors, including gay philanthropist and Human Rights Campaign board member Bruce Bastian ($100,000); and GOP former congressman Michael Huffington ($25,000); and a grant from the LGBT supportive Arcus Foundation ($50,000).

The two said about $20,000 of the $90,000 surplus most likely went to expenses for organizing the Equality Across America conferences in several cities. They said part of the $20,000 also may have been used to cover the Tides Center’s fee for managing EAA’s finances and business records.

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District of Columbia

‘Talking Trans History’ explores lives of D.C. advocates

Rainbow History Project holds first panel for city-funded Trans History Initiative

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Seated from left panelists Earline Budd, Rayceen Pendarvis, and Gabrielle ‘Gibby’ Thomas are joined by Rainbow History Project officials and supporters. (Washington Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

Longtime D.C. transgender rights advocates Earline Budd and Gabrielle ‘Gibby’ Thomas gave personal accounts of their transition as transgender women and their work as trans rights advocates Tuesday night, Jan. 24, at a “Talking Trans History” panel discussion organized by D.C.’s Rainbow History Project.

Joining them as a panelist was Rayceen Pendarvis, the acclaimed local event host, public speaker, and LGBTQ community advocate. Pendarvis, among other things, told of being nurtured and taught by dynamic transgender women who proudly affirmed their identity not only as trans people but productive citizens in the community at large.

Vincent Slatt, Rainbow History Project’s director of archiving, served as moderator of the panel discussion. He told the audience of about 25 people who gathered at the Southwest Branch of the D.C. Public Library that the event was the first of many such panels planned by the project’s recently launched Trans History Initiative.

Slatt noted that Rainbow History Project received a $15,000 grant for fiscal year 2023 from the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs to conduct the Trans History Initiative. The initiative plans to “better integrate the often-under-represented histories of trans people into our programming,” according to a RHP statement.

Budd, 64, who has been a trans-identified activist since the 1970s, became involved in the 1980s with supporting people with HIV/AIDS before founding the D.C. organizations Trans Health Empowerment and Empowering the Transgender Community (ETC), for which she currently serves as executive director. She has received numerous awards for her work in support of the trans community and her self-proclaimed role as “the advocate” for the trans and LGBTQ community.

In her remarks at the panel discussion, Budd told of her childhood upbringing in a religious family where, like many trans people, her parents didn’t approve of her early identity as a girl.

“I want to say that around eight or nine my mother found me to be different,” Budd said. “The difference was she would lay my clothes out, my sister’s clothes and my clothes for us to go to school. And when I would come downstairs, I would always have on my sister’s clothes,” Budd told the gathering.

“And she would say why do you have on your sister’s clothes?” Budd continued. “I said mommy, it fits. No, it does not, you’re a boy,” Budd quoted her mother as responding. “And let me tell you, that went on and on and on,” said Budd, who told how she eventually parted ways with her parents and left the house to embark on her role as one of D.C.’s leading trans advocates.

Among her many endeavors was successful discrimination complaints, including one against a D.C. skating rink and another against the D.C. Jail for discrimination based on gender identity. Budd told how she won in both cases, with strong backing from the D.C. Office of Human Rights. 

Pendarvis, among other things, spoke about how an association with trans women as a young adult helped to shape Pendarvis’s longstanding and award-winning role as co-founder of Team Rayceen Productions, including 10 years as leading host of “The Ask Rayceen Show,” which highlighted topics promoting the LGBTQ and trans community in D.C.

Similar to Budd, Pendarvis has received numerous awards and honors, including recognition from the D.C. City Council, for work as a host and speaker at LGBTQ-related festivals, fundraisers and other events.

“As an activist and host, I have been blessed to do many things,” Pendarvis told the panel discussion gathering. “For many who do not quite know how to identify or ask me to identify, first of all, I’m a human being,” Pendarvis said. “I am a father of five and a mother of many.”

Pendarvis added, “I’m a human being first and foremost, a child of God. And my trans sisters uplifted me first, embraced me first. I came out in a community where our transgender sisters were always on the front line.”

Thomas, 65, told the panel session she is a native of North Brentwood, Md., located just outside D.C., but D.C. became her home since shortly after finishing high school. She began her work in the LGBTQ community in 1989 as a caregiver for people with HIV. She has since worked for the local organizations Us Helping Us, Transgender Health Empowerment, and Terrific, Inc. She currently works for Damien Ministries and its “Trans Specific” programming called Shugg’s Place that, among other things, focuses on providing services for transgender older adults.

She told of her growing up as one of seven children in a family whose mother and father, she said ‘were very loving.” But like other trans kids, Thomas said her parents were uncomfortable over her desire to identify as a girl. A more understanding next door neighbor allowed Thomas to spend time in her house as Thomas helped with household errands.

 “I would go to the store and things like that for her,” Thomas said. “But what’s most important, I could dress as I wanted to in her house. She would give me dresses that I could wear. And I could go up there and put on my dresses and watch TV,” Thomas continued. “And then I would get to take my dress off and go home because mom and daddy wasn’t standing for that.”

At around the age of 10, Thomas said, she was aware of current events and observed that her father was a strong supporter and admirer of Martin Luther King Jr. and his civil rights leadership. “I said you can march with Martin Luther King for everybody else’s rights but you are going to deny me mine,” she recalled telling her father.

Thomas said she initially began patronizing D.C. gay bars after befriending gay men from her high school. A short time later, after realizing that the gay scene was not who she was, she discovered the then D.C. gay drag bars Louis’ and The Rogue and had a chance to meet “people like me.” But she said someone she met at one of those two bars introduced her to the then D.C. Black gay bar called the Brass Rail, where transgender women hung out.

“And I said, oh my God, I am home. This is heaven,” Thomas told the panel gathering. “When I came to the Brass Rail I felt like I was home” as a trans person, Thomas said. “I met so many terrific people.”

She went on to tell about the trials and tribulations of fully transitioning as a trans woman and her growth as a transgender activist with a career dedicated to supporting the trans and LGBTQ community.

Japer Bowles, director of the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs, spoke briefly at the start of the Talking Trans History panel discussion. He said the mayor’s office was excited to be supporting the Rainbow History Project’s newly launched Trans History Initiative.

“I’m really, really excited to work for a mayor who not only is fighting for things for our community, but truly funding these opportunities,” Bowles said. “This is about you and our trans communities. So, I’m here to listen.”

Slatt also announced at the panel session that Rainbow History Project has a paid job opening for one or more positions to help run the city funded Trans History Initiative. He said information about the job opening for people interested in applying can be obtained through RHP’s website. He said a video recording of the panel session would be posted on the website in a week or two.

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Virginia

Va. House subcommittee kills anti-transgender bill

Committee members unanimously rejected HB 1434

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A Virginia House of Delegates subcommittee on Wednesday killed a bill that would have required transgender students to obtain a court order to update their name in school records.

Equality Virginia in a tweet noted the House Early Childhood/Innovation Subcommittee voted unanimously to kill state Del. Jason Ballard (R-Giles County)’s House Bill 1434.

“This bill served no educational purpose and was entirely unnecessary,” said Equality Virginia Executive Director Narissa Rahaman in a statement. “LGBTQ+ students thrive when they are provided safe, affirming and supportive learning spaces, which includes allowing them to go by their chosen name without jumping through legal hoops.” 

“HB 1434 would have run counter to that by creating a hostile school environment,” added Rahaman. “By tabling this bill the subcommittee has sent a strong message that LGBTQ+ students belong in Virginia.” 

“Trans and nonbinary students should be able to go to school and be called by their chosen names, without fear of being outed,” said the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia after the vote.

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District of Columbia

SMYAL for the New Year fundraiser set for Thursday

Annual event benefits housing, mental health programs

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A previous SMYAL fundraising event was held at Red Bear Brewing. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

SMYAL (Supporting and Mentoring Youth Advocates and Leaders) is hosting its annual SMYAL for the New Year fundraising event on Thursday at Red Bear Brewing Co. The event will kick off a series of fundraisers supporting the non-profit’s new street outreach and mental health programs.

“SMYAL for the New Year serves a dual purpose,” said Hancie Stokes, director of communications for SMYAL. “One is to fundraise for the organization and the programs and services that we provide for LGBTQ youth, but the other is also to be an introductory event for folks in the community.” 

For more than five years, the Young Donors Committee and SMYAL Champions have held SMYAL for the New Year to engage young professionals in philanthropy. The Young Donors Committee is comprised of new philanthropists between 20 and 30 years old and operates under the larger SMYAL Champions network of donors who give roughly $10 to $35 a month. 

This year, SMYAL is directing those funds to a new bilingual street outreach program aimed at connecting LGBTQ youth to services such as legal aid, healthcare, hormone replacement therapy, and housing. The non-profit is also fundraising for its free mental health counseling program, which opened last year.

SMYAL’s commitment to assisting and empowering LGBTQ+ youth in Washington D.C. dates back to 1984, but the non-profit recently underwent programming changes. In March 2020 when COVID-19 hit, most of SMYAL’s programming went online, connecting members on Discord and Zoom. 

While SMYAL aims to engage those in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, the virtual platform allowed the organization to reach youth in Texas, California, and Florida who are unable to access local centers like SMYAL.

“We did about two years of virtual events and we had folks still showing up and listening to what our programmatic updates were,” Stokes said. “But it is really nice to be able to share physical space with folks again.”

SMYAL continues to offer two virtual events a week alongside two in-person events, however, many of the larger fundraising events are back to fully in-person.

Last year, SMYAL’s new year event centered around two housing programs, which opened in spring 2022 and has since made the non-profit the largest LGBTQ youth housing provider in the region. But since Casa Ruby – an LGBTQ community center and housing provider – closed last September, more youth are in need of housing.

“One of our main goals as we head into 2023 is to really grow that program,” Stokes added.

SMYAL receives funding from the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ+ affairs and Capital One, but Stokes says more support is crucial to continue investing in services that are accessible to non-English speaking youth.

Meanwhile, as anti-LGBTQ rhetoric gains traction in legislation across the country, Stokes emphasizes the importance of maintaining a safe space for LGBTQ youth.

“Our role as a service provider is to make sure that young people have places that they can turn to people that they can talk with, where they can just be a young person, understand their LGBTQ identity and find community and support,” Stokes said. “That’s what our programs really strive to do, everything from our housing programs to our mental health services, even just our weekly drop-in programs.”

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