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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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5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Jake

    March 3, 2011 at 10:42 pm

    First equality march not to end in unpaid bills? Maybe that will help fuel discussions of the potential 2012 march.

    “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.””

    That’s really cool, I hadn’t heard that before.

  2. AndrewW

    March 4, 2011 at 11:18 am

    The NEM didn’t accomplish anything. It’s easy to assemble and “complain,” but that doesn’t change any minds or votes.

    We must focus on educating, enlightening and enrolling people to support our full equality. Marching around with clever signs doesn’t do that – conversation does. Talk to family, friends, neighbors, co-workers and even strangers. ASK them for their support. THAT makes a difference.

  3. Robin Tyler

    March 4, 2011 at 5:20 pm

    Cleve: The 1997 Lesbian and Gay March on Washington for almost l million people and helped bring ‘The Quilt’ to Washington and organize the entire country around AIDS and our rights, actually came out with a surpluss of, I think,
    $10,000.00. So, your snipy comment about this being the only march to
    come out ahead, is disengenous. Also, why brag. You din’t do the work on it,
    you just show up and speak. Although I was against the NEM March because I felt that 4 months would not give enough people enough time to save up money to get to DC (or take time from their jobs or schools), and because it was not
    held in an election year, so that we could use it to register voters and also,
    pressure the candidates, one great thing came out of it. It was the activism of
    Robin McGehee and Kip Williams. I know that Get Equal was a catalyst for
    finally getting rid of DADT (activism and advocacy-both legal and political work).
    I see Robin at demonstration after demonstration, not just when she is speaking, but when we are both just activists, like the one in Arcadia against focus on the family this morning. And you Cleve, I see you nowhere. I know that the MILK
    movie (which you worked closely with the writer) made you look like some kind of hero in the streets. But the fact is, Cleve, that Harvey’s political support and
    influence came from a lesbian feminist and other’s in the community.
    You were a minor player, and you still are. So stop dishing the younger ones that are stepping up and helping carry on for the rest of us.

  4. Robin Tyler

    March 4, 2011 at 5:28 pm

    correction: I meant the 1987 March on Washington in the first line.

  5. Rowan

    March 14, 2011 at 8:35 am

    Get Equal are the biggest agenda obsessed fraudsters ever seen in the activist community who are yes responsible for shaking the Democrats are apart so that one, the GOP hold the House.

    Gee, thanks Kip and Robin! Gays will soon be free to continue the imperialist America ‘fight’ abroad and continue with all those senseless wars-whoopie! I guess it’s only fair that gays to can contribute to Cheney and his ilk getting richer and richer off all the shares they bought in Iraq.

    Pity all that selfless energy isn’t spent on trying educate society in schools and communities that gay people are not the boogie man because whilst you all pat each other in the back, another gay kid is bullied and commits suicide.

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Local

D.C. area LGBTQ bars, eateries receive $100K COVID-19 relief grant

Pitchers, League of Her Own received NGLCC, Grubhub funds

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indoor dining, gay news, Washington Blade
(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The D.C. LGBTQ sports bar Pitchers and League of Her Own, its adjoining lesbian bar, are among the nation’s first LGBTQ bars that serve food as well as alcoholic beverages to receive a $100,000 COVID-19 relief grant under a $2 million Community Impact Grant Program.

The program, aimed at supporting LGBTQ-owned and LGBTQ-allied small businesses struggling from the pandemic, was launched in September as a joint project of the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce, which goes by the initials NGLCC, and the global online food delivery company Grubhub.

In a Tuesday announcement, NGLCC and Grubhub said Pitchers and League of Her Own, which operate as one business in adjoining buildings in D.C.’s Adams Morgan neighborhood, are among the first three recipients of $100,000 grants under the Community Impact Grant Program. The other two recipients are FOODE + Mercantile of Fredericksburg, Va., and Café Gabriela of Oakland, Calif.

“Following this initial round of recipients, more grants will be issued in late 2021 and early 2022,” the announcement by the two groups says. In an earlier announcement, the groups said the application period for the grants program took place from September through Oct. 12, and the grants would range in amounts from $5,000 to $100,000.

“The impact of COVID-19 has been debilitating for countless restaurant and bar owners, including the many LGBTQ+-owned restaurants across the country who have persisted through lockdowns, operational changes and labor supply shortages,” said NGLCC Co-Founder and President Justin Nelson. “We’re grateful to have partnered with Grubhub to offer real lifelines to support businesses throughout the nation,” Nelson said.

“Building community in a fun and safe place has been our mission since the very beginning,” said David Perruzza, the owner of Pitchers and League of Her Own. “We’re relieved and thankful for these funds, and are looking forward to more stable days ahead,” Perruzza said.

“As a trans masculine and queer immigrant person of color, I’ve worked hard and put all my love and energy into building a beautiful and welcoming space in Café Gabriela,” said owner Penny Baldado. “I’ve remained resilient through COVID, and this grant is the injection of funds that we need to continue along our journey to full recovery,” Baldado said.

The statement announcing the first three grant recipient says funds for the $2 million grant program were generated by Grubhub’s “Donate the Change” program of which NGLCC became a partner in June. Grubhub says the program asks customers receiving food delivered by Grubhub “to round out their order and donate the difference” to the charitable fund.

“COVID has turned the restaurant industry on its head the last 18 months, and at Grubhub, we’ve been working hard every day to support our restaurant partners across the country,” said Amy Healy, Grubhub’s vice president of government relations. “As the world starts to return to a new normal, we’re proud to partner with the NGLCC and provide these grants to LGBTQ+-owned and LGBTQ+ ally-owned restaurants across the country that are pillars of their communities.”

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Va. businessman apologizes for burning of rainbow flag poster

‘Shocked and horrified’: Ashburn incident caught on video

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Organizers of an event where a Pride symbol was burned say the incident was a misunderstanding.

The owner of a Virginia technology company that hosted a private Veterans Day party on the grounds of an Ashburn, Va., brewery in which a company employee used a flame-throwing device to ignite a rainbow flag poster said the selection of the poster was a mistake and he and his company have no ill will toward the LGBTQ community.

The Washington Blade learned about the poster burning from a customer of the Old Ox Brewery in Ashburn, where the incident took place on its outdoor grounds. The customer made a video of the incident with his cell phone and sent a copy of the video to the Blade.

The video, which includes an audio recording, shows a man using a hand-held flame-throwing device to ignite the rainbow poster, which was hanging from a cable and appeared to be mounted on cardboard or a thin sheet of wood. Bystanders can be heard laughing and cheering as the poster is set on fire.

The poster consisted of a variation of the LGBTQ Pride rainbow flag that included the word “love” configured from an upper white stripe on the rainbow symbol.

The customer who took the video, who has asked not to be identified, thought the decision to set the poster on fire was a sign of disrespect if not hatred toward a longstanding symbol of LGBTQ equality and pride.

Chris Burns, Old Ox Brewery’s president, shared that view, telling the Blade he and his staff were “shocked and horrified” when they learned later that a rainbow flag poster had been burned on the brewery’s grounds. Burns said Old Ox supports the LGBTQ community and participated in LGBTQ Pride month earlier this year.

He said the company that held the private party paid a fee to hold the event on the brewery’s grounds, but the brewery did not know a rainbow poster would be burned.

“I’m mortified that our event was interpreted in this way,” said Nate Reynolds, the founder and partner of Hypershift Technologies LLC, the Falls Church, Va.-based technology company that organized the Nov. 11 party at Old Ox Brewery. “I can assure you that ZERO ill-will or offense was meant,” Reynolds told the Blade in a Nov. 24 email.

“We held a small private party for a few clients, which included a demonstration of Elon Musk’s Boring Company ‘Not a Flamethrower,’” he said in his message. He was referring to one of billionaire businessman Elon Musk’s companies that specializes in boring through the ground to create tunnels for cars, trains, and other purposes. 

“After so many being isolated during COVID, we wanted to have an event that was lighthearted and to some small effect, silly,” Reynolds said in his message to the Blade.

According to Reynolds, in thinking about what should be used for “fodder” for the flame-thrower, he went to a Five Below discount store and purchased items such as stuffed animals and posters, including a “Space Jam” movie poster as well as what he thought was a poster of the British rock group The Beatles.

“When I pulled the Beatles poster out of the tube it was instead the ‘Love’ poster,” he said, referring to the rainbow flag poster the Blade asked him about in an earlier email.

“All I focused on was the ‘Love’ wording and not the rainbow and did not draw the conclusion that the poster was an icon that represents the LGBTQ community,” Reynolds said. “It was my own ignorance of not connecting the symbolism of the poster. If I had realized it was a symbol of the LGBTQ community, I would not have used it,” he said.

“I feel terrible, and I want to emphasize that I am solely responsible for this mistake – not the Old Ox Brewery,” he wrote in his message. “Nobody at Old Ox had anything to do with this activity.”

Reynolds added, “Hate has no place in my heart, and I sincerely apologize for any offense that could have been drawn from what I now realize was poor judgement on my part. I simply didn’t correlate this poster with the LGBTQ pride symbol.”  

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Before Reynolds issued his statement of apology, Burns, the Old Ox Brewery co-owner, told the Blade in an email he was “saddened and upset” over the rainbow poster burning on the grounds of his brewery.

“We do not wish to benefit from this event,” he said in his email message. “Therefore, Old Ox is donating 100% of the revenue generated from the private event to GLSEN.”

GLSEN is a national LGBTQ advocacy group that focuses on education and support for LGBTQ youth. Burns said Old Ox Brewery also donated proceeds from a Pride month event it organized earlier this year to GLSEN.

LGBTQ activists and organizations contacted by the Blade said they were unfamiliar with the variation of the rainbow flag with the word “love” that was the subject of the poster burning incident. The poster is available for sale at Five Below stores in the D.C. metropolitan area for $5.

Small print writings on the poster show it is produced by Trends International LLC, which describes itself on its website as “the leading publisher and manufacturer of licensed posters, calendars, stickers and social stationery products.” The Blade couldn’t immediately determine who designed the poster.

 The video of the poster burning incident can be viewed here:

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Fairfax schools returns LGBTQ-themed books in high school libraries

Review found ‘no pedophilia’ in texts as critics claimed

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(Book cover insert courtesy of Amazon)

The Fairfax County Public Schools announced on Tuesday that following a detailed review by two committees appointed by school officials it has returned two LGBTQ themed books to its high school libraries that had been temporarily withdrawn after being challenged by critics who claimed they included sexually explicit content inappropriate for students.

The two books, “Lawn Boy,” a novel by author Jonathan Evison, and “Gender Queer: A Memoir,” which is described as an illustrated autobiography by non-binary author Maia Kobabe, each contain descriptions of sexual acts.

But supporters of the books have argued that they have won praise by literary critics and, while describing intimate relationships, they tell stories that do not fall into the category of pornography.  

Fairfax County Public Schools, the name used for the county’s public school system, on Tuesday said in a statement that a thorough review of the books by two committees consisting of educators, school officials, parents and some students found that neither book contained content that could be considered to depict pedophilia as claimed by some parents and others opposing the two books.

School officials announced they had temporarily withdrawn the two books from school libraries following a Sept. 23 meeting of the Fairfax County School Board where strong objections to the two books were raised by parents.

“Two books that were subject to formal challenge have been deemed appropriate for high school readers following a two-month review process and will be reinstated to Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) libraries,” Tuesday’s statement by the school system says.

“The decision reaffirms FCPS’s ongoing commitment to provide diverse reading materials that reflect our student population, allowing every child an opportunity to see themselves reflected in literary characters,” the statement continues. “Both reviews concluded that the books were valuable in their potential to reach marginalized youth who may struggle to find relatable literary characters that reflect their personal journey,” the statement says.

The statement says the final decision to reinstate the books was made by Noel Klimenko, the Fairfax County Public Schools’ assistant superintendent for its Instructional Services Department.

The two books have received favorable reviews in various literary publications. Both have received the American Library Association’s Alex Award, an annual award that recognizes the year’s 10 books written for adults that the association says have a special appeal to young adults ages 12 through 18.

“The robust committee process took place over several weeks and considered whether the books flouted regulations by being obscene or harmful to juveniles as defined by the Code of Virginia,” the school system statement says. “The members also considered the work in line with an excerpt from the FCPS Student Rights and Responsibilities Handbook pertaining to possessing obscene visual imagery as defined in the Code of Virginia,” the statement says.

“After careful consideration, neither books were deemed to have fallen foul of these regulations,” it concludes.

The decision by Fairfax school officials to reinstate the two books came about six weeks after more than 425 LGBTQ students and allies from over 30 Fairfax County public high schools sent a letter to the school board and the school system’s superintendent urging them to reinstate the two books.

The Pride Liberation Project, a coalition of LGBTQ and allied students in Fairfax County, organized the joint letter.

“Student representatives from over 30 schools, including nearly every high school in Fairfax County Public Schools, have signed this letter, and many of us are students of color, low-income, gender expansive and not out to our families and communities,” the letter states.

“We are writing to ask you to reject calls to remove Maia Kobabe’s ‘Gender Queer’ and Jonathan Evison’s ‘Lawn Boy’ from Fairfax County Public Schools libraries,” the letter says.

It points out that “hundreds of books in our schools already depict heterosexual relationships and physical intimacy,” and says singling out LGBTQ themed books with similar stories of intimacy for rejection is unfair.

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