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Va. B&B rejects gays, couple claims

Lawmaker calls for anti-discrimination protections

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Russell Williams and David Schaefer (photo by Meghan Moore)

A legally married gay man claims that a Virginia bed and breakfast denied him and his spouse a reservation for a room because they are of the same gender.

Russell Williams, 56, of Hanover, Pa., said his spouse, David Schaefer, 54, tried to make reservations in late February at Stafford House in Fairfax, Va., as part of a trip for the wedding of their nephew. However, they say they were  denied a room over the phone on the basis of their relationship.

“So they, in that conversation — they ascertained that this was two men,” Williams said. “It’s a husband-and-wife operation. The wife was on the phone with David, and she said, ‘Well, we don’t accept non-traditional couples.'”

Williams, who married Schaefer five years ago in Boston after being together 35 years, said his spouse tried to “push back a bit” on the Stafford House owner, but she remained firm in denying the reservation. Williams, a racehorse breeder, said the owner also told Schaefer, a physician, that unmarried opposite-sex couples would be unable to obtain a reservation.

“There were no harsh words,” Williams said. “Apparently, the husband is a minister and it’s a religion-based policy that they have. And that was that. I guess we’ll stay at the Marriott.”

Stafford House didn’t respond to multiple requests from the Washington Blade to confirm the allegation that an owner denied the couple a reservation.

Virginia has no LGBT-specific non-discrimination law, nor one that protects same-sex couples against discrimination in public accommodations.

Williams said facing this discrimination reminded him of the mistreatment that racial minorities in the United States once faced in similar situations.

“The first thing that popped into my head was now I knew how black people felt 50 years ago,” Williams said. “It was bizarre. David felt the same way.”

Virginia State Del. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria), the only openly gay member of the General Assembly and a candidate for a Virginia State Senate seat, called the alleged discrimination faced by Williams and Schaefer “an embarrassment to Virginia.”

“It’s surprising, in spite of our lack of protections and laws, that this would happen in Fairfax County,” Ebbin said. “It’s another outrage that makes me want to redouble my efforts in support of equality in Virginia.”

Ebbin said a change in law to prohibit discrimination of all types would be the best way to remedy the situation. In the 2011 session of the General Assembly, Del. Ken Plum (D-Fairfax) introduced legislation that would amend the Virginia Human Rights Act to include safeguards for LGBT people against unlawful discrimination.

“Clearly, we need to change the laws to prohibit discrimination of all types,” Ebbin said. “Unfortunately, we’re still at the building-block level.”

Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, also expressed frustration that no legal protections exist to protect LGBT people from discrimination in public accommodations.

“These kinds of things should not be happening in this day and age, and the frustrating part is that they happen all too frequently in areas all across our country,” Sainz said. “It’s even more frustrating when they happen right across from the nation’s capital — in a city that is virtually within walking distance of the nation’s capital.”

Sainz said the incident “makes clear the need for uniformity of laws nationwide that protect all Americans, specifically on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.” But Sainz also said the situation speaks to the need for state non-discrimination legislation in Virginia because he said states have always been “first and strongest” to protect LGBT families.

Williams said although he felt he faced discrimination, he doesn’t think sympathizers should retaliate against the owners of Stafford House.

“I would not want to see the people at the B&B persecuted,” Williams said. “I think it’s wrong and I think they’re ignorant, but I hope that — and I’ve talked about this with a lot of friends — gay people should not retaliate against this kind of thing. I think we should just go ahead and do what we have to do to get our civil rights and make sure that people comply.”

LGBT advocates said they felt drawing attention to this issue can help with efforts to pass laws to prevent such discrimination in the future. Ebbin said such examples can help build the case in the Virginia General Assembly to pass non-discrimination laws.

Del. Adam Ebbin (Blade photo by Michael Key)

“We constantly hear complaints from Richmond that there are no documented cases of discrimination,” Ebbin said. “Every incident like this helps us make it more clear to my colleagues that we need to move forward on protecting LGBT people along with all others.”

Sainz added he believes more LGBT couples throughout the country face this kind of discrimination, but few make the incidents public because they’re embarrassed.

“My suspicion is more incidents like this take place than we hear of because people are embarrassed, and so they don’t want to shine the light on these kinds of situations,” Sainz said. “I think that this couple bringing attention to this issue is the right thing to do.”

UPDATE: Following the posting of this article, Donna Stafford, an owner of Stafford House, told the Washington Blade that the bed and breakfast has changed its policy and will no longer bar anyone from making a reservation.

“We were in the process of [changing our policy] even before your article came out,” Stafford said. “We’re not going to put restrictions on anyone that stays.”

In a separate email, Stafford noted that the prior policy of Stafford House was within the letter of all relevant state and local housing laws.

ADDITIONAL UPDATE: In a joint statement, Williams and Schaefer told the Blade on Wednesday via email that following Stafford House’s announced change in policy, they booked a room at the facility and plan a stay shortly.

“Pursuant to your update we have reserved a room at the Stafford House and plan to stay there this weekend,” they wrote. “Tolerance doesn’t require agreement about everything and if they learned that across the river in Congress the whole country would be better off.”

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Arts & Entertainment

Patti LaBelle, Gladys Knight dazzle at AIDS Healthcare Foundation World AIDS Day Concert at Kennedy Center

Renowned vocalists delivered show-stopping performances

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Patti LaBelle performs onstage during World AIDS Day 2022 at John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on November 30, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for AIDS Healthcare Foundation)

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) hosted its 2022 World AIDS Day Concert on Wednesday, Nov. 30, at the concert hall of The Kennedy Center in D.C. Renowned multi-Grammy Award-winning vocalists Patti LaBelle and Gladys Knight delivered show-stopping performances to the packed crowd, which included supporters, dignitaries such as: Harold Phillips, Director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy; White House Senior Advisor for Public Engagement, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, and New Orleans Mayor, Mayor LaToya Cantrell, and more, in a night of hope and celebration.

The legendary Gladys Knight performs at the Kennedy Center during a free concert hosted by AHF to commemorate World AIDS Day on December 1, 2022, in Washington. (Joy Asico/AP Images for AIDS Healthcare Foundation)

AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), is the world’s largest HIV/AIDS care provider, currently operating in 45 countries. The concert is held every year to commemorate World AIDS Day, observed internationally each year on Dec. 1. This year also marked the global organization’s 35th anniversary. 

At the event, longtime humanitarian and AIDS advocate, Princess Diana was honored, posthumously, with AHF’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Under its “Keep the Promise!” banner, AHF also acknowledged progress made in the global fight against HIV and AIDS and continues to raise awareness about “The Other Pandemic” as a reminder of the significant work still to be done on HIV/AIDS, as well as remembering the lives that have been lost over the years.  

Legendary entertainers Patti LaBelle (L) Gladys Knight (C) and AHF President Michael Weinstein, together at The Kennedy Center during a free concert hosted by AHF to commemorate World AIDS Day on December 1, 2022, in Washington. (Joy Asico/AP Images for AIDS Healthcare Foundation)

Michael Weinstein, President of AHF, said, “As millions remain affected by HIV/AIDS around the globe, World AIDS Day annually provides an opportunity to honor those we’ve lost and those living with HIV/AIDS today, as well as reminding leaders and the community of the work that still remains to address this epidemic. From providing compassionate AIDS hospice care in those darkest early days to growing to become the largest global AIDS organization today, now providing lifesaving care and treatment to more than 1.7 million people around the globe, we also celebrate the tireless work of all those who help make today’s AHF possible: our staff, Board, affiliate organizations and affinity groups, friends, family and elected officials and community partners across the globe, but most of all, our clients and patients—with our annual 2022 World AIDS Day event. It was a momentous night to host our World AIDS Day concert at The Kennedy Center for the first time, and welcome back the legendary Patti LaBelle, and have another great American icon, Gladys Knight join us, while also being able to honor the legacy and humanitarian work of the late Princess Diana.”

President of AIDS Healthcare Foundation, Michael Weinstein and Director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy, Harold Phillips attend World AIDS Day 2022 at John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on November 30, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for AIDS Healthcare Foundation)
Congresswoman, Sheila Jackson Lee and Patti LaBelle attend World AIDS Day 2022 at John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on November 30, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for AIDS Healthcare Foundation)
Derek J. attends World AIDS Day 2022 at John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on November 30, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for AIDS Healthcare Foundation)
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District of Columbia

Matthew Shepard portrait dedicated at National Cathedral

Gay Wyoming student killed in 1998 hate crime honored in daylong ceremony

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Judy and Dennis Shepard stand in front of a portrait of their son, Matthew. Matthew Shepard was honored at a ceremony on Dec. 1, at Washington National Cathedral. (Washington Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

Matthew Shepard, the gay University of Wyoming student who was murdered in a 1998 anti-gay hate crime while tied to a fence outside Laramie, Wyo., was to be honored at a ceremony on Thursday, Dec. 1, at Washington National Cathedral dedicating a newly commissioned portrait of Shepard.

Officials at the cathedral said the portrait by artist Kelly Latimore and commissioned by LGBTQ members of the Cathedral staff, is the only artistic image of Matthew Shepard created in collaboration with Shepard’s parents, Dennis and Judy Shepard, who were present during the ceremony.

Matthew Shepard’s ashes were interred at the Washington National Cathedral in 2018, 20 years after his death. The Cathedral announced in a statement this week that the Dec. 1 dedication of the Shepard portrait would also take place on what would have been Shepard’s 46th birthday.

A Thanksgiving and Celebration of Matthew Shepard service was held on October 26, 2018 at the Washington National Cathedral. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

“The horrific murders at Club Q in Colorado Springs are a tragic reminder that our LGBTQ friends and family continue to be targeted for who they love, and Matthew Shepard’s legacy reminds us of the urgency to confront bigotry and embrace people of all backgrounds, gender identities and sexual orientations,” said The Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith, dean of Washington National Cathedral, in a statement.

Events surrounding the portrait dedication began with a 7 a.m. online prayer service “to celebrate and recall Matthew Shepard’s life,” the statement released by the Cathedral says. The service was led by Right Rev. V. Gene Robinson, the first openly gay priest to be consecrated as a bishop in the Episcopal Church.

The Cathedral next hosted a preview of the portrait for the news media at 10:30 a.m., where Dennis and Judy Shepard talked about the portrait and their son’s life and the impact his death had on the nation’s understanding of hate crimes.

“It’s amazing how similar and what a great job that Kelly [Latimore] has done to make it look like Matt and showing the essence of Matt,” Dennis Shepard told the Washington Blade while viewing the portrait in the Cathedral’s St. Joseph’s Chapel, where the portrait was on display.

Artist Latimore, who also spoke to reporters during the morning briefing at the chapel, said he was moved in his discussions with Judy and Dennis Shepard while getting ready to begin work on the painting by copies of dozens of letters they sent him that had been sent to the Shepards by people across the country after their son’s death.

Latimore included written excerpts from dozens of those letters as the background to his portrait of Matthew Shepard, which can be seen and read when standing close to the portrait.

Artist Kelly Latimore (Washington Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

“Matthew will not be forgotten,” an excerpt from one of the letters on the portrait says.
Dennis and Judy Shepard created the Matthew Shepard Foundation shortly after Matthew’s death, which has been credited with playing a lead role in advocating for the passage by Congress in 2009 of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. The measure was the first federal hate crime statute that expanded the coverage of the federal hate crimes law to include a victim’s sexual orientation and gender identity as a protected class.

President Barack Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act on Oct. 22, 2009. (Washington Blade archive photo by Michael Key)

The Cathedral was to open its St. Joseph’s Chapel from 2-5 p.m. on Thursday to visitors where the Matthew Shepard portrait was on display. Dennis and Judy Shepard were scheduled to be present to greet visitors.

According to the statement released by the Cathedral, later in the evening at 7 p.m., the portrait was to be officially dedicated in a private service in the Cathedral’s crypt near the site where Shepard’s ashes were interred.

“A longtime supporter of the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the life of the church, the Cathedral considers LGBTQ equality one of the great civil rights issues of the 21st century,” the statement released by the Cathedral says.

One of the two men charged with Matthew Shepard’s murder, Russell Henderson, pleaded guilty to a murder charge in exchange for an agreement by prosecutors not to seek a death sentence. He was sentenced to life in prison.

The other man charged in the murder, Aaron McKinney, pleaded not guilty and went to trial, where he was convicted of murder by a jury. In a dramatic statement before the judge at the conclusion of the trial, Dennis Shepard announced and he and his wife had asked prosecutors and the judge to spare McKinney from being sentenced to death, something he said McKinney did not do while fatally striking his son in the head multiple times with the barrel of a gun after the two men tied him to a fence post in a remote field outside Laramie.

The judge sentenced McKinney to two consecutive life terms in prison without the possibility of parole.

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District of Columbia

Three more LGBTQ ANC candidates declared winners

At least 38 LGBTQ hopefuls elected; outcome for two more uncertain

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There will be a special election to fill the seat of Kent Boese, who withdrew his candidacy but received the most votes.

The number of known LGBTQ candidates who won election to Advisory Neighborhood Commission seats rose from 35 to 38 as the D.C. Board of Elections this week released its final, certified vote count for the Nov. 8 D.C. election.

The 38 winners were among 44 known LGBTQ candidates who ran for ANC seats this year. One of the candidates who emerged as a winner, incumbent James Tandaric of ANC 3F05 in the city’s Van Ness neighborhood, was trailing opponent Andrew Koval by just eight votes when the early vote count was released in the days following the election.

The final vote count that emerged this week shows Tandaric beat Koval by a vote of 258 to 250.

When the early vote count was released in the week after the election, the outcome of four LGBTQ ANC write-in candidates along with all write-in candidates could not be determined until the Board of Elections received a required affidavit of candidacy from the write-in candidates, which was due by Nov. 15.

When the final write-in candidate results were released earlier this week along with the names of the write-in candidates, two of the four LGBTQ write-in candidates emerged as winners, both from the Logan Circle ANC. The two are Christopher Dyer of ANC 2F05 and Matt Fouracre of ANC 2F06.

Another one of the LGBTQ write-in candidates, Charles Panfil of ANC 6E02 in the Mount Vernon Square neighborhood, finished in a tie with another write-in candidate. A spokesperson for the Board of Elections said tie votes in ANC elections are resolved by the drawing of lots. The spokesperson, Nicholas Jacobs, said he couldn’t immediately say when a drawing of the lot would take place.

The race for the fourth LGBTQ write-in candidate, Bradley Gallagher of ANC 1E01 in the city’s Park View neighborhood, could not be determined and a special election for that seat will have to be held, according to the Board of Election. The reason, the elections board said, is longtime gay ANC member Kent Boese, who withdrew his candidacy after it was too late to remove his name from the ballot, received the most votes. “As such, there is no winner for this contest” under the city’s election law, the Board of Elections said.

Elections board spokesperson Jacobs said a special election for that ANC seat will be called, with Gallagher and others who obtain the required number of ballot petition signatures will be allowed to run in the special election.

Boese withdrew his candidacy after he was nominated and subsequently approved by the D.C. Council to become director of the D.C. Office of Advisory Neighborhood Commissions.

If Gallagher were to win in the special election and should Panfil win the drawing of the lot following the tie vote in his race, the total number of known LGBTQ candidates elected to ANC seats would rise to 40, a record number compared to past ANC elections.

There were 33 known LGBTQ ANC candidates who won election in 2020, which was the first year the Washington Blade kept track of the known LGBTQ ANC candidates who ran and won.

A list of the 35 winning LGBTQ ANC candidates known during the week following the Nov. 8 election can be seen here.

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