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Nats commentator apologizes for ‘sissy’ remark

D.C. sports groups say team supports LGBT community

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A commentator for the Washington Nationals baseball team apologized on Wednesday for using the word “sissy” during a June 5 televised broadcast of a Nationals game against the Arizona Diamondbacks in Phoenix.

In an interview with the Washington Blade, Ray Knight, a former Major League Baseball player who serves as a commentator accompanying the Nationals’ regular announcer, said he meant no harm to anyone when he used the word. He said he didn’t realize it is sometimes used as a derogatory code word for gay men.

“I never thought one time that that would be a word that would be used to connote that,” he said, adding that he meant it as an expression calling for a baseball player to “come on, toughen up.”

“But absolutely, I get it,” he said. “Now I get it.”

In his comments during the June 5 broadcast, Knight used the term in a discussion about batters being hit by balls thrown by pitchers.

“So you don’t go up there playing the game like a sissy,” he said. “And I’m at the far end of it, I promise you. But I just don’t like all this baloney about the aggressiveness that’s been taken away.”

He was referring to a baseball rule allowing umpires to eject a pitcher from a game if the umpire believes the pitcher intentionally hits a batter with the ball.

Just prior to using the term sissy, Knight told TV viewers that he never likes to see a batter hit or injured by pitched balls. But he said the practice by pitchers of throwing “inside pitches” that come close to hitting a batter is a longstanding tradition in baseball.

Knight serves as the co-host of the Nationals’ pre-game and post-game TV shows. He was a major league player for 13 years for several teams, including the Baltimore Orioles and New York Mets and was selected twice as an All-Star player. He served as a coach and manager for the Cincinnati Reds.

His apology came one week before more than 3,000 LGBT baseball fans are expected to turn out for the annual Night Out at the Nationals game on June 21 at Washington Nationals Stadium in D.C.

Brent Minor, an official with Team D.C., the LGBT sports group that organizes the annual Night Out event at Nationals Stadium, said the Nationals have been “very supportive” of the LGBT community and have made Team D.C. and gay Nationals fans feel welcome. He noted that the Nationals had a booth at D.C.’s Capital Pride festival last Sunday and they regularly support other LGBT- and AIDS-related events and causes.

Alexandra Schauffler, a spokesperson for the Nationals, said the team had no comment on Knight’s use of the word “sissy.”

But the Nationals vice president for communications and brand development, Lara Potter, issued a statement to the Blade listing the Nationals’ recent actions in support of various LGBT-related events and causes in D.C., including next week’s Night Out with the Nationals event.

“[T]he Nationals are proud supporters of the LGBT community and have been since the team came back to D.C. in 2005,” she said.

Among other things, Potter noted that the Nationals will show on its video screen during the Night Out game a public service video from the It Gets Better Project, which seeks to curtail LGBT teen suicide.

She did not say whether the Nationals would join the San Francisco Giants, Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs in sponsoring ongoing promotional campaigns for the It Gets Better Project.

Knight’s apology also came after he learned through the Blade that Eliza Byard, executive director of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, a national group that advocates against LGBT teen bullying in the nation’s schools, expressed concern over his sissy remark.

“He could have had all the opinions he had and if you take away the sissy part I don’t see it as a problem,” said Byard, who describes herself as a longtime baseball fan.

Byard said the world “sissy” is often used as a code word for gay men or a derogatory term for women, and the term is offensive to both women and LGBT people.

“What Ray Knight did was give us a case study in how sexism and homophobia live in athletics,” she said.

“It has to be called out. It needs dialogue,” she said. “It may surprise Ray Knight to know that there are baseball fans out there that don’t have a problem with pitches that are high and tight but really, really don’t like it when he talks about it in terms that are denigrating to women and gay people.”

After being told of Byard’s concerns, Knight said he regrets using the word during his television commentary.

“I never thought about it that way, never took it in that connotation,” he said. “Certainly, never in a million years would I ever say anything that would offend someone. And if you knew me you would know that.”

Byard was relieved to hear of Knight’s apology.

“I appreciate that Ray took the time to learn about a word that is thrown around carelessly on playgrounds across the country to demean others,” Byard said. “I’m glad to hear that he will no longer use the word now that he understands its origins and impact,” she said.

“Good for him. I hope others will follow his lead and think carefully about the words they use in order to make their points forcefully but respectfully. Disrespect for others has no place in baseball or any other sport. Pitching inside, on the other hand, is still OK.”

Knight said he has followed in the news the issue of anti-LGBT bullying and supports efforts being waged by groups like GLSEN to discourage bullying in schools and elsewhere.

But when told that GLSEN and D.C.’s Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League (SMYAL), among other groups, have reported that the term sissy is often used in bullying episodes against LGBT teens, Knight said he was not aware of that.

Michael Solem, the lead organizer of G-Nats, an LGBT Nationals fan club, said he didn’t think Knight’s “sissy” remark was intended to be malicious.

“People can make poor choices of words, especially in live broadcasts,” Solem said. “I think Knight was simply implying baseball players shouldn’t be ‘wimps’ or ‘crybabies’ when it comes to getting hit.”

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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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