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Emotions run high at vigil for slain trans woman

200+ gather for vigil; police say shooting followed ‘exchange of words’ with two males

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Lashay Mclean

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

More than 200 people turned out Saturday night, July 23, for a vigil to honor Lashai Mclean, a 23-year-old transgender woman who was shot to death three days earlier in Northeast Washington.

The event took place at the site where police say Mclean was gunned down about 4:30 a.m. near the corner of 61st and Dix Streets, N.E. Among those attending were Mclean’s mother and other grieving family members and relatives.

Deputy D.C. Police Chief Diane Groomes, who spoke at the vigil, said later that homicide detectives are pursuing information provided by a witness that the fatal shooting took place shortly after two unidentified males “had some words” with Mclean in an alley shortly before she was shot.

“The motive is still not clear to us,” Groomes told the Blade after the vigil. Groomes said police haven’t found evidence of either a robbery or a hate crime in the early stages of the investigation.

Neighborhood residents and passersby looked on with interest as more than a dozen speakers, including D.C. Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Paul Quander, condemned the murder and called on the community to speak out against violence targeting the transgender community.

“To the family and to the community, I want you to know that we are committed to making sure that justice is done, that this life that has touched many of us will be remembered and the life that she led will be remembered,” said Quander, whose duties include overseeing city law enforcement agencies.

“We will always be reminded that what happens to one happens to all of us,” he said. “Injustice to one is injustice to all of us and that in this society no intolerance will be accepted.”

Several of Mclean’s family members, including her mother, joined vigil participants by sitting in chairs or standing under a tent set up on the sidewalk on an evening when the temperature reached 100 degrees.

The mother, who was not identified by name, became overcome by grief at the conclusion of the vigil and suffered a seizure. She was taken by ambulance to a hospital in a development that compounded the grief of other family members.

Earline Budd with Mclean's mother (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Two other male family members were being held by police at the site of the vigil after getting into a scuffle with each other on the street where many vigil goers were standing. Police confiscated a tire iron from one of the two men.

“We’re sorting it all out, but emotions are high among the family,” Groomes said later. “They lost their loved one. You saw the mother, the sisters, aunts and uncles, the loved ones, and they’re very distraught.”

During the vigil, Groomes and Sgt. Brett Parson, former head of the department’s Gay & Lesbian Liaison Unit, called on the community to provide police with any information that may lead to the identification of those responsible for Mclean’s murder.

Parson now works as a patrol supervisor in the Six District, where the incident occurred.

“I know that many of you are hurting right now,” he said. “I know that many of you are angry. And you have a right to be because any time a member of our family is taken from us in such a violent way it should make our entire community angry,” he said.

“I want you to know that we get it. We understand that the anger is not just that Lashai was gunned down senselessly,” he said. “But it’s that Lashai was forced to be in a place and time to be ripe for victimization and that those circumstances have to change.”

Sgt. Brett Parson (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Although Parson did not say so directly, he may have been referring to the fact that Mclean was shot shortly after 4 a.m. in an alley near the corner of 61st and Dix Streets, N.E., which is a location well known as a gathering place for transgender prostitutes and the men that patronize their services.

Groomes said police could not immediately determine whether the incident was prostitution related but said investigators were looking into that as a possibility.

“This is an area where there are transgenders that hang out,” she said. “So how do we know that someone filled with hate didn’t come up here and do this?” she told the Blade.

“It’s not clear. Right now we’re not saying anything – we don’t hear anything about hate-bias overtones. So it’s frustration. I mean, what is it?” she said.

Court records show that Mclean was arrested on a charge of “inviting for purposes of prostitution” on Aug. 5, 2010 at 4:45 a.m. on the unit block of K Street, N.E. as part of a sting operation conducted by undercover male D.C. police officers.

Records filed in D.C. Superior Court show that Mclean accepted an offer by the U.S. Attorney’s office to enroll in a court diversion program operated by the local group Helping Individual Prostitutes Survive (HIPS). The program called for Mclean to successfully complete eight sessions of HIPS’ Trans-In-Formation program, a counseling and self-help program that HIPS created under a federal grant to enable transgender sex workers avoid prosecution when arrested on solicitation related charges and become productive citizens.

Court records show Mclean successfully completed the program and the U.S. Attorney’s office dismissed the charge against her on May 9 of this year.

HIPS Executive Director Cyndee Clay said Mclean worked well in the program and the group was pleased to help her. At the vigil on Saturday, HIPS Outreach Manager Jenna Mellor told the gathering she was honored to have known Mclean.

“Every time you talked to Shai you really knew how strong she is,” Mellor said. “And it’s an inspiration to see someone live that strongly every day.”

Earline Budd, an official with the local group Transgender Health Empowerment, and Ruby Corado, a member of the D.C. Trans Coalition, were the lead organizers of the vigil. Both described Mclean as a vibrant, charming, and outspoken young woman who made a lasting impression on everyone who came in contact with her.

Budd and other transgender activists have said workplace discrimination against transgender people often forces young transgender women into prostitution as a means of survival.

Vanessa Crowley of D.C. Trans Coalition (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

D.C. Trans Coalition member Vanessa Crowley told the gathering that Mclean’s murder was another in a series of violent crimes targeting transgender women in the city in recent years. She noted that Mclean’s murder comes two years after a transgender woman was stabbed to death in August 2009 “in broad daylight” in the city’s Shaw neighborhood in a case that remains unsolved.

“While nothing can bring back those that we have lost or undue the suffering that we share, we can and should confront the daily terror and anxiety that trans and gender non-conforming people face,” Crowley said. “We can do this by building networks of mutual support and solidarity and sustain our efforts to feel safe and to make change.”

Crowley also made reference to an initial police news release that identified Mclean by her legal birth name of Myles Mclean and did not list the case as that of a transgender related murder.

“We must stress once against the absolute necessity for the police and the media to respect Lashai’s gender identity,” Crowley said. “The least we can do is respect her chosen and lived identity.”

Others speaking at the vigil included A.J. Singletary, president of the Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence; Jeffrey Richardson, director of the mayor’s Office of LGBT Affairs; Nick McCoy, gay activist and community member of the police department’s Critical Incident Team; Ron Mouton, founder of the local anti-crime group Peaceoholics; David Mariner, executive director of the city’s LGBT community center; Jenna Miller, an official with the local group Helping Individual Prostitutes Survive (HIPS), which provides services to transgender woman involved as sex workers; and Budd and Corado.

Rev. Dyan Abena McCray, pastor of D.C.’s Unity Fellowship Church, which has a largely LGBT congregation, told the gathering in an opening prayer that while the family, friends and community members share feelings of hurt and bitterness over Mclean’s loss, the scripture cautions against vengeance.

“We know that justice is going to reigndown, God,” she said. “We claim jujstice right now…We claim the victory over the adversary right now. He has no power over our lives.”

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9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. Trans Woman

    July 26, 2011 at 8:13 am

    More lip service from the Metro Police Department. Two years ago another transgender woman was stabbed to death in broad daylight and they still haven’t solved that murder. The transgender community has been marginalized for far too long and it’s time that we as a community find a different solution when one of our own is murdered. The M.P.D. just doesn’t care.

  2. Rick Rosendall

    July 27, 2011 at 6:43 pm

    @Trans Woman: Brett Parson is not only a police sergeant, but a member of the LGBT community with a long record of proving his commitment and working to build trust and cooperation and make a difference. Of course there are problems of trust between LGBT people and police–that is why GLLU was needed. Brett has knelt over too many of our brothers’ and sisters’ bodies to be told glibly that he doesn’t care. I understand the anger, but burning bridges cannot possibly help us. Murder investigations can be extremely difficult. People are often afraid to come forward, for one thing. There are also problems with the interface with the U.S. Attorney’s office. But there are good officers who have worked hard to make a difference, and dismissively saying “the MPD just doesn’t care” is terribly wrong and misguided. Our anger needs to be more constructively channeled.

    Speaking of murder investigations, DC Trans Coalition has slammed Lou Chibbaro for what they call speculation for referring to the murder spot as “a location well known as a gathering place for transgender prostitutes and the men that patronize their services.” Did they check police records as Lou routinely does before they lobbed that charge? Is it that we want an investigation unless it brings out information that we don’t want to hear? Yes, of course news reporting and police investigation are two very different things; but the people doing them do not deserve hasty denunciations when they are trying to do their jobs. Please, it is in these awful, wrenching moments that we most need to exercise restraint. We need to keep struggling forward.

  3. brian

    July 28, 2011 at 1:51 am

    Trans Woman’s remark was not inaccurate, Rick. Nor was it glib. I didn’t take Trans Woman’s remark as anything but a legitimate expression of frustration with MPD’s well-chronicled poor leadership *at its highest levels*.

    As I’ve noted many times before, that does NOT apply to MPD’s rank and file officers and their closest district PS commanders across the city, nor to Brett Parson, whom I know and admire, nor to GLLU’s central unit– which has been willfully decimated by Chief Lanier going on five years now.

    There is a chain of command, and all line officers will do their duty, or else. Chief Lanier’s management techniques are well-known. That said, the responsibility buck stop with Lanier, too.

    I seriously doubt Trans Woman was directing her remarks at MPD’s rank and file officers across the city. Nor should she be expected to know of Brett’s history and persona with many in DC’s LGBT community. But it is a VERY serious problem if the trans community doesn’t feel they have a safe haven to report harassment and hate crimes at GLLU central, away from the watchful eyes of their tormentors.

    Brett Parson is a great, professional cop, first and foremost. He has a tough job, and he does it well, as he always has. He spoke the truth, and I have absolutely no doubt that he and MPD rank and file officers understand completely– and with great depth– the anger and frustration expressed by Trans Woman.

    Back to the case itself, I’ve asked the question before… if MPD’s commander were so serious about getting help from the general public regarding this homicide, why did they not publish MPD’s dubious initial press release to ALL of its EIGHT MPD listservs– not just its tiny MPD-SLU listserv?

    Why do the chiefs continue to use the MPD-SLU listserv as a closet for LGBT-related crimes, news and information? It just casts further doubt on Chief Lanier’s claims that she has “improved and expanded” GLLU services across the city.

  4. Rick Rosendall

    July 28, 2011 at 8:36 am

    @Brian, of course there are problems with MPD, as I said. We have a lot of work to do. Some of us are meeting with Chief Lanier next month to try to press ahead. But Trans Woman wrote, “The M.P.D. just doesn’t care,” and that’s a sweeping generality that ignores and falsifies the efforts of some good cops that deserve respect. If we don’t at least pause to give due credit, we tacitly discourage others from bothering, because we’ll attack them no matter what they do short of solving everything with a magic wand. As to what Trans Woman can be expected to know, excuse me but we all have a responsibility to do our homework before making assertions.

  5. brian

    July 28, 2011 at 1:17 pm

    Rick, we just disagree as to our interpretation of what amounts to a letter-to-the-editor soundbite excerpted from Trans Woman’s larger commentary.

    Respectfully, I do read Trans Woman’s comment differently in its context. I believe she was directing her sentiments to MPD’s leadership. Now, they are not the words you or I would have chosen, but I believe that comment represents what a very large segment of the LGBT community is feeling about MPD’s leadership.

    MPD is as professional a PD as they come. It is world class. Our nation’s capital attracts the best and brightest in many fields. Law enforcement is no exception. The FBI’s training facilities at Quantico is a big draw, too.

    MPD’s rank and file is highly intelligent, highly educated, highly trained, highly motivated and not at all thin-skinned. They ARE pros. The body of our police department is stronger and more talented than the sum of the chiefs who head it. There is everything to be proud of in that.

    The simple truth, however, is that the LGBT community has lost faith in MPD’s leadership. Accordingly, too much community trust in MPD has been lost as a result. And for good reason.

    Whatever her intentions, for several years, Chief Lanier has repeatedly said one thing with respect to her support for GLLU and SLU, and done another. There is absolutely no reason to believe that anything she promises now to strengthen GLLU central, won’t drift to the back burner and be diluted to nothing once again.

    Trust is the essential glue which binds a community to its police force. It is not likely that the LGBT community will suddenly regain their trust in MPD (which took many years to RE-build, after all) if Lanier remains as Chief.

    That’s how fragile community/ police trust is. When a significant segment of the population loses trust in its PD, it is time for new leadership, lest that mistrust continue to grow and adversely impact the city’s public safety more and more.

    Chief Lanier is extremely talented and highly capable, but not anymore for this city, at this time. Another city, perhaps with similar public trust issues, could easily benefit from her considerable talent, however.

    We need to rebuild GLLU central while continuing GLOV’s excellent training for officers throughout MPD’s districts. And we will best and most quickly achieve that with new leadership at MPD.

  6. Rick Rosendall

    July 29, 2011 at 8:52 am

    Brian, that’s fine, but it doesn’t refute my point.

  7. Rick Mangus

    July 31, 2011 at 4:10 pm

    Mclean was a prostitute and a drug addict one is enough to get you killed in this town she was killed because of that, this sure in the hell was not a hate crime people, save your compassion for innocent victims!

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McAuliffe: School boards should make ‘own decisions’ on trans students policy

Former Va. governor debated Republican challenger on Thursday

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Terry McAuliffe, gay news, Washington Blade
(Washington Blade photo by Lee Whitman)

Terry McAuliffe on Thursday hotly debated Republican challenger Glenn Youngkin at the Appalachian School of Law in southwestern Virginia on a variety of issues that include vaccine mandates, economic development, abortion access and policing. The former Virginia governor’s support for a law that protects transgender students, however, seemed less clear.

When the moderator asked if local school boards should be allowed to reject Virginia Department of Education “model policies” developed as part of a state law passed last year to protect trans and non-binary students from discrimination, McAuliffe said school boards “should be making their own decisions.”

This soft support for the law that Gov. Ralph Northam signed is in contrast to the Human Rights Campaign’s endorsement this week for his work as governor that includes signing an executive order prohibiting discrimination against LGBTQ state employees and vetoing anti-LGBTQ bills.  

HRC called out Youngkin, a former business executive and vocal Trump supporter, for “anti-LGBTQ and transphobic language” during his campaign. (HRC in 2019 named the Carlyle Group, the private equity company that Youngkin previously ran, as a “Best Place to Work for LGBTQ Equality” in its annual Corporate Equality Index.)

Younkin has supported Tanner Cross, a Loudoun County elementary school teacher who was suspended in June after he spoke against the Virginia Department of Education policy known as Policy 8040. The Virginia Supreme Court last month supported Cross’ reinstatement on First Amendment grounds.

“As governor, I will stand up for teachers like Tanner Cross,” the Republican candidate tweeted.

Youngkin also told Fox News the school board was trying to “cancel” Cross “simply for expressing his views that are in the best interests of the children and expressing his faith.”

But state Del. Danica Roem (D-Prince William County), one of the bill’s co-sponsors, told the Washington Blade in an earlier interview that the 2020 law passed with bipartisan support and most school boards are acting in accordance with the nondiscrimination law.

“Loudoun is catching headlines, but look at all of the other school districts who have adopted this without controversy,” said Roem, who in 2018 became the first openly trans person seated in a state legislature in the U.S. “They are acting in compliance with Department of Education best practices for how to humanely treat transgender kids in schools.”

McAuliffe, after stating that decisions regarding implementing trans student protections should be left to local school boards, said he hated seeing all of the “divisiveness” and “children being demonized.” He then pivoted to his talking points about increasing both teacher pay and broadband access for students.

Early in-person voting in Virginia is underway and lasts until Oct. 30. Election day is Nov. 2.

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Black gay man hopes to ‘shatter lavender ceiling’ in Annapolis

Keanuú Smith-Brown is running to unseat Ward 3 incumbent

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Keanuú Smith-Brown (Photo by David Hartcorn)

Keanuú Smith-Brown, who is affectionately called KSB by his friends, is running to unseat incumbent Annapolis Alderwoman Rhonda Pindell Charles (D-Ward 3) and become the first out LGBTQ elected official in the city.

“Keanuú is on-track to shatter a lavender ceiling in Annapolis, becoming the first out LGBTQ person ever elected in the city,” Victory Fund Vice President of Communications Elliot Imse told the Washington Blade.

Smith-Brown, a 26-year-old substitute teacher, announced in February that he was challenging Pindell Charles, who has represented his ward since 2013. They will face off in a Democratic primary on Sept. 21, then the winner advances to the general election on Nov. 2.

The Annapolis native is the eldest of six siblings, raised by a single mother and a first-generation college graduate who describes himself as a proud Black gay man. His opponent, also a Democrat, stated on an Annapolis Pride survey that she supports the LGBTQ community, just “not overtly.”

“But his candidacy is about more than just making history,” Imse said. “When in office, Keanuú will ensure the interests of the LGBTQ community are considered in every policy discussion and every piece of legislation that comes before the council.”

Smith-Brown told the Blade he is running to represent “those who have been left out,” emphasizing that “there is an urgent need for change in our ward.”

The Annapolis native first came out as gay while still a senior in high school, the same year Pindell Charles was first elected as his Ward 3 representative.

“I grew up surrounded by drug addiction and witnessed domestic violence both in my family and in my community,” he told the Blade, sharing he was raised by a single mom while his father was incarcerated during most of his life.

He still lives in the home in which he grew up, and within five minutes of his partner’s house “if you’re driving fast.”

After graduating from the University of Baltimore in 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in government and public policy, Smith-Brown began working with legislators and advocating for LGBTQ bills in Maryland.

As president of the District 30 Democratic Club, Smith-Brown advocated for House Bill 1147 and its companion Senate Bill 401, which were both similar to neighboring D.C.’s requirement for single-occupancy bathrooms to be marked gender-neutral.

Both bills died in committee during the General Assembly’s pandemic-shortened session in 2020, but Smith-Brown’s advocacy continued.

He marched during the Black Lives Matter protests following the murder of George Floyd by then-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, and he continued to be a public advocate for LGBTQ rights and visibility as a member of Annapolis Pride.

“I have led and joined LGBTQ+ marches, rallies and events, even hosting a campaign ‘Love with Pride and Unity’ Drag Brunch,” Smith-Brown wrote in response to Annapolis Pride’s first LGBTQ-issues survey. “I helped organize for Maryland’s Health Care Decisions Act which would extend the rights of partners when making medical or funeral decisions.”

Pindell Charles, by contrast, in her survey response stated she did not consider her advocacy for the LGBTQ community to be “overt.”

“My support for the LGBTQ+ community, and even other communities, usually revolves around me working with persons individually, which I prefer,” she wrote. “One-on-one, rather than as a group, or public displays.”

FreeState Justice, Maryland’s statewide LGBTQ rights organization supports public advocacy.

“It’s extremely important for LGBTQ community members to participate in civic engagement — especially as elected officials,” Executive Director Jeremy LaMaster told the Blade in an email.

FreeState Justice has encouraged LGBTQ Marylanders to speak out at public hearings in support of legislation such as the state’s “panic defense” ban, waiving the publication of name change petitions and the establishment of a state commission on LGBTQ affairs. All of these measures passed during the 2021 legislative session.

“There is such immense power for our community that can be built at the grassroots level. From leading neighborhood associations to sitting on city councils, or representing the community in the General Assembly,” said Smith-Brown. “As the world changes, so do the ways in which issues disproportionately or uniquely impact the LGBTQ community, especially for our youth, elders, trans and Black siblings.”

Pindell Charles, who did not respond to the Blade’s requests for comment prior to publication, is a retired Baltimore City prosecutor and chairs the Annapolis City Council’s Public Safety Standing Committee.

During her time in public service, her advocacy included a variety of “groups and communities considered to be ‘underrepresented,’” according to her Annapolis Pride survey response.

Smith-Brown said Ward 3 deserves better.

“She is saying this is in a position of power, that she’s not willing to get out of her comfort zone,” he told the Blade. “You may not be okay with seeing two men or two women together, but when you don’t allow yourself in your position to be inclusive of all people you are now failing in your position.”

“If someone said that about the Black community, it would not be taken in the same way,” he added. “Admit that you don’t need to be here in this way. We can all do our best to do better.”

The Capital Gazette in February reported Pindell Charles intends to run for a third term and welcomes Smith-Brown’s challenge.

“We need to win this,” Smith-Brown said, encouraging LGBTQ and all voters to get out and vote. “My being at that seat at the table means that we are all in that seat. What is it they say? If I eat, we eat. That is the impact on our future, and I’m in it to win it.”

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LGBTQ Democrats briefed on D.C. ranked choice voting bill

Council may already have enough votes to pass it

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Stein Club, gay news, Washington Blade
Jatarius Frazier of the Capital Stonewall Democrats was among officials briefed on the ranked choice voting bill. (Photo courtesy D.C. Government)

Members of D.C.’s Capital Stonewall Democrats, the city’s largest local LGBTQ political group, received a briefing Monday night from the chief of staff for D.C. Council member Christina Henderson (I-At Large) on a bill she introduced in July calling for a “ranked choice” voting system for D.C. elections.

The bill, called the Voter Ownership, Integrity, Choice, and Equity (VOICE) Amendment Act of 2021, calls for D.C. to join about 50 other jurisdictions across the country, including New York City and San Francisco, in giving voters the option of ranking up to five candidates for a particular office in the order of their preference.

Under the ranked choice voting system, if a candidate receives more than 50 percent of the “first choice” votes, the candidate is declared the winner. But if no candidate receives greater than 50 percent of the first-choice votes in a race where there are three or more candidates, the system provides an instant runoff.

“The candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated, and voters who picked that candidate will have their votes count for their next choice,” according to a statement released by Henderson at the time she introduced the legislation. “This process continues in rounds until there’s a majority winner,” the statement says.

T.J. Maloney, Henderson’s chief of staff, told Capital Stonewall Democrats members during a virtual Zoom meeting that studies of the ranked choice voting system in jurisdictions where it has been adopted show that overall voter turnout has increased and, following a voter education process, voters appear to adjust and support the system.

Six other D.C. Council members joined Henderson in co-introducing the VOICE ranked choice voting bill, indicating it may already have a seven-vote majority in its favor on the 13-member Council. However, Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large) does not support the current version of the bill, according to spokesperson Lindsay Walton.

Councilmember Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), the chair of the Council’s Judiciary Committee where the bill was sent and one of the bill’s co-introducers, has scheduled a public hearing on the bill for on Nov. 18. The hearing, which will be virtual, will be broadcast live on the Council’s website.

Last week, the D.C. Democratic State Committee, which is the governing body of the D.C. Democratic Party and of which the Capital Stonewall Democrats is an affiliated member, voted to oppose the VOICE Act legislation. Some of its members said they believe a ranked choice voting system would be beneficial to the city’s smaller political party candidates, including Republicans and Statehood Green Party candidates, and would place Democratic Party candidates at a disadvantage.

Gay Democratic activist John Fanning, who was an unsuccessful candidate for the Ward 2 D.C. Council seat in the 2020 D.C. Democratic primary, said he favors a simple runoff election system over a ranked choice voting system in cases where multiple candidates run, and none receive at least 50 percent of the vote.

Among the ranked choice bill’s supporters is gay Democratic activist Austin Naughton, who serves as chair of the Ward 2 Democratic Committee. Naughton told the Washington Blade he is not an expert on the ranked choice voting system but his initial research into the system leads him to believe the system has the potential for providing a greater electoral voice for minority communities, including possibly the LGBTQ community and LGBTQ candidates who run for public office.

Capital Stonewall Democrats President Jatarious Frazier said the group was in the process of learning more about the ranked file voting system. No one raised the issue of the group taking a position on the legislation at Monday night’s meeting.

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