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Gray board appointee called gays ‘faggots’

Local activists divided over decision to name Leroy Thorpe to post

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Vince Gray

Mayor Vincent Gray’s decision to appoint a controversial civic leader to a mayoral advisory committee has rankled some. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Gay activists had mixed views this week over a decision by Mayor Vincent Gray to appoint a controversial civic leader who in past years referred to gays as “faggots” to a mayoral advisory committee that looks at city programs to curtail juvenile delinquency.

Gray last week named Leroy Thorpe, a licensed social worker and counselor with the D.C. Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services and a longtime civic activist in the city’s Shaw neighborhood, to the mayor’s Juvenile Justice Advisory Group. The unpaid advisory panel assists the mayor and DYRS, among other things, on how to use federal funds to strengthen the city’s juvenile justice system.

D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), a longtime supporter of LGBT rights, sent Gray a letter strongly recommending Thorpe for the appointment.

Evans could not be immediately reached for comment.

And Ron Collins, Gray’s gay director of the Mayor’s Office of Boards and Commissions, said he vetted Thorpe for the appointment and recommended that the mayor name him to the advisory panel. Collins said Thorpe’s background and experience on juvenile justice issues showed him to be qualified for the post.

“I’ve known Leroy Thorpe for a number of years and I really don’t feel that he is a bigot toward any community,” Collins told the Blade.

Thorpe told the Blade in a phone message on Monday that he prefers not to discuss things he said in the past but said he’s changed his views and treats all people with respect.

“These days, you know, I got older, got wiser,” he said. “And I don’t act like I did before, back in the time when…I spoke without thinking. Everybody deserves respect and I don’t care who or what you are.”

Martin Moulton, president of the Convention Center Community Association, a Shaw-based group that has long been at odds with Thorpe, says Thorpe’s “history of bigotry” makes him unsuitable for a mayoral appointment.

In a series of e-mails sent to public officials and gay activists, Moulton points to statements Thorpe has made about gays on at least two occasions over the past 20 years. One took place in 1991, when Thorpe shouted through a bullhorn at a polling station on Election Day that gay City Council candidate Jim Zais was a “faggot” and Shaw voters should not support him.

Zais, who died of AIDS in 1994, lost the election to Evans by a close margin. At the time, Evans and his supporters disavowed Thorpe’s characterization of Zais, saying he wasn’t representing Evans or the Evans campaign.

Moulton noted that Thorpe several years ago called gay D.C. Council member David Catania (I-At-Large) an anti-gay name during a City Council hearing.

According to Moulton, Gray violated a promise he made to the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance on a GLAA questionnaire during last year’s mayoral election campaign, when Gray said he would “decline to honor individuals or organizations that promote any sort of bigotry.”

William Waybourn, former publisher of the Washington Blade and a Shaw resident, said Thorpe called him a faggot during a Shaw Advisory Neighborhood Commission meeting in 2007 after Waybourn spoke at the meeting on an issue unrelated to LGBT rights.

“I don’t know why he did it,” said Waybourn.

Waybourn said Thorpe was less hostile toward him a short time later when the two attended a hearing by the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. Thorpe testified at the hearing against an application for a liquor license by owners of BeBar, a gay bar seeking to open on 9th Street in the Shaw neighborhood. Thorpe joined members of Shiloh Baptist Church, located across the street from the bar, who opposed the bar on grounds that it was not appropriate for it to be that close to a church.

The ABC Board later approved the license.

Shaw Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Alex Padro, who has had dealings with Thorpe when Thorpe served on the ANC, called Thorpe’s appointment to a city board an “outrage.”

“The suggestion that someone with his record has changed doesn’t ring true,” he said.

Veteran D.C. gay activist and Ward 8 community leader Phil Pannell and Christopher Dyer, director of the city’s Office of GLBT Affairs under former Mayor Adrian Fenty, each said they have cordial relations with Thorpe and don’t consider him to be anti-gay.

“He might have been a homophobe in the past but I have observed a change,” Dyer said. “I don’t think deep down inside his soul he is homophobic.”

Pannell said Thorpe on several occasions has attended Pannell’s birthday celebration at a Ward 8 restaurant, which Pannell often uses as a fundraiser for community organizations or charitable causes.

“He has always been very respectful to me,” said Pannell. “He came to one of my functions with his wife. I would be hard pressed to call someone a homophobe who comes to my birthday,” said Pannell, who notes that his sexual orientation is widely known in political circles throughout the city.

Pannell said that while Thorpe clearly has used poor judgment in some of his references to gays in the past, he said he was moved when Thorpe showed up at Jim Zais’ memorial service in 1994 and apologized for the Election Day incident in which he called Zais an anti-gay name.

GLAA Vice President Rick Rosendall said he is troubled over Thorpe’s past remarks using the word “faggot” and believes Thorpe’s appointment could represent a contradiction to Gray’s response to the GLAA candidate questionnaire. But Rosendall said he also believes in “redemption” by people who change their views and attitudes on LGBT people.

“If he truly has changed, that’s something we would welcome,” he said.

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Local

Comings & Goings

Peter Chandler named executive director of Internet Works

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Peter Chandler

The Comings & Goings column is about sharing the professional successes of our community. We want to recognize those landing new jobs, new clients for their business, joining boards of organizations and other achievements. Please share your successes with us at: [email protected].

Congratulations to Peter Chandler on being named executive director of Internet Works. Since 2020, Internet Works has worked to ensure the voice of small and medium-sized online platforms is included in policy discussions typically targeted at the largest companies.

Laura Bisesto, chair of the board, said “We’re thrilled that Peter Chandler has joined as Internet Works’ Executive Director. The tech policy space is constantly changing, especially around intermediary liability, and as we work to ensure small and medium-sized tech companies are included in the policy debates lawmakers are having around the country, Peter was a natural fit for us.”

Chandler has 30 years of campaign, political, legislative, and advocacy experience at the state and federal levels. He previously served as Senior Vice President of Federal Policy and Government Relations at TechNet. During his time at the association, Peter was named a “Top Lobbyist” by The Hill newspaper. Prior to that he served as chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) and U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine). Chandler has also consulted and trained numerous political and advocacy groups, including the ACLU, the Gay and Lesbian Victory Institute, and the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee in 1998. In 2020, he was elected to the board of the National LGBTQ Task Force.

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District of Columbia

New D.C. walking tour highlights LGBTQ history

Zach Patalingjug launched company in June in time for Pride Month

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Zach Patalingjug leads his Beyond the Closet: The Persecution and Liberation of the LGBTQ Community in Washington, D.C., tour on July 13, 2024. (Washington Blade photo by Sean Koperek)

Want to learn more about the city’s LGBTQ history while seeing some of the sights? Beyond the Landmarks’ Beyond the Closet: The Persecution and Liberation of the LGBTQ Community in Washington, D.C., tour could be just the choice.

Zach Patalingjug launched the company in June, and offers walks that highlights some of Washington’s LGBTQ history.

The LGBTQ-specific tour starts with him emailing each person on the route with a meet-up location and some advice for the tour itself. His business last month saw a lot of tourists participate in his tour — in part because of Pride Month, and Patalinjug is hoping to keep the momentum. 

Patalingjug, who is from California, has traveled to more than half of the country’s states and has traveled abroad numerous times to sightsee and absorb cultures. He told the Washington Blade he became inspired to create his company after reading James Kirchick’s “Secret City: The Hidden History of Gay Washington.”

Patalingjug spent a year researching his tour. He utilized the D.C. Central Library, where its fourth floor is dedicated entirely to the city’s history.

“I wanted to create a company that really explores the hidden gems, the lesser known history of Washington, D.C., to get the experiences that are truly authentic, and to tell stories that you don’t hear on most sightseeing tours,” he told the Washington Blade. 

The tours are between two to three hours long, depending on the group’s speed.

They officially start at 9:30 a.m., but Patalingjug recommends participants arrive 10 minutes earlier.

Each group meets in Farragut Square, directly outside of the Farragut West Metro station. The tour begins there and proceeds to Lafayette Square, where Patalingjug discusses the White House, the Hay-Adams Hotel, the former Lambda Rising bookstore, the Human Rights Campaign, the now-closed Chicken Hut near the White House, and myriad other locations. 

The tour ends in Dupont Circle.

Human Rights Campaign headquarters (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Patalingjug’s tour is more than a walk — each one is themed with topics that include “service, persecution, and liberation.

“Countless folks within the LGBTQ community have served and continue to serve the federal government,” he told the Blade.

He noted many of the people the tour highlights worked for the federal government before they lost their careers because they were outed or caught with a same-sex partner during the so-called “Lavender Scare.”

Then-Secretary of State John Kerry shortly before he stepped down in 2017 formally apologized to State Department personnel who were fired under the directive that then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued in 1953. President Joe Biden last year issued a formal proclamation on the policy’s 70th anniversary.

“For so many members of the LGBTQI+ community, hate, discrimination, and isolation throughout our country’s history have denied them the full promise of America,” Biden said. “The ‘Lavender Scare’ epitomized — and institutionalized — this injustice.”

Patalingjug’s tour highlights Frank Kameny, founder of the Mattachine Society of Washington, the city’s first politically active LGBTQ rights group that organized one of the country’s first gay rights protest that took place in front of the White House in 1965.

The protest highlighted the federal government’s discrimination against gays and lesbians. Kameny in 1957 lost his job as an astronomer in the Army Map Service because he was gay.

Frank Kameny Way in Dupont Circle is part of Zach Patalingjug’s Beyond the Closet: The Persecution and Liberation of the LGBTQ Community in Washington, D.C., tour (Washington Blade photo by Sean Koperek)

The tour also highlights Margaret “Midge” Costanza, an advisor to former President Jimmy Carter who invited members of the National Gay Task Force, which is now known as the National LGBTQ Task Force, to the White House in 1977.

“I’m just incredibly excited to be able to tell the authentic stories of people who lived through this period of history,” said Patalingjug.

Log onto Beyond the Landmarks’ website for more information.

Michael K. Lavers and Lou Chibbaro, Jr., contributed to this story.

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District of Columbia

Ruby Corado pleads guilty to wire fraud in plea agreement

Reduced charge says she stole at least $150,000 in COVID-relief funds

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Ruby Corado in El Salvador (Photo via Facebook)

Ruby Corado, the founder and executive director of the now-defunct LGBTQ community services organization Casa Ruby, pleaded guilty Wednesday, July 17, to a single charge of wire fraud as part of a plea bargain deal offered by prosecutors with the Office of the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia.

The charge to which she pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court for D.C. says she diverted at least $150,000 “in taxpayer-backed emergency COVID relief funds to private off-shore bank accounts for her personal use,” according to a statement released by the U.S. Attorney’s office.

Court records show that U.S. District Court Judge Trevor N. McFadden, who is presiding over the case, has scheduled a sentencing hearing for Jan. 10, 2025.

Corado’s guilty plea came a little over six weeks after prosecutors on May 31 filed a one-count criminal information charge of wire fraud against her that replaced an earlier criminal complaint charging her with bank fraud, money laundering, monetary transactions in criminally derived proceeds, and failure to file a required report of a foreign bank account.

The earlier complaint was filed at the time the FBI arrested Corado on March 5 of this year at a hotel in Laurel, Md., shortly after she returned to the U.S. from El Salvador. The initial complaint, like the new criminal information that replaced it, accused Corado of diverting at least $150,000 of federal pandemic relief funds to her own bank accounts in El Salvador. The charges say the funds were intended for use by Casa Ruby to support indigent LGBTQ clients in need of housing and other support services.

At the request of Corado’s court-appointed attorney and against the wishes of federal prosecutors, who said Corado would be a flight risk, another judge agreed to release Corado into the custody of her niece in Rockville, Md., under a home detention order. The release order came seven days after Corado had been held in jail since the time of her arrest on March 5.

In addition to a prison sentence, the charge of wire fraud also includes a possible penalty of financial forfeiture for which Corado could be required to pay restitution to the government. The plea agreement filed in court includes this statement to Corado’s attorney: “Specifically, your client agrees to the entry of a forfeiture money judgment in an amount ordered by the Court, which is equal to the value of any property which constitutes or is derived from proceeds traceable to the offense in Count One of the Information in which your client is pleading guilty.”

However, legal observers have said that under a plea agreement like the one offered to Corado, prosecutors most likely will ask the judge for a lesser sentence. Corado’s attorney is also expected to point out that this is a nonviolent, first-time offense for Corado, which merits a lesser sentence.

Corado has denied wrongdoing in her operation of Casa Ruby in response to a separate civil complaint filed against her and Casa Ruby by the Office of the D.C. Attorney General. That complaint is still pending in D.C. Superior Court.

In its July 17 statement the U.S. Attorney’s office refers to court documents showing that Corado, “on behalf of Casa Ruby, received more than $1.3 million from the Paycheck Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program.” The statement adds, “Instead of using the funds as she promised, Corado stole at least $150,000 by transferring the money to bank accounts in El Salvador, which she hid from the IRS.”

The statement says that in 2022, “when financial irregularities at Casa Ruby became public, Corado sold her home in Prince George’s County and fled to El Salvador.” It says FBI agents arrested her at the hotel in Laurel, Md. on March 5 “after she unexpectedly returned to the United States.”

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