September 22, 2011 at 12:40 am EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Gray board appointee called gays ‘faggots’
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.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

  • But let me call Thorpe the “n” word and I wouldn’t be able to sweep it under the carpet as Thorpe said: …“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.”

  • Sadly, bigotry and prejudice are allowed in the black community, directed toward anyone but other blacks. It’s the fault of any Gay man or woman to allow this, and shame on Jim Graham. He has just lost my vote and the votes of countless others who see what a chickens**t he is.

  • Until and unless I see evidence or testimony to the contrary, I am prepared to take Leroy Thorpe at his word that he has changed. But let’s briefly note aspects of his history, in addition to what Lou has reported. Over the years, I encountered Thorpe at police-related D.C. Council hearings at which he was highly belligerent. Shaw residents told me of his habitual antagonism, which eventually caused him not to be re-elected to his ANC position.

    Some years ago, someone who objected to Thorpe’s testimony at one hearing tried to get him in trouble at work for it. After learning that he had duly taken leave to attend the hearing, GLAA sent a letter, and copied him, pointing out that the First Amendment protected his right to express his views on his own time, however offensive they might be to others. (We do not believe that freedom of speech belongs only to people with whom we agree.) Thorpe showed his hostile attitude and assumptions by returning GLAA’s letter unopened, with “rejected” written on the envelope. Others indicated this was par for the course with him. If he has improved his attitude since then, it should be welcomed as in the story of the Prodigal Son.

    I am sure that my old friend Philip Pannell does not mean to suggest that attending his birthday party erases a person’s anti-gay record. But if so, perhaps he should claim a miracle and sell the Pannell version of Lourdes water to people seeking to be cleansed.

  • The Mayor and Evans do not condone every single belief of ever single person who asks for a rec or to be an a board. Give me a break – why should they be held to such a standard? Should they also ask about his religious beliefs and thoughts on the war in Iraq? The only story here is how Martin Moulton will go to any means to get back at Leroy. Such a sad story – Moulton has truly gone off of the deep end.

  • This whole episode demonstrates to me that, in the District of Columbia, homophobia is considered to be a lesser evil than racism. Gay people who minimize Thorpe’s homophobia should be ashamed of themselves.

  • Let’s open all the prison gates and release anyone who says “I’ve changed.” Jesus said we shouldn’t judge anyone, but that would mean we’d have to get rid of our entire justice system and that might put a lot of lawyers on the unemployment rolls and trigger a Depression.

  • Hi Mr Chibbaro,

    Your article misstates and mis-characterizes the relationship between CCCA and other community groups and members. The CCCA and I have tried to reach out our hand with open meetings and dialogues to work with every other member of the Shaw community and beyond (the NW Columbia Heights Community Association asked us to participate in a meeting earlier this week and we have a healthy rapport with our neighboring MVSNA, Bates, LeDroit and Blagden Alley civic associations). As you can see from this site, [URL removed], it is the ECCA, lead by Thorpe, that has barred and banned community members (and according to other reports, even some Councilmember Evans’ own staff) from participating in meetings.

    When I contacted you I clearly stated that judging from the “GLAA 2010 Questionnaire for DC Mayor Candidates”, Thorpe’s appointment contradicted what Mr Gray promised he would not honor individuals, not simply with records of GLBT related bigotry, but “any sort of bigotry.”

  • The Blade articles omits the infamous incident when Thorpe screamed “faggot” at Councilmember David Catania

  • Christopher Dyer was at a benefit held in my home on July 15, 2010 to help pay Martin Moulton’s legal expenses in fending off the ultimately unsuccessful, yet costly, Dan Snyder style lawsuit that Thorpe filed. He contributed to Martin’s legal defense fund. I spoke with him at length at that event. I was very surprised to read here that he thinks Thorpe is not really homophobic. I guess he must be angling for a job in the Gray administration and willing to sell himself to the highest bidder. For shame.

  • Everybody deserves redemption, especially reformed biggots and racists, who have changed their ways. Bigotry and racism come from ignorance of the unknown and lack of information. Who are we to judge others, let he who is without sin cast the first stone. I have heard many blacks use the N word, and gays use offensive slurs. Nobody is perfect. Everyone has the right to change and become a member of society in good standing. Leroy Thorpe was not threatened by gay people or whites, but what gentrification meant for his historic African American neighborhood. No excuse for his past and previous alleged statements, but he deserves sympathy and forgiveness like every single one of us.

  • yeah I’ve heard that older & wiser line before, right after Leroy Thorpe made a nice girl cry at an ANC meeting for wanting to fix up a park.

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