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Police, fire officials meet community

Pledge of support after spate of anti-LGBT crimes

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GLLU

Members of the GLLU and affiliate officers joined fire and EMS officials in meeting the LGBT community at a public forum on Wednesday. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

More than a dozen affiliate members of the D.C. Police Department’s Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit joined police and Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department officials Wednesday night for a Public Safety Open House for the LGBT community.

The event, organized by the Mayor’s Office of GLBT Affairs, gave activists and community members a chance to mingle with the GLLU’s full-time and affiliate officers before the start of a discussion, where police and Fire Department officials answered questions about community concerns.

Activists attending the open house at the city’s Reeves Municipal Building at 14th and U streets, N.W., praised police and fire officials for establishing policies calling for reaching out to the LGBT community and prohibiting anti-LGBT discrimination against police officers, firefighters and EMS workers as well as against members of the public.

But several attendees, including transgender activists Ruby Corado and Jason Terry and gay activist Rick Rosendall, said the supportive actions and attitudes of high-level police officials often don’t filter down to the behavior and actions of rank and file officers.

They pointed to a number of recent incidents involving police officers that have shaken the LGBT community. In one case, several officers refused to take a report of an incident in which four lesbians were assaulted by two male attackers who called them anti-gay names. The incident occurred outside the Columbia Heights Metro station.

D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier said the incident is under investigation and the officers could be fired depending on the findings of the investigation.

In another incident that shocked LGBT activists, an off-duty D.C. police officer fired his service revolver at three transgender women and two male friends who were sitting in a car in Northwest D.C. Two of the women and one of the men suffered non-life-threatening gunshot wounds. The officer was arrested and charged with assault with a dangerous weapon.

Transgender activist Jeri Hughes said at the open house that police have not adequately investigated other assaults against transgender women, including one recent case where a trans woman was attacked on a Metro Bus.

Hughes said that while the rate of closing homicide cases in D.C. by making an arrest is 80 percent, the rate of solving homicides involving transgender victims is 20 percent.

On hand to answer questions about these and other concerns were Paul Quander, the D.C. Deputy Mayor for Public Safety, who oversees the Police and Fire and EMS departments; D.C. Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe; Deborah Hassan, an EMS technician who serves as the Fire and EMS Department’s LGBT community liaison; Capt. Edward Delgado, director Police Department Special Liaison Division, which oversees the GLLU; and Sgt. Carlos Mejia, supervisor of the GLLU.

Also speaking at the event was Melissa Hook, director of the city’s Office of Victim Services, which assists crime victims.

Quander opened the discussion by inviting the LGBT community to inform him about issues of interest.

“I work for you,” he said. “I work for the citizens of the District of Columbia. And I need to meet your needs. I need to know what your issues are…and I have to ensure that everyone is treated equally, that everyone has a voice.”

With D.C. gay activist Peter Rosenstein serving as moderator, several LGBT activists responded by reiterating what they said were longstanding concerns. Among them is the view that Lanier weakened the GLLU by reducing the number of officers at its headquarters office, making it less responsive to the community at a time when anti-LGBT hate crimes are on the rise.

Lanier has said a police funding reduction made it necessary to reduce the GLLU headquarters staff from seven officers and a full-time sergeant to four officers and a part-time sergeant. But she has said the affiliate GLLU officer program she started has resulted in the designation of 46 GLLU affiliate officers, who work out of each of the department’s seven police districts. According to Lanier, the affiliates have greatly expanded the reach of the GLLU, enabling it to respond to all sections of the city at all times of the day and night.

Most LGBT activists and the local group Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence say they support the affiliate program but believe the direction and leadership of the GLLU must be set by the full-time officers working out of the unit’s headquarters, which is located in Dupont Circle.

Under Lanier’s officer affiliate program, the affiliate members of the GLLU and separate liaison units working with the Latino, Asian, and deaf and hard of hearing communities devote most of their time to their regular patrol duties in the police district to which they are assigned. Upon receiving special training for liaison unit duties, the affiliates are on call to respond to LGBT-related crimes in their respective districts.

Mejia serves as supervisor of the GLLU and the Latino Liaison Unit. Although activists have praised his work in managing the GLLU they say the unit’s effectiveness is diminished by not having a full-time supervisor.

Fire and EMS Department’s LGBT community liaison Deborah Hassan (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Hassan, the Fire and EMS Department’s LGBT liaison, is less known in the LGBT community than GLLU officers.

In an interview before the start of the open house forum, she told the Blade that all firefighters and EMS workers receive diversity training that includes information about the LGBT community. She said she is unaware of any recent complaints by members of the LGBT community about discriminatory treatment by firefighters or EMS workers.

Hassan said she is out as a lesbian at work. She noted that at her request, she was given an official name badge for her uniform that identifies her as an EMS worker and “LGBT Liaison.”

“We’re here for the community, whether you’re straight or gay,” she said during the open house discussion.

Rosenstein, in introducing Delgado at the open house, said he was pleased that Delgado returned to his job as director of the Special Liaison Division. Rosenstein was referring to a decision by Chief Lanier earlier this year to transfer Delgado to another division and replace him at the liaison division post with a civilian police official who had no direct experience in police work such as investigating crimes.

Some activists criticized Lanier for making the change, saying Delgado had worked well with the LGBT community and appeared more knowledgeable on issues likely to come up in the operation of the Special Liaison Division.

“I’m not going to sit here and say we’ve done everything correctly because we’re all human and we all have faults,” Delgado said. “But you can rest assured that the Metropolitan Police Department stands behind the members of the LGBT community because we actually believe that all members of the community should be protected.”

Jeffrey Richardson, director of the Office of GLBT Affairs, said his office plans to hold more public safety open house events for the LGBT community in the future. He and Rosenstein thanked the GLLU officers for attending the event, including those who came during their off-duty hours.

Richardson noted that the names of all affiliate GLLU officers are posted on the Police Department website on the GLLU page. The listing includes e-mail contact information for each of the officers and shows the police district to which they are assigned, enabling members of the LGBT community to identify the GLLU affiliate officer serving the area where they live.

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Virginia

New campaign challenges Va. guidelines for transgender, nonbinary students

Students4Trans planning rallies, walkouts across the state

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Students and Pride Liberation Project supporters hold signs supporting transgender rights at Luther Jackson Middle School in Falls Church, Va., during a Fairfax County School Board meeting in 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A group of Virginia students have launched a campaign that challenges the state’s new guidelines for transgender and nonbinary students.

The Pride Liberation Project on Sept. 20 announced the formation of Students4Trans.

Students4Trans held a rally outside the Virginia Department of Education in Richmond on Sept. 22. Another rally will take place during the Virginia Beach School Board meeting on Tuesday.

The Virginia Department of Education in July announced the new guidelines for which Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin asked. The regulations, among other things, require parents to be informed of a student’s name and pronoun change, with the exception of “imminent risk of suicide related to parental abuse or neglect.” 

Arlington County Public Schools, Fairfax County Public Schools and Prince William County Schools are among the school districts that have refused to implement the guidelines. 

The Spotsylvania County School Board announced last month that students are required to use the bathroom that aligs with their assigned sex, and parents could choose the names and pronouns their children use at school. Two parents in Virginia Beach have filed a lawsuit that seeks to force the city’s school district to implement the new guidelines for transgender and nonbinary students.

Students4Trans has organized a student walkout on Friday to protest the Spotsylvania County School Board’s new policies.

Michael K. Lavers contributed to this story.

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District of Columbia

Dignity Washington holds Catholic mass in honor of woman priest

LGBTQ group celebrates its support for ordination of women priests

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Rev. Ann Penick, center, performs mass on Sunday, Sept. 24 for members and friends of the DC LGBTQ Catholic group Dignity Washington. (Washington Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

The D.C. LGBTQ Catholic group Dignity Washington says it dedicated its weekly Catholic mass on Sunday, Sept. 24, to honor a woman priest who has served as one of its priests since 2017 in a gesture of support for the women’s priest movement.

“This Mass commemorates the ordination of Ann Penick as a Roman Catholic Woman Priest and celebrates the invaluable contributions of women who have served the church in various capacities,” the group said in a statement.

“Rev. Ann Penick’s ordination as a Catholic priest, and the ordination of female priests like her, represents a step forward in the Catholic Church’s ongoing journey towards greater inclusivity and recognition of diverse vocations within its ranks,” the statement says. “Dignity Washington is deeply honored to support her ministry and those of other women priests,” it says.

The fact that the Dignity mass in honor of Rev. Penick, who presided over the mass, and all of its weekly Sunday masses are held at St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church near Dupont Circle highlights the fact that the official Catholic church recognizes neither Dignity nor women priests.

Dignity, a nationwide LGBTQ Catholic group with chapters across the country, is banned from holding any of its masses in Catholic Churches.

Penick told the Washington Blade in an interview the week prior to her saying the Dignity Mass on Sept. 24 that she was ordained as a priest in June 2011 by a woman bishop associated with a breakaway Catholic organization, the Association of Roman Catholic Womenpriests. The organization was formed shortly after three male Roman Catholic Bishops ordained the first known women priests on a ship sailing along the Danube River in Europe in June 2002.

Two of the bishops who publicly disclosed their decision to ordain the women were excommunicated by Catholic Church officials at the Vatican in Rome. The third bishop acted anonymously and is believed to be continuing to serve as a bishop.

One of these bishops subsequently ordained female bishops who, in turn, began ordaining other women Catholic priests in Europe and in the U.S.

Information posted on the Association of Roman Catholic Womenpriests website says it and others associated with the women priest movement believe the ordination of women bishops and priests is valid under the biblical concept of ‘apostolic succession.”

Under that concept, the spiritual authority that Jesus bestowed on his original apostles has been handed down to subsequent generations of clergy, and the ordained women bishops and priests can pass that spiritual authority on to other female clergy.

A spokesperson for the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, which oversees Catholic churches in D.C. and parts of Maryland, did not respond to a request by the Blade for comment on the women’ priest movement.

Penick, who is married and has two stepchildren with her husband, points out that the women’s priest movement has also broken with the official church over the longstanding church requirement that priests practice celibacy and cannot marry.

“The Roman Catholic women’s priest movement sees celibacy as a personal calling,” Penick told the Blade. “If a woman is personally called to celibacy, she follows that call,” Penick said. “But a woman can also be married and have children, and that’s always been a vision of the Roman Catholic Women’s priest movement.”

Penick notes that it was not until the early 1100s that the church put in place a celibacy requirement for its priests.

She has been active in the Catholic Church for most of her life in several states where she has lived and worked. She received a certification in lay ministry from the Diocese of Birmingham, Ala. in 1993, a master’s in counseling degree from the University of Birmingham in 1995, and a master’s in Pastoral Ministry from Boston College in 2008.

She and her family currently live in Alexandria, Va., and she currently works as a mental health counselor at the Counseling and Psychological Services department at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. Penick said while living in Maryland she served as a priest for Living Water Inclusive Catholic Community in Catonsville, and currently serves as a priest for the D.C. Living Family Mass Community in D.C. as well as serving as one of Dignity Washington’s rotating priests.

“We are so lucky to have her,” said Dignity Washington former president Daniel Barutta, who noted that Penick and her husband are Dignity members. “She’s just a shining star for women,” he said. “And we really hope that Dignity Washington is leading the church, showing the church which direction to go in terms of empowering women and having them as our spiritual leaders.”

Barutta said Penick has joined the Dignity Washington contingent in D.C.’s LGBTQ Pride parade and the city’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade and has led Dignity prayer services on various occasions.

Peter Edwards, Dignity Washington’s vice president, said following its Sunday mass that the organization “certainly does affirm that women can serve as priests in our community.” Edwards added, “We had a wonderful congregation tonight for a mass in celebration of Rev. Ann.”

Sister Jeannine Gramick, co-founder of the Mount Rainier, Md., based LGBTQ Catholic advocacy organization New Ways Ministry, said she believes the fully approved ordination of women priests in the Catholic Church will someday happen.

“There is no theological reason, only cultural ones, why women have not been ordained priests,” she said in referring to the official church. “I believe that a Catholic organization that ordains women priests is living out their sincere and deep-seated beliefs and preparing the wider community for what will eventually come to pass,’ she said.

“Not all arrive at the destination at the same time, and I admire those with the courage of their convictions who lead the way,” she added.

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District of Columbia

Activists, policy makers mark Celebrate Bisexual Day in D.C.

BiPlus Organizing US hosted event at HRC

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Adrian Shanker, senior advisor for LGBTQI+ health equity in the U.S.Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health, speaks at a Bisexual Awareness Day event at the Human Rights Campaign on Sept. 23, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Cal Benn)

BiPlus Organizing US on Saturday hosted a Celebrate Bisexual Day event at the Human Rights Campaign.

Fiona Dawson, co-founder of BiPlus Organizing US, and Mélanie Snail, committee member of the organization, emceed the event. HRC Senior Vice President of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Rebecca Hershey welcomed attendees. 

Heyshey discussed her journey as a bisexual, mixed race, Jewish woman. Hershey paraphrased Adrienne Maree Brown, stating “change is coming, we are creating change.” 

PFLAG Learning and Inclusion Manager Mackenzie Harte gave a presentation on the history of bisexual identities, defined terms surrounding gender and sexuality and went over statistics of discrimination and health disparities that bisexual individuals face.

Harte’s presentation noted 48 percent of bisexual individuals reported an annual income of less than $30,000, compared to 30 percent of gay men, 39 percent of lesbians and 28 percent of all adults in the U.S. 

Harte went on to say 28 percent of bisexual students report having attempted suicide; and bisexual people have a higher risk of mood disorders, substance abuse and mental illness than their lesbian, gay, or straight cohorts. Bisexual people of all genders face higher rates of sexual assault than those same peers. One reason for these statistics is isolation: 39 percent of bisexual men and 33 percent of bisexual women report not being out to any health care provider, and only 44 percent of bisexual youth report having an adult they could turn to if they were sad. 

Harte also spoke about the Bisexual Manifesto, which the Bay Area Bisexual Network wrote in 1990. 

“The bisexual manifesto very intentionally was not binary,” Harte said.

They said the text works against the stigma and stereotypes that claim bisexuality is confined to “male, female.” 

Tania Israel, a bisexual advocate and psychology professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, shared some of her bisexual haikus, which she calls, “bikus.”

Dawson moderated the next panel.

Panelists included Nicole Holmes, a bisexual advocate and public health professional, National Center for Transgender Equality Communications Director Leroy Thomas and NCTE Policy Counsel Kris Tassone. 

The panel talked about how shame and stigma drive the statistics that negatively impact the bisexual community. Another word that came up as a driving force was “intersectionality.” 

Holmes said that when it comes to intersectionality, it’s important to not just “list identities,” but to look deep into “the purpose behind why we are talking about intersectional identities” in the first place.

Adrian Shanker, senior advisor on LGBTQ+ Health Equity for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, spoke about health equity for the bisexual community. 

“Striving for health equity remains a core priority. It also remains an unmet dream,” said Shanker. “Queer people have always had to be our own health advocates.” While health equity may not be here yet, Shanker says there is much in the works for the LGBTQ community, bisexuals specifically. 

Shanker cited a National Cancer Institute funding opportunity that invites research proposals to cancer care for sexual and gender minorities, stating bisexual specific proposals are welcome. The impending potential government shutdown may postpone it. 

The Biden-Harris administration is also working to ban so-called conversion therapy at the federal level. Additionally, 988, the national suicide prevention hotline, began a program to offer specialized support for LGBTQ youth and young adults last year. 

Shanker said bisexual people should prioritize preventative screenings for skin cancer, oral cancer, lung cancer, regular cervical and anal pap tests, mammograms, prostate exams and colonoscopies. 

“If you have a body part, get it screened,” said Shanker. 

Megan Townsend, senior director of entertainment research and analysis for the GLAAD Media Institute, did a presentation on bisexual representation in the media and opportunities for advancement. 

 “I want to see bi+/pan colors displayed on the White House,” said Dawson. “I want every national LGBTQIA+ organization to be talking about us, to put our concerns front and center.”

The data presented can be found here.

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