More than 20 members of Check It, a group of local gay youth that D.C. police have listed as a gang, turned out Monday night for a town hall meeting on problems faced by the city’s LGBT youth.
Lesbian activist Treona Kelty, whose organization Beautiful U – Yes U organized the event, said two Check It members told more than 100 people who turned out for the town hall that they consider their organization an extended “family” of mostly gay and bisexual men who have been ostracized by their parents and schools and misunderstood by police.
The town hall was held at the Metropolitan Community Church on Ridge Street, N.W., which has a mostly LGBT congregation.
Two Check It members were joined on a panel by Jeffrey Richardson, director of the Mayor’s Office of GLBT Affairs; Sharon Lettman-Hicks, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition; Amena Johnson of D.C.’s Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League (SMYAL); and Brian Watson of Transgender Health Empowerment.
Washington Post columnist Courtland Milloy drew citywide attention to Check It when he wrote about the group and its founder, Tayron Bennet, 21, in a Sept. 27 column. Bennet, who attended the LGBT youth town hall Monday night, told Milloy he formed the group after being targeted for anti-gay bullying and harassment at Hine Junior High School, which is located less than a block from the SMYAL offices and drop-in center.
Police have said Check It members often congregate in Chinatown near the Gallery Place Metro station and allegedly have gotten into fights with rival youth gangs. Milloy quoted Bennet as saying some members of the group “started carrying mace, knives, brass knuckles and stun guns” as a means of fighting back when members of the group were attacked or harassed for being gay.
“We’re not a gang,” Kelty quoted a Check It member who identified himself only as Trey, as saying. “He said we have been ostracized by our families. We have been kicked out. So we consider ourselves just family,” Kelty quoted him as saying. “I’m so tired of people calling us a gang,” she quoted the youth as saying.
According to Kelty, Deputy D.C. Police Chief Diane Groomes, who attended the town hall gathering, asked Kelty and Beautiful U – Yes U to help police put together a mediation meeting in which police and Check It members can work together to resolve police-related issues. Kelty said Groomes told the gathering that she would arrange for the department’s Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit to take the lead role in the mediation session.