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Dupont denizens doth protest too much

Local business opponents reap what they sow at 16th Street mansion

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The Dupont Circle Citizens Association (DCCA) has taken to running an advertising broadside in a local community newspaper berating the Embassy of the Republic of Congo for removing trees and shrubbery from the lawn of its new 16th St., N.W., Chancery location and paving over the lawn with concrete.

The controversial group last weekend announced a sidewalk demonstration for this past Tuesday evening protesting the “willful destruction of the front lawn and several large trees during renovation of [the] new embassy.”

“Be careful what you wish for” should have been painted on each of their protest signs.

It would be comical if it weren’t emblematic of a city that continues to allow the voices of so few to wield oversized influence in matters of economic development and the disruption, or even disallowance, of popular neighborhood amenities.

Businesses such as the gay-owned B&B previously operating for several years at the site were vehemently opposed and hindered by these same characters.

The backstory is less about a lawn gracing the oversized and beautifully intricate manse and more about the unintended consequences created by shortsighted small unrepresentative groups and ad hoc neighborhood obstructionists constantly battling local community enterprises.

That is exactly what happened long before the embassy purchased the five-story, 18-room limestone and brick 12,000-square-foot Flemish Revival style Toutorsky Mansion on the Avenue of the Presidents earlier this year. The building, located at 1720 16th St. and the corner of Riggs Place directly across from the majestic Temple of the Scottish Rite at S Street, was originally built in 1894 by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Henry Billings Brown. The property subsequently enjoyed an illustrious and grand history under varied usages.

The current quixotic green space dust-up reaches back to a bitter regulatory fight initiated by the usual suspects — DCCA, the Dupont Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC), and two of those “gang of five or more” regulatory protest groups for which the neighborhood has become infamous in the region as an example of citizen participation run amok.

The small B&B operation endured a multi-year regulatory fight during an expensive restoration process and prior to opening. The battle was fought over merely increasing the guest room count from the automatically allowed six to 10, having more than one employee on-site at any given time to manage the inn, and hosting up to one special event of no more than 110 guests per month.

A two-year D.C. Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) adjudication process resulted in a decision denying these variances to the small hotel operation owned by successful gay Washington real estate agent and entrepreneur Humberto Gonzalez.

The opponents’ complaints? Shockeroo, neighbors! Fear on the part of a couple handfuls of residents near the densely populated urban boulevard that the minor allowances to enable the modest-sized community lodging business to survive and thrive would suddenly result in a deluge of delivery vehicles, noise, traffic and parking congestion.

This despite the fact that two other inns within a few hundred feet and with 38 and 48 rooms, respectively, have not caused any problems of the sort that gay Dupont Circle ANC area commissioner Jack Jacobson, who was elected after the regulatory fight, has ever heard complaints.

It got chalked up as another victory for the darling denizens of Dupont. But, according to Gonzalez, the actual result was that the well-regarded business was denied the second phase of a renovation loan based on the BZA rejection, as the bank feared the restrictions would preclude financial success.

Undeterred, and remaining committed to both preserving the property with which he had fallen in love and operating a B&B, Gonzalez sold 12 other properties to finance the project and what would be its nearly four-year operation. Ultimately, the operating restrictions caused the B&B to shut down, forcing Gonzalez to sell the property.

“It’s a shame what I had to go through,” Gonzalez laments, a sentiment shared by community activist and gay former DCCA board member and past reform-minded president Joel Lawson.

Lawson, who was not involved in the earlier regulatory opposition to the business and had sought to mitigate the organization’s anti-business posture before resigning in frustration in 2008 after serving at the helm, says, “Sure, everyone should protest the paving now, but you could christen it a memorial garden to the short-sighted protests against the B&B.”

If only they cared as much about local small businesses — and fairness — as they do those trees.

Mark Lee is a local small business manager and long-time community business advocate. Reach him at [email protected].

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Lawsuits won’t matter if democracy is lost

Be part of the megaphone that helps voters understand what’s at risk

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The New York Times has a column headlined, “The Resistance to the Trump Administration has Already Started.” It reveals, “A sprawling network of Democratic officials, progressive activists, watchdog groups and ex-Republicans has been taking extraordinary steps to prepare for a potential second Trump presidency, drawn together by the fear that Mr. Trump’s return to power would pose a grave threat not just to their agenda but to American democracy itself.” They are preparing lawsuits for any eventuality. What they are preparing for is the second column in the Times headlined, “If Trump Wins.”

It is because of the second column the time has come for all those in the elite groups who are part of the ‘sprawling network,’ and many others, to come out of their ivory towers, and take to the streets to spread the message across the nation about what happens when democracy dies. They need to do this NOW! Despite what some think, even those groups registered as a 501(c)3 in the tax code, can get involved in politics, just not for any one candidate. They can, and must, speak out and educate voters on what will happen to their rights if Donald Trump wins. While they may not tell people to vote for Joe Biden, they can make it clear what will happen if they stay home and don’t vote, simply by telling them the truth, based on Donald Trump’s words, and the words of his supporters. Tell them what he and his sycophants are saying, what they are preparing to do. Be part of the megaphone that helps voters understand, and then trust them to do the right thing. I trust they will, if they hear, and understand, the truth.

While I can say “Vote for Biden,” a 501(c)3 organization, like some of those the Times writes about, cannot. I ran organizations with that tax status and still went up to Congress and educated staff and members. I would talk about the pros and cons of the bills being considered. I would explain what the implications of a bill were for their constituents, and then let them decide how to vote. Not saying any organization should be as bad as the evangelical pastors whose churches exist under the same tax laws, and get away with actually telling their flock who to vote for. But they must stop thinking, they can’t get out in the community and speak out. 

Preparing their lawsuits for the possibility Trump could win, is fine. Actually, if God-forbid he wins, there will be time from Nov. 5-Jan. 20 to work on them. But stopping Trump from winning by explaining in plain English to the voters why you are doing this, and what could happen to their rights, is an equally, if not more important, use of time prior to the election. Let’s face facts. If Trump is elected, and gets to appoint more judges, all the lawsuits could lose. It will be too late to do much, if our democracy is lost. Trump and his sycophants, his MAGA cult, will laugh you out of court. 

Every one of us needs to spend the next 18 weeks before Nov. 5 reminding voters to listen to what Trump, and his people, are saying and planning — and believe them. They are evil. He has said he will be a dictator. He has said he will use the DOJ to seek revenge against anyone he perceives has wronged him. He said he would have the IRS go after those he doesn’t like. He quotes Hitler. All those lawsuits will lose to that. It’s time for everyone to get their hands dirty, and get in the game. Time to get down in the mud and educate the American people before it’s too late. Those who the Times writes about are smart, and have the ability to explain why they are preparing. Tell the American people what they need to know now, so in essence, all legal preparation won’t have to be used. Do it so the results of the election on Nov. 5 will allow for those legal briefs being diligently prepared, to join Trump and his acolytes, in the dustbin of history. 

I can promise anyone who does this will go down in history as someone who helped save democracy and not just someone who thought they could have an impact after it was lost.

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

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Reflecting on Center Faith’s Pride interfaith service

Much work to be done before welcoming the world in 2025

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(Photo by WINDCOLORS/Bigstock)

“We must not rest! We must not rest! We must not rest!” These words rang out in Foundry Methodist Church during Center Faith’s recent 2024 Pride Interfaith Service. Rev. Cathy Alexander, associate pastor at the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC)-Washington, DC, implored everyone in attendance to keep fighting “until the doors of churches and temples and houses of faith open wide in welcome to all people.” She quoted Reverend Troy Perry, founder of the first MCC church in 1968, from the 2000 Millennium March for Equality. 

It was a moving reminder of the many LGBTQ elders who have passed on, who have fought for LGBTQ rights today and made this service, held in a rainbow draped church, possible. This was especially meaningful as this year’s service also remembered Allan Armas — co-founder of the Pride Interfaith Service — who died this past October. 

Held on a drizzly evening, the service began with an opening drum call to gather by members of the Unity Fellowship Church of Washington, D.C., and a procession of all presenters. Church Elder and Unity Fellowship Pastor Akosua McCray offered a libation to the ancestors, like Armas, who won many of the rights that LGBTQ individuals have today. “Let us together call out their names and invite their spirit here today,” McCray shared. “Carlton Smith,” an attendee shouted from the back. “Allan Armus,” said another. “Marsha P. Johnson.” “Bishop Thomas Gumbleton.” With each name, McCray filled a red vase with water in their honor. 

Thus commenced the 41st annual Pride Interfaith Service, focused on the radical past, present, and future of LGBTQ interfaith action in the nation’s capital. The three-part service resonated with Capital Pride’s theme of “Totally Radical!” and included representatives from the DC LGBTQ+ Community Center and Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs. McCray’s Libation was the first part of the creation and blessing of a sacred space, featuring a call to the elements, directions and divine by Jonathan White of Stone Circle Wicca, a call to prayer by Nabeel Kirmani and translated by Sister Michelle Munson of Muslims for Progressive Values, and an opening prayer by Rev. Thomas Wieczorek from the National Catholic Church, among others. 

GenOut Chorus, the youth chorus for the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, D.C., provided music, opening with Philip Silvey’s “Always a Place for You.” Their song began a reflection on the radical origins of the Pride Interfaith Service all the way back to the 1960s. Reverend Elder Robert “Michael” Vanzant, a Doctor of Theology at the Faith Temple and one of the pioneers of the Pride Interfaith Service, recounted his own journey from a fundamentalist rural Southern community all the way to the steps of the Temple Church of God in Christ on Sunday, Sept. 19, 1982. 

Together, he and 16 others “embraced being same-gender loving and created a gathering of predominantly people of color, called a Third World gathering, to create a community for our sacred selves.” They gathered with signs, his reading “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all people” (Isaiah 56:&, Mark 11:17), after a Church elder Dr. James Tenney was told by the Bishop that by including LGBTQ+ individuals at All Souls Church DC, he had excommunicated himself from the Church. The bishop warned that Tenney’s problem was that he had no shame so the group gathered that Sunday morning before and after church “bearing witchess that we lived our lives without shame.” Thus Faith Temple was born. 

Rev. Cathy Alexander reflected on MCC’s own history, followed by Rev. Eric Eldrith, Pagan clergy with Circle Sanctuary, Kirmani, Jonathan White, myself, and Armas’s best friend cellist John Kaboff sharing fond memories and words of love and life about Armas. Eldritch spoke to Armas’s radical welcome of him as an ex-ex-gay fundamentalist to a Radical Faerie to Pagan clergy at Circle Sanctuary. This tribute spoke to the importance of all including faith communities beyond Abrahamic traditions. Pagan, Wiccan, and folk magic communities have for centuries been places of belonging and acceptance for LGBTQ+ people but are normally excluded from LGBTQ+ religious historical narratives. Armas challenged this exclusion. 

“His deeply held Jewish faith,” White explained, “led him to care passionately about justice and liberation for all people, especially LGBTQ+ people, and to pursue justice as part of his own spiritual journey. He was humane, kind, thoughtful–he was a mensch. May his memory be a blessing.” He led his community surrounded by elders until he himself became one; one of the far too few LGBTQ+ elders who see the realization of their efforts. White celebrated this queer elderhood in Armas’s faith community, of bringing his experiences and wisdom to the community he helped to create. Kaboff played a Jewish funeral piece–one performed at an annual memorial service Armas founded, and Rabbi Jake Beilin-Singer blew the shofar, an instrument sounded during High Holy Day services, in recognition of his leadership. 

Armas’s radical welcome has made LGBTQ faith experiences possible, from radical living as interfaith families, to radical justice through collective liberation, to radical presents through living as authentic selves, and radical leadership through DC’s LGBTQ+ religious leaders including the first lesbian rabbi, Julie Spitzer, at the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation in 1987. Even radical pride from that first Pride Interfaith Service in 1983. 

During this time when over 500 anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced in state legislatures across the country, lay member of Sunstone Chapel Ebony C. Peace called us to remember, “hatred continues to come our way in full force because our liberation threatens their control. The liberation of all people threatens them. They are coming at us strong because we ourselves have become stronger.” It is only through love, Peace shared, that we can drive out hatred. This was especially true when two protestors interrupted the service, and were met with all attendees singing “This Little Light of Mine” to drown out their voices as ushers escorted them outside. 

The service ended by envisioning this future of love, including radical inclusive love in faith communities and interfaith relationships that imagine a future of collaboration with newly established groups like Queerly Gathered, introduced by Presbyterian minister Matt Nabinger and Cali Bronkema. 

Richmond looked ahead toward World Pride to be held in D.C. in 2025. Just as attendees committed this year’s service to “demonstrating the breath, depth, and sincerity of our faith, exposing the lie that anti-gay fundamentalists have a monopoly on faith and religion,” Pride Interfaith Service planner Jonah Richmond shared, next year’s service will include people from around the world remembering their LGBTQ religious histories, celebrating their presents, and pushing for LGBTQ+ religious liberation and community. It will celebrate LGBTQ elders of faith from around the world. As Alexander said, we must not rest! There is much work to be done before welcoming the world at the next service on June 3, 2025. 

Emma Cieslik served as a historian for this year’s Pride Interfaith Service.

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ROSENSTEIN: Is D.C. prepared for World Pride? Not just yet

An incredible opportunity for the city to shine

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(Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The 2024 Pride parade and festival in D.C. were a tremendous success. Congratulations to all who worked so hard on this at Capital Pride, and others, including the mayor’s office, to make it a success. Now it’s onward to the next event, WorldPride 2025.

From all accounts, WorldPride celebrations around the world have been amazing. From Tel Aviv, to Rome, to Sidney, millions have enjoyed them. It is an event awarded to a city by InterPride, the international Pride organization. In 2025, from May 23-June 8, it is D.C.’s turn to shine. The event was awarded to the Capital Pride Alliance. While I know the great people in D.C. can handle this event, I have real concerns over whether the city as a whole will be ready. It will take an incredible amount of work and coordination, to prepare for close to three million people who will descend on D.C. in less than a year.

Since I moved to D.C. in October 1978, it has been a place that supports the LGBTQ community. That was the year Marion Barry was first elected mayor. In early 1979, I attended a dinner, even though not yet out, of what was then called the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club. Barry spoke and thanked the leaders of the Club, and the “GLBT community,” that is what we were called then, for helping him win the mayoralty. Today the club is called the Stonewall Democratic Club. I quickly got involved in the civic life of D.C., and local politics. Over the years there were members of the community on the Council, including Jim Graham and David Catania. Today, Zachary Parker represents Ward 5. As an activist, I have always had positive interactions with the mayors and Council. 

Recently, the Washington Post had a column on how much the D.C. Council has placed in the budget for the LGBTQ community. It includes grants for housing, and for the new LGBTQ Community Center. It also has about $5 million for World Pride. It was sad to see some of the negative online comments, some asking why the money wasn’t being spent instead on the poor. Part of the problem is that it was a poorly written column. While talking about WorldPride as good for the economy of the city, it left out any detail, easy to calculate, on how good it will be. How much money will be spent in D.C. by the millions coming here for those two weeks. How much the city will add to its tax revenues. How much small businesses will make and how this benefits workers. This information would have helped people better understand the investment the city is making. I don’t think the budget investment is big enough. This is a giant undertaking, and I’m not sure there are enough people involved. This will be a citywide, multi-state event, because of our close-in suburbs. At least it should be. There should be planning for events in all eight wards of the city. Council members and community leaders in each ward, should be working on events, ensuring the businesses and residents in their wards feel a part of, and benefit from, the huge influx of tourists to our city. There will be concerts, dances, sporting events, and a Human Rights Conference. Potentially there could be an HIV/AIDS conference, as major research is going on in D.C. 

I question whether those planning for this event have had serious discussions with airlines, and global companies like Amazon, and FedEx, to involve them in funding and sponsoring events. Is there a committee working to involve all the embassies, in planning events beyond a float in the parade? They will all have attendees from their countries here. Like it or not, there will be issues with visas and passports, and people will need help solving their issues. Then there is the worldwide press operation. I can imagine that could be set up in the convention center, or other facility. If D.C. is to get the kind of long-term public relations promotion such an event should bring, organizing that is crucial. 

How is the planning group liaising with Congress? How are the couple of hundred members of the Equality Caucus involved? This is the time for them to show their support, while thousands of their own constituents will be visiting D.C. for the event. Maybe WorldPride is time to encourage another push to pass the Equality Act. If Democrats take the House, keep the Senate, and Biden is president, we could pass it. It’s important to bring together HRC, the Victory Fund, the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce, the National Center for Transgender Equality, Trevor Project, Carr Center at Harvard, among others, to work on this and other issues.  Each will contribute what they can and each will have ideas. Have the LGBTQ staffing groups on the Hill been involved with WorldPride yet? Then has the Capital Pride Alliance reached out to all the LGBTQ groups in the federal agencies, or to the wealth of talent within the leadership of groups like Whitman-Walker, SMYAL, and the LGBTQ+ Center, as well as those in the surrounding suburbs of Virginia and Maryland? Everyone should be involved. 

It is important to find a way to ensure visitors from around the world have a way to easily access information about all the events that will take place during the two weeks of WorldPride, as they plan their trips. This information can be shared through all the embassies, and worldwide press. We know many events, and venues, will require tickets, and reservations. Any traveler knows, having this information well in advance, clearly helps make for a successful trip. The information shared could include information on potential add-on trips to Rehoboth Beach, and other venues.  

One of the things we cannot know, is who will be president of the United States at that time. If it is Joe Biden, we are fine. If, God forbid, it’s Donald Trump, that could be scary. How would that impact how federal agencies get involved, how about Homeland Security? All contingencies need to be prepared for. 

WorldPride will bring together people from across the country. Young people from San Francisco to rural Mississippi, places where being out is not yet so easy. We must showcase how being free to be who you are will make your life better. We need to showcase the best of the LGBTQ community, and show the world here in the United States, we are working to be truly equal and free. We need to involve all those who support us, and who we support. That includes the corporate community, police departments, and the military. We have fought long and hard to get their support, now is the time for us and them to be proud of it. 

We have an incredible opportunity for D.C., and the entire United States, to shine. I urge those doing the planning to involve as many people as you can. Reach out, and let each person, and each group, take an active role in this venture. WorldPride 2025 will be better if you do. 

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

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