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Gay candidate elected president of D.C. Young Democrats

Toby Quaranta ran as outsider against ‘inbreeding, conflicts of interest’

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Openly gay Democratic activist Toby Quaranta — former field organizer for the Human Rights Campaign — beat Brandon Todd to become President of the DC Young Democrats by a vote of 80 to 54. (Courtesy photo)

Running as an insurgent against an opponent who was part of a nine-candidate slate, gay Democratic activist Toby Quaranta won election on Saturday, May 5, as president of the Young Democrats of the District of Columbia.

Quaranta, 28, is an account executive with a company that provides election related services to Democratic members of Congress and former field organizer for the Human Rights Campaign. He beat Brandon Todd by a vote of 80 to 54.

Todd is operations managers for the re-election campaign of D.C. Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) and a former member of Bowser’s Council staff.

“I’m honored and humbled,” Quaranta said in a statement. “I thank all of my supporters and I thank everyone who came out and participated in the election. I look forward to bringing together folks from all 8 wards and working with all Young Democrats in D.C. to re-elect the president,” he said.

The Young Democrats of D.C. and similar groups in other states are recognized as official arms of the D.C. and state Democratic Parties. Most state parties, including D.C.’s Democratic State Committee, include leaders of the Young Democrats as members of party committees.

Quaranta ran in an election in which eight other candidates who won election to officer and board positions for Young Democrats of D.C., including three vice presidents, each backed Todd over him as part of a slate. Seven of the eight candidates ran unopposed.

The election was held between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. on a Saturday morning at the J.W. Marriott Hotel in downtown D.C. Quaranta expressed concern that holding an election on a Saturday morning at a time when many of the city’s college students were busy preparing for final exams would make it difficult for his student supporters to turn out.

But when the voting started it became clear that Quaranta, who bills himself as a skilled political organizer, turned out more supporters than Todd.

His supporters said they were hopeful that the other officers and board members would work with Quaranta as a team to move the organization forward following a decision last year by the national group, Young Democrats of America, to revoke the D.C. group’s charter and declare invalid the election of all of its officers.

Rod Snyder, president of Young Democrats of American, presided over the election on Saturday. Snyder told the Blade YDA revoked its recognition of the D.C. Young Democrats due to “improprieties” related to its officer and board election in April 2011. He said YDA acted after investigating a complaint that the D.C. group did not follow its own constitution and bylaws in carrying out the 2011 election.

Snyder said YDA also reviewed an allegation made by the United States Attorney’s Office that the D.C. Young Democrats’ former president in 2008 allegedly helped former D.C. City Council member Harry Thomas (D-Ward 5) launder money by accepting a $100,000 wire payment to the D.C. Young Democrats’ account.

The former D.C. Young Democrats president, Ayawana Chase, worked on Thomas’s Council staff at the time. Thomas resigned from his Council seat earlier this year after he pleaded guilty to a felony embezzlement charge. He was sentenced to 38 months in jail last week.

According to information released by the U.S. Attorney’s office, Thomas arranged for Chase to disburse the $100,000 to another organization, which paid for a “51st State Inaugural Ball” in 2009.

While making it clear that he was not linking Todd to the Thomas scandal, Quaranta issued a statement in the days prior to the D.C. Young Democrats election that Todd’s affiliation with Council member Bowser would create a conflict of interest if he were elected president of the Young Democrats of D.C.

Quaranta said Todd would be beholden to Bowser if the organization considered taking a position on a matter before the Council.

“Last year’s laundering of city funds through the D.C. Young Democrats on behalf of Harry Thomas Junior was a direct result of the conflicts of interest that arise when a Council member’s staffer does double-duty as a DCYD party officer,” Quaranta said.

“This isn’t about my opponent – this is about a broader culture of corruption that undermines our pursuit of home rule and is an embarrassment to our city and to the Democratic Party,” he said in a campaign email. “There is simply too much inbreeding and too many conflicts of interest. It’s time for new leadership.”

Todd disputed Quaranta’s claim that he would have a conflict of interest due to his role on Bowser’s campaign staff or if he were to return to Bowser’s Council staff, calling the claim “absurd.”

“I would have a board of directors, other officers,” he said. “Everything has to be voted on by the board, by the membership. Everything that happens with the Young Democrats if I’m elected will be very open and very transparent.”

Among other things, Quaranta said he would push to have Young Democrats of D.C. organize a “massive” contingent of volunteers to work on President Obama’s re-election campaign in Virginia, where a close race is predicted between the president and presumed Republican nominee Mitt Romney.

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Virginia

Va. Senate subcommittee tables anti-transgender student athlete bill

Virginia Beach Republican introduced SB 766

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A Virginia Senate subcommittee on Thursday tabled a bill that would have banned transgender students from joining school sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity.

Senate Bill 766, which state Sen. Jennifer Kiggans (R-Virginia Beach) introduced on earlier this month, would have required “each elementary or secondary school or a private school that competes in sponsored athletic events against such public schools to designate athletic teams, whether a school athletic team or an intramural team sponsored by such school, based on biological sex as follows: (i) ‘males,’ ‘men,’ or ‘boys’; (ii) ‘females,’ ‘women,’ or ‘girls’; or (iii) ‘coed’ or ‘mixed.’”

“SB 766 (trans sports ban) was passed by indefinitely (it died!) after a long line of speakers testified against it, affirming trans students’ rights to participate in sports just like their cisgender peers,” tweeted the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia after the vote. “Trans students belong in sports. Period.”

Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin during his campaign said he does not support allowing trans children to play on sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity.

The General Assembly’s 2022 legislative session began on Jan. 12 with Republicans in control of the House of Delegates. Democrats still control the Senate by a 21-19 margin.

A bill that would have eliminated the requirement that school districts implement the Virginia Department of Education’s trans and non-binary student guidelines died in a Senate subcommittee on Thursday. The Senate General Laws and Technology on Thursday also tabled a religious freedom measure that would have undermined Virginia’s LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination law.

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Maryland

Hyattsville mayor dies by suicide

Kevin Ward and husband adopted son in D.C. in 2012

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Hyattsville Mayor Kevin Ward (Photo courtesy of the city of Hyattsville)

The city of Hyattsville released a statement on Wednesday afternoon announcing that their city’s openly gay Mayor Kevin Ward had died one day earlier by an apparent suicide.

“The city of Hyattsville reports with great sadness that our beloved Mayor Kevin Ward passed away yesterday, Jan. 25, from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound,” the statement says.

“Mayor Ward was a valued and trusted leader and a fierce advocate for all the people of Hyattsville,” the statement continues. “We are heartbroken at this loss and extend our deepest sympathy to the mayor’s family,” it says.

“No further information is available at this time,” the statement adds. “Details about services and remembrances will be shared when they are available.”

The Washington Post reported that U.S. Park Police disclosed that Ward was found deceased in Fort Marcy Park in McLean, Va., with a “self-inflicted gunshot wound.”

Ward, 44, became acting mayor of Hyattsville on Jan. 1, 2021, following the resignation of former Mayor Candace Hollingsworth. He was next in line to become mayor under the city’s political system in his then-position as president of the Hyattsville City Council.

He won election to complete the remainder of Hollingsworth’s term through 2023 in a May 11, 2021, special election, receiving 57.8 percent of the vote in a three candidate race, according to the Hyattsville election board. His closest opponent, Joseph Solomon, received 31.7 percent of the vote.

Nearby fellow gay mayors — Patrick Wojahn of College Park and Jeffrey Slavin of Somerset — said they got to know Ward through Maryland political circles and thought very highly of him.

“He was insightful, smart and dedicated,” Wojahn said. “He always seemed very confident and together as a person. And he had a great sense of humor.”

Slavin said he shared that remembrance of Ward, adding that he found Ward to be a “very nice person” dedicated to the people he served both as mayor and during his two terms on the Hyattsville City Council.

“There was noting in his public life that would have predicted this,” said Slavin in referring to Ward’s sudden passing.

The Washington Blade first reported on Ward in 2012 in a feature story on Ward and his then-domestic partner Chad Copeland when the two attended a ceremony at the D.C. Superior Court to complete the process of adopting their then-5-year-old son Norman. Ward and Copeland were among several gay couples who had their adoption papers signed by a judge at the ceremony.

On the website for his mayoral election campaign last year Ward said he and his family made Hyattsville their home in 2014 after he and his husband adopted their two sons.

“I am a pretty straightforward person,” he said in message to voters on his campaign website. “I believe in listening more than talking. But when I talk, I am not one to mince words or tell people what they want to hear,” he said. “I believe in doing the work. I believe that if I can help someone, then I can change her or his life,” he continued.

“This is why I dedicated my career to providing the best technology to education and to human services, to help as many people as I can,” he said.  

Ward was referring to his career in the field of educational and human services technology.

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District of Columbia

ANC supports license for Capitol Hill LGBTQ bar

Lesbian owners back ‘settlement agreement’ with restrictions on hours

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Rachel Pike and Jo McDaniel are the bar industry veterans behind As You Are Bar. (Photo courtesy Pike and McDaniel)

The Capitol Hill Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6B voted unanimously on Tuesday night to support a liquor license for the LGBTQ-owned As You Are Bar, which plans to open in a two-story building at 500 8th St., S.E. in a commercial section of Capitol Hill known as Barracks Row.

The ANC’s decision to support the license took place at a virtual meeting attended by nearby residents and supporters of the bar after its owners, lesbian activists Jo McDaniel and Rachel Pike, agreed to the terms of an ANC settlement agreement that calls for restrictions in the hours the bar can offer dancing, entertainment, and music from a DJ.

The agreement means the ANC will not file a protest against the license before the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, a development that would have delayed a decision on the license by the ABC Board by as much as seven months. A protest by the ANC could have cost the bar thousands of dollars in legal fees to contest the protest by providing legal arguments seeking the approval of the license.

The ABC Board makes the final decision on whether to approve all liquor licenses in the city.

McDaniel and Pike have said they plan to operate an upstairs dance bar during evening hours and a café on the first floor during the day as well as in the evenings that will be an inclusive space that “welcomes anyone of any walk of life that will support, love, and celebrate the mission of queer culture.”

The two, who are business and life partners, say As You Are Bar will welcome people of all ages, genders, sexual orientations and gender identities as well as drinkers and non-drinkers as customers.

They have also told the ANC and nearby residents they have taken steps to soundproof the building, which they are renting, to ensure their plans to operate a dance bar with music from a DJ on the second floor will not disturb nearby residents.

Under terms of the settlement agreement, which was posted on the ANC’s website prior to the start of the meeting, the bar’s operating hours will be from 12 p.m. to 12 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and 12 p.m. to 3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. Under D.C. law, bars are allowed to remain open for the sale of alcoholic beverages until 2 a.m. during weekdays and 3 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

The Settlement Agreement further calls for As You Are Bar to restrict the hours of consumption of alcohol from 12 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 12 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. It calls for allowing live entertainment and dancing (indoors only) from 12 p.m. to 12 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and from 12 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. on Friday and Saturday.

However, the agreement says DJ and amplified music will not be permitted after 8 p.m. on weekdays.

 McDaniel told the Blade that at the request of As You Are Bar’s attorney Richard Bianco, the ANC agreed to modify that restriction at the Tuesday night meeting to allow the bar to play “conversational” background music after 8 p.m. until closing time on weekdays.

 Among other things, the agreement requires the bar comply with a noise mitigation provision to “ensure that sound, noise, and vibrations are not audible or felt beyond the curb or any other premises at any time.” It also calls on the bar to provide an “appropriate number of staff” to monitor patrons as they leave the bar through the 8th Street entrance to “prevent loud voices and littering.”

Under rules established by the ABC Board and the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration or ABRA, if a settlement agreement is reached between an applicant for a liquor license and the ANC, a protest against the license by groups of five or more citizens is not allowed. Protests could still be filed by community-based civic groups and residents of an “abutting” house or residential facility.

In the case of As You Are Bar, no citizens group has emerged to oppose the license. There is just one abutting townhouse on E Street whose owner has expressed general support for the settlement agreement, according to McDaniel. But the resident has indicated she will not rule out a possible protest until Feb. 7, which is the deadline for filing a protest under ABRA’s rules.

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