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Activists rally for gay minister facing eviction

Faith Temple pastor opened home of 24 years for Bible study, church events



Robert Michael Vanzant, gay news, Washington Blade

Faith Temple pastor Robert Michael Vanzant opened his home of 24 years for Bible study, church events, but now he may lose that home. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Rev. Robert Michael Vanzant, 59, the outreach pastor for D.C.’s Faith Temple, a Christian church with a special outreach to the African-American LGBT community, says he’s doing his “very best” to keep his spirits up at a time of need.

His Northeast Washington home of 24 years is in foreclosure and the Bank of America, which holds the mortgage, is taking steps to have him evicted.

“I’ve spent my entire life serving God and my community,” Vanzant said in an open letter to the bank that he released last week. “When I became disabled and my income dropped, I reached out and asked for a modification so that I could continue to pay my mortgage. You denied my request and set me up for foreclosure and eviction.”

Last week, friends and associates at Faith Temple joined the D.C. anti-foreclosure group Occupy Our Homes in staging a protest demonstration on his behalf outside the Bank of America’s loan office on U Street, N.W., just off 14th Street.

The protest organizers say Bank of America appears to have violated a city law that requires lenders to enter into a mediation process with borrowers who have fallen behind on their mortgage.

An official with the city agency that administers the mediation program said its intent is to determine whether a borrower is qualified for one of nearly a dozen federal programs that encourage and in some cases pay lenders to modify the terms of a mortgage to lower the monthly payments and enable a mortgage holder to keep the home.

Vanzant has served as a pastor at Faith Temple since the church was founded in 1982. He said he moved into his house on the 5500 block of 5th Street, N.E., in 1988 as a tenant before buying the semi-detached townhouse in 2003 from his landlord.

Isaiah Poole, a longtime member of the church and friend of Vanzant’s, said Vanzant has long opened his house for church functions, including Bible study classes. Poole said Vanzant also has opened his home as a shelter for people in need.

Vanzant told the Blade his problems began in 2008 when he became disabled due to illness and was later approved for disability status. He said that although he was no longer able to keep his full-time day job with the Metro transit agency, for the next year and a half he managed to continue making his mortgage payments through a disability insurance policy he had and later through Social Security disability benefits.

“I called the bank in early 2009 and said my income was going to change soon and I needed to talk about streamlining my mortgage,” he said. According to Vanzant, bank officials told him there were no mortgage assistance programs available for people who were current on their payments.

He said he next contacted several mortgage counseling organizations that promoted themselves as experts in helping people at risk for foreclosure. One of the organizations advised him to withhold his mortgage payments and place the money in a savings or escrow account, with the intent of working out a mortgage modification plan with the bank at a later date.

“And so that’s what I did,” he said.

But by early 2010, Bank of America began foreclosure proceedings and refused to discuss any mortgage adjustment options that had been widely publicized in the media and by the Obama administration.

“I received something from the law office that was representing the bank that they were foreclosing,” he said. “At the same time I received a notice from the Landlord-Tenant Court from the bank’s lawyer about an eviction.”

Added Vanzant, “That’s when she [the bank’s lawyer] told me, ‘They don’t want to talk to you. They won’t have anything to do with you. They don’t have anything to say to you.’”

Mike Haack, an organizer for Occupy Our Homes and one of the leaders of the protest demonstration last week, said the group plans further protests if Bank of America doesn’t demonstrate a good faith effort to work out a way for Vanzant to save his home.

“We feel the bank can take steps to allow him to keep his house,” Haack said. “The Reverend is an asset to the community.”

Vanzant, who was being treated at Howard University Hospital at the time of the Sept. 6 protest, said a representative of the bank called him at the hospital that same day, leading him to believe that the protest may have “alerted” the bank to his plight.

“I told them I couldn’t talk to them at that time because I was under medical treatment,” he told the Blade. “I said I would like to talk to them the next week.”

He said the bank’s representative called again last Friday and he arranged to speak with the representative this week.

“I’m trying to arrange for some legal representation before I talk to them,” he said. “I’ve made mistakes in the past and have had what my friends say was some bad advice” by organizations he paid to help during the past two years.

Brian Sullivan, a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which administers the federal government’s mortgage assistance programs, said HUD strongly urges consumers not to pay anyone for so-called mortgage assistance services. He said HUD has a long list of HUD-approved mortgage counseling organizations and all of them offer their services for free.

He said Vanzant would likely qualify for a mortgage modification program, but a final determination on his qualifications would depend on the specific status of his mortgage, such as whether it is associated with federally linked agencies like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac or the Federal Housing Administration (FHA).

“He has to provide all of this information to whoever he selects to help him get through this process,” Sullivan said.


District of Columbia

Bowser: No credible threats to D.C. Pride events

Mayor spoke with the Blade after flag-raising ceremony at the Wilson Building



D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser at the flag-raising of the Progress Pride flag at the Wilson Building in D.C. on June 1, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser on Thursday said authorities have not received any credible threats to upcoming Pride events.

“We don’t have any to report,” she told the Washington Blade.

“MPD is constantly working with all of our agencies to make sure we have safe special events and we’re going to keep going with our planning, like we do every year,” added Bowser. “There’s always a scan for any threats to the District.”

Bowser spoke with the Blade after she joined D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson, Council members Anita Bonds, Charles Allen, Kenyon McDuffie and Zachary Parker, D.C. Attorney General Brian Schwalb, D.C. Mayor’s LGBTQ Affairs Office Director Japer Bowles and other officials and activists in raising the Progress Pride flag in front of the Wilson Building.

The Blade last month reported D.C. police are investigating a bomb threat a Twitter user made against the annual District Pride concert that will take place at the Lincoln Theater on June 29. Bowles in a May 19 statement said his office reported the tweet, but further stressed that “no credible threat at this time has been made.”

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Moore issues Pride month proclamation

Governor on May 3 signed Trans Health Equity Act



Maryland Gov. Wes Moore (Public domain photo/Twitter)

Maryland Gov. Wes Moore on Thursday proclaimed June as Pride month in recognition of  “the contributions, resilience, courage and joy of LGBTQIA+ Marylanders,” according to a press release.

“In Maryland, we lead with love and inclusion. I want everyone in our LGBTQIA+ community to know that they deserve to be seen for who they are, and our administration will stand with them in the fight for equality and equity,” Moore said. “We need to elevate the stories, embrace the courage, and celebrate the humanity of our LGBTQIA+ community — and as long as I am governor, we will take the steps forward to protect and celebrate all Marylanders.”

Moore on March 31 became the first governor in Maryland history to recognize the Transgender Day of Visibility and last month he signed into law the Trans Health Equity Act into law, which requires Maryland Medicaid to provide coverage for gender-affirming care beginning next year.

“This month is a celebration of the beauty and uniqueness of the queer community, but it’s also a time to reaffirm our commitment to uplifting LGBTQIA+ Marylanders and continuing to fight against hatred, discrimination, and bigotry,” Lt. Gov. Aruna Miller said in the same press release that Moore’s office released. “LGBTQIA+ Marylanders deserve to be who they are, to live their pride — without fear or having to hide. This administration will always stand alongside and protect the rights of all Marylanders.”

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District of Columbia

Point Foundation offers growing range of scholarships, support

‘Resources to succeed and thrive rather than just make it through’



Celina Gerbic, a member of the Point Foundation’s board of directors, speaks at last year’s event. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Many in D.C. know the Point Foundation for its longstanding scholarship program and its popular Taste of Point fundraiser each spring. But the nonprofit is offering a growing range of services to its young scholars, including mental health resources and social media support.

This year’s Taste of Point brought mixologists, restaurateurs, and donors together on May 3 at Room and Board for the annual celebration. With a number of local businesses and organizations donating to the silent auction, the event both raised money for Point Foundation’s scholarships while recognizing scholarship recipients and program alumni.

Among the lineup of featured speakers was one of the foundation’s flagship scholarship recipients, Rio Dennis, a dual master’s and law candidate at Georgetown University.

“I applied for the Point Foundation Flagship Scholarship because I believed in its mission of helping LGBTQ+ students achieve their academic goals while also providing training and resources so we can become better leaders within the LGBTQ community during school and long term,” Dennis said in her speech. 

The Taste of Point celebration began in 2013, born from another event called the Cornerstone Reception. Originally planned as a normal fundraiser with hor d’oeuvres, the foundation transformed it into the current Taste of Point celebration that facilitates partnerships with new, local restaurants.

Some restaurants, like Compass Rose and Hank’s Oyster Bar, partnered with Point Foundation for their first celebration. They have been catering at the fundraiser ever since.

“It really gives you the sense of the amount of love and the amount of community that we have around the Point Foundation and mission,” said Celina Gerbic, a member on the foundation’s board of directors. “They really see, with hearing from the scholars, what the effects can be if we’re raising money for those scholarships and mentoring opportunities.”

The event also allows the foundation to showcase new offerings, such as the Community College Scholarship that was rolled out just before the pandemic in collaboration with Wells Fargo. The community college program gives scholars a financial scholarship each year of their community college experience as well as coaching and admissions counseling for students planning to transfer to a university. 

Meanwhile, the foundation is also expanding its new BIPOC scholarship, which announced its next round of recipients on May 22. The scholarship is currently supporting between 500 and 555 scholars across the country.

Omari Foote, one of the current BIPOC scholarship recipients, appreciates how the scholarship recognizes her as a Black queer student. She is even encouraging other queer students and friends to apply to receive similar assistance.

However, Point is even more than that, Dennis notes. 

Before the school year started, the Point Foundation sent Dennis and all of the new flagship scholars to Los Angeles for a leadership development conference. Scholars discussed how to become active leaders on campus, how to ask for certain resources, what is offered by their campuses, and what tutoring programs are available.

This year, Point also did a joint partnership with an online therapy program to offer discounted prices for all scholars. 

“I have anxiety and depression and I struggled a lot in undergrad with trying to balance that with my having to support myself financially,” Dennis said. “So I was definitely grateful that Georgetown did have a program that is specifically for people of color to get free therapy and Point definitely helped with… asking those questions because it is one of those programs that isn’t as well publicized.”

Point even provided Dennis with a mentor who was also a Point Scholar in law school. Meeting monthly on Zoom and texting all throughout the month, Dennis’s mentor provides academic support that helps her use the right resources and make decisions about her career.

Foote finds the scholarship unique in other ways as well. As a recipient of a handful of other scholarships outside of Point, Foote’s interactions with her scholarship programs mostly stop after they send instructions for writing donor thank you notes. But Point keeps reaching out to maintain a relationship with scholars long after that.

“They’ve reached out to me to spotlight me on Instagram,” Foote said. “They reached out to me even for this dinner, paying for my transportation to and from the dinner … It’s like they’re not just there to give you the money. They’re there to really help you navigate the college world and to be that caring supportive system that a lot of us just don’t have anymore now that we are living by ourselves.”

Last November, the foundation also held an Out in Higher Ed Week, wherein they teach scholars how to be LGBTQ+ advocates on campus. These resources help students navigate the ins and outs of discussing LGBTQ+ issues in university settings.

After graduation, Dennis has even thought about returning to the Point Foundation as a mentor to help future Black queer students, especially first generation law students, balance their mental health and financial situations.

“Point has connected me with fellow scholars who have become my friends. Point has provided me with resources and support to succeed and thrive rather than just make it through,” Dennis said. “I definitely plan on continuing to be involved with Point.”

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