November 29, 2012 at 4:34 pm EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Shutdown of GLLU website raises questions
Cathy Lanier, MPD, Metropolitan Police Department, gay news, Washington Blade

A volunteer says D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier and other police
officials lost interest in keeping the GLLU website active, a claim disputed by MPD. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

LGBT activists and officials with the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department have given conflicting accounts of the reason behind the shutdown earlier this month of the volunteer operated website of the department’s Gay & Lesbian Liaison Unit.

D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier has disputed claims by some LGBT activists that she shut down the site, saying through a spokesperson that the site closed after its longtime volunteer operator stepped down.

But the site’s operator, Sterling Spangler, told the Blade that Lanier and other MPD officials rejected his request that they recruit another volunteer to run the site, which some in the LGBT community viewed as the GLLU’s “official” website.

Spangler, a former GLLU volunteer, told the Blade he has operated and maintained the website since 2003. He said the site was housed on an outside server independent of the MPD’s website and that its domain name was purchased and set up by Matt Ashburn, another GLLU volunteer, shortly after the GLLU was first created by former D.C. Police Chief Charles Ramsey.

Activists, including Spangler, say the site – although run by volunteers – became the de facto official GLLU website in 2006, when Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government named the GLLU the winner of its prestigious Innovations in American Government Award, which came with a $100,000 grant.

According to Spangler and other activists, at that time, the official MPD website didn’t have a page or section devoted to the GLLU. Spangler said as many as a half dozen or more GLLU volunteers from the LGBT community helped maintain the website,

Spangler noted that the website was paid for entirely by funds from the Harvard grant. The grant requires the GLLU to have a website for carrying out the grant’s mission of reaching out to the LGBT community on police related issues.

Spangler, who served as manager of the website until October of this year, said things changed when newly elected Mayor Adrian Fenty named Lanier as the new police chief in early 2007. Lanier quickly moved to decentralize the GLLU by creating affiliate members in each of the department’s seven police district.

While activists didn’t object to the affiliate members they complained that the new chief was cutting back on resources and personnel for the central GLLU office in Dupont Circle. Spangler said Lanier’s changes and the subsequent decision by Sgt. Brett Parson to leave the GLLU to work as a street patrol supervisor resulted in the website “withering on the vine.”

“I couldn’t get anyone to give us content for the site,” he said. “After a while the site looked ridiculous because it was so out of date. And I wasn’t sure the community cared anymore.”

Under Lanier’s tenure, the MPD’s official website added special pages for the GLLU and the department’s three other special liaison units.

But to the amazement of many LGBT activists, high-level MPD officials disclosed earlier this year that they had not been aware of the site or of the Harvard grant and about $49,000 in grant funds that remained in an account hosted by the non-profit charitable gay group Brother Help Thyself.

Brother Help Thyself became the fiduciary agent for the grant funds in 2009 after another group linked to Harvard ceased operating, according to Mark Clark, the Brother Help Thyself treasurer.

Clark said Harvard informed the GLLU in 2006 that an independent, non-profit group had to serve as custodian of the funds under rules established by Harvard’s grants program.

Spangler said after more than 10 years as a volunteer, and after he determined the MPD’s top brass wasn’t interested in the website, he informed GLLU interim supervisor Sgt. Matt Mahl in late summer or early fall of this year that he planned to step down from his role of operating the website.

“I don’t know who he contacted,” said Spangler. “But when he got back to me he said MPD has decided to discontinue the website.”

Much to his amazement, Spangler said investigators with the department’s Internal Affairs Unit contacted him for information about the grant funds and informed him that Lanier ordered an investigation of the use of those funds.

Police spokesperson Gwendolyn Crump told the Blade this week that the investigation concluded there “was no misconduct from any member [of the department] and no evidence of misuse of funds.”

Spangler said he learned later through police sources that it was Chief Lanier’s decision to close the website based, in part, on “budgetary issues.”

But Crump, in a statement sent to the Blade, disputed Spangler’s claim.

“Chief Lanier did not shut the site down,” she said. “That website was maintained by a volunteer who is no longer able to maintain the site. All four units of the Special Liaison Division are represented on MPD’s website.”

Spangler considers Crump’s statement misleading, saying MPD officials could easily recruit another volunteer to operate the website. He said the grant funds, which total slightly more than $49,000, could be used to pay for the website’s operation as well as more community outreach efforts by the GLLU.

MPD officials, meanwhile, have not said what they plan to do with the $49,000 in grant funds, which remain in a Brother Help Thyself bank account. Spangler says he remains hopeful that Lanier will reconsider her decision not to arrange for a volunteer or MPD staff person to operate the website.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

1 Comment
  • Spangler said he learned later through police sources that it was Chief Lanier’s decision to close the website based, in part, on “budgetary issues.”

    But Crump, in a statement sent to the Blade, disputed Spangler’s claim.

    Sure, she did. The DC mayor’s office is very alluring for Chief Lanier, after all.

    But who should we believe? Spangler– who volunteered his time and talents for several years to provide a relevant, LGBT-welcoming GLLU web site for DC’s LGBT community– or the new public relations mouthpiece for Chief Lanier … w/ eyes on higher office?

    The Chief has an opportunity to continue real, relevant and useful outreach to the LGBT community of DC in preserving this useful web site. But Chief Lanier gives us the back of her hand– yet again.

    Maybe the Chief feels MPD’s de facto strategy of burying anti-LGBT hate crimes is still working. After all, Mendelson is only too happy to tout Lanier’s wholly unsubstantiated excuse that ‘better reporting’ accounts for the continuous yearly rise in anti-LGBT hate crimes in DC.

    Nonsense. It’s the proverbial ‘big lie’ repeated over, and over again. Sometimes by Gray and Mendelson, too.

    Then there is all that pesky press coverage which is damaging LGBT and likely other tourism to DC.
    ADVOCATE.COM (26 Nov 2012)
    Anti-LGBT Crime Still Increasing in Washington, D.C.
    What will it take to make Washington, D.C. safe?
    NEW YORK TIMES (24 Nov 2012)
    Antigay Crime Remains Steady in Washington Despite Work of Special Unit

    Lanier’s PR machine would have us believe that– unlike every other aspect of her command and control of MPD– the Chief cannot control those responding rank-and-file officers who did not recognize that hate crime last month in Columbia Heights.
    See WaBlade story…

    Isn’t it more likely that those responding officers thought they were doing the Chief’s bidding in NOT checking off the 251 Suspected Hate Crime box– and not calling GLLU to the scene immediately?

    If the victim hadn’t known an activist, isn’t it likely that hate crime incident would have remain buried, and not classified as a hate crime to this day?

    We have to wonder. Just how many hate crimes is similar police non-reporting hiding?

    Then there is the question of how much due diligence is MPD applying to FIND and ARREST hate crimes perpetrators– when hate crimes are reported.

    Here’s a relevant question. Indeed, it should really be an everyday question asked of MPD/GLLU– or better yet, directly of Chief Lanier– as a measure of the Chief’s success or failure in preventing anti-LGBT hate crimes.

    About 165 anti-LGBT hate crimes have reported by MPD in the 4 full years (to date…i.e., 2008 thru 2011) of Lanier’s tenure as chief.

    Of those 165 hate crimes, how many have been CLOSED WITH an ARREST by MPD?

    The political truth is, if MPD doesn’t report anti-LGBT hate crimes, then the Chief won’t get blamed for not preventing them.

    Two more questions, please…

    What is our MPD Chief really doing to prevent that de facto anti-LGBT discrimination from occurring under her command? And doesn’t the Chief’s relative silence on the matter tacitly encourage it?

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