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Newest D.C. Council member longtime backer of LGBT rights

Anita Bonds wins interim appointment to at-large seat

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Anita Bonds, gay news, Washington Blade

Anita Bonds (Photo courtesy of the District of Columbia Democratic State Committee)

The D.C. Democratic State Committee voted Monday night to appoint its chairperson, Anita Bonds, a longtime ally of the city’s LGBT community, to fill a vacant at-large seat on the City Council until a special election is held in April.

Bonds, 67, has the reputation of being a consummate political insider who has been aligned with Ward 8 D.C. Council member and former mayor Marion Barry since 1978, when Barry won election as mayor on a strong pro-gay rights platform.

“I have been supportive of the gay community for as long as I can remember,” Bonds told the Blade on Tuesday.

Her comment came a few hours after she was sworn in to fill a Council seat that became vacant when Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large) won election as Council Chair.

“She’s the political operative extraordinaire,” said political commentator Mark Plotkin on Fox Five News.

At least seven out LGBT people are members of the D.C. Democratic State Committee, including the president and vice president of governmental and political affairs of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city’s largest LGBT political group.

Two LGBT members reached on Tuesday said they voted for Bonds over her two challengers, former State Committee member John Capozzi and current State Committee member Douglas Sloan.

Gay State Committee members Bill O’Field of Ward 1 and Barrie Daneker of Ward 5 told the Blade they voted for Bonds because they admire her work in city government and politics for more than 30 years and recognize her longstanding support on LGBT issues.

Former Stein Club President David Meadows, who worked for Bonds as a State Committee staffer from 2007 to 2011, called Bonds a “pioneer” straight supporter of LGBT equality going back to the 1970s.

Seventy-one of the State Committee’s 80 members turned out to vote on the Council appointment at a meeting on the campus of Catholic University in Ward 5, where Bonds lives. She received 55 votes, capturing the Council appointment in a first-ballot vote.

Sloan received 7 votes and Capozzi received 5 votes. Two members attending the meeting didn’t vote for any of the three candidates, and a ballot cast by another member was invalidated, according to Daneker.

Sloan and Capozzi, like Bonds, are members of the Stein Club and are strong supporters of LGBT rights.

Bonds said she plans to run in the special election scheduled for April 23, where as many as eight ore more candidates are expected to enter the race, possibly including gay activist Nick McCoy.

Bonds’ association with Barry began at a time when Barry was considered the nation’s most LGBT supportive big city mayor. Although Barry continues to express support for LGBT equality in general, he lost support from most of the city’s LGBT political activists in 2009, when he and his Council colleague, Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7), became the only two of the 13 Council members to vote against the city’s same-sex marriage law.

“I am a proponent of marriage equality,” Bonds told the Blade on Tuesday. “I watched him give his explanation,” she said, referring to Barry’s assertion that he was acting on behalf of his Ward 8 constituents, whom he said opposed same-sex marriage.

“But I would have voted for it,” Bonds said.

Daneker, who serves as the Stein Club’s treasurer, said he’s certain that Bonds doesn’t share Barry’s opposition to same-sex marriage.

“She’s been a strong supporter of LGBT equality for years and years,” said Daneker.

Meadows said Bonds came out in favor of the D.C. same-sex marriage bill at the time it came before the Council for consideration in 2009. The Council passed the bill in December 2009 by a vote of 11-2, and then Mayor Adrian Fenty signed it that same month.

Although observers said most of the LGBT members of the State Committee appeared to have joined their straight allies in backing Bonds, Ward 8 gay Democratic activist Phil Pannell spoke out against Bonds’ interim appointment to the Council. Pannell, a former State Committee member, has been at odds with Bonds over the years over various non-LGBT issues and State Committee actions.

Among other complaints, Pannell said he questioned Bonds’ commitment to LGBT rights after he learned that she appointed Council member Alexander earlier this year as one of D.C.’s three presidential electors pledged to President Obama in the Electoral College vote scheduled for Dec. 15.

Pannell, noting that Alexander joined Barry in voting against the city’s same-sex marriage law, characterized her appointment as an Obama elector as a “slap in the face” to the president, who emerged as a same-sex marriage supporter during his re-election campaign.

Bonds said she appointed Alexander at the recommendation of local and national party leaders and noted that similar to the appointment of all Democratic Party electors, it was cleared by the Obama campaign.

“We have to remember that we are the party of all of the Democrats,” Bonds said. “All who hold to the principles of the community of America – we’re not going to agree on everything.”

Gay Democratic activist Peter Rosenstein disputed Pannell’s assertion that Bonds’ appointment of Alexander as an elector raised questions about Bonds’ support for LGBT rights.

“I know Anita Bonds has been a strong supporter of our community,” Rosenstein said.

The other LGBT State Committee members who couldn’t be reached to determine how they voted on the Council appointment are Tobias Quaranta, president of the D.C. Young Democrats; Lateefah Williams, outgoing president of the Stein Club; Julius Agers, vice president for government and political affairs of the Stein Club; Ron Collins, former director of the Mayor’s Office of Boards and Commissions; and Gregory Cendana, member of the D.C. Asian Pacific Islanders Democratic Caucus.

Marion Barry, Washington D.C., Washington Blade, gay news

The D.C. Democratic State Committee appointed its chairperson, Anita Bonds, a longtime ally of the city’s LGBT community, to fill a vacant at-large seat on the City Council. Bonds is considered a political insider who has been closely aligned with Ward 8 D.C. Council member Marion Barry, pictured here. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

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Va. senator introduces anti-transgender student athlete bill

Democrats have vowed to thwart anti-LGBTQ measures in state Senate

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transgender, Gender Conference East, trans, transgender flag, gay news, Washington Blade
(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A Virginia lawmaker has introduced a bill that would ban 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 Friday, would require “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.'”

“Under the bill, male students are not permitted to participate on any school athletic team or squad designated for ‘females,’ ‘women,’ or ‘girls’; however, this provision does not apply to physical education classes at schools,” adds the bill. “The bill provides civil penalties for students and schools that suffer harm as a result of a violation of the bill. Such civil actions are required to be initiated within two years after the harm occurred.”

Kiggans introduced her bill less than a week after Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin took office.

Youngkin during his campaign said he does not support allowing trans children to play on sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity. Elizabeth Schultz, an anti-LGBTQ former member of the Fairfax County School Board, has been named the Virginia Department of Education’s Assistant Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The General Assembly’s 2022 legislative session began on Jan. 12 with Republicans in control of the state House of Delegates. Democrats still control the state Senate, and they have pledged to thwart any anti-LGBTQ bills.

“Let’s be clear: This is part of an ongoing, nationwide effort to exclude trans people from enjoying the benefits of sports like their cisgender peers,” tweeted the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia on Friday after Kiggans introduced SB 766. “We won’t tolerate this.”

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Comings & Goings

Hazen inducted into Cooperative Hall of Fame

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Paul Hazen

The Comings & Goings column is about sharing the professional successes of our community. We want to recognize those landing new jobs, new clients for their business, joining boards of organizations and other achievements. Please share your successes with us at: [email protected] 

The Comings & Goings column also invites LGBTQ+ college students to share their successes with us. If you have been elected to a student government position, gotten an exciting internship, or are graduating and beginning your career with a great job, let us know so we can share your success. 

Congratulations to Paul Hazen on his being inducted into the 2022 Cooperative Hall of Fame.  On receiving the honor, he said, “I am very lucky to be given the opportunity to combine my work in international development with my volunteer cooperative development work in Washington DC.”

Hazen is executive director, U.S. Overseas Cooperative Development Council (OCDC) and has devoted his career to elevating the cooperative voice domestically and internationally. U.S. co-ops include Ace Hardware, Land O’Lakes, Inc., Sunkist, REI and the Associated Press. Hazen helped establish federal legislation promoting rural co-op development.  

Prior to joining OCDC, he was CEO of Washington, D.C.-based National Cooperative Business Association CLUSA International. During his 25-year tenure with the organization, he held key positions, including chief operating officer, vice president of public policy, vice president of member services and director of consumer cooperatives.

He worked for Rep. Al Baldus (Wisc.). He was executive director of Rural Housing Inc. in Madison, Wisc., where he developed co-ops and affordable housing projects in rural communities. 

As a volunteer, Hazen formed the Community Purchasing Alliance (CPA) with 12 congregations in D.C.  In 2020, CPA secured more than $18.7 million in contracts resulting in an investment of $13 million in D.C.-based small businesses owned by people of color.

Ben Finzel

Congratulations also to Ben Finzel, who was inducted into the National Capital Public Relations Hall of Fame. Upon receiving the honor, he said “To be recognized by your peers is wonderful; to be honored by them is amazing. I still can’t quite believe I have done enough to be worthy of this recognition, but I know enough to be thankful and appreciative of this high honor. Thank you PRSA National Capital Chapter for including me in such inspiring company; I will be forever grateful.”

Finzel is president of RENEWPR, a D.C.-based public affairs, communications consulting firm. In 2004, he helped launch FH Out Front, the first global LGBTQ communications practice at an international firm, Fleishman Hillard, and served as its first global chair. He started DC Family Communicators, a professional networking group for LGBTQ communications professionals. Finzel served on the Victory Campaign Board of the LGBTQ Victory Fund from 2007 to 2017.

His firm is currently celebrating its seventh year in business. To recognize that accomplishment, Finzel is launching an endowed scholarship at his alma mater, Texas Tech University. His business is certified as an LGBT Business Enterprise by the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce.

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Maryland

Judge rules trans teacher’s lawsuit against P.G. County can go to trial

Gay man files separate case charging discrimination

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Jennifer Eller, gay news, Washington Blade
Jennifer Eller alleges the P.G. County school system subjected her to discrimination and harassment. (Photo courtesy of Lambda Legal)

A federal judge in Maryland issued a ruling on Tuesday, Jan. 18, clearing the way for a lawsuit filed by transgender former English teacher Jennifer Eller in 2018 charging the Prince George’s County, Md., Public Schools with discrimination and harassment based on her gender identity to proceed to a trial.

In the ruling, Judge Theodore D. Chuang of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland denied key parts of several motions filed by attorneys representing the P.G. County Public Schools that in effect called for the dismissal of the lawsuit. The motions, among other things, claimed the lawsuit failed to provide sufficient evidence that Eller was subjected to discrimination and harassment, which forced her to resign due to a hostile work environment.

Chuang also ruled against a separate motion introduced by Eller’s attorneys calling for him to issue a summary judgement decision affirming all the lawsuit’s allegations that would have ended the litigation in Eller’s favor without the need to go to trial.

Eller’s lawsuit charges that school officials acted illegally by failing to intervene when she was subjected to a hostile work environment for five years that included abuse and harassment by students, parents, fellow teachers, and supervisors and retaliation by school administrators.

The lawsuit alleges that the school system and its administrators in its actions against Eller violated Title VII of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX of the federal Education Amendments Act of 1972, the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution, the Maryland Fair Employment Practices Act, and the nondiscrimination provision of the Prince George’s County Code.

“We think the judge did as best he could,” said Omar Gonzales-Pagan, an attorney with the LGBTQ litigation group Lambda Legal, which, along with the D.C. law firm Arnold & Porter, are representing Eller in her lawsuit.

“The takeaway is that the case is now in a posture to proceed to trial,” Gonzales-Pagan told the Washington Blade. “The court found that the alleged facts and the information as discovered throughout the case in the discovery process is sufficient to allow a jury to find whether Jennifer Eller was subjected to a hostile work environment and constructive discharge and retaliation unlawfully by the defendants,” he said.

By the term constructive discharge, Gonzales-Pagan was referring to the lawsuit’s charge that Eller was forced to resign from her teaching job in 2017 after being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder due to the alleged abuse she faced on the job.

P.G. County Public Schools officials have declined to comment on the lawsuit on grounds that the school system has a longstanding policy of not discussing pending litigation. However, in its response to the lawsuit in court filings, school system officials have denied Eller’s allegations of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation.

“For years, I was aggressively misgendered, attacked and harassed in the hallways and even in my own classroom by students, peers and supervisors,” Eller said in a statement released by her attorneys.

“My pleas for help and for sensitivity training on LGBTQ issues for students and staff, were ignored,” Eller said in her statement. “The relentless harassment stripped me of the joy of teaching and forced me to resign,” she said. “It is time for Prince George’s County Public Schools to be held accountable.”

The lawsuit says the harassment and discriminatory action against her began in 2011 when she began presenting as female during the school year. It says school officials initially responded to her complaints about the harassment by demanding that she stop dressing as a woman and return to wearing men’s clothes, which she refused to do.

In a separate action, gay former Spanish teacher Jared Hester filed on his own without an attorney a lawsuit in the Maryland federal court charging the P.G. County Public Schools with failing to take action to prevent him from being subjected to discrimination and harassment similar to some of the allegations made in Eller’s lawsuit.

Hester told the Blade that he was subjected to harassment by students who repeatedly called him “faggot,” but school officials, including the principal of the middle school where he taught, refused to take action to stop the harassment.

He provided the Blade with copies of earlier complaints he filed against school system officials with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights, and the P.G County Public Schools’ internal Office of Equity Assurance. Each of the three agencies issued rulings against Hester’s complaints, with two of them saying sufficient evidence could not be found to support his allegations.

The EEOC, in a Nov. 3, 2021 “dismissal” notice, told Hester the EEOC “will not proceed further with its investigation, and makes no determination about whether further investigation would establish violations of the statute.” The notice added, “This does not mean the claims have no merit” or that the respondent, meaning the P.G. County Public Schools, “is in compliance with the statutes.”

The notice did not give a reason for why it chose to end its investigation into Hester’s complaint, but it said his filing with the EEOC cleared the way for him to file a lawsuit to further his case against the school system. 

Hester told the Blade he reached out to Lambda Legal to represent him in his lawsuit, but the LGBTQ litigation group declined to take on his case without giving a reason. Gonzalez-Pagan, the Lambda attorney working on the Eller case, said he was unfamiliar with Hester’s request for representation. Another Lambda official couldn’t immediately be reached to determine the reason for its decision not to represent Hester.

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