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Mayor names new GLBT Affairs director

Sterling Washington lands the job; D.C. Center finds new home

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Sterling Washington, gay news, Washington Blade
Sterling Washington and Vincent Gray and Jim Graham, gay news, Washington Blade

Standing with openly gay DC Council member Jim Graham (right), Mayor Vincent Gray named longtime local activist Sterling Washington (left) to the post of GLBT Affairs director this week. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray announced at a news conference Tuesday night that he has appointed longtime gay activist Sterling Washington as the new director of the Mayor’s Office of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Affairs.

At the same news conference Gray announced the city has accepted a bid by the D.C. LGBT Community Center to rent store front space in the city’s Reeves Center, an eight-story office and retail building located in the heart of the 14th and U Streets, N.W., entertainment district.

The mayor’s dual announcement drew applause from more than 50 LGBT activists who assembled in the Reeves Center’s first floor atrium, steps away from the interior entrance to the Center’s soon-to-be-opened offices.

“What a great time of the year to be able to make the announcement,” Gray told the gathering. “We are at the day when there will be a permanent home for the D.C. Center.”

Gray was referring to the D.C. Center’s years-long search for a permanent location that has brought it to at least three temporary locations over the past several years.

Its current home at 1318 U St., N.W., less than a block away from the Reeves Center, is about to be razed to make way for a new high-rise office and residential building similar to numerous other buildings popping up in the booming neighborhood.

In announcing Washington’s appointment to head the Office of GLBT Affairs, Gray said he is certain Washington will continue the office’s high standards set by his predecessor, Jeffrey Richardson.

Richardson left the GLBT Affairs post last month after Gray appointed him as executive director of the Mayor’s Office of Volunteerism, which is also known as Serve D.C.

Washington, 39, is a D.C. native with a political science degree from George Washington University and a music degree from Howard University. Among his numerous LGBT community activities, he was co-founder of the Bisexual, Lesbian and Gay Organization of Students at Howard known then as BLAGOSAH.

He worked as a presidential appointee in the Clinton administration in the 1990s and later worked for the D.C. HIV/AIDS services and prevention organization Us Helping Us. Washington currently serves as resources and grant development manager at the Center for Black Equity, which was formerly called the International Federation of Black Prides.

“Sterling Washington is well acquainted with a broad swath of the District’s LGBT community, and I expect him to be a natural fit for this important role,” Gray said.

“I’m proud that D.C. is a national and international leader in protecting our residents’ rights regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and Sterling is eminently qualified to continue the excellent work that Jeffrey Richardson has done in ensuring we continue to be a city that values safety and equality for all,” the mayor said.

“I’m honored to serve under Mayor Gray, who has a very clear outline of what he wants the LGBT community to be,” Washington told the Blade. “All of his priorities are integrating every member of the LGBT community into the city as part of his One City Action Plan.”

Washington said he will remain in his current job for the next few weeks and is scheduled to begin as director of the GLBT Affairs Office on Jan. 7.

D.C. Center President Michael Sessa said the developer that owns the building where the Center is currently housed had offered the Center a $15,000 rent rebate if it vacates the premises by Dec. 31.

Sessa said that as recently as Monday, with the Center still searching for a new home, it appeared that it would have to stay in its current building a while longer and miss out on the rebate offer.

But to his and Center Executive Director David Mariner’s amazement and delight, an official with the D.C. Department of General Services informed the Center late Monday afternoon that the city had accepted the Center’s bid for the Reeves Center space.

“We’ll be calling on volunteers and lining up help to move into the new space as best we can by the 31st,” Sessa said.

The D.C. Center’s new location at the Reeves Center consists of 2,468 square feet of space and it includes a street entrance on 14th Street as well as an interior entrance, according to Darrell Pressley, a spokesperson for the Department of General Services.

Sessa said the new space is about double that of the current space. He said the rent will be $4,000 per month, a figure between 50 percent and 60 percent below market value for rent in the area.

Sessa and Mariner said the below market rent is part of a city program that seeks to bring in community services to the bustling business and residential area as a means of enhancing the neighborhood and the community.

The rental agreement allows the Center to remain in the space for up to 15 years.

“The D.C. Center participated in a competitive bidding process for the space that included both non-profits and local businesses, submitting their original proposal in April 2012,” the Center said in a statement posted on its website Tuesday night.

“In June of 2012 the D.C. Center was notified they were not selected for the space,” the statement says. “The business that won the initial bid, however, decided not to move forward with the project, and the D.C. Center had the opportunity to resubmit their proposal in October 2012.”

Mariner said nine members of the D.C. City Council wrote letters in support of the Center’s bid for the Reeves Center space. He said gay Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who spoke at Monday’s news conference, was especially helpful in advocating for the Center to obtain the Reeves Center space, which is located in Ward 1.

In his remarks at the news conference, Graham thanked Gray for taking the lead in creating an atmosphere in the city supportive of LGBT equality.

“It’s just an enormous sigh of relief to see that the District of Columbia, which cares so much about the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning community and to say, ‘We want you at the Reeves Center at 14th and U,” Graham said.

“And we want you there for 15 years and we want you there for a reasonable rent, and we want you to feel secure,” he said. “I think the first person to thank for this and the attitude and fortitude that he brings to all of this is the Mayor of the District of Columbia, Vincent C. Gray. Thank you.”

Mariner said the rental agreement at the Reeves Center requires the Center to pay for renovations needed to convert what had been a restaurant into office and meeting space for the numerous LGBT groups that use the center for meetings and office space.

“As we move forward we are counting on our supporters to help with the renovation, both financially and with ‘sweat equity’” Mariner said. “We have a unique opportunity to create a space that we can be proud to call our own for the next 15 years, and a big job ahead of us.”

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District of Columbia

Capital Stonewall Democrats backs Robert White over Bowser

LGBTQ group endorses Erin Palmer over incumbent Mendelson

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Council member Robert White won the backing of Capital Stonewall Democrats in his bid for mayor over incumbent Muriel Bowser. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The Capital Stonewall Democrats, the city’s largest local LGBTQ political group, announced on May 17 that it has selected D.C. Council member Robert White (D-At-Large) over incumbent Mayor Muriel Bowser and political newcomer Erin Palmer over D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson as its endorsed candidates in the city’s June 21 Democratic primary.

With Bowser and Mendelson as well as White having longstanding records of support for LGBTQ rights and Palmer expressing strong support for the LGBTQ community, local observers say the LGBTQ Democratic group’s 163 voting members appear to have based their endorsement decisions on other pressing issues facing the city rather than only LGBTQ specific issues.

In other races, Capital Stonewall Democrats, formerly known as the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, which was founded in 1976, voted to endorse incumbent Ward 1 Council member Brianne Nadeau over gay former D.C. police officer Salah Czapary and community activist Sabel Harris who are running against Nadeau.

In the Ward 5 Council race, the group has endorsed gay D.C. Board of Education member Zachary Parker in a five-candidate contest for the seat being vacated by incumbent Council member Kenyan McDuffie, who ran unsuccessfully for the office of D.C. Attorney General.

The group has also endorsed Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), who is running unopposed in the primary; D.C. Congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), who’s favored to win re-election against two lesser-known opponents; and D.C. shadow U.S. Rep. Oye Owolewa, who’s also favored over a lesser known opponent.

Capital Stonewall Democrats announced it did not make an endorsement in the Ward 3 and At-Large D.C. Council races and in the D.C. Attorney General race because no candidate received a required 60 percent of the vote under the group’s longstanding rules for endorsements.

By not endorsing in the At-Large race, the group passed over incumbent At-Large Council member Anita Bonds, a longtime supporter of LGBTQ issues. Bonds is being challenged by Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Lisa Gore, former D.C. shadow House member Nate Fleming, and former D.C. Council staffer Dexter Williams.

In the hotly contested Ward 3 Council race, nine candidates are competing for the seat being vacated by incumbent Mary Cheh, another longtime LGBTQ rights supporter.

In the race for attorney general, three prominent local attorneys — Brian Schwalb, Ryan Jones, and Bruce Spiva — are competing for the AG position being vacated by incumbent Karl Racine, who chose not to run for re-election.

Capital Stonewall Democrats’ endorsements follow a series of five LGBTQ candidate forums the group held virtually in which most of the candidates running in the various races attended.
In the group’s mayoral form, Bowser was the only one of the four mayoral contenders that did not attend. Her supporters said she had a conflicting event organized by gay Democratic activist Kurt Vorndran that prevented her from attending the Stonewall event.

Those who attended the mayoral forum were Robert White, D.C. Council member and mayoral candidate Trayon White (D-Ward 8), and former attorney and community activist James Butler.
A detailed vote tally released by Capital Stonewall Democrats shows the vote count for each of the endorsed candidates as well as candidates in the races for which the group did not make an endorsement.

In the mayoral race, Robert White received 120 votes, or 74.5 percent. Bowser came in second place with 37 votes or 23.0 percent; Trayon White received just two votes or 1.2 percent, with Butler receiving just 1 vote at 0.6 percent. One vote was cast for no endorsement.

In the D.C. Council Chair race, Palmer received 89 votes or 60.1 percent, just surpassing the 60 percent threshold needed for an endorsement. Mendelson received 48 votes or 32.4 percent. Eleven votes were cast for no endorsement.

In the Ward 1 Council race, Nadeau received 100 votes or 69.4 percent compared to gay candidate Czapary, who came in second place with 23 votes or 16.0 percent. Candidate Sabel Harris came in third place with 9 votes or 6.3 percent, with a no endorsement selection receiving 12 votes or 8.3 percent.

In the Ward 5 contest, gay school board member Parker received 91 votes or 64.5 percent. Candidate Faith Hubbard came in second with 31 votes or 22.0 percent. The remaining candidates received fewer than 10 votes each, including former At-Large and former Ward 5 Council member Vincent Orange, who received 5 votes or 3.5 percent.

“Since Capital Stonewall Democrats has only 221 members, and only 163 bothered to vote, this is clearly not representative of the LGBTQ+ community in the District,” said gay Democratic activist Peter Rosenstein, who is supporting Bowser for mayor.

But longtime D.C. LGBTQ rights advocate A. Billy S. Jones-Hennin is among the local activists who view the Capital Stonewall Democrats’ endorsement of lesser-known challengers – most of whom have progressive, left-leaning views – as a reflection of changes in the demographics of the LGBTQ community and the Stonewall group’s members.

“At the forefront for voters is who they feel can address core problems like crime, open drug transactions, and increased homeless populations,” Jones-Hennin told the Blade. “Just asking voters for support based on their support of the LGBTQ+ community in the past does not cut it,” he said. “We are multi-faceted voters looking for new, more progressive and aggressive leadership.”

The Capital Stonewall Democrats list of endorsements as well as races with no endorsement can be viewed below:

• Mayor: Robert White, with 74.5% of the round one vote
• DC Attorney General: No Endorsement
• DC Council Chair: Erin Palmer, with 60.1% of the round one vote
• Ward 1 Council: Brianne K. Nadeau, with 69.4% of the round one vote
• Ward 3 Council: No Endorsement
• Ward 5 Council: Zachary Parker, with 64.5% of the round one vote
• Ward 6 Council: Charles Allen, with 83.2% of the round one vote
• At-Large Council: No Endorsement
• Delegate to U.S. House of Representatives: Eleanor Holmes Norton, with 69.7% of the round one vote
• U.S. Representative: Oye Owolewa, with 66.1% of the round one vote

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District of Columbia

Pannell resigns in protest from Ward 8 Council member’s LGBT Commission

Says Trayon White has no out member of his staff

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Phil Pannell resigned as a member of the Ward 8 LGBT Commission created by D.C. Council member Trayon White. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Longtime D.C. LGBTQ rights activist Phil Pannell announced on May 6 that he has resigned as a member of the Ward 8 LGBT Commission created by D.C. Council member Trayon White (D-Ward 8) on grounds that White does not have an LGBTQ person on his Council staff.

White’s office has said the Council member created the commission to “focus on the specific needs of this community” in his role as a supporter of LGBTQ equality.

“For me, this is a major issue of inclusion, affirmative action and diversity,” Pannell said in an email message announcing his resignation. “I as a Black Gay man cannot in good conscience continue to be a member of my Councilmember’s LGBT Commission when he has no one from my community on his staff,” Pannell’s announcement message continues.

“This is hypocritical at best and structurally homophobic at worst,” he said. “I deeply resent and refuse to be used as anyone’s homosexual prop for any purposes. Therefore, I resign from the commission effective immediately.”

In response to a request by the Washington Blade for comment on Pannell’s resignation, Julia Jessie, White’s director of communications, said White’s Council office “follows all legal HR procedures and hires based on experience and skillset.” Jessie added, “As an employer, we do not discriminate or consider a person’s race, color, religion, or sex, including sexual orientation or gender identity, when making decisions about employment qualifications.”

According to Jessie, “We do, however, harvest a safe and inclusionary work environment where employees who wish to voluntarily disclose their sexual orientation of gender identity feel comfortable doing so.”

White’s office released a statement from the Ward 8 LGBT Commission’s chair, Marvin ‘Rahim’ Briggs, saying the commission “regretfully accepts” Pannell’s resignation.

“The Commission will continue to focus on and address issues affecting Ward 8 LGBTQ,” Briggs says in the statement. “We’ll continue to organize to promote acceptance of LGBTQ community diversity and to foster respect and appreciation for each member of the community residing in Ward 8.”

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District of Columbia

Two gay candidates disqualified from D.C. primary ballot

Republican, Libertarian activists withdraw from races

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(Blade archive photo by Aram Vartian)

A member of the Capital Stonewall Democrats, D.C.’s largest LGBTQ local political group, mounted a successful challenge before the D.C. Board of Elections earlier this month that resulted in a gay Republican and a gay Libertarian Party activist withdrawing as candidates for public office in the city’s June 21 primary.

James Harnett, 24, a member of the Ward 2 Democratic Committee and a member of the staff of U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), filed challenges to the candidacy of gay Libertarian Party activist Bruce Majors, who was running unopposed in the June 21 primary for the office of both D.C. Delegate to the U.S. House and chair of the Libertarian Party of D.C.

The Board of Elections upheld Harnett’s challenge claiming that Majors failed to obtain a sufficient number of valid petition signatures needed to be placed on the ballot for both offices, according to elections board spokesperson Nicholas Jacobs. Majors withdrew his candidacy for both offices rather than contest the challenge.

The Board of Elections also upheld a challenge filed by Harnett against the candidacy of gay Republican and D.C. Log Cabin Republicans organization member Andrew Desser, who was running unopposed in the primary for the position of Ward 1 Chairperson of the D.C. Republican Committee.

Desser told the Blade he acknowledged that he fell short in obtaining the needed number of valid petition signatures and would not contest the challenge.

Harnett, who appeared to be acting on his own behalf and not representing the Capital Stonewall Democrats in his challenges to Majors and Desser before the election board, did not respond to the Blade’s request for comment.

Board of Elections records showed that he also successfully challenged six other candidates seeking ballot placement in the June 21 primary, one of whom, Lori Furstenberg, was running for mayor as a Republican and another, Corren Brown, was running for mayor as a Statehood-Green Party member.

The others Harnett mounted a successful challenge against were GOP candidates running for the Ward 2, Ward 4, and Ward 7 GOP Chairperson positions; and Leniqua ‘Dominique’ Jenkins, a Democrat running for the at-large D.C. Council seat, who was the only Democrat challenged by Harnett.

Harnett, a former ANC commissioner in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood, ran unsuccessfully in 2020 for the nonpartisan office of D.C. Board of Education for Ward 2. Among the candidates he ran against was gay education advocate Allister Chang, who won that race.

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