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Stein Club election challenged by losing faction

Outgoing officers call special meeting to consider invalidating victory by new members

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Martin Garcia, Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, gay news, Washington Blade
Lateefah Williams, Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, gay news, Washington Blade

Lateefah Williams (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The officers of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club announced on Wednesday that the club will hold a special membership meeting on Dec. 19 to consider invalidating its Dec. 3 election in which three new members won three of the club’s five officer positions.

In a development that stunned many of the club’s longtime members, at least 46 mostly young LGBT activists who joined the club less than a week prior to the election appeared to have lined up enough votes to defeat Stein President Lateefah Williams and her two vice presidential running mates, seemingly gaining control of the club.

But this week, several unidentified club members came forward to challenge the election of the three new officers on grounds that the home address for 11 of the new members who voted in the election couldn’t be confirmed, according to a memorandum prepared by an attorney advising the club on the challenges.

The memorandum by Donald R. Dinan, general counsel to the D.C. Democratic State Committee, says the club also could not verify whether another six of the new members qualified for a special membership category under which they joined at a discounted membership fee of $15. The regular membership fee is $35.

Under the club’s bylaws, the special membership is restricted to “senior citizens, students and limited income” members.

“Providing an incorrect or false address would be grounds for disqualifying a voter,” Dinan states in his memo. “Likewise, if one were to misrepresent their status in order to qualify for Special Membership and pay the lower dues, that representation could likewise disqualify the voter.”

Dinan added, “In this case, the number of questionable votes is greater than the margin of victory in each of the three races.”

The challenge to the election comes after a number of longtime Stein Club members expressed outrage that a group of newcomers, most of whom had never attended a club meeting, managed to wrest control of the club from its established officers and members.

Supporters of the new crop of members point out that the club’s rules and bylaws do not prevent people from joining the club immediately prior to an election of officers.

Martin Garcia, Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, gay news, Washington Blade

Martin Garcia (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The new members were led by gay political consultant Martin Garcia, 27, who defeated Williams for the club’s presidency by a vote of 47 to 45. Garcia is an account manager for the D.C. based political consulting firm The Campaign Workshop. He worked for three years on election campaigns for the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund prior to starting his current job in January.

Angela Peoples, 26, a policy analyst for the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, beat club backed candidate Jon Mandel, a staff assistant to D.C. Council member Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5), by a vote of 47 to 44. The two competed for the post of vice president for legislative and political affairs.

Vincent Villano, 26, communications director for the National Center for Transgender Equality, defeated club backed candidate Hassan Naveed, a public relations firm staffer and vice chair of Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence, by a vote of 48 to 41. If he withstands the election challenge, Villano would become the club’s vice president for administration.

“We are disappointed that the Stein leadership intends to challenge new members who want to contribute to Stein’s growth,” Garcia said in a statement released Wednesday night.

“Stein’s membership rolls nearly doubled because of our recruitment efforts, and that’s a good thing,” he said.

“These new members are young people, people of color, and people from low-income backgrounds who were otherwise not engaged in Stein’s activities…We should be having a special meeting celebrating these new members, and finding ways to engage them.”

Villano said the Stein Club officers who called the special meeting with just a week’s notice appear to have violated the club’s bylaws, which require a two-week advance notice of a special meeting.

In a press release issued Wednesday, the club said its officers voted to call the special meeting to address the challenges to the election “brought by Stein Club members,” whom the release did not identify. The release said any officer whose election may be impacted by the special meeting did not vote on the question of whether the special meeting should be called. Williams, the club’s current president, is the only officer that could be affected by the special meeting.

The club’s current two vice presidents, Julius Agers and Jerome Hunt, did not run for re-election. The club’s treasurer, Barrie Daneker, and secretary, Jimmie Luthuli, were not challenged by the new members and won re-election unopposed.

Dinan said that because the club election was held by secret ballot there is no way of knowing how each member voted.

“Therefore, the number of voters whose addresses and/or Special membership status cannot be confirmed substantially affected the outcome of the election and would be grounds for invalidating the election,” Dinan states in his memo.

Dinan told the Blade in a telephone interview Wednesday night that his memo is not a fact-finding document and that it is the responsibility of the club and its members to determine whether the membership status and addresses of the new members in question are valid.

He said it is also up to the club to decide whether membership category and residential address issues are sufficient grounds for invalidating the election.

The club’s bylaws do not have a residency requirement, and supporters of the new officers say it should not matter whether the new members submitted their correct address on the membership application form.

Kurt Vorndran, a former Stein Club president, said he supports the decision by the officers to call the special meeting. But he said members participating in the meeting should be cautious about what action they take.

“Many club members are unhappy about the way the slate won the election,” he said. “But the question before the special meeting will be if any rules of the club were broken, not about what we think of the election tactics of one side.”

The special meeting is scheduled to take place Wednesday, Dec. 19, at 7 p.m. in Room 120 of the John A. Wilson Building at 14th Street and Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.

Ward 8 gay Democratic activist and longtime Stein Club member Phil Pannell, who supported Garcia’s bid for the club presidency, said the club’s bylaws and rules don’t define or provide a process for determining whether a member qualifies for a low-income membership.

“Never in the history of the club has a member’s claim to be low income been questioned,” Pannell said. “If this isn’t handled right it could lead to the destruction of the club.”

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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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