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D.C. Council reprimands Graham, strips him of committee duties

Gay Councilman expected to seek re-election next year

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Jim Graham, Democratic Party, Ward 1, Washington D.C., Washington Blade, gay news
Jim Graham, Democratic Party, Ward 1, Washington D.C., Washington Blade, gay news

D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The D.C. Council voted 11 to 2 on Monday to reprimand gay Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) on grounds that he violated a Council ethics rule in 2008 by improperly intervening in a contract approval process.

In a separate action, the Council voted 10 to 2, with one member voting “present,” to strip Graham of his committee responsibilities over the city’s alcoholic beverage regulatory agency and liquor law policy.

The reprimand and sanction against Graham’s committee responsibilities were approved in the form of separate resolutions introduced by Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large). Mendelson argued that action against Graham was needed to maintain the confidence of the pubic in the “integrity” the Council and the city government.

“It is time to move on,” Graham said in a statement released after the Council session adjourned.

“I have very important responsibilities as chairman of the human services committee and all the responsibility of representing Ward 1,” he said. “Going forward, I will continue to represent the people who elected me to serve with the same passion and fervor as I have from my first day in office.”

Graham and Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) were the only two of the 13 Council members to vote against the two resolutions. Council member Vincent Orange (D-At-Large) voted for the reprimand resolution but voted “present,” which is considered a form of abstention, on the resolution taking away Graham’s committee duties on liquor law matters.

Rick Rosendall, president of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, who attended Monday’s Council session, said he is uncertain whether the Council’s action and the ethics board opinion that Graham violated city ethics rules would have a harmful impact on Graham’s longtime support from LGBT voters.

“This is not about LGBT issues,” Rosendall said. “Jim has been a strong and committed ally on that.”

Rosendall, as did Mendelson, also noted that the ethics related allegations against Graham do not involve a breach in the city’s criminal laws and no one has accused Graham of such an allegation.

Some political observers note that Council member David Grosso (I-At-Large), who defeated incumbent Council member Michael Brown (I-At-Large) last November following a campaign that attacked Brown on ethics related issues, won in nearly all of the city’s precincts with large numbers of LGBT residents.

At Monday’s Council session, Grosso said he would favor more stringent sanctions against Graham, noting that large numbers of his constituents urged him to push for a censure rather than a reprimand against Graham.

Graham has been highly popular in Ward 1, where he has been credited with playing a key role in improving neighborhoods and boosting economic development, especially in the Columbia Heights neighborhood that has become one of the city’s popular retail and entertainment centers.

The Council’s vote for the reprimand and committee sanction came after a 40 minute debate in which Barry, a former D.C. mayor, was the only member to speak against the two resolutions.

Marion Barry, Jim Graham, D.C. Council, gay news, Washington Blade

Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) speaks with his colleague, Graham, before the session. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

“I’m arguing that Jim Graham has not been given due process,” Barry said, adding that he believes Graham was denied his constitutional right of due process under the law because both the Council and the D.C. Board of Ethics and Government Accountability didn’t hold hearings to allow Graham to dispute the allegations against him.

Mendelson and Council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), a law professor at George Washington University Law School, disputed Barry’s argument, saying Graham was given an opportunity to present his case against the allegations during deliberations of three separate entities that have investigated the allegations.

Mendelson said he was prompted to introduce the reprimand and committee sanction resolutions after the ethics board issued an opinion saying it found a “substantial body of evidence” that Graham violated the code of conduct for a city employee or official in connection with the contracting matter.

He noted that the ethics board, an investigation conducted by a private law firm on behalf of the Metro Transit board, and the city’s Inspector General each looked into the matter.

All three entities concluded that Graham acted improperly by allegedly attempting to pressure businessman Warren Williams into withdrawing a bid for a Metro land development contract in exchange for Graham’s support for Williams receiving a D.C. lottery contract.

Graham has denied interfering with the contract approval process. He has said he favored awarding the Metro contract to a competing businessman, but has said he did so because the other businessman’s company was better qualified to carry out the terms of the contract.

Through his attorneys, Graham last week filed a lawsuit against the ethics board on grounds that it violated the city law that created it by issuing an opinion on Graham’s case without holding a hearing in which Graham had the opportunity to contest the allegations and evidence used against him.

Graham told his colleagues during the Council session Monday that he plans to move forward with his lawsuit but hopes to continue working amicably with them on future Council business.

Although he declined Mendelson’s offer to allow him to speak on the reprimand resolution before the Council voted on it, Graham spoke at considerable length on the resolution calling for taking away his committee responsibilities on liquor law matters.

Saying he is “very proud” of what he and his committee have done to improve the city’s laws regulating bars, nightclubs, and restaurants, he urged his colleagues not to strip him of those responsibilities.

“There is no relationship between my reprimand and the role I play on these committee issues,” he said.

Mendelson told the Blade after the Council session ended that there was “no question” that the decision to strip Graham of his liquor law responsibilities was a form of “punishment” linked to the reprimand.

“It’s a diminishment of his committee responsibilities and goes with the reprimand,” he said. “That’s why they were both on the agenda today.”

Gay Council member David Catania (I-At-Large), who voted for both the reprimand and the committee sanction but didn’t speak during the Council debate, told the Blade following the Council session that he strongly disagrees with Graham and Barry’s claim that Graham was denied due process rights.

“I thought that was nonsense,” said Catania. “This is a disciplinary proceeding, not a criminal justice proceeding. And the notion of a lack of due process is laughable,” he said.

“Candidly, I think this whole thing could have been handled much differently at the onset if Mr. Graham would have acknowledged that, in hindsight, he perhaps was a little over zealous and perhaps went too far [in the contract matter] and apologized,” Catania said. ‘He’s been defiant all along. Had he apologized two years ago we might not be here today.”

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District of Columbia

60,000 expected for annual D.C. Black Pride this weekend

Celebration includes educational workshops, social events, more

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A scene from last year’s Black Pride celebration. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The 33rd annual D.C. Black Pride festival and celebration is scheduled to take place May 23-27 during Memorial Day weekend with at least 60,000 people from the D.C. metro area and across the country and some from abroad expected to attend.

Like in recent years, most of the events are scheduled to take place at the Westin Washington, D.C. Downtown Hotel at 999 9th St., N.W.

Although the official DC Black Pride Opening Reception is scheduled to take place Friday, May 24, at the Westin Hotel with live entertainment, an online schedule of events shows that earlier events, including a Mr. & Miss DC Black Pride Pageant and the 8th annual DC Black Pride Unity Ball, were scheduled to take place Thursday, May 23 at the Westin.

Also similar to recent past years, a Rainbow Row: Organization & Vendor Expo will open at the hotel at 5 p.m. on May 25 and remain open most of the time throughout the weekend events. The Rainbow Row includes booths and tables set up by local and national LGBTQ organizations and LGBTQ-supportive allied organizations and businesses.

According to the official schedule, the Opening Reception will include performances by Paris Sashay, Keith Angels, Bang Garcon, Black Assets, Marcy Smiles, and Sherri Amoure and will be hosted by the “DMV’s own Anthony Oake” and the “legendary DJ Sedrick will be spinning all night.”

The schedule shows that 11 individual workshop sessions will take place at the hotel throughout the day on Saturday, May 25. Among the workshop titles are Drag Chronicles: From Artform to Activism; Self-Care and Self-Compassion; Sexpectations: Navigating Sexual & Romantic Compatibility While Dating; Advocating for Black LGBTQ Youth in Foster Care; Queering Theology: Black Pride in the Pews; What is the L?! All Things Lesbian; and Primary Sources: Elders Sharing Our Histories.

Two official outdoor events include Pride by the River Super Sunday scheduled for Sunday, May 26, from 12-8 p.m. at D.C.’s Anacostia Park at 1500 Anacostia Dr., S.E. presented by the local group Project Brings; and the annual Pride In The Park set for Monday, May 27, at D.C.’s Fort Dupont Park, 1500 Anacostia Dr., S.E., presented by the local community services group Us Helping Us.

Some of the other numerous events, aside from several evening parties at popular D.C. nightclubs, include a Wellness Pavilion, a Poetry Slam, a Writer’s Forum, and a Faith Service.

A statement released by the D.C.-based Center for Black Equity, which organizes the D.C. Black Pride events, notes that the first D.C. Black Pride was held May 25, 1991, and organized by local Black gay activists Welmore Cook, Theodore Kirkland and Ernest Hopkins, became the “catalyst for what is now regarded as the Black Pride Movement.”

It notes that, among other things, the first D.C. Black Pride event and Black Pride events in subsequent years raised funds for HIV/AIDS organizations that provided services to the African-American community in D.C. and the surrounding area.

The statement adds, “Since its birth, more than 50 other Black Pride celebrations now take place throughout the world, many using DC Black Pride as its model.”

And like in past years, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has issued an official mayoral proclamation declaring May 20-27, 2024, DC Black Pride Week.

The full schedule for DC Black Pride 2024 events can be accessed at dcblackpride.org/schedule.htm.

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District of Columbia

Capital Stonewall Dems endorse Biden, 2 incumbent Council members

LGBTQ political group doesn’t back Del. Norton or Brooke Pinto

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D.C. Council member Robert White speaks with a Capital Stonewall Democrats member at a post endorsement party. (Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro Jr.)

The Capital Stonewall Democrats, D.C.’s largest local LGBTQ political organization, announced on May 21 that it has endorsed President Joe Biden, incumbent D.C. Council members Robert White (D-At-Large) and Janeese Lewis George (D-Ward 4), and incumbent U.S. Shadow Rep. Oye Owolewa (D) in the city’s June 4 primary election.

But the LGBTQ Democratic group did not make endorsements in five other races to be decided in the primary, including the re-election bid of D.C. Congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), a longtime LGBTQ rights supporter on Capitol Hill; and D.C. Council member Brooke Pinto (D-Ward 2), an outspoken LGBTQ rights supporter who is running unopposed for re-election.

Capital Stonewall Democrats President Michael Haresign said the no endorsement decisions happened at least in part because of a longstanding requirement that candidates must receive at least a 60 percent threshold vote by the organization’s members to secure an endorsement. He said members also had the option of voting for “no endorsement” under the organization’s voting system.

“Very few candidates met the 60 percent threshold,” he told the Washington Blade. Haresign said the organization would soon release the numerical vote count and percentage of the vote each candidate received from Capital Stonewall members through an online ranked choice voting process.

In a press release issued on May 21, Capital Stonewall Democrats announced the percentage of the vote the four endorsed candidates received from its members who voted: Biden, 82.2%, Lewis George, 79.07%, Robert White, 78.6%, and Owolewa, 67.5%. Haresign said the organization was not ready to release the vote percentage for the candidates that were not endorsed, but he said those figures would be released soon.

He told the Blade that Capital Stonewall Democrats currently has 91 members who are eligible to vote for endorsements and that 47 of those members participated in the voting.

 “I’m honored by this endorsement,” Robert White told the Blade at a party for its endorsed candidates that Capital Stonewall Democrats held beginning at 7 p.m. on May 21 at The Brig restaurant and bar in the Barracks Row section of Capitol Hill.

“The Stonewall Democrats have stood with me in every election, and it’s meant a lot to me,” White said. Most LGBTQ activists have said White is among the Council’s strongest LGBTQ supporters.

The other endorsed Council candidate, Lewis George, and Shadow D.C. Representative Owolewa were invited to the party but had other conflicting events to attend, according to Haresign, who said Owolewa texted him to say he might show up shortly before the event was to end at 9 p.m.

The races in which no endorsement was made include the Ward 7 D.C. Council race in which 10 Democratic candidates are competing for the Council seat held by incumbent Council member and former D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray (D), who is not running for re-election. With 10 candidates running, the fact that none received a 60 percent vote threshold did not come as a surprise.

Haresign said Ward 7 candidate Eboni-Rose Thompson made a strong showing by capturing 51 percent of the vote. Thompson attended the endorsement party as a “runner up,” one of her supporters said.

A no endorsement decision  by the group was also made in the Ward 8 D.C. Council race in which incumbent Council member Trayon White (D) is being challenged by Democrats Rahman Branch and Salim Adofo. Trayon White has been an LGBTQ rights supporter during his tenure as a Council member. Adolfo expressed support for LGBTQ rights during his appearance at a virtual candidates forum held by Capital Stonewall Democrats earlier this month. Trayon White and Branch did not appear at the forum.

Capital Stonewall’s decision not to endorse Pinto came as a surprise to some local LGBTQ activists. Pinto has been an outspoken supporter of LGBTQ rights. She is running unopposed in the Democratic primary on June 4, and no one is running for the Ward 2 Council seat in the primary for D.C.’s two other registered political parties – the Republican and Statehood Green parties. That means Pinto will also run unopposed in the November general election, although a write-in candidate could emerge.

Also coming as a surprise was the group’s decision not to endorse Eleanor Holmes Norton in her re-election bid as D.C.’s non-voting delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives. Norton has been an outspoken supporter of LGBTQ rights and a vocal opponent of anti-LGBTQ legislation introduced in the House by anti-LGBTQ Republicans in her 34 years in office.

Haresign said neither Norton nor Pinto attended the group’s candidate forum and the two also did not submit a statement or video as did other candidates who were unable to attend the forums. That could have played a role in the members’ decision not to endorse them, according to Haresign.

However, Haresign said it is possible that due to a glitch in the group’s online invitation process that Pinto may not have received the invitation for the candidate forum. The Blade has contacted Pinto’s office to confirm whether the invite was received, but the office did not immediately respond.

 The other race in which Capital Stonewall Democrats did not make an endorsement is the race for U.S. Shadow senator in which incumbent Michael D. Brown is not seeking re-election. Local political activists Eugene Kinlow and Ankit Jain, both Democrats, are competing for the seat. Kinlow and Jain attended one of the two virtual candidate forums held by Capital Stonewall Democrats and each expressed support for LGBTQ rights.

The second of the two Shadow D.C. U.S. Senate seats is held by incumbent Democrat Paul Straus who’s not up for re-election this year. Like the D.C. Shadow U.S. Representative seat, the Shadow Senate positions have no voting rights or authority in Congress and are unpaid positions created to advocate for D.C. statehood and support for D.C. in Congress.

As has been the case in D.C. elections for many years, the lesser-known candidates running against Robert White, Lewis George, and Owolewa have also expressed support for LGBTQ rights. Robert White’s sole Democratic opponent, Rodney Red Grant, expressed strong support for LGBTQ equality at one of  the virtual candidate forums held by Capital Stonewall Democrats. White, who also attended the forum, reiterated his longstanding, strong support for LGBTQ issues. 

One of Lewis George’s two opponents in the Ward 4 Democratic primary, Paul Johnson, expressed support for LGBTQ rights during one of the two forums. The second opponent, Lisa Gore, did not show up for the forum and her position on LGBTQ issues could not immediately be determined.

Linda L. Gray, Owolewa’s sole opponent in the Democratic primary for the Shadow Representative seat, also expressed strong support for LGBTQ issues at one of the two Capital Stonewall candidate forums.

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Virginia

Youngkin vetoes bill that would have expanded Va. bullying definition

Bisexual state Del. Joshua Cole introduced House Bill 536

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Republican Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin speaks at a CNN Town Hall on March 9, 2023. (Screen capture via CNN)

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin on Friday vetoed a bill that would have added sexual orientation, gender identity and expression to the state’s definition of bullying.

Lawmakers earlier this year approved House Bill 536, which bisexual state Del. Joshua Cole (D-Fredericksburg) introduced. 

“While I agree with the general purpose of the legislation, regrettably, the General Assembly did not approve my amendments,” said Youngkin in a statement. “Those recommendations would have expanded the definition of bullying to encompass all possible motives.”

“School administrators must work to prevent bullying and support our students’ mental health through a healthy learning environment, but the narrow definition provided in the legislation could be interpreted to exclude groups not included in the Virginia Human Rights Act, such as bullying victims raised with traditional values or those who are in foster care,” added the Republican.

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