LGBT activists have expressed concern that the D.C. government paid $80,000 this year for a performance at the city’s annual Emancipation Day celebration by a gospel singer who has publicly called for gays to abandon the “homosexual lifestyle.”
Internationally acclaimed gospel singer and musician Kirk Franklin, the winner of seven Grammy Awards, gave an outdoor concert April 16 in Freedom Plaza in downtown Washington as part of this year’s Emancipation Day festivities.
“He has a First Amendment right to say whatever he believes,” said Earl Fowlkes, president and CEO of the Center for Black Equity, which advocates for the black LGBT community.
“However, I would not want my tax dollars to go to anyone who espouses which is in essence homophobia any more than I would want my tax dollars to go toward anyone who espouses racism or who was anti-Semitic,” Fowlkes told the Blade. “It’s just not appropriate.”
Although Franklin, 43, reflects his deeply held Christian beliefs in his songwriting and performances, his comments about LGBT people and homosexuality have surfaced mostly in media interviews and in his 2010 book, “The Blueprint: A Plan for Living Above Life’s Storms.”
In most of his comments on the subject, Franklin has called on the church to treat LGBT people with kindness, compassion and love but has insisted “we can never compromise what the Bible says about homosexuality,” as stated in his book.
When he was asked in an Associated Press interview what he sees in the future for the LGBT community in the black church, Franklin reiterated his theme of compassion along with change.
“I think that you have to be, as Scripture would say, ‘as wise as a serpent and as harmless as a dove’ to lovingly share the truth, to lovingly and to passionately speak the truth in love into the lives of all people to allow that message that you speak…trust that it has enough power to do the changing,” the AP quoted him as saying.
The decision to bring Franklin to D.C. for the Emancipation Day event was made by the office of D.C. Council member Vincent Orange (D-At-Large), which has organized and promoted the event since Orange persuaded the Council and city officials to host and sponsor Emancipation Day as an annual city event.
Legislation introduced by Orange and approved by the Council and mayor has made Emancipation Day, which commemorates the freeing of the slaves in the District of Columbia during the Civil War, as an official city holiday.
The total cost of this year’s event, which included a parade as well as entertainment, was $250,000, according to the Washington Post. The Post reported that, “Franklin traveled to the District with a 16-person entourage, including backup singers, …. In addition to Franklin’s $55,000 booking fee, city taxpayers spent $8,758 for airfare, $1,557 for his limousine and $8,721 to put Franklin and his entourage up at the JW Marriott hotel in Washington, including $2,600 for Franklin’s VIP suite. Records attributed $4,215 in food and beverage costs to the entourage.”
Orange has proposed increasing the budget to $350,000 for next year, the Post reported.
“I’m sure that in the decision of securing Mr. Franklin the Council member was not aware of any anti-gay or anti-human rights comments that he might have made,” said James Brown, Orange’s chief of staff.
“The Council member is a strong supporter of the gay community,” he said.
Brown said Orange was out of town this week and couldn’t immediately be reached but would be available for comment upon his return. According to Brown, plans for next year’s Emancipation Day event won’t begin until after the Council returns from its summer recess in September.
Ron Hill, an official associated with the RCA Inspiration recording label who serves as Franklin’s manager in Grapevine, Texas, a Dallas suburb, didn’t return calls seeking an interview with Franklin.
Wayne Besen, founder and leader of Truth Wins Out, a national LGBT organization that monitors efforts by religious groups to help gays change their sexual orientation to heterosexuality through a process known as “conversion therapy,” said many of the advocates of that debunked process have changed their rhetoric and public statements in recent years.
Besen said on the heels of overwhelming scientific evidence that conversion therapy doesn’t work and is harmful to people who undergo such treatment, many of the groups promoting the treatment have dropped their previous harsh rhetoric condemning homosexuality as being evil and calling gay people sinners condemned to hell.
“What we have from people like Kirk Franklin and others is an exercise in double- speak and dishonesty,” Besen said. “But their message is the same – gay people are inferior and we should punish them. As we’re enacting punitive laws and conferring second-class citizenship on them we’re going to sugarcoat it and tell them that we love them.”
Rev. MacArthur Flournoy, director of the Human Rights Campaign’s Faith Partnership Mobilization program, said he, too, supports Franklin’s right to his own views on the subject of homosexuality.
Similar to Fowlkes, Flournoy said he also is concerned that city funds were used to finance Franklin’s appearance.
“To bring someone to an event that symbolizes freedom and the removal of oppression and celebrating freedom and it’s paid for with taxpayer dollars who’s going to espouse a perspective that is oppressive – that’s problematic,” Flournoy told the Blade.
“I think it would help us to get Kirk Franklin, sit him down and have a conversation with him, hear his perspective, hear what his thinking is and simply share what we know to be true,” said Flournoy.
“But at the end of the day, we simply don’t support the use of taxpayer dollars to bring in someone who clearly espouses a perspective that is detrimental to folks and their mental and spiritual health,” he said.
Rev. Cathy Alexander, minister for congregational connections at D.C.’s Metropolitan Community Church, which reaches out to the LGBT community, said she would urge Orange’s office to consider inviting a representative of the LGBT community to help in the selection process for future performers or speakers at the Emancipation Day event.
“My personal statement would be I would certainly hope there would be a conversation around who may be coming on the city’s behalf for an official function recognizing especially emancipation,” she said.
“In my view, we’re honoring the past, the present, and the future of emancipation, Alexander said. “And freedom comes in all forms.”
Joseph Kitchen, a 26-year-old Baptist minister and Prince George’s County Democratic Party activist who’s gay, said he has met Franklin several times at religious functions.
Kitchen, who campaigned for Maryland’s marriage equality law in last year’s referendum election, called on LGBT activists to be cautious about overreacting to situations similar to that surrounding Franklin’s performance at D.C.’s Emancipation Day celebration.
“If Kirk Franklin was a bigot, if he was someone who has espoused hateful feelings toward homosexuals or who had opposed their rights and fairness and equality before the law, then I think that would be different,” he said. “But he has not ever done that.”
Added Kitchen, “He was asked a theological question in a biblical setting and he answered it in the way in which he has been taught. And I think some people just need to understand that.”
In plea deal, D.C. trans woman’s killers could be free in 3 years
Two in 2016 killing of Dee Dee Dodds guilty of voluntary manslaughter
A D.C. LGBTQ anti-violence group will be submitting a community impact statement for a D.C. Superior Court judge scheduled to sentence two men on Dec. 10 for the July 4, 2016, shooting death of transgender woman Deeniquia “Dee Dee” Dodds in a case D.C. police listed as a hate crime.
Stephania Mahdi, chair of the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community’s Anti-Violence Project, told the Washington Blade the project has been in contact with the Office of the U.S. Attorney for D.C., which is prosecuting the case against the two defendants set to be sentenced this week, to arrange for the submission of a statement on the impact the murder of Dodds has had on the community.
The impact statement would also apply to the sentencing of two other men charged in the Dodds murder case who are scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 20.
The Dec. 10 sentencing for Jolonta Little, 30, and Monte T. Johnson, 25, was set to take place a little over two months after Little and Johnson pleaded guilty on Sept. 30 to a single count of voluntary manslaughter as part of a plea bargain deal offered by prosecutors.
In exchange for the guilty plea for voluntary manslaughter, prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office agreed to drop the charge of first-degree murder while armed originally brought against the two men. The plea agreement also called for dropping additional charges against them in connection with the Dodds murder, including robbery while armed, possession of a firearm during a crime of violence, and unlawful possession of a firearm.
In addition, the plea agreement includes a promise by prosecutors to ask D.C. Superior Court Judge Milton C. Lee, who is presiding over the case, to issue a sentence of eight years in prison for both men. Under the D.C. criminal code, a conviction on a voluntary manslaughter charge carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison.
Johnson has been held without bond for five years and three months since his arrest in the Dodds case in September 2016. Little has been held without bond since his arrest for the Dodds murder in February 2017. Courthouse observers say that judges almost always give defendants credit for time served prior to their sentencing, a development that would likely result in the two men being released in about three years.
The plea deal for the two men came two and a half years after a D.C. Superior Court jury became deadlocked and could not reach a verdict on the first-degree murder charges against Johnson and Little following a month-long trial, prompting Judge Lee to declare a mistrial on March 6, 2019.
The two other men charged in Dodds’ murder, Shareem Hall, 27, and his brother, Cyheme Hall, 25, accepted a separate plea bargain offer by prosecutors shortly before the start of the 2019 trial in which they pled guilty to second-degree murder. Both testified at Johnson and Little’s the trial as government witnesses.
In dramatic testimony, Cyheme Hall told the jury that it was Johnson who fatally shot Dodds in the neck at point blank range after he said she grabbed the barrel of Johnson’s handgun as Johnson and Hall attempted to rob her on Division Ave., N.E., near where she lived. Hall testified that the plan among the four men to rob Dodds did not include the intent to kill her.
In his testimony, Hall said that on the day of Dodd’s murder, he and the other three men made plans to commit armed robberies for cash in areas of D.C. where trans women, some of whom were sex workers, congregated. He testified that the four men got into a car driven by Little and searched the streets for victims they didn’t expect to offer resistance.
D.C. police and the U.S. Attorney’s office initially designated the murder charge against Little and Johnson as an anti-trans hate crime offense based on findings by homicide detectives that the men were targeting trans women for armed robberies. But during Johnson and Little’s trial, Judge Lee dismissed the hate crime designation at the request of defense attorneys on grounds that there was insufficient evidence to support a hate crime designation.
At the request of prosecutors, Judge Lee scheduled a second trial for Johnson and Little on the murder charge for Feb. 25, 2020. But court records show the trial date was postponed to June 22, 2020, and postponed several more times – to Jan 11, 2021, and later to Feb. 17, 2022, due to COVID-related restrictions before the plea bargain offer was agreed to in September of this year. The public court records do not show why the trial was postponed the first few times prior to the start of COVID restrictions on court proceedings.
Legal observers have said long delays in trials, especially murder trials, often make it more difficult for prosecutors to obtain a conviction because memories of key witnesses sometimes become faulty several years after a crime was committed.
“The D.C. Anti-Violence Project is disappointed to hear about the unfortunate proceedings in the case to bring justice for Dee Dee Dodds,” Mahdi, the Anti-Violence Project’s chair, told the Blade in a statement.
“A plea bargain from first-degree murder to voluntary manslaughter as well as a reduction of years in sentencing from 30 to 8 communicates not only a miscarriage of justice, but a message of penalization for victims who attempt to protect themselves during a violent assault,” Mahdi said. “The continual impact of reducing the culpability of perpetrators who target members of specifically identified communities sends a malicious message to criminals that certain groups of people are easier targets with lenient consequences,” she said.
“As a result of this pattern, the D.C. community has failed to defend the life and civil rights of Dee Dee Dodds and leaves criminally targeted LGBTQ+ community and other cultural identity communities critically undervalued by stewards of justice in the nation’s capital,” Mahdi concluded.
William Miller, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, has declined to disclose the reason why prosecutors decided to offer Johnson and Little the plea bargain deal rather than petition the court for a second trial for the two men on the first-degree murder charge.
Attorneys familiar with cases like this, where a jury becomes deadlocked, have said prosecutors sometimes decide to offer a plea deal rather than go to trial again out of concern that another jury could find a defendant not guilty on all charges.
During the trial, defense attorneys told the jury that the Hall brothers were habitual liars and there were inconsistencies in their testimony. They argued that the Halls’ motives were aimed strictly at saying what prosecutors wanted them to say so they could get off with a lighter sentence.
The two prosecutors participating in the trial disputed those claims, arguing that government witnesses provided strong evidence that Johnson and Little should be found guilty of first-degree murder and other related charges.
Before the jury announced it was irreconcilably deadlocked on the murder charges, the jury announced it found Little not guilty of seven separate counts of possession of a firearm during a crime of violence and found Johnson not guilty of five counts of possession of a firearm during a crime of violence.
Howard County activists and allies hit back at censorship, hate
More than 100 people attended ‘We ARE the People’ rally
A diverse crowd of 100 to 200 folks gathered at the Columbia Lakefront on Saturday to attend a rally to push back against censorship in the county’s public schools as well as homophobia and transphobia emanating from a group of conservative parents.
The rally called “We ARE the People” was organized in response to the comments and actions by members of a Maryland-based conservative group “We the People 2” that among other things are anti-masks, anti-vaccinations and are opposed to teaching racial history in the schools. They also oppose two books that are in Howard County Public Schools library shelves: “Gender Queer” and “Lawn Boy.”
Speakers at a We the People 2 rally last month at an Elkridge warehouse condemned the books, which contain LGBTQ characters, as sexually explicit. The group later filed police reports against the Board of Education alleging the books constitute pornography with “graphic sexual content and materials being used and disseminated in public schools,” according to the group’s press release. A flier announcing this action used the loaded terminology, “We must not allow our children to be abused and victimized.”
Among the speakers at the Elkridge rally was Republican Gordana Schifanelli who is running for lieutenant governor on the ticket with Daniel Cox. Another speaker, George Johnson, a teacher from Baltimore City, was heard on a video of the event saying, “We’re doing God’s work because Marxism, homosexuality and transgenderism is the devil.”
In response, the pro-LGBTQ rally in Columbia announced the following:
We are taking a stance against hate in the community as we raise our voices in support of equity in our schools. Attacks on teachers and school staff have prompted us to stand united and drown out the noise.
In addition, We ARE the People states:
We stand for LGBTQ+ students and educational professionals
Teaching accurate history to our students
Supporting equitable practices in our schools
Providing students with relevant LGBTQ+ media through their school libraries
The two-hour rally, which was attended by several county council members, featured speakers representing a wide swath of community, educational, religious and political organizations. They included: Community Allies of Rainbow Youth (CARY), Black Lives Activists of Columbia (BLAC), Absolutely Dragulous, Howard County Schools, PFLAG-Columbia/Howard County, IndivisibleHoCoMd, Columbia Democratic Club, Howard Progressive Project, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia (UUCC), HoCo Pride, Progressive Democrats of Howard County, and the Columbia United Christian Church.
Many of the speakers denounced the censorship of materials that are needed by many LGBTQ students. Genderqueer and non-binary students, they point out, are most vulnerable and need affirming literature to help with their development and self-acceptance. The speakers also decried hate speech, which has surfaced again, as well as the opposition to teaching history as it relates to race.
Others argued that the community must not sit back and take it from extremist groups.
“You are all defenders,” said Cynthia Fikes, president of the Columbia Democratic Club, in a fiery speech. “But to succeed a strong defense also needs a strong offense.”
The two books in question were recently the center of controversy in the Fairfax County (Va.) school system. The books were removed in September from the shelves of the high schools pending a comprehensive review following opposition from a parent at a school board meeting. It should be noted that both books were previous winners of the American Library Association’s Alex Awards, which each year recognize “10 books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults, ages 12 through 18.”
The board established two committees consisting of parents, staff and students to assess the content of the books and make recommendations to the assistant superintendent of instructional services who would make the final determination.
One committee found that “Lawn Boy” includes themes that “are affirming for students” with marginalized identities. “There is no pedophilia in the book,” the committee added. The other committee found that “Gender Queer” depicts “difficulties non-binary and asexual individuals may face.” The committee concluded that “the book neither depicts nor describes pedophilia.” The books were restored to the shelves.
“As this backlash against LGTBQ+ literature demonstrates, we must be ready to stand up and defend the progress we have made,” said Jennifer Mallo, member of the Howard County Board of Education, expressing her own point of view. “We must ensure our elected officials understand and share our values and will fight for our marginalized students.”
The enthusiastic crowd was clearly pleased with the event.
“Today’s rally was meant to inspire our community to take action,” said Chris Hefty, who was the lead organizer of the rally and the emcee. “Action that protects our youth. Action that protects our educators and admins. This action comes in the form of advocacy, communication with elected officials so they know your voice, and through well informed voting to ensure those who represent us are those we know will support us. We shared a message of love, acceptance, and warmth.”
Hefty adds, “The unity we facilitated through this rally was a sight to behold. As the lead organizer I couldn’t have been more pleased! In the future we will be sure to better meet the needs of all our community members. We thank all those in our community for their support and feedback and look forward to accomplishing great things together moving forward.”
Comings & Goings
Nathanson takes role at Outright Action
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 Rikki Nathanson on her new position as Senior Advisor – Global Trans Program with OutRight Action International in New York. Nathanson will be based in D.C.
“I am absolutely thrilled to be taking on this new role as Senior Advisor in OutRight’s Global Trans Program,” said Nathanson. “I have finally found the perfect fit for me: as a trans woman who has been fighting for equality not only for myself, but for others globally, this position is not only a job, it’s intrinsically part of who I am. So, what better way to live, nurture and grow myself.”
Nathanson will be working closely with all program staff to ensure a cohesive and intentional approach to gender issues throughout OutRight’s programs, including its approach to gender ideology movements. She will lead new initiatives on gender advocacy and policy change, focused but not limited to legal gender recognition and anti-discrimination legislation and policies.
Prior to this Nathanson was director of housing programs at Casa Ruby in D.C. She has also held a number of other positions including: founder/executive director of Trans Research, Education, Advocacy & Training (TREAT), Zimbabwe; chairperson Southern Africa Trans Forum, SATF, Cape Town, South Africa; executive director, Ricochet Modeling Agency, Zimbabwe; and company secretary for Dunlop Zimbabwe Limited, Zimbabwe.
Chile marriage equality bill receives final approval
Does a potential overturn of Roe imperil LGBTQ rights?
In plea deal, D.C. trans woman’s killers could be free in 3 years
Boris Johnson’s LGBTQ rights advisor visits D.C.
PHOTOS: GMCW Holiday Show
The gay man who shook Brazilian sports and society
Bob Dole dies at 98; anti-LGBTQ record is part of his legacy
Victory Fund honors gay Guatemalan congressman at D.C. conference
Minnesota middle school principal ousted for displaying Pride flag
Rainbow History Project to honor LGBTQ ‘Pioneers’
Sign Up for Blade eBlasts
World1 day ago
The gay man who shook Brazilian sports and society
National6 days ago
‘Very familiar’: Mark Glaze’s story brings into focus mental health for gay men
Politics2 days ago
Bob Dole dies at 98; anti-LGBTQ record is part of his legacy
Opinions5 days ago
Should we be scared of Omicron?
a&e features5 days ago
The ultimate guide to queer gift giving 2021
National5 days ago
Matthew Shepard honored at National Cathedral
Local6 days ago
Long-time LGBTQ activist running for Md. House of Delegates
World7 days ago
Canadian government introduces bill to ban conversion therapy