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Cuban LGBT activists visit D.C.

Ignacio Estrada Cepero and Wendy Iriepa Díaz met with Fla. congresswoman

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Cuba, Ignacio Estrada, Wendy Iriepa, Gay News, Casa Ruby, Washington Blade

Cuba, Ignacio Estrada, Wendy Iriepa, Gay News, Casa Ruby, Washington Blade

Ignacio Estrada Cepero and Wendy Iriepa Diaz visit Casa Ruby on Monday, July 29, 2013 in Washington, D.C. (Washington Blade by Damien Salas)

Two Cuban LGBT rights advocates travelled to D.C. this week to meet with activists and a member of Congress.

Ignacio Estrada Cepero and Wendy Iriepa Díaz on Monday visited Casa Ruby and Us Helping Us in Northwest Washington. They also met with Cuban-born Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) at her office on Capitol Hill on Wednesday.

Estrada, who founded the Cuban League against AIDS in 2005, said while he and Iriepa were at Casa Ruby that they wanted to “show how we live, how we work” in Cuba while they are in the U.S. The activists also criticized Mariela Castro, the daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro who is the director of Cuba’s National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX) that supports LGBT rights while in the U.S.

“Mariela totally manipulates the LGBT community,” Iriepa said.

Estrada and Iriepa, a transgender woman who once worked for CENESEX, married in a high-profile wedding in Havana, the Cuban capital, in 2011.

They will remain in the U.S. for three months after arriving in Miami on June 26.

Estrada and Iriepa traveled to D.C. less than three months after Mariela Castro traveled to the U.S. to accept an award from Equality Forum, a Philadelphia-based LGBT advocacy group.

“She does not recognize the work that is done on the part of the independent gay community,” Estrada told the Washington Blade during an hour-long interview on Tuesday. “She only recognizes the official part.”

Mariela Castro’s supporters note she successfully lobbied the Cuban government to begin offering free sex-reassignment surgery under the country’s national health care system in 2008. Iriepa herself underwent the procedure in 2007.

Observers have credited Cuba’s condom distribution campaign and sexual education curriculum with producing one of the world’s lowest HIV infection rates. They also note that Cubans with the virus also have access to free anti-retroviral drugs.

CENESEX in May scheduled a series of events across Cuba to commemorate the annual International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. Mariela Castro has also spoken out in support gay nuptials, even though Cuban lawmakers have rejected efforts to legally recognize same-sex couples.

“I am very proud of how we have advanced [LGBT rights in Cuba,]” she said during an Equality Forum panel in Philadelphia.

Estrada and Iriepa reject any effort to portray Mariela Castro and her father’s government in a positive light.

Estrada noted to the Blade the Cuban government forcibly quarantined people with HIV/AIDS in state-run sanitaria until 1993. Three of these facilities remain open, but Estrada said those who receive care in them are unable to leave without an escort.

“You cannot do anything if you if these people don’t accompany you,” he said.

Estrada, who is positive, said more than 600 prisoners with HIV/AIDS live in six prisons he said the Cuban government specifically built to house them.

Official statistics indicate 18,261 Cubans were living with HIV/AIDS as of December 2012, but Estrada estimates the epidemic’s impact on the island is much greater. He also dismissed claims that those who are positive on the island have unlimited access to anti-retroviral drugs.

“It is a grave situation and it will become even worse when the government totally manipulates the statistics of the epidemic [in Cuba,]” Estrada told the Blade.

The regime’s critics continue to maintain authorities continue to harass LGBT rights advocates in spite of Mariela Castro’s advocacy against homophobia and transphobia and other issues.

Leannes Imbert Acosta of the Cuban LGBT Platform claimed authorities last September detained her as she left her Havana home to bring materials to CENESEX on a planned exhibit on forced labor camps to which the government sent more than 25,000 gay men and others deemed unfit for military services during the 1960s. Estrada told the Blade a Cuban counter-intelligence officer approached him, Iriepa and other LGBT rights advocates during a Pride walk in Havana they held last year.

“There was no sort of opinion against Mariela, nor for Mariela, nor against Fidel,” Estrada said. “It was for LGBT rights.”

CENESEX dismissed Iriepa shortly before she married Estrada during a ceremony in which Yoani Sánchez, a prominent blogger and regime critic who visited the U.S. and other countries earlier this year during a three-month trip around the world, served as her maid of honor. Other government critics, independent journalists and human rights advocates attended the couple’s wedding.

“It was a triumph because this wedding was able to bring together in a very big way the Cuban civil society of the opposition, dissidents, bloggers, independent journalists and human rights activists,” Estrada said. “It is a success because never in the life of Cuba during the 53 years of what they call revolution has anything like this been known.”

Ros-Lehtinen applauded Estrada and Iriepa’s advocacy efforts during her meeting with them to which the Blade had exclusive access. She also blasted Mariela Castro and her father’s government for what she described as ongoing human rights abuses in Cuba.

“She [Mariela Castro] gets feted and awarded and yet these folks who are so valiant, so brave and telling the truth about what is going on in the LGBT community in Cuba are marginalized,” Ros-Lehtinen told the Blade after she met with Estrada and Iriepa. “I wanted to make sure that I had an opportunity to meet with them and let them know that their work is valued.”

A Cuban government representative did not return the Blade’s request for comment on Estrada and Iriepa’s trip and their criticisms.

As for Estrada and Iriepa, they remain upbeat about their future prospects once they return to Cuba.

Estrada told the Blade he hopes to maintain what he described as an open space that respects all “the colors of the diversity of our flag.” Iriepa added she hopes to one day open an organization similar to Casa Ruby in Havana.

“I will return (to Cuba) energized to do many positive things,” she said.

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Nellie’s fires security firm after woman dragged down stairs

Pride weekend incident triggers protests, investigation by liquor agency

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Keisha Young was dragged down the stairs by her hair at Nellie’s. (Screen capture via Instagram)

Nellie’s Sports Bar, a gay bar in the city’s U Street commercial district, announced on Monday that it has dismissed a security company whose employee was captured on video dragging a Black woman down a flight of stairs inside the bar during the city’s Capital Pride celebration last Saturday.

The video of the male security employee dragging Nellie’s customer Keisha Young down the staircase and the brawl that erupted when other customers intervened has triggered expressions of concern by city officials and LGBTQ activists, including the local Black Lives Matter group that organized a protest outside Nellie’s on Sunday.

Young, who said she was injured during the incident, has said the security staffer mistakenly thought she was part of a group of customers who brought into the bar their own alcoholic beverages, which Nellie’s does not allow.

“Nellie’s Sports Bar has terminated, with immediate effect, the independent security vendor hired to protect our guests during Pride Week,” Nellie’s said in a statement released to the media.

“Our investigation into the matter is ongoing, and we will cooperate with any law enforcement investigation, however we do not need to wait for the investigation’s conclusion before we take decisive action,” the statement says. “We offer a heartfelt apology to all who witnessed the horrific events of this past weekend,” it says. “No matter what behavior occurred prior, nothing warrants mistreating and disrespecting one of our guests.”

The statement adds that Nellie’s will be closed this week “as we evaluate this regrettable situation.” It says all non-security staff will continue to be paid their regular wages during the temporary shutdown.

“In the interim, we will use this time to listen and understand what more we can do to create the safe and friendly atmosphere our guests have come to expect from Nellie’s Sports Bar over the past 14 years,” the statement says.

Brandon Burrell, an attorney representing Young, told D.C.’s Fox 5 News that Nellie’s had yet to offer an apology directly to Young. Fox 5 News reported on Monday that Young was considering filing a police report over the incident and a possible lawsuit against Nellie’s depending on how Nellie’s responds to Young’s concerns. 

A D.C. police spokesperson told the Washington Blade that Young had not contacted police to file a report about the incident as of early Monday.

The D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration, which issues liquor licenses to bars and restaurants, has opened an investigation into the Nellie’s incident, the agency confirmed to Fox 5 News.

The Capital Pride Alliance, the local group that organizes D.C.’s LGBTQ Pride events, including Saturday’s Pride Walk and Pridemobile Parade, issued a statement on Monday expressing concern over the Nellie’s incident.

“The Capital Pride Alliance condemns the reprehensible actions taken by Nellie’s staff over the weekend,” the statement says. “The incident resulted in Keisha Young being dragged by the hair down the stairs, which was a violent response to the trivial action of allegedly bringing into the bar a bottle of liquor,” the statement says.

“Capital Pride Alliance is committed to creating safe spaces for all,” says the statement. “We expect Nellie’s to take immediate, remedial action in response to this incident. Their response will impact the future of CPA’s relationship with Nellie’s.”

Nellie’s owner Doug Schantz couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser also expressed concern about the Nellie’s incident when asked about it by reporters at an event on Monday.

“Obviously, entrepreneurs enforce rules in their restaurants, but they’re not allowed to assault anybody,” the mayor said. “If that’s a matter for the Metropolitan Police Department, we’ll take it up.”

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New gay bar ‘Central’ to open in Baltimore this summer

Just a few blocks from where Grand Central closed last year

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Marc Hayes and Ivan Yordanov inside the new Central. (Photo by Ed Gunts)

Fans of the old Grand Central club in Baltimore will get a new place to patronize this summer, and it has a familiar name and operator.

Central is the name of a gay bar and restaurant that’s expected to open in August, just a few blocks from where Grand Central closed last September. One of its owners is the former general manager of Grand Central, Marc Hayes.

Baltimore’s liquor board last week approved a request to transfer an existing Beer, Wine and Liquor license to Hayes, from Baltimore, and business partner Ivan Yordanov, from Alexandria, Va.

The location is a three-building complex at 885-889 N. Howard Street, part of a block called Antique Row on the western edge of Mount Vernon, the city’s traditional “gayborhood.” Over the years, the Howard Street buildings have housed a series of clubs and lounges, most recently Bentley’s jazz club.
Grand Central closed after original owner Don Davis sold the property at 1001-1003 N. Charles Street to a developer, Landmark Partners, that’s now constructing an eight-story office building in its place. Its last day was Sept. 3.

Started in 1991 as Central Station at 1001 N. Charles St. and renamed when Davis bought the old Stagecoach Bar at 1003 N. Charles St., Grand Central was one of Baltimore’s largest gay-friendly clubs and remained busy on weekends even after Landmark acquired the property. Patrons called it ‘Central’ for short. It was required to close temporarily during the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic but did offer outdoor and carryout service when permitted.

Hayes, the last general manager of Grand Central for both Davis and Landmark, had indicated before it closed that he wanted to find another place for patrons to go once construction of the office building began.

He said the Howard Street business is not a relocation of Grand Central because Landmark isn’t involved and Landmark owns the rights to the name and other intellectual property associated with Grand Central.

“We’re not Grand Central,” he said. “This is going to be Central. This is going to be an LGBTQIA-friendly place, but not using the Grand Central intellectual property.”

Hayes said he and Yordanov chose the name Central because the Howard Street buildings are centrally located between Leon’s and The Drinkery, two other gay bars in Mount Vernon.

“We are central,” he said. “We’re in a triangle.”

Even if it doesn’t have a legal connection with Grand Central, Hayes said, he will welcome its former patrons, as well as people who have never been to Grand Central. And while he’s billing it as a gay bar, he said, “I don’t see gender or race in anybody.” He describes himself as gender fluid and Yordanov as an ally of the gay community.

The three buildings date from around 1900 and are connected internally. Together, they contain more than 6,200 square feet of space on two levels – large but less than half the 15,000 square feet of space inside the two buildings that made up Grand Central.

Hayes and Yordanov are leasing the property and received a letter of support for the liquor license transfer from the Mount Vernon Belvedere Association. They still need to pass inspections required by the liquor board and intend to hire a staff of about 20. They plan to have a dance floor and DJs, Sunday brunch, drag shows and other live entertainment as well as a full-service kitchen.

The interior has a long wooden bar that’s reminiscent of Grand Central’s, a series of lounges and dining areas, and some exposed-brick walls with arches that impart an air of history and allow views from one area to another. The main dance floor will be on the second floor, including one space where the walls are covered with mirrors.

Hayes said the building doesn’t need much in the way of renovations and since it’s actually three addresses, there’s already a separate entrance for carryout orders. He said he considered other locations but liked the ambiance, layout and location of this property. “I’ve always liked this building,” he said. “Grand stairwell. Wrought iron…It’s gorgeous. Look at the arches.”

The bar will be open from 4 p.m. to 1:45 a.m. Monday through Saturday and from 10 a.m. to 1:45 p.m. on Sundays, when Central will serve brunch. The carryout will open daily starting at 11 a.m. Central will have a cover charge when there are shows.

While many gay bars have closed around the country during the pandemic, Hayes said he believes there’s a market for a new one in Baltimore. He notes that Central will be different from the Baltimore Eagle, which caters to the leather community; the tavern-style bars without live entertainment, and The Manor, an “ultralounge” in a meticulously restored townhouse on Charles Street.

“We’re not The Manor, obviously. They’ve got a fantastic chef and fantastic food and we’re going to be doing bar food” with a relaxed atmosphere and DJs. But Central will offer more in the way of food service and entertainment than the tavern-style bars around the city.

That’s another reason the name they chose makes sense. Given the other options in town, Hayes said, “We’re kind of right in the middle.”

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Delaware prepares to celebrate Pride month

Parade moved to October, but smattering of local events planned

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Delaware trans student policy, gay news, washington blade
Delaware Gov. John Carney issued a Pride month proclamation earlier this month.

As state coronavirus restrictions continue to lift, organizations throughout Delaware are gearing up for Pride month with events planned during June.

Dogfish Head Craft Brewery dedicated its June Beer and Benevolence philanthropic effort to benefit CAMP Rehoboth, an LGBTQ+ non-profit community center in Rehoboth. The fundraising began last weekend at Chesapeake and Maine and the organization will receive 10 percent of proceeds from 4 to 6 p.m.

The Delaware Pride Parade is scheduled for Oct. 2 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

June 19: Delaware Pride Bowling at Bowlerama
The Delaware Pride Bowling event is June 19 from 7-10 p.m. The New Castle Avenue Bowlerama will charge $15 per bowler and free shoes for the two hour time slot.

June 18: Stand-up Comedy by Julia Scotti
Trans comedian and America’s Got Talent quarterfinalist Julia Scotti will perform standup comedy at the Milton Theater. Admission is $17.

June 20: From Stonewall To Now – Presented By Mona Lotts
Milton Theater will host “From Stonewall To Now,” a celebration of the art of drag hosted by Mona Lotts. Admission is $20 and will feature performances from several drag queens from the state.

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