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D.C. residents a pawn in Walmart’s chess match

Retail giant backs city into a corner, penalizing underserved areas

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Walmart, gay news, Washington Blade

LRAA is not perfect legislation, but sometimes the perfect is the enemy of the good, and the LRAA is a very good step in the right direction. (Photo by Bobby P.; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

D.C. has long been a city with massive wealth disparities and those disparities only seem to be getting worse. What is different today, however, is that city officials seem to be catering to corporate interests over vulnerable residents more than ever.

I can understand why Mayor Gray and the D.C. Council’s decision over whether to support the Large Retailer Accountability Act (LRAA), which would require businesses that are more than 75,000 square feet and have more than $1 billion in sales to pay a minimum wage of at least $12.50 an hour, was difficult. On one hand, if the legislation passes, it would ensure that Walmart, the wealthiest corporation in the world, pays its employees something approaching a living wage rather than the poverty wages it is known for. The legislation also applies to a few corporations other than Walmart, but let’s be real, this is mostly about Walmart.

On the other hand, if LRAA passes, Walmart is threatening not to build the two planned stores east of the river and the one in Ward 5, which are slated to be built in communities where retail is needed most. Mayor Gray succumbed to Walmart’s threats and vetoed the legislation.  Just enough Council members appear to have followed suit to prevent overriding his veto.

Many people who oppose Walmart because of its abhorrent labor practices softened their stance solely because much-needed retail was going to underserved communities.  Although I am one of those who oppose Walmart, the argument that vetoing LRAA may delay development at Skyland Town Center in Ward 7 for a generation did give me pause.

Then it hit me.  We would not even be having this debate if Walmart built the first D.C. stores at Skyland Town Center and Capital Gateway, both in Ward 7, instead of in Northwest. Walmart’s leverage is based on the fear that it is those communities’ only hope to get major retail. I guarantee you that if the stores currently under construction were the two in Ward 7, the LRAA vote would not have even been close. It would have passed the Council by a veto-proof margin and Mayor Gray would have signed it. So, we are mere pawns in Queen Walmart’s chess match because city officials failed to request that Walmart build the Ward 7 stores first and now Walmart has backed the city into a corner.

Eric Jones, a local political operative, sees the situation differently.  “The reason the East of the River projects have not been started is not because of Walmart. There are other things that need to be done prior to Walmart coming to these locations, but if Walmart doesn’t come to these locations, the projects won’t get off the ground,” Jones said.

If that is the case, Walmart sure did not spend any time explaining why it did not build the East of the River stores first during its massive public relations blitz. Then again, it did not have to. Our city officials were too busy allowing Walmart to make the first move and then reacting to Walmart’s moves.

Some of the criticism, such as that the living wage jobs will not necessarily go to D.C. residents are potentially valid, but if the contention is that the major benefit of Walmart coming to D.C. is for residents who lack access to retail to have retail in their community, with lesser regard to the jobs aspect, then it makes even less sense that the city did not push Walmart to build the East of the River stores first.

Ask yourself this question: If Walmart had begun construction on the stores at Skyland Town Center and Capital Gateway, then threatened not to build the remaining stores, would you support the $12.50 minimum wage, knowing that Walmart is already coming to the communities that need it most?  If your answer is yes, then you have your answer about whether you should support the LRAA.

Walmart disregarded the District’s needs when it chose to build the three Northwest stores first and city officials let retail-starved communities down when they did not insist that the first stores be built East of the River. Walmart should not be rewarded for choosing to build in Northwest and then conveniently using LRAA as an excuse not to build stores in the communities where they are needed most.  I will concede that the LRAA is not perfect legislation, but sometimes the perfect is the enemy of the good, and the LRAA is a very good step in the right direction.

Lateefah Williams’ column, ‘Life in the Intersection,’ focuses on the intersection of race, gender and sexual orientation. She is the immediate past president of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club. Reach her at [email protected] or follow her at twitter @lateefahwms.

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7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Andrea E. Rosen

    September 18, 2013 at 7:52 pm

    I don't understand the argument that since retail jobs paying a living wage may not go to D.C. residents, retail corporations doing business here shouldn't be obliged to pay its employees a living wage. One of the outspoken supporters of the LRAA over the past couple of months is a Macy's employee who is a lifelong resident of Ward 7. She manages to leave her ward to go to work at a Large Retailer! Yesterday, at the noon pro-LRAA rally, one of the speakers was an OUR Walmart activist who lives in Ward 8 and works at the Walmart in Capital Plaza, Maryland. While only two instances, they demonstrates that there are endless permutations of residence and workplace that cannot be accurately predicted, and that using some imagined outcomes as the grounds for creating public policy is a fool's errand.

  2. Kesh Ladduwahetty

    September 18, 2013 at 4:51 pm

    Very good point, Lateefah, that our elected officials fail to use their leverage with businesses to maximize benefits to DC residents. I think you’ve added a valuable piece of analysis. However, I disagree that LRAA is about Walmart. It’s about whether the richest corporations in the world should be allowed to make their mind-bending profits by exploiting low-income workers.

  3. Mark Lee

    September 18, 2013 at 9:22 pm

    UPDATE to Lateefah Williams' opinion piece: the DC Council has now sustained Mayor Gray's veto of this Big Retail Wage Hike bill. Supporters of the proposed mandate needed 9 votes to override, requiring a "pick-up" of 1 vote. However, they lost the previous support of Councilmember Anita Bonds, putting them further "down" in the vote count. I offered a different perspective on why the now-confirmed defeat of this bill is a good thing, in July following the bill's passage in my weekly Blade column: http://www.washingtonblade.com/2013/07/17/d-c-cant-enact-wage-law-and-be-competitive/

  4. Tim Yost

    September 19, 2013 at 3:32 pm

    Please disclose your facts as to how Walmart is the “wealthiest corporation in the world.” You are a biased hack!

  5. Lateefah Williams

    September 19, 2013 at 9:37 pm

    Tim, there is no reason to resort to name calling because you don’t like the facts. The sentence I wrote mentioning that Walmart is the “wealthiest corporation in the world” has a link attached to that phrase. If you had bothered to click on it, you would have seen that it directs you to the Fortune 500 list, where Walmart holds the top spot for revenue earned.

  6. Surely U Jest

    September 20, 2013 at 8:10 am

    Corporations are not philanthropic organizations, they have and always will act in a manner that best suits their needs and drives share price. Sometimes social good flows from that, but it is a by-product of the intended goal, never the goal in itself. There is very little shame that is too big for them to bear in search of profits.

  7. Anthony Lorenzo Green

    September 20, 2013 at 11:12 pm

    Skyland was not ready to be built because the city was still tied up in eminent domain lawsuits over the property.

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Commentary

Sondheim’s art will be with us for the ages

Iconic work explored sadness, rage, irony, and love of humanity

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Stephen Sondheim (Screen capture via CBS)

“The only regret I have in life is giving you birth,” his mother wrote in a letter to Stephen Sondheim.

The only regret so many of us feel now is that Sondheim, the iconic composer and lyricist, died on Nov. 26 at his Roxbury, Conn. home at age 91.

He is survived by Jeffrey Romley, whom he married in 2017, and Walter Sondheim, a half-brother.

F. Richard Pappas, his lawyer and friend, told the New York Times that the cause of death was unknown, and that Sondheim had died suddenly. The day before he passed away, Sondheim celebrated Thanksgiving with friends, Pappas told the Times.

“Every day a little death,” Sondheim wrote in “A Little Night Music.”

This isn’t the case with the passing of Sondheim. Whether you’re a Broadway star or a tone-deaf aficionado like me, you’ll sorely miss Sondheim, who the Times aptly called “one of Broadway history’s songwriting titans.”

Like multitudes of his fans, I don’t remember a time in my life when a song from a Sondheim musical hasn’t been in my head.

When I was a child, my parents repeatedly played the cast album of “Gypsy,” the 1959 musical with music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Sondheim and book by Arthur Laurents. My folks loved the story of the show, which was loosely based on the life of the burlesque artist Gypsy Rose Lee. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard Ethel Merman belt out “Everything’s Coming Up Roses!” When I need to jumpstart my creative juices, I remember that “You Gotta Get a Gimmick.”

In college, I felt that “Company,” the 1970 musical with music and lyrics by Sondheim and book by George Furth, spoke to my generation. 

As was the case with Sondheim’s musicals, “Company” didn’t have a conventional plot, happy ending, or tidy resolution. It takes place during Bobby’s 35th birthday party. Bobby, who is single, is celebrating with his friends (straight, married couples). Bobby likes having friends but doesn’t want to get married.

Sondheim didn’t come out as gay until he was 40. Yet, even in the 1970s, it was hard not to think that Bobby in “Company” wasn’t gay.

Once you’ve heard Elaine Stritch sing “The Ladies Who Lunch” from “Company,” it becomes indelibly etched in your brain.

Who else but Sondheim could have written, “And here’s to the girls who play/smart-/Aren’t they a gas/Rushing to their classes in optical art,/Wishing it would pass/Another long exhausting day/Another thousand dollars/A matinee, a Pinter play/Perhaps a piece of Mahler’s/I’ll drink to that/And one for Mahler!”

In September, I, along with legions of other theater lovers, were thrilled when Sondheim told Stephen Colbert on “The Late Show,” that he was working with David Ives on a new musical called “Square One.”

In his musicals from “Follies” to “Sweeney Todd” to “Sunday in the Park with George,” Sondheim, through his lyrics and music, revealed the internal depths of his characters and the sadness, tenderness, bitterness, rage, irony, wit, and love of humanity. Sondheim’s wordplay was so brilliant that he did crossword puzzles for New York magazine.

Over his decades-long career, Sondheim won every award imaginable from the Pulitzer Prize for “Sunday in the Park with George” to the Presidential Medal of Freedom (awarded to him by President Barack Obama in 2015). He received more than a dozen Tony Awards for his Broadway musicals and revivals as well as a Tony Award for lifetime achievement in 2008.

Thankfully, Sondheim’s art will be with us for the ages.

A remake of “West Side Story,” directed by Steven Spielberg with a screenplay by Tony Kushner, premieres this month.

Sondheim is a character in the Netflix film “tick, tick BOOM!,” directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda. The movie is based on an autobiographical posthumous Jonathan Larson (the composer of “Rent”) musical. Sondheim is supportive of Larson’s work.

Thank you Stephen, for your art! R.I.P.

Kathi Wolfe, a writer and poet, is a regular contributor to the Blade.

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It doesn’t take a miracle

Hanukkah a time for LGBTQ Jews to celebrate full identity

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(Public domain photo)

For Jews around the world, Sunday night marked the beginning of Hanukkah. The story of Hanukkah celebrates the liberation of Jerusalem by the Maccabees, a small and poorly armed group of Jews who took on, and defeated, one of the world’s most powerful armies. 

Upon entering Jerusalem, the Maccabees saw that there was only enough oil to light the Temple’s eternal flame for one night. But the oil lasted eight nights — enough time for new oil to be prepared. The eternal flame remained lit, and light triumphed over darkness.

The story of Hanukkah was a miracle. While we celebrate and commemorate that miracle, we should also remember that it doesn’t take a miracle for one person to make a difference. 

The entire world is shaking beneath our feet. The climate is in crisis and our planet is in danger. A viral contagion has claimed the lives of millions, and there’s no clear end in sight. Creeping authoritarianism threatens the entire world, including here at home.

Sometimes it seems like it will take a miracle to solve even one of these problems. The reason these problems seem so overwhelming is because they are — no one person can fix it themselves.

Here in the LGBTQ community, we have made enormous strides, and we ought to be proud of them. But there is so much more work to be done.

Not everyone in our community is treated equally, and not everyone has the same access to opportunity. Black, brown and trans LGBTQ people face systemic and structural disadvantages and discrimination and are at increased risk of violence and suicide. It must stop.

These are big problems too, and the LGBTQ people as a collective can help make the changes we need so that light triumphs over darkness. But it doesn’t take a miracle for individuals to light the spark.

Our movement is being held back by the creeping and dangerous narrative that insists that we choose between our identities instead of embracing all of them. 

The presentation of this false choice has fallen especially hard on LGBTQ Jews, many of whom feel a genuine connection to and support for Israel. They feel marginalized when asked to sideline their identity by being told that the world’s only Jewish state shouldn’t even have a place on the map. And they feel attacked when asked about the Israeli government’s policies during a conflict, as if they have some obligation to condemn them and take a stand simply because of their faith.

One of the ways we can shine our light is to fight for an LGBTQ community that is truly inclusive.

This holiday season, pledge to celebrate all aspects of your identity and the rights of LGBTQ people to define their own identities and choose their own paths. If you feel the pressure to keep any part of your identity in the closet, stand up to it and refuse to choose. 

In the face of enormous challenges that require collective action, we must not give up on our power as individuals to do what’s right. It doesn’t take a miracle to do that.

The tradition of lighting the menorah each night represents ensuring the continuity of that eternal flame. One of the reasons the Hanukkah menorah is displayed prominently in the windows of homes and in public squares is because the light isn’t meant to be confined to the Jewish home. The light is for everyone — and a reminder that we can share it with the world every day to try to make it better.

As long as we keep fighting for justice, we don’t need to perform miracles. But we do need to do our part so that light triumphs over darkness.

It is up to each of us to map out what we can contribute to create a truly inclusive LGBTQ community. This holiday season, be the light. If you can, donate to a group that helps lift LGBTQ youth in crisis. Volunteer your time to fight for the rights and the lives of trans people. And be kind to one another.

Whether you are Jewish, Christian, Muslim, or of no faith at all, take this opportunity to share your light with the world. It doesn’t take a miracle to do that.

Ethan Felson is the executive director of A Wider Bridge.

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Fighting for equality for decades, trans elders still face endless hardships

Lisa Oakley rejected by 60 long-term care facilities in Colo.

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transgender, Gender Conference East, trans, transgender flag, gay news, Washington Blade
(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

November 20 will mark the 22nd International Transgender Day of Remembrance, an international event honoring and commemorating the many transgender people murdered in transphobic hate crimes every year.

Since 2013, at least 200 transgender people have been murdered in the United States alone, 80 percent being Black and Latinx women. This number is undoubtedly an underestimate, as many murders go unreported and trans victims often are misgendered by law enforcement.

These murders are not isolated crime statistics. They grow out of a culture of violence against transgender and non-binary (TGNB) people that encompasses stigma, exclusion, discrimination, poverty, and lack of access to essential resources, including health care, employment and housing. 

These challenges result in early death. In Latin America, for example, it has been reported that the average life expectancy of a transgender person is only 35 years.

This climate of stigma and transphobia is particularly challenging for TGNB older people, who face extraordinary hardships due both to the cumulative impact of lifetimes of discrimination and regular mistreatment in their elder years. Due to isolation from family and greater medical and financial needs, trans older people are more likely to require professionalized elder services and care. 

Unfortunately, these services and the facilities that provide them are often either unavailable to TGNB elders, or hostile to them. A national survey of LGBTQ+ older people by AARP found that more than 60 percent of those surveyed were concerned about how they would be treated in a long-term care setting. This includes the fear of being refused or receiving limited care, in danger of neglect or abuse, facing verbal or physical harassment, or being forced to hide or deny their identity once again. 

This is a sobering reality. In October, GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders filed a claim against Sunrise Assisted Living in Maine, which openly denied admission to an older transgender woman because of her gender identity. 

In Colorado, Lisa Oakley was, astonishingly, rejected by 60 long-term care facilities, which her caseworker ascribes to Lisa’s gender identity. One facility that agreed to admit Lisa would only house her with a male roommate. 

After waiting far too long for welcoming care, Lisa eventually got help from SAGE and other community supporters and found a home in Eagle Ridge of Grand Valley. Fortunately, Eagle Ridge has participated in specialized training to be LGBTQ+-welcoming. While Lisa feels welcomed at Eagle Ridge and has made friends, she has been forced to live far from a community she loves. 

These cases in Maine and Colorado are just the tip of the iceberg regarding the discrimination faced by TGNB elders. That’s why it’s so important that Congress pass the Equality Act, which would once and for all prohibit discrimination based on gender identity in key areas like employment, housing, and care and services.

And while legal progress is important, it’s not enough. TGNB elders need more equity in their day to day lives. Older transgender people are more likely to experience financial barriers than non-transgender elders, regardless of age, income and education.

They’re also at a higher risk of disability, general poor mental and physical health, and loneliness, compared to their cisgender counterparts.

These experiences have been part of everyday life for trans elders for far too long. We continue to see them struggle with the long-term effects of transphobia and violence every day. That’s why organizations like SAGE are stepping up our support for TGNB elders by investing $1 million to support TGNB-focused services and advocacy both in New York and nationwide.

And we are continually amazed by the resilience of TGNB elders, creating communities built on their strength and courage. 

Their resilience is nothing new. It dates back generations and was evident during the Stonewall Uprising. Over the years, trans luminaries like Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, Victoria Cruz—leaders of the modern LGBTQ+ civil rights movement—and countless others have repeatedly proved that they will not be invisible.  

We see this determination in so many programs and activities led by trans elders at SAGE. 

For example, the TransGenerational Theater Project brings together transgender people of all ages to create theater from their experiences and perspectives. These types of elder-driven programs serve as powerful reminders that transgender older people are leading their lives with resilience, creativity, and perseverance, despite the dangers they face. 

Transgender and non-binary elders have survived and fought for equality for decades. They are brave. They are strong. They are leaders. Here at SAGE, we will continue to walk side-by-side with them as we continue the fight to ensure TGNB elders get the respect, change, and acceptance they deserve.

Michael Adams is the CEO of SAGE, the world’s largest and oldest organization dedicated to improving the lives of LGBTQ+ elders.

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