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Case of assault on drag performer expected to be dropped

No hate crime designation; ‘ridiculously lenient’ outcome



Miles DeNiro, Manny & Olga's, hate crime, gay news, Washington Blade
Miles DeNiro, Manny & Olga's, hate crime, gay news, Washington Blade

Miles Denaro (Screen capture)

A D.C. Superior Court judge on Friday approved a plea bargain agreement expected to result in the dismissal of a charge of simple assault against the second of two women accused of dragging a gay male drag performer by the hair at a D.C. carry-out pizzeria in June that was captured on video.

Under the agreement offered by the U.S. Attorney’s office, Raymone Harding, 28, of Gaithersburg, Md., pleaded guilty to the assault charge in exchange for being allowed to withdraw the plea and have the charge dismissed if she successfully completes 48 hours of community service over a period of six months.

The agreement also requires her to stay out of trouble, stay away from the man she was charged with assaulting — Miles Denaro, 24 — and undergo a drug test as directed by the court’s Pre-Trial Services Agency.

Judge Juliet J. McKenna approved the agreement for Harding one week after she approved an identical plea agreement for co-defendant Rachel M. Sahle, 22, also from Gaithersburg.

“This is essentially less than a slap on the wrist,” Denaro told the Blade when informed of the outcome of Friday’s court proceeding.

He said one of the prosecutors, Assistant U.S. Attorney David Missler, called him a little over a week ago to inform him of plans for the plea bargain offer and to get his thoughts on the matter. Denaro said Missler told him the two women would be required to perform community service work rather than jail time.

“He said allegedly the judge they are seeing is lenient so he was leaning toward doing this so that way they get community service no matter what,” said Denaro.

hate crime, Manny & Olga's, gay news, Washington Blade

A video of the altercation involving drag performer Miles Denaro at Manny & Olga’s pizzeria on 14th Street, N.W., shows these two women assaulting Denaro as one of them drags him by his hair across the floor. (Screen captures)

In a development that had not been previously disclosed, Denaro told the Blade on Friday that he was called to testify before a grand jury convened by prosecutors in July in connection with the assault charges pending against Harding and Sahle.

According to court records, the grand jury did not hand down an indictment in the case, an outcome that court observers consider unusual because grand juries usually follow the recommendation of prosecutors by approving an indictment.

The decision by prosecutors to offer the two women the plea agreement is likely to surprise LGBT activists because it came shortly after the U.S. Attorney’s office told the court it was looking into the possibility of upgrading the assault charge with a “bias” or hate crime designation.

“The government is not seeking a bias enhancement based on the results of a thorough investigation and review of the case,” William Miller, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s office, told the Blade.

Miller said he could not comment on whether a grand jury is convened on a specific case but said that in general grand juries are sometimes called to assist in an investigation rather than for the purpose of an indictment.

“It is used to get people to testify under oath as an investigative tool,” he said.

D.C. attorney Dale Edwin Sanders, who practices criminal law in D.C. and Virginia, said the fact that the assault against Denaro was captured on video provided prosecutors with a strong case with a good chance of obtaining a conviction against the two women had the case gone to trial.

He said Denaro’s statements that the two women made anti-transgender and anti-gay remarks toward him during and immediately after the attack made a strong case for designating the incident as a hate crime.

“I think this is ridiculously lenient for what happened,” said Sanders in referring to the plea agreement. “To me this sounds like a total whitewash.”

The June 23 incident at Manny & Olga’s pizzeria at 1841 14th St., N.W., created an uproar in the LGBT community after a customer used his cell phone to record the altercation on video and posted the video on a popular hip-hop music website, resulting in it being viewed by thousands in D.C. and across the country.

According to police and court records, the video taken by the customer and a separate video taken by security cameras at the restaurant show Denaro being punched, kicked and dragged across the floor by the hair after being knocked down by the two women. The video posted online also shows that many of the bystanders screamed and laughed as the altercation unfolded. Denaro said no one, including employees at the restaurant, intervened to stop the assault.

He said one or both of the women shouted that he was a man and a “tranny” as they hit him. According to his account of what happened, one of the women called him a “faggot” after the altercation ended when they saw him walk past them on the sidewalk outside.

Miller of the U.S. Attorney’s Office said the plea agreements offered to the two women are part of a widely used court “diversion/deferred sentencing” program that’s limited to misdemeanor cases involving defendants with no prior criminal record.

“Where a defendant is charged with an offense that is potentially diversion eligible, we look at the facts and circumstances surrounding the event and make a determination as to whether diversion is appropriate,” he said.

“A supervisor has to approve a simple assault case for diversion, adding another layer of scrutiny,” he added.

Hassan Naveed, co-chair of the D.C.-based Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence (GLOV), said the group is assessing the plea bargain agreement offered in the Denaro assault case and would issue a statement on the development shortly.

D.C. transgender activist Jeri Hughes said she was troubled over the outcome of the case, which she said appears to her as a hate crime.

“You’ve got people like trans women in jail because they are poor and turn to prostitution,” Hughes said. “And here are two people who commit a violent attack and they are going to walk. This is unacceptable.”



Flight attendants union endorses Sarah McBride

Del. lawmaker would be first transgender member of Congress



Delaware state Sen. Sarah McBride speaks at the LGBTQ+ Victory Fund National Champagne Brunch in D.C. on April 10, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Delaware congressional candidate Sarah McBride has earned the support of the Association of Flight Attendants, the nation’s most prominent flight attendant union.

It’s the second big labor endorsement for McBride after the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 27’s endorsement. The Association of Flight Attendants praised her for spearheading efforts to bring paid family and medical leave to Delaware, which will take effect in 2026. 

“Sarah’s record in the Delaware Senate shows that she understands how to work collaboratively, build power and make big things happen,” the union’s president, Sara Nelson, wrote in a press release shared exclusively with the Washington Blade. “That’s the kind of leader we need in Congress, and we’re proud to endorse her candidacy.”

McBride also announced her support for creating a list of abusive passengers and banning them from flying. Each airline has a list of passengers banned from flying, but airlines don’t share the lists with each other, though Delta Air Lines has asked them, because of “legal and operational challenges,” as a representative for the airline industry trade group Airlines of America told a House committee in September 2021.

“Right now, someone can be violent towards a flight attendant or another passenger and walk directly off of that flight and onto one with a different airline to endanger more people,” an Association of Flight Attendants spokesperson wrote in a statement. 

The Protection from Abusive Passengers Act would put the Transportation Security Administration in charge of building the database of passengers fined or convicted of abuse and has bipartisan support but has sat idly in committee since March. It failed to pass last year, and civil rights groups including the American Civil Liberties Union have charged that the list would disproportionately target people of color and strip and a better step to reducing hostility would be making flights more comfortable. Reports of defiant and unruly passengers have more than doubled between 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic, and 2022.

“I thank the Association of Flight Attendants for endorsing our campaign,” McBride wrote in the press release. “It’s important that we recognize and celebrate the symbiotic relationship between strong, unionized workforces and the continued growth of employers here in our state.”

The union representing 50,000 flight attendants across 19 airlines is putting pressure on airlines to grant union demands in contract negotiations. At American Airlines, unionized flight attendants voted to authorize a strike — putting pressure on the airline to accede to its demands. Flight attendants at Alaska Airlines say they are ready to strike but have not voted to authorize one yet. United Airlines flight attendants picketed at 19 airports around the country in August, ratcheting up the pressure. 

The union’s endorsement adds to a growing list of McBride endorsements, including 21 Delaware legislators, the United Food and Commercial Workers, the Human Rights Campaign, EMILY’s List, and Delaware Stonewall PAC. McBride, who would be the first openly transgender politician in Congress, has powerful connections in Washington — including with the White House — and is favored to win Delaware’s lone House seat. 

A poll commissioned by HRC shows her leading the pack of three candidates vying for the seat — 44 percent of “likely Democratic voters” told pollster company Change Research, which works with liberal organizations. The poll of 531 likely Delaware Democratic primary voters, though, was conducted only online — meaning those with less familiarity or access to the internet may not have been counted — and Change Research’s methodology for screening likely voters is unclear. The company also did not provide a breakdown of respondents by age, gender, and race, but says it uses an algorithm to make the results representative.  

Nelson said McBride’s time in Delaware’s state Senate shows her prowess in building power and working collaboratively.  

“That’s the kind of leader we need in Congress, and we’re proud to endorse her candidacy,” she wrote.

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Lawsuit seeks to force Virginia Beach schools to implement state guidelines for trans, nonbinary students

Va. Department of Education released new regulations in July



(Bigstock photo)

Two parents in Virginia Beach have filed a lawsuit that seeks to force the city’s school district to implement the state’s new guidelines for transgender and nonbinary students.

NBC Washington on Friday reported Cooper and Kirk, a D.C.-based law firm, filed the lawsuit in Virginia Beach Circuit Court.

The Virginia Department of Education in July announced the new guidelines for which Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin asked. Arlington County Public Schools, Fairfax County Public Schools and Prince William County Schools are among the school districts that have refused to implement them. 

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HME Consulting and Advocacy stands on frontline of LGBTQ policy

Heidi Ellis is a consultant who doesn’t take clients ‘not aligned with my mission’



‘Even though I am a private consultant … my work is very much mission driven,’ says Heidi Ellis. (Photo courtesy of Ellis)

September is here, which means Congress and the D.C. Council return from their August recess and life for consultant Heidi Ellis quickly gets busy. 

Her days are filled with negotiating with Council members, phone calls with clients, and policy planning for advocacy groups. The organizations she represents are looking to her to help them push policy and she hopes to guide them to victory. 

Ellis’s company, HME Consulting and Advocacy, came after years of working in the public and private sectors as a consultant. In 2019, Ellis decided to shift her focus to work that stood at the center of the intersections in which she lives. She sought to figure out how she could better serve her community as a Black queer Latino woman. Ellis recognized that there was a niche for mission-driven consulting in the District. 

“I was sought out and recruited by a lot of organizations that wanted me and I took a beat, because I was like ‘Do I want to go back into a machine where even if I do effect change, I have to answer to someone?’”she said, in reference to consulting agencies that were in pursuit of her talent. Ultimately, she decided against continuing her work under another company. “By doing what I do, I have much more flexibility for one to say ‘Yes’ but also to say ‘No’.”

Although Ellis has considered going back to working in the corporate space, she still loves the flexibility of being able to be nimble as a private consultant. 

Although Ellis doesn’t work entirely in the advocacy space, her consulting clients still align with her personal values. She joked that she differs strongly from the stereotypical money-driven D.C. consultant who sports Brooks Brothers suits on K Street. 

“Even though I am a private consultant … my work is very much mission driven,” she said. “I don’t take any clients that are not aligned with my mission.”

Her mission is simple, Ellis is “committed to elevating issues that sit at the nexus of education, mental health, LGBTQ+ individuals, and people of color.”

“The more marginalized you are, the more you suffer from the failures of policy and the gaps of service,” she said. 

As a consultant in the advocacy space, Ellis does the behind-the-scenes work for organizations to help correct these policy failures and close the gaps. Whether she is facilitating training for companies to better understand how to serve their LGBTQ communities, or she is on the frontline of education policy changes –– Ellis aims to only do work that she is passionate about.

She said that the balance of her combined passion and level-headedness help her to build trusting relationships with her clients and in the end, “Get stuff  done.”

Since starting her organization, some of her proudest work has been done with the DC LGBTQ+ Budget Coalition. The coalition is made up of more than 30 organizations that aim to advocate for investments and policy changes that affect LGBTQ lives. As a leader of this coalition, her services include policy support, facilitation, training, initiative development and organizational redesign. Since she began leading the coalition, they have raised more than $5 million of investments in LGBTQ programs.

Later this fall, she will work with the DC LGBTQ+ Budget Coalition along with the ANC Rainbow Caucus to convene the first LGBTQ+ Housing Summit from Nov. 29-30.

“The one thing we all recognize is that housing is the common denominator of every other social affliction facing LGBTQ communities,” she said.  

At the summit they will focus on the barriers within the current housing system and explore revitalized approaches to dealing with the current housing market. To pre-register for the event, visit the LGBTQ+ Housing Summit website.

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