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D.C. woman guilty in shooting of gay man at IHOP

Defendant claims she’s bisexual, denied she was shooter

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IHOP, International House of Pancakes, gay news, Washington Blade
IHOP, gay news, Washington Blade

D.C. woman was found guilty in the March 2012 shooting of a gay man inside an International House of Pancakes restaurant. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

A D.C. Superior Court jury on Friday found a woman charged in the March 2012 shooting of a gay man inside an International House of Pancakes restaurant guilty of aggravated assault while armed and six additional firearms related charges.

The verdict followed a four-day trial in which prosecutors played for the jury a video obtained from the restaurant’s security cameras that they said showed Lashawn Yvonne Carson, 28, pull out a handgun and shoot Dante Thomas in the chest.

Thomas has since recovered from what Assistant U.S. Attorney Nick Cannon, the lead prosecutor in the case, said was a gunshot wound to his liver that could have been fatal if he had not received immediate medical attention at a nearby hospital.

Police and prosecutors have said the shooting took place after two groups of friends were eating at separate tables at the restaurant in the city’s Columbia Heights section about 5:30 a.m. on March 11, 2012. An altercation leading to the shooting started after someone sitting at Carson’s table called Thomas and one or more of his friends a “faggot,” according to testimony at the trial.

The U.S. Attorney’s office last year dropped a D.C. police classification of the shooting as a hate crime, which calls for a more stringent penalty.

But prosecutors instead obtained a grand jury indictment against Carson on the aggravated assault while armed charge and six other charges, including assault with a dangerous weapon and carrying a pistol without a license. When combined the charges carry a possible maximum sentence of 77 years in prison.

Superior Court Judge Michael Ryan, who presided over the trial, scheduled sentencing for Dec. 9.

Prosecutor Cannon presented to the jury a separate video showing a police interview with Carson at the Third District police station in which she confessed to having shot Thomas. The interview took place about two weeks after the shooting and shortly before her arrest.

That video, which Cannon also played during closing arguments, shows Carson sitting behind a table saying she shot Thomas “because he hit me.”

Cannon told the jury that Carson’s statement during the police interview and a similar statement she made to someone she knew, Norman Lee, that she shot Thomas because he hit her during the altercation at the IHOP restaurant indicated she had a motive for the shooting.

“It couldn’t be anybody else” that did the shooting, he said. “She is the only one who can take a shot at Dante Thomas.

Defense attorney Patrick Christmas disputed the contention by Cannon that the taped confession by Carson and the video footage proved Carson shot Thomas.

Christmas pointed to Carson’s dramatic testimony as the lead defense witness that she was pressured into making the confession by a police detective at a time when she was drunk. He argued that Norman Lee was an “unreliable” witness and should not be believed. In addition, he called Thomas a “violent person” based on a prior criminal record of acts of violence.

Christmas noted that Carson testified she, in fact, didn’t shoot Thomas. He noted that she also testified that she is bisexual and expressed disapproval at the table where she and her friends were sitting when one of the friends used the word “faggot” to describe one or more of the men sitting at Thomas’s table.

He told the jury that based on claims by several people who thought they saw a male shoot Thomas during the altercation at the restaurant they could not find beyond a reasonable doubt that LaShawn Carson shot Dante Thomas.

Christmas also argued that none of the eyewitnesses, including victim Thomas, could state definitively on the witness stand that they were certain who actually shot Thomas. Christmas noted Thomas was among the witnesses that initially told police they thought it was a male who shot him.

“The best witness for my client is strangely the man who was shot,” Christmas told the jury.

According to a police charging document, the initial exchange between the two groups triggered by the anti-gay slur led to a physical altercation.

“As the victim was attempting to walk to the cash register to pay his bill, Carson and a male friend inadvertently stood directly in his way,” a statement released by the U.S. Attorney’s office says. “The victim attempted to squeeze by and accidently bumped into Carson. Words were exchanged and the defendant’s male friend used a homophobic slur,” the statement says.

Government witnesses at the trial testified that a fight then broke out between the opposing groups of friends and an off-duty D.C. police detective who was seated nearby stepped in to break it up.

“At that point, according to the government’s evidence, Carson walked over, adjusted her hair, pulled out a firearm and shot the victim once in the chest,” the U.S. Attorney’s statement says.

The jury reached its verdict after deliberating for about three hours and returned a separate guilty verdict for each of the seven counts of the indictment: Aggravated assault while armed; possession of a firearm during a crime of violence or dangerous offense; assault with a dangerous weapon; possession of a firearm during a crime of violence or dangerous offense; carrying a pistol without a license (outside home or place of business); possession of unregistered firearm; and unlawful possession of ammunition.

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Maryland

AIDS Action Baltimore to honor John Waters at 35th anniversary commemoration

Honorees to include John Waters and Pat Moran

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John Waters (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

AIDS Action Baltimore will mark 35 years of service next month by paying tribute to six people who have helped keep it in operation, including filmmaker John Waters and his friend and movie industry colleague Pat Moran.

AIDS Action Baltimore’s 35th Anniversary Commemoration, planned for Sept.18, is a cocktail reception and brunch that’s also a fundraiser for the non-profit organization, which was started in 1987 to fight HIV/AIDS and provide a safety net for people living with HIV/AIDS and experiencing a financial emergency.

“John has supported us from the beginning,” said Lynda Dee, co-founder and executive director of the organization. “All of his movie premieres benefitted AIDS Action Baltimore. Without his help, we wouldn’t be here today.”

Waters has directed 16 movies and written 10 books, and he was named in June to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Based in Baltimore, he has two museum exhibits coming up, “Coming Attractions: The John Waters Collection,” an exhibit of art from his personal collection that he’s donating to the Baltimore Museum of Art, at the museum from Nov. 20, 2022, to April 16, 2023, and “Pope of Trash,” a career retrospective at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles next summer.

Moran is a three-time Emmy Award-winning casting director who has worked closely with Waters and others on films and television shows made in Baltimore. She is one of three co-founders of AIDS Action Baltimore, along with Dee and Garey Lambert, who passed away in 1987.

Waters said he’s pleased to support AIDS Action Baltimore. 

“I’m really happy to be involved,” he said. “Pat was one of the first people that started it. I’ve been a supporter always just because I believe I’m lucky I didn’t die of it. Plain and simple. I give money as a superstition that I won’t ever get it. And Lynda Dee is a tireless AIDS warrior. The gay community owes her great, great credit … It’s an organization in Baltimore that has kept many, many people alive … I’m just honored to help them in any way I can.”

Other honorees include:

Richard Chaisson, professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and principal investigator of the Hopkins Center for AIDS Research;

Carla Alexander, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, a fellow of the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Care, and an internationally recognized expert for those living with HIV disease;

Debbie Rock, a disco singer-turned-HIV activist who is the founding CEO of LIGHT Health and Wellness, a non-profit that provides a range of services for children, families and individuals in Baltimore affected by poverty, addiction, mental illness, HIV/AIDS and other chronic illnesses, including day care and respite care for children with HIV/AIDS; and

Carlton Smith, a community health worker with the state of Maryland, founder of the Center for Black Equity, and chair of the Ryan White Planning Council, which provides medical care and support services for people with HIV in Baltimore. 

Since 1987, AIDS Action Baltimore has helped more than 8,750 people, distributing $3.145 million in assistance for items such as rent and utilities. It also has a number of programs to fight HIV, from town hall meetings to testing assistance to prevention campaigns, including outreach efforts to at-risk populations.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 31,676 people aged 13 and older were living in Maryland with diagnosed HIV at the end of 2020, and an estimated 3,559 people in Maryland were living with undiagnosed HIV at the end of 2019.

Dee wrote in June that the COVID-19 pandemic has made it more difficult for AIDS Action Baltimore to provide the services it does.

“COVID-19 is eating a large percentage of U. S. Health and Human Services funding,” she wrote she in an open letter to friends of the organization. “We are in danger of losing all our hard-won treatment and prevention gains. Because of COVID-19, it is much harder to obtain the money we need to fight HIV.” 

That’s why AIDS Action Baltimore holds events such as the one next month, she added: “We are still doing our best to help ourselves.” 

AIDS Action Baltimore’s 35th Anniversary Commemoration will be held at the Belvedere (1 E. Chase St.) in Baltimore, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sept. 18. Tickets cost $175 per person or $1,750 for a table of 10. They’re available at aidsactionbaltimore.org or by calling 410-437-AIDS. 

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Virginia

Va. students warn against ‘don’t say gay’ policies

New law requires parental notification of ‘sexually explicit content’ in classroom

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(Bigstock photo)

More than 600 students from across Virginia signed a letter from the Pride Liberation Project that calls for the Virginia Department of Education to clarify that teaching students about LGBTQ people and events is not “sexually explicit.”

Senate Bill 656, which Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed earlier this year, requires parents be notified when instructional materials contain “sexually explicit content” — without any input from students.

Current Virginia law defines “sexual conduct” as “masturbation, homosexuality, sexual intercourse, or physical contact in an act of apparent sexual stimulation or gratification.”

Because SB 656 does not itself specify what constitutes “sexually explicit content,” LGBTQ students and activists are concerned that the bill will rest on Virginia’s pre-existing definition of sexual conduct.

In their full letter, signees argued that “In effect, SB 656 can potentially be interpreted to define all references to people in same-sex relationships as inherently sexual.”

“Consequently, all references to LGBTQIA+ people in K-12 schools, including Supreme Court cases, historical events impacting LGBTQIA+ people, and discussions about queer authors, may be deemed as sexually explicit content under SB 656, effectively erasing LGBTQIA+ representation in our school curriculum,” reads the Pride Liberation Project’s press release.

Representation has been shown to positively increase academic performance, and LGBTQ youth already face exacerbated risks of suicide and mental health crisis. In Virginia specifically, the vast majority of LGBTQ students reported hearing anti-LGBTQ remarks at school, and 26 percent of LGBTQ students reported being “disciplined for public displays of affection (PDA) that did not result in similar action for non-LGBTQ students.” 

 “Most of my LGBTQIA+ friends are already struggling with their mental health,” said one Loudoun County student in the Pride Liberation Project press release. “I’m scared about the message these guidelines could send and losing the already limited affirming representation in my class.” 

Another student from Richmond said that they “didn’t want to see their friends who are from homes that aren’t accepting not see themselves reflected at school.” 

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District of Columbia

SMYAL announces new executive director

Erin Whelan to start Sept. 1

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Erin Whelan (Photo courtesy of SMYAL)

SMYAL on Thursday announced Erin Whelan will become the organization’s new executive director on Sept. 1.

SMYAL’s mission is to support and empower LGBTQ youth ages 6-24.

A press release that announces Whelan’s appointment notes the organization over the last five years has grown “exponentially.” Its services include affirming programs, housing support, leadership training and mental health services, designed to help LGBTQ youth develop advocacy skills and an educated, welcoming community.   

Whelan most recently served as the director of housing and homeless services at LifeWorks, an Austin, Texas,-based nonprofit that provides youth with housing and services. She has worked in nonprofit management for almost 20 years, and SMYAL’s press release highlighted her commitment to antiracism, equity and the LGBTQ community. 

“Erin Whelan is a compassionate and strong leader who I am confident is the right person to lead SMYAL,” board chair Rob Cogorno said. “I could not be more proud of the tremendous growth in services for our LGBTQ youth and of the SMYAL staff’s hard work that made that growth possible. Erin’s extensive experience in service to youth in need and her passion for that work will help guide SMYAL in continuing its excellent work in this challenging time for LGBTQ youth in our region and across the country.” 

Whelan in the press release shared her enthusiasm for stepping into leadership with this driving purpose. 

“I am beyond excited and honored to join SMYAL as the new executive director. My work has been committed to understanding and seeing the world through the lens of the most marginalized youth and young adults and being a fierce advocate for LGBTQ youth,” Whelan said. “I believe all LGBTQ youth deserve an opportunity to build a life they love and a chance to feel celebrated and affirmed for exactly who they are and strive to be. From the moment I stepped into the SMYAL community, it felt like exactly where I wanted to be. SMYAL creates a community for queer and trans youth where they can feel radically accepted and safe to step into their true selves.” 

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