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Gray to embrace ‘two-way dialogue’ with LGBT community

Activists begin to take sides in hotly contested mayoral race

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Freedom Plaza, marriage equality, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, Supreme Court, gay news, Washington Blade, Vince Gray
Freedom Plaza, marriage equality, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, Supreme Court, gay news, Washington Blade, Vince Gray

Mayor Vincent Gray announced Monday he plans to run for re-election. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The manager of D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray’s just-announced re-election campaign called Gray’s record on LGBT issues “rock solid” and said the campaign will be open to an ongoing, “two-way dialogue” with LGBT people throughout the city.

Chuck Thies, a longtime D.C. political consultant who Gray picked to lead his 2014 campaign, told the Blade he believes LGBT people understand that Gray’s longtime support for their rights and dignity is based on the mayor’s deeply held beliefs that are not motivated by politics.

“So will there be a focused outreach to the LGBT community? Absolutely,” Thies said. “And I think it will not just be outreach. I’m expecting a two-way dialogue.”

Gray’s announcement on Monday that he plans to run for a second term came in the form of an open letter to D.C. voters, which he released as he and Thies visited the offices of the Board of Elections and Ethics to register Gray as a candidate. The two also picked up petitions to obtain the 2,000 signatures from registered Democrats needed for Gray to run in the April 1, 2014 Democratic primary. The deadline for filing the petitions is Jan. 2.

Gray became the 11th candidate to enter the Democratic primary contest at a time when four members of the D.C. City Council, a restaurant owner-political activist and five lesser-known candidates have vowed to challenge his record, among other things, on grounds of ethics and political corruption.

Similar to political activists across the city, several LGBT activists told the Blade that despite Gray’s solid record on LGBT issues they are reluctant to support the mayor’s re-election bid out of concern that he might be implicated in a two-and-a-half year ongoing investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s office into Gray’s 2010 election campaign.

Four people associated with the 2010 Gray campaign have pleaded guilty to felony charges stemming from allegations that they helped operate a secret “shadow” campaign that raised $655,000 without reporting the existence of those funds in violation of campaign reporting laws.

Gray has said he knew nothing about the shadow campaign or alleged illegal activity by some of his campaign aides.

Among those considered his main rivals are D.C. Council members Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) and Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6). Also entering the race last month was Council member Vincent Orange (D-At-Large), who ran and lost his bid for mayor in 2006 to former Mayor Adrian Fenty.

Political observers say Wells and Andy Shallal, owner of the local restaurant chain Busboys and Poets who has been a longtime advocate for progressive causes, could attract support from progressive voters because of their outspoken calls for campaign finance reform and stronger ethics-in-government laws.

Veteran D.C. gay activist Bob Summersgill, a Ward 3 ANC commissioner and former president of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, is among the LGBT activists that supported Gray in 2010 but aren’t supporting him now. Summersgill said he’s backing Wells for mayor.

“All of the major candidates have excellent records on LGBT issues,” Summersgill said in response to a Blade survey of the city’s LGBT activist leaders. “I have largely looked at other issues in deciding who to support.”

Summersgill and Deacon Maccubbin, owner of the now closed Lambda Rising bookstore and a longtime Democratic Party supporter, said they are backing Wells, among other things, because he has taken the lead in speaking out against political corruption and pushing for campaign finance and ethics reforms.

Other prominent LGBT activists who backed Gray in 2010 said they remain strong supporters of Gray and plan to work to help the mayor win election to a second term.

“I’ve been waiting to see what the mayor was going to do,” said gay Democratic activist Lane Hudson. “Now that he’s announced he will seek re-election I am 110 percent in support of that.”

Hudson added, “I think he’s probably the most competent mayor we have ever had. He understands the D.C. government better than anyone that I know. He has been accessible and he’s a hard worker.”

On LGBT issues, Hudson said of Gray, “There’s never been anyone who’s had a better record on LGBT issues in D.C. politics.”

Others backing Gray are D.C. transgender activists Jeri Hughes and Alexandra Beninda, who called Gray the nation’s most supportive mayor on transgender issues.

Hudson, Hughes and Beninda each said the fact that Gray has not been implicated in wrongdoing related to his 2010 mayoral campaign leads them to believe Gray’s long-stated assertion that the wrongdoing took place without his knowledge or approval.

Barrie Daneker, treasurer of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city’s largest LGBT political group, and John Fanning, a Ward 2 gay civic activist, are among a sizable number of LGBT activists backing Evans. The two note that Evans’ strong support for LGBT rights dates back to the beginning of his tenure as a Council member 20 years ago.

Christopher Dyer, the gay Democratic activist who served as director of the city’s Office of GLBT Affairs under Mayor Fenty, is among the LGBT advocates backing Bowser’s mayoral bid.

Veteran gay activist A. Billy S. Jones-Hennin is among those who remain undecided in the mayoral race.

“I believe Gray has done a credible job as mayor,” Jones-Hennin told the Blade, “however, the cloud of his 2010 election woes is still lingering. I’m impressed by the campaign of Bowser.”

One of the lesser-known mayoral candidates, Reta Jo Lewis, a former State Department official, has said she is a strong supporter of LGBT rights.

The positions on LGBT-related issues among the remaining candidates that took out petitions to get on the Democratic primary ballot for mayor couldn’t immediately be obtained. They include Christian Carter, Michael Green, Frank Sewell and Octavia Wells.

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District of Columbia

D.C. ceremony welcomes affirming church as ‘full standing’ UCC congregation

Bishop Abrams officially installed as pastor of UCC Empowerment Liberation Cathedral

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Bishop Allyson Abrams (far right) was installed as pastor of UCC Empowerment Liberation Cathedral.

The Mt. Rainier, Md.-based Empowerment Liberation Cathedral, which Washington Blade readers have selected for five years as the D.C. area’s Best LGBTQ Church, was honored as an official United Church of Christ congregation in a ceremony on Sunday, Feb. 25, at the Plymouth United Church of Christ on North Capitol Street in D.C.

The ceremony, organized by the Potomac Association of the United Church of Christ, which admitted Empowerment Liberation Cathedral as a UCC congregation last fall, also officially installed lesbian Bishop Allyson Abrams as pastor of the now UCC-affiliated Empowerment Liberation Cathedral.

Abrams founded Empowerment Liberation Cathedral in 2014 at its original location in Silver Spring, Md., as a nondenominational Protestant church that she declared would be a welcoming and affirming congregation “where all of God’s children are welcomed,” including LGBTQ people of faith. Washington Blade readers have also named Abrams the D.C. area’s Best Clergy for seven years.

Although many consider Empowerment Liberation Cathedral a “gay” church, one of its spokespersons, Kendrick Keys, told the Washington Blade ELC considers itself a welcoming church and congregation open to everyone, even though he said a majority but not all of its members are LGBTQ.  

A biography of Abrams prepared by the LGBTQ Religion Archives Network says her founding of Empowerment Liberation Cathedral came one year after she resigned as pastor of the Zion Progress Baptist Church in Detroit in 2013 and two years after she was consecrated as a bishop at Pneuma Christian Fellowship, a religious order in Orange County, Calif.

The biography says Abrams created a stir in 2013 shortly before her resignation as pastor of Zion Progressive Baptist Church, when she announced to the congregation that she had just married another female bishop, Diana Williams, who at the time was Bishop Emeritus of the Imani Temple African American Catholic Congregation.

A short time after that, Abrams and Williams moved to the D.C.-Maryland area where Abrams mapped out plans to open the Empowerment Liberation Cathedral known as ELC.

 “Bishop Abrams came to the Washington, D.C. area with a new blitz about her marriage to another female bishop,” a statement released by ELC says. “She was outcast by many organizations and religious groups for declaring you could be gay and Christian,” the statement says.

“When Abrams decided to open a church in the Washington Metropolitan Area many media outlets discussed her keeping her faith and opening a church for those who have been marginalized and disenfranchised from the church and from their legacies in churches across America,” the statement continues.

“Bishop Abrams has remained on the forefront of ministry and has united with a denomination that believes in justice and equality for all – the United Church of Christ,” says the statement.

It was referring to the United Church of Christ’s status as an LGBTQ-affirming church that welcomes LGBTQ people into its services and congregations.

A separate ELC statement says among those attending and participating in the Feb. 25 ceremony at Plymouth Church were pastors, bishops, ministers, parishioners, community leaders, organizations affiliated with ELC and the United Church of Christ’s Potomac Association.

Among them was Japer Bowles, director of D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs, who delivered a statement from Bowser.

“As Mayor of Washington, D.C., I congratulate Empowerment Liberation Cathedral as you join the United Church of Christ (UCC) family and install Bishop Alyson Abrams as pastor,” the statement says. “As you gather to celebrate this momentous occasion, may both pastor and congregation be inspired to even higher heights of achievement and service to our communities,” the mayor’s statement says.

The Capital Pride Alliance, the group that organizes D.C.’s annual LGBTQ Pride parade and festival, issued its own statement congratulating Empowerment Liberation Cathedral. The statement mentions that in 2016, Capital Pride honored Bishop Abrams as a Capital Pride Hero “in acknowledgement of her work in the faith community for the acceptance and affirmation of LGBTQ+ Christians.”

ELC spokesperson Keys said the church holds its weekly Sunday services at the Mt. Rainier Arts Center at 3311 Rhode Island Ave., Mt. Rainier, Md.

He said a nonprofit community services organization created by ELC called Empowerment Justice Center, is located at 1015 15th Street, N.W., Room 653 in D.C. The church office is also at that location, Keys said. 

Further information about church services and events can be obtained by contacting ELC at 202-798-4371 or at empowermentliberationcathedral.org.

But Keys said the church’s location in Maryland had not been updated on the website, which lists its former location in Lanham, Md., rather than its current location in Mt. Rainier.

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Virginia

Va. lieutenant governor misgenders Danica Roem

Manassas Democrat is first trans person elected to state Senate

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Virginia Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears speaks at CPAC in 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Virginia Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears on Monday misgendered state Sen. Danica Roem (D-Manassas) on the Virginia Senate floor.

WVTF Richmond Bureau Chief Brad Kutner in an X post said Earle-Sears, who is a Republican, referred to Roem, who is a transgender woman, as “sir” during a debate on House Bill 964, which would allow attorneys to serve as the executive director of the Virginia Board of Medicine. 

Kutner said the Senate went “recess twice after reportedly ‘Sears refused to apologize.'”

“I’m not here to upset anyone, I’m here to do the job the people of Virginia have called me to do,” Earle-Sears later said, according to Kutner.

Roem in 2018 became the first trans person seated in a state legislature in the country when she assumed her seat in the Virginia House of Delegates.

Voters in the 30th Senate District last November elected her to the Senate. Roem is the first trans person seated in the chamber.

The Washington Blade on Monday reached out to Roem, but she declined comment.

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District of Columbia

GW transgender, nonbinary student group criticizes Utah governor’s on campus comments 

Spencer Cox decried ‘genital-mutilation surgeries’

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Republican Utah Gov. Spencer Cox (Photo courtesy of Cox's office)

A George Washington University transgender and nonbinary student group has criticized Republican Utah Gov. Spencer Cox’s comments about gender-affirming health care that he made last week during an on-campus.

The GW Hatchet reported Cox on Feb. 21 described gender-affirming health care as “genital-mutilation surgeries” during a “Disagree Better” event the university’s School of Media and Public Affairs hosted. Jonah Goldberg, a conservative writer and commentator, and NPR “Morning Edition” host Michel Martin also participated in the event that Frank Sesno, a GWU School of Media and Public Affairs professor who was previously CNN’s Washington Bureau chief, moderated.

The Transgender and Nonbinary Students of GW in a post to its Instagram page said it is “hurt, ashamed and frustrated that such harmful language was allowed to be given a platform on our campus.”

“Fear mongering claims that young trans people are ‘mutilating our bodies’ are factually incorrect and damaging to our community,” said the group in its post that notes the event took place days after Nex Benedict, a nonbinary student in Oklahoma, died after a fight in their high school’s bathroom. “Gender-affirming care for minors saves lives, and is approved by reputable institutions, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and American Psychiatric Association.”

The GW Hatchet notes Cox told Sesno that he invited trans youth and their families to the Governor’s Mansion in Salt Lake City “to discuss state measures that pertain to transgender people, a conversation that he said led to legislative change.” 

Cox in 2022 vetoed a bill that banned trans students from playing on sports teams that correspond with their gender identity. The Utah Legislature later overrode his veto.

The governor last year signed a bill that bans gender-affirming health care for minors in his state. Cox last month signed a bill that prevents trans and nonbinary people from using restrooms and locker rooms in public schools and government buildings that correspond to their gender identity.

The GW Hatchet reported Cox in response to a student’s question said “no one” in Utah has died by suicide because they were unable to access gender-affirming care.

“I care deeply about these kids. I love these kids. I want these kids to thrive. I want these kids to be successful,” Cox said, according to the GW Hatchet. “I think there’s a better way to do that than by having genital-mutilation surgeries before they’re 18 and old enough to have a rational decision, to actually make a decision for themselves. And so we can disagree with that.”

“As the only trans student org at GW, we refuse to let our community have their right to exist be put up for debate and threatened by disinformation,” said the Transgender and Nonbinary Students of GW in their statement. “We call on GW administration to consider ways in which they can repair the harm caused by Gov. Cox’s statements on campus, and make the safety of their trans students, faculty and staff a priority in a sociopolitical climate that is fixated on our eradication.”

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