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D.C. activists seek to ‘build on victories’ in 2014

Mayoral contest could pit Gray against Catania

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Vincent Gray, Vince Gray, LGBT Town Hall, gay news, Washington Blade
Vince Gray, activists, Vincent Gray, District of Columbia, gay news, Washington Blade, Capital Pride Parade

Mayor Vincent Gray announced late last year that he would seek re-election. The primary is slated for April 1. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

LGBT activists in D.C. acknowledge that they live in a city that has had one of the nation’s strongest anti-discrimination laws protecting their community for more than 20 years, the city passed a same-sex marriage law in 2009, and virtually all elected officials strongly support LGBT equality.

With that as a backdrop, the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance last week released its 2014 Election Year Agenda for LGBT Equality in Washington, D.C., which, among other things, calls for more than a dozen policy initiatives and for the approval of five LGBT-related bills currently pending before the City Council.

In an announcement last week, GLAA said the 16-page policy document was used to formulate a questionnaire on LGBT issues that the group has sent to all candidates running in the April 1 D.C. primary for mayor and seats on the City Council, just as it has done in every city election since the early 1970s.

“We have won most of the policy reforms for LGBT equality, which is reflected in the title of this year’s policy brief, ‘Building on Victory,’” said GLAA President Rick Rosendall.

“What remains mostly falls into two broad categories – translating our model policies and laws into reality, especially for at-risk populations including LGBT youth and transgender persons, and remaining vigilant,” Rosendall said.

The issues covered in the five pending bills include:

• The Surrogacy Parenting Agreement Act, which calls for updating the city’s surrogate parenting law that gay rights attorneys have called archaic to add provisions to better enable same-sex couples to enter into surrogacy agreements.

• The Domestic Partnership Termination Recognition Amendment Act, which calls for changing D.C.’s existing domestic partnership law to enable couples that don’t live in D.C. to terminate their partnerships in a way that is recognized by courts in other states.

• The LGBTQ Homeless Youth Reform Amendment Act calls for, among other things, city funds to pay for beds reserved for LGBT youth in homeless shelters and other homeless facilities that activists say traditionally have not met the needs of LGBT or “questioning” youth.

• The Conversion Therapy for Minors Prohibition Act calls for prohibiting licensed therapists in the city from seeking to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of people under the age of 18 through so-called “conversion” therapy. Advocates for the legislation point out that virtually all professional mental health organizations have said the therapy is harmful to the mental health of those participating in such therapy, especially young people.

• The Marriage License Issuance Act calls for amending the city’s marriage law to eliminate the current mandatory, three-day waiting period for obtaining a marriage license. Marriage reform activists, both gay and straight, have called the waiting period requirement an unnecessary relic of the past.

The GLAA policy brief also calls for a requirement by city regulators and the mayor’s office that health insurance plans offered to D.C. government employees and the city’s Health Link insurance exchange program under the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act include full coverage for sex reassignment surgery and hormone treatment for transgender people.

GLAA’s candidate questionnaires ask all candidates running for mayor and for the City Council to state whether they would support such a proposal.

“This is a huge priority in our community,” said Nico Quintana, senior organizer for the D.C. Trans Coalition.

 

Voters to choose among friends in election

 

Many LGBT activists have said that since nearly all of the candidates running this year for mayor and seats on the City Council have strong records of support on LGBT issues, LGBT voters will likely choose among them based on non-LGBT issues.

Mayor Vincent Gray, who some activists say has the strongest record on LGBT issues of any mayor in D.C. history, is being challenged by four members of the City Council, all of whom have expressed strong support for the LGBT community.

Council members Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), and Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) each have longtime records as strong supporters of LGBT equality. Council member Vincent Orange (D-At-Large), who opposed same-sex marriage when he ran for mayor in 2006, has said he changed his mind and has become a committed supporter of the city’s same-sex marriage law while continuing his support on all other LGBT-related issues.

Former State Department official Reta Jo Lewis and, Busboys and Poets Restaurant owner and businessman Andy Shallal have also expressed strong support for LGBT rights. The positions of lesser-known mayoral candidates Carlos Allen, a music promoter, Christian Carter, a businessman and civic activist, couldn’t immediately be determined.

Political observers say the LGBT vote, which surveys show will likely comprise at least 10 percent of the vote in the April 1 Democratic primary, could be a key factor in the outcome of the election.

But based on interviews with LGBT activists following the campaigns of the mayoral candidates, the LGBT vote will likely be divided among Gray and his City Council rivals, although many activists believe Gray remains highly popular in the LGBT community.

David Catania, D.C. Council, gay news, Washington Blade

Council member David Catania (I-At-Large) has said he will enter the mayor’s race as an independent if Vincent Gray wins the primary and becomes the Democratic Party nominee. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

In looking beyond the primary to the November general election, gay D.C. Council member David Catania (I-At-Large) is being viewed as the wildcard of the 2014 mayoral race. Catania last fall formed an exploratory committee to consider whether to enter the mayoral race, knowing that as an independent he doesn’t have to file papers as a candidate until June, long after the winner of the Democratic primary is known.

In a development that startled some political observers, Catania told the Washington Post that he has already decided he will enter the race if Gray wins the primary and becomes the Democratic Party nominee.

In every mayoral election since the city obtained its home rule government in 1974, the Democratic Party nominee has won his or her race as mayor in the November general election. Catania, however, is telling potential supporters that this year is different and that the electorate is “tired” of politics of the past.

LGBT voters, who have long supported Catania in large numbers, could be faced with a dilemma if forced to choose between Gray and Catania, according to some LGBT advocates.

Next week: A preview of City Council races and the prospects for gay longtime Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1).

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17th Street High Heel Race draws large crowd

D.C. Mayor, three Council members, police chief mingle with drag queens

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34th annual High Heel Race. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Close to 1,000 spectators turned out Tuesday night to watch D.C.’s 34th Annual 17th Street High Heel Race in which several dozen men dressed in drag and wearing colorful high heel shoes raced along a three-block stretch of 17th Street near Dupont Circle.

As she has in past years, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, whose office organizes the annual event, gave the official signal for the runners to start the race from a stage at the intersection of 17th and R streets, N.W. 

Joining the mayor on the stage was Japer Bowles, who Bowser recently named as director of the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs, which plays the lead role in organizing the High Heel Race. 

Also appearing on stage after being introduced by Bowser were D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large) and Council members Robert White (D-At-Large) and Brooke Pinto (D-Ward 2).

Bowser, who along with the three Council members delivered brief remarks before the start of the race, said the event highlights the city’s diversity and resilience coming after over a year of coping with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“What we want the world to know – that even in a pandemic, even when we had to trim the budget, we stayed focused on how we can make life better for our LGBTQ community,” Bowser told the crowd. “And we’re going to keep on doing it,” she said. “We’re investing in making sure everybody in our community is accepted and safe.”

D.C. Police Chief Robert Contee, who walked along the three-block section of 17th Street before the race began, was greeted warmly by bystanders, some of whom called out his name to welcome him to what has become the city’s largest Halloween celebration.

“This is a great event,” Contee told the Washington Blade. “I enjoy coming out to be among D.C. residents and all who find our D.C. culture,” he said. “It’s just a great evening, so we’re happy to be out here supporting our community.”

Members of the D.C. police LGBT Liaison Unit were among the police contingent on duty at the event and overseeing the closing of the streets surrounding 17th Street.

Like past years, many of the race participants and dozens of others dressed in Halloween costumes paraded up and down 17th Street beginning at 6:30 p.m., more than two hours before the start of the race, which was scheduled to begin at 9 p.m.  

However, the mayor this year gave the signal to start the race at about 8:35 p.m. Although a large number of drag runners participated in the race, some who planned to join the race didn’t make it to the starting line in time because they expected the race to begin at 9 p.m. as advertised, according to people in the crowd who knew those who missed the race.

To ensure that everyone had an opportunity to participate, Bowles and others from the mayor’s office agreed to hold a second race about a half hour after the first one. The number of participants in the second race appeared to be about the same as those who joined the first race, indicating many of the drag participants ran twice.

“This is a special treat,” said one bystander. “We got to see two races instead of one.” 

The High Heel Race was cancelled last year due to restrictions related to the COVID pandemic. Many in the crowd watching the race on Tuesday night said they were delighted the city decided to go ahead with the event this year at a time when other large events continue to be canceled or postponed.

Also similar to past years when the High Heel Race took place, the restaurants and bars that line 17th Street were filled on Tuesday night, including the gay bars JR.’s and Windows as well as the longtime LGBTQ-friendly Annie’s Paramount Steakhouse.

Prior to the mayor’s arrival, gay local radio and TV personality Jimmy Alexander of DCW 50 TV served as host to a drag show and costume contest on the stage. DCW 50 also set up and hosted a separate stage on the sidewalk next to JR.’s bar in which race participants and others dressed in costumes were invited to have their pictures taken and provided with copies of the photos of themselves.

“I think it’s amazing,” Bowser told the Blade after the completion of the first race. “It’s good to be back. It was tough missing a year of activities,” she said referring to the business shutdowns brought about by the pandemic. “We had a lot of great, beautiful racers. And so, I’m really excited about it.”

To see more photos from this event, click here.

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Gay attorney’s plans to run for Del. Senate foiled by redistricting

Activists say move will ‘dilute’ LGBTQ vote

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Mitch Crane, gay news, Washington Blade
Gay Democratic activist Mitch Crane. (Photo courtesy Crane)

Plans by Delaware gay attorney and Democratic Party activist Mitch Crane to run for a seat in the Delaware State Senate in a district that included areas surrounding the town of Lewes, where Crane lives, and Rehoboth Beach ended abruptly this week when state officials approved a redistricting plan that removes Crane’s residence from the district.

The seat for which Crane planned to run is in Delaware’s 6th Senate District which, in addition to Lewes and Rehoboth, includes the towns of Dewey Beach, Harbeson, Milton, and surrounding areas, according to the state Senate’s website. 

The seat is currently held by Ernesto “Ernie” Lopez, a moderate Republican who became the first Hispanic American elected to the Delaware Senate in 2012. Lopez announced in July that he would not seek re-election in 2022. 

The redistricting plan, which was approved by leaders of the Democratic-controlled Delaware General Assembly, places the section of the Lewes postal district where Crane lives into the 19th Senate District. Crane said that district is in a heavily Republican and conservative part of the state dominated by supporters of President Donald Trump who remain Trump supporters.

Under Delaware law, changes in the district lines of state Senate and House districts, which takes place every 10 years following the U.S. Census count, are decided by the Delaware General Assembly, which is the state legislative body.

Crane told the Washington Blade that neither he nor any other Democrat would have a realistic chance of winning the State Senate seat next year in the 19th District.

“Jesus could not win in that district if he was a Democrat,” said Crane.

Crane said a Democratic candidate could win next year in the reconfigured 6th Senate District now that incumbent Lopez will not be seeking re-election.

The Cape Gazette, the Delaware newspaper, reported in an Oct. 22 story that Crane was one of at least two witnesses that testified at a two-day virtual hearing held Oct. 18-19 by a State Senate committee, that the proposed redistricting would dilute the LGBTQ vote in the 6th District and the draft proposal should be changed.

 “The proposed lines remove a significant percentage of the LGBTQ residents from the current 6th District where most of such residents of southern Delaware live and place them in the 19th District which has a smaller such population,” the Cape Gazette quoted Crane telling the committee. “By doing so, it dilutes the impact of the gay community which shares political beliefs,” the newspaper quoted him as saying.

“The proposed lines dilute the voting power of the LGBTQ community in addition to others who respect diversity,” the Cape Gazette quoted 6th District resident Sandy Spence as telling the committee. 

In an Oct. 10 email sent to potential supporters before the redistricting plan was approved, Crane said he believes he has the experience and record that make him a strong candidate for the state Senate seat. He is a former chair of the Sussex County Democratic Party, where Rehoboth and Lewes are located; and he currently serves as an adjunct professor at Delaware State University’s graduate school, where he teaches American Governance and Administration.

He is a past president of the Delaware Stonewall PAC, a statewide LGBTQ advocacy group, and he’s the state’s former Deputy Insurance Commissioner.

 “I intend to focus on smart growth in Sussex County; work on the problems of homelessness and the need for affordable housing; and assuring that this district receives its fair portion of tax dollars,” he said in his Oct. 10 email message announcing his candidacy.

Crane said he posted a Facebook message on Oct. 26 informing supporters that the redrawn district lines removed him from the district, and he is no longer a candidate.

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MSNBC’s Capehart to host SMYAL’s Fall Brunch Nov. 6

Ashland Johnson to serve as keynote speaker

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Gay journalist Jonathan Capehart will host SMYAL’s Fall Brunch. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Pulitzer Prizing-winning gay journalist Jonathan Capehart, the anchor of MSNBC’s “Sunday Show with Jonathan Capehart,” will serve as host for the 24th Annual SMYAL Fall Brunch scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 6, at D.C.’s Marriott Marquis Hotel.

The annual Fall Brunch serves as one of the largest fundraising events for SMYAL, which advocates and provides services for LGBTQ youth in the D.C. metropolitan area. 

“Each year, a community of advocates, changemakers, and supporters comes together at the Fall Brunch to raise much-needed funds to support and expand critical programs and services for queer and trans youth in the DMV area,” a statement released by the organization says.

The statement says attorney and former Division I women’s collegiate basketball athlete Ashland Johnson will be the keynote speaker at the SMYAL Fall Brunch. Johnson founded the sports project called The Inclusion Playbook, which advocates for racial justice and LGBTQ inclusion in sports.

Other speakers include Zahra Wardrick, a SMYAL program participant and youth poet; and Leandra Nichola, a parent of attendees of Little SMYALs, a program that SMYAL says provides support for “the youngest members of the LGBTQ community” at ages 6-12. The SMYAL statement says Nichola is the owner and general manager of the Takoma Park, Md., based café, bar, retail, and bubble tea shop called Main Street Pearl.

According to the statement, the SMYAL Fall Brunch, including a planned silent auction, will be live streamed through SMYAL’s Facebook page for participants who may not be able to attend in person. For those attending the event in person, proof of COVID-19 vaccination will be required, and masks will also be required for all attendees when not actively eating or drinking, the statement says.

The statement says that for attendees and supporters, the Fall Brunch is “a community celebration of how your support has not only made it possible for SMYAL to continue to serve LGBTQ youth through these challenging times, it’s allowed our programs to grow and deepen.”

Adds the statement, “From affirming mental health support and housing to fostering community spaces and youth leadership training, we will continue to be there for queer and trans youth together.”

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