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Gray, Mendelson receive top GLAA ratings for April primary

Graham outscores opponent in Ward 1 Council race

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Vincent Gray, gay news, Washington Blade

Vincent Gray, gay news, Washington Blade

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray is running for re-election. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray (D) and City Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large) on Thursday received a +10 rating from the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, the highest possible rating score on a scale of -10 to +10, in their respective races for re-election in the city’s April 1 Democratic primary.

Gray and Mendelson, who are longtime supporters of the LGBT community, were the only two candidates to receive a +10 among a total of 43 candidates rated in contests for mayor and seats on the City Council.

Council members Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) and Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), who are running for mayor, came in close behind Gray with ratings of +9.5 and +8 respectively. Both have also been longtime supporters of the LGBT community.

GLAA is a non-partisan LGBT advocacy group founded in 1971. It says it rates candidates on the basis of their past records on LGBT, AIDS and other issues deemed important to the LGBT community and on their responses to a detailed questionnaire that asks about those issues.

The group has said it gives higher ratings to candidates that go beyond just expressing support on LGBT issues when they show through their questionnaire responses an understanding of the issues and how best to address them.

GLAA President Rick Rosendall called the LGBT related records of Wells and Evans “excellent” and noted that the group said in its statement that Evans has the longest record of support due to his 20-year tenure as a Council member. He said Gray and Mendelson received a +10 score because both had undertaken a large number of pro-LGBT initiatives in the last few years that, along with their strong past records, gave them an edge over the other candidates.

“Mr. Gray’s accessibility, responsiveness, and follow-through have made him highly effective on LGBT issues,” GLAA said in its statement. “He has been a champion for transgender people, including with Project Empowerment job training.”

Among the other mayoral candidates running in the April primary, Busboys and Poets restaurant owner and progressive political activist Andy Shallal received a +6; Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) received a +5.5; attorney and former State Department official Reta Jo Lewis received a +4.5, Council member Vincent Orange (D-At-Large) received a +3; and businessman and civic activist Carlos Allen received a “0” rating.

In its statement accompanying the ratings, GLAA said Allen received an automatic score of “0” under the group’s policy for candidates who don’t return the questionnaire and have no known record on LGBT issues.

All of the Democratic mayoral candidates that returned the questionnaire expressed strong support for LGBT rights in general.

Among the non-Democratic mayoral candidates, GLAA gave Statehood-Green Party candidate Faith a +3.5 and gay Libertarian Party candidate Bruce Majors a +2.

Majors, a longtime LGBT rights advocate, received a +2 rating because “his party’s ideological distrust of government is at odds with policies and reforms favored by GLAA,” the group said in its statement. “Consequently, many of his responses were interpreted as non-responsive or negative,” the statement says.

Gay D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) received a +7.5 compared to his sole opponent in the Democratic primary, public relations executive and community activist Brianne Nadeau, who received a +5.

Political observers say Graham is facing his toughest re-election race this year for a fifth term on the Council

GLAA said it gave Graham higher points for his long record of support on LGBT and AIDS related issues, citing his work recently on pushing through a bill to provide better services to homeless LGBT youth. The group gave him a slight edge over Nadeau in the substance of his questionnaire responses.

But the group gave Nadeau a slight edge over Graham over the two candidates’ positions on an issue GLAA has long considered important – whether tiny, ad hoc neighborhood citizens groups should be given legal standing to protest liquor licenses of restaurants and bars.

GLAA favors giving exclusive authority to challenge liquor licenses to the city’s elected Advisory Neighborhood Commissions rather than un-elected ad hoc groups, which nightlife advocates say unnecessarily block or delay the approval of licenses for nightlife establishments, both gay and straight. Nadeau, a former ANC commissioner, said she supports giving ANCs the sole legal standing to contest liquor licenses.

GLAA said Graham didn’t take a position on the issue in his questionnaire response, saying he described instead how he helped facilitate a committee of citizens and businesses representatives to consider the issue.

In the Council Chair race, GLAA said Mendelson’s +10 rating reflects his record as an ally who has shepherded through the Council a long list of LGBT supportive bills, including the marriage equality bill.

The group said it gave Mendelson’s opponent, Democrat Calvin Gurley, a “0” rating because Gurley didn’t return the questionnaire and also has no known record on LGBT issues.

Among the five Democrats running in the At-Large Council race, challenger Nate Bennett-Fleming, who currently serves as the city’s non-paid “shadow” U.S. Representatives, received a +7, one point higher than the +6 rating GLAA gave to incumbent Council member Anita Bonds, who won the seat in a special election last year.

Both are strong supporters of LGBT rights. But the slightly higher rating for Bennett-Fleming, a recent law school graduate relatively new to the local political scene compared to Bonds, who has been active in politics and government since the 1970s, is likely to raise eyebrows among some local activists.

GLAA President Rick Rosendall said Bennett-Fleming’s questionnaire responses included a few more substantive insights than Bonds’ but called both candidates’ responses “very good,” saying GLAA considers a rating of +5 and above to be a good showing for a candidate.

The ratings for the other At-Large Democratic candidates were: Pedro Rubio, +3; John Settles II, +2.5; and Kevin Valentine Jr., 0. Valentine is among the candidates who didn’t return the questionnaire and have no known LGBT record, GLAA said.

Among the non-Democratic At-Large candidates running in their respective party primaries, Statehood-Green Party candidate Eugene Puryear received a 4.5; Statehood-Green Party candidate G. Lee Aikin received a +3; and Libertarian Party candidate Frederick Stein, who didn’t return the questionnaire, received a “0.”

Gay Republican candidate Marc Morgan, who’s running unopposed for the GOP nomination for the At-Large Council seat, received a +2. GLAA said he didn’t return the questionnaire.

In its statement accompanying the ratings, GLAA said Morgan’s record of involvement in LGBT rights activities in Ohio and Arizona and his involvement with the National Minority AIDS Council in D.C. were counted in his favor and viewed as “very admirable.”

The statement says Morgan lost points for “his support for anti-gay politicians John Boehner, Robert Ehrlich, and Laura Knapereck,” which “detract from his record.” Boehner, a Republican and Speaker of the U.S. House, among other things, has blocked the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA, an LGBT rights bill, from coming up for a vote in the House. Ehrlich is a former Maryland governor and Knapereck has served in the Arizona legislature.

In the remaining Council races, GLAA issued these ratings:

Ward 3: Council member Mary Cheh (D), +8.5; Ryan Sabot (Libertarian), “0” [Questionnaire wasn’t returned].

Ward 5: Council member Kenyan McDuffie (D), +4.5; Kathy Henderson (D), “0” [Questionnaire was returned but GLAA disagreed with most responses]; Carolyn Steptoe (D), -2.

GLAA said Steptoe didn’t return the questionnaire and is viewed as having a negative record for testifying in support of placing D.C.’s same-sex marriage law on the ballot in a voter referendum in 2010.

Ward 6: Charles Allen (D), +8.5; Darrel Thompson (D), +2; Pranav Badhwar (Libertarian), +2.

Allen, the former chief of staff for Wells, received the highest rating for a non-incumbent running in the primary. In its statement, GLAA said Allen has a long record of support for LGBT issues both as a former Council staffer and former president of the Ward 6 Democrats.

GLAA’s detailed analysis of its ratings, including links to the candidates’ questionnaire responses, can be found here: http://www.glaa.org/archive/2014/primaryratings.shtml

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12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. brian

    February 14, 2014 at 10:24 am

    A DUBIOUS “PERFECT” RATING BESTOWED
    UPON A DUBIOUS MAYOR…
    A “Perfect 10” rating by GLAA is simply not credible for a mayor (1) whose administration remains under an ethical cloud for its last criminally-tainted election campaign, (2) whose MPD chiefs just downgraded GLLU police services again and (3) who won’t come clean on the number of anti-LGBT hate crimes his police department *closed with an arrest* in the three years beginning with Gray’s inauguration.

    GLLA PITCHES A FEW SOFTBALL QUESTIONS RE. GRAY’S MPD.
    SO GRAY RESPONDS WITH IRRELEVANT GIBBERISH.
    The fault lies largely with GLAA not asking competent, tough questions regarding MPD management, MPD transparency, strengthening GLLU, strengthening OPC with LGBT consultants/ investigators, etc.

    NO CONCERN FOR GLLU’s CORE OFFICE?
    TACITLY COMPLICIT? BUH-BYE, GLLU!
    I didn’t see a single question regarding strengthening MPD’s core GLLU unit at a safe, accessible location for citywide use. So why should Gray, Lanier and Groomes NOT quietly disband MPD’s GLLU and continue their fiction of GLLU auxiliary officers– as they are now doing. Lanier has been wanting to do that for years.

    NO SUPPORT, CONCERN FOR DC’s INDEPENDENT OPC?
    WHY NOT, GLAA?
    It’s doubtful DC’s LGBTs can fully trust MPD chiefs’ iron-fisted control of GLLU at this point. So what does GLAA know of Philip Eure’s award-winning work at OPC– an office which is INDEPENDENT of MPD? Why is MPD dragging their heels in cooperating with OPC which also handles complaints of police bias? Why isn’t GLAA insisting on MPD IAD case reporting to OPC? Funding OPC independent statistical compilation of all police complaints and putting an LGBT investigator/ consultant on OPC’s staff.

    Without informed, tough, and relevant questions, of course an incumbent mayor can achieve a “perfect 10” score. But it is not very credible.

    Going forward, GLAA should factor in much greater scrutiny of mayoral candidates’ understanding of all the city’s law enforcement performance issues, along with effective and independent police oversight by Council, OPC and others.

  2. Bruce P. Majors

    February 14, 2014 at 4:29 pm

    In some ways I think the GLAA rating is hilarious and what GLAA has really done is rate itself into irrelevancy and give itself a failing grade.

    I actually belonged to GLAA briefly in the early 90s and participated in one candidate rating (where no Libertarian candidate was involved) and was upset to see that they automatically gave incumbents extra points over challengers, as long as the incumbent had done even a slight bit for gay gay rights. An incumbent for example who had slowly evolved to supporting civil unions would get more points than a challenger who campaigned for gay marriage.

    I think it's clear the surviving GLAA members (who are not very numerous – this is a rating put out by a few people – if you dig through their website you find only a few names, Rick Rosendall and Bob Summersgill, their third active member, Barrett Brick, passed away this year) are statists. (One GLAA officer actually tweeted two years ago when I ran for Congress as a Libertarian in 2012 that no one need pay any attention to me, the day I picked up petitions, since I was running as a Libertarian – and I then got a high enough vote, 16,700 votes, to get the Libertarian Party permanent ballot status in DC). They actually say in their press release on the scoring that they "interpreted" my (lengthy) answers as "negative or non responsive" because they don't like libertarians, because it is an "unusual" ideology that "distrusts" government. Which this year of all years means the GLAA has shown themselves to be completely antiquated and out of touch with public sentiment.

    But beyond this there is a brown nosing/rent seeking element to GLAA's ratings. They actually rate the Green Party members almost as low as they do the Libertarians, and give their high rankings to, as the headline of their press release crows, incumbent Democrats. One suspects the Greens would fund all the programs GLAA likes to put gays on the dole and give them a government housed, state controlled gay community center at a much bigger budget than the Democrats. But since the Democrats are much more likely to be elected, GLAA members want to curry favor with them.

    I suppose I should send a Valentine's bouquet to the GLAA for their statism and bigotry. If they'd just ranked me slightly below the incumbents with whom they are currying favor, I'd not be able to say much. As it is, the irony means the non-gay political blogosphere is already covering their farcical ratings, and giving my campaign and DC Libertarians much more favorable exposure among sympathetic voters than we would have gotten this weekend without them.

  3. Rick Rosendall

    February 14, 2014 at 1:33 pm

    I will not get into it with Brian or Bruce here, though I assert that GLAA’s thorough and meticulous process will withstand scrutiny. Our policy brief: http://tinyurl.com/glaa2014pdf – Our ratings: http://tinyurl.com/glaaratings14 (and if the URLs I just typed in get deleted, look up GLAA’s website). We do not claim that our policy views are universally agreed to by all LGBT people, as if our community were monolithic. But a great deal of meticulous work, including consulting a wide array of coalition partners, went into our policy brief (which has 75 footnotes) and questionnaires. And we show our work, posting on our website the full responses by candidates and the points breakdown for each candidate. We have a four-decade record of accomplishment that speaks for itself. It is easy to say that we are about policy and not party, but we have a long record to prove it. Nonpartisanship cannot mean applauding everyone equally, since that would defeat the purpose of our advocacy. But given our policies and questions, which again emerged from consultation with coalition partners, our evaluations are demonstrably fair. And it can hardly be a surprise that Bruce’s anti-government views clash with GLAA’s approach.

    • PeteinDC

      February 23, 2014 at 11:23 pm

      Could GLAA release the questionnaire and all of the candidates answers? I know of at least one candidate who agreed with all of GLAA’s positions, but still received a low rating. A comment about his ideology being at odds with GLAA was made, but that’s strange since his answers were pretty much “perfect” in the questionnaire that is supposedly the basis of your rating system. What other ideologies are being considered by GLAA that are not being covered in the questionnaire, or even in their well drafted position paper?

  4. brian

    February 14, 2014 at 2:55 pm

    We love GLAA’s past performance, Rick, but any activist group is only as good as its last performance. When it comes to avoiding the horrendous violence and bashings we’ve seen in DC, IMHO GLAA needs to widen its reliable sources, GLAA partners or not.

    What LGBT victims of violent hate crimes (and potential victims) want to know (for starters) is…
    — Are my attackers still out there attacking other LGBT victims?
    — Will I and my friends be assaulted again?
    — How many of DC’s anti-LGBT hate crimes committed in the last four years have been *CLOSED with an ARREST*?
    — How come NYPD can routinely and promptly apprehend hate crimes perpetrators, but Vincent Gray’s MPD can’t?

    And BTW, Gray is taking credit for reporting data on police incident reports that were there EIGHT YEARS AGO. Some at MPD have been prevaricating so long, they don’t realize how badly they’re doing it. Is Gray is being fooled or more likely following MPD’s lead?

  5. David Hearne

    February 15, 2014 at 12:32 am

    There are other important issues to consider in any candidate. Gray is on record with his contempt for the Constitution. If he has no respect for the first and second amendments, then why would we think he truly respects our rights?

  6. Richard J. Rosendall

    February 14, 2014 at 9:32 pm

    Brian, GLAA met with GLOV to inform the public safety section of our policy brief. We are well aware of those frustrations. Our policy brief and questionnaire covered a lot of ground on a range of issues, and involved a great deal of effort. Spinning everything around just one issue and adopting an intemperate and insulting tone toward hard-working volunteer activists is not helpful. If we thought we were done, we would not have spent so much effort on our elections project. There is plenty for all of us still to do, as our brief shows. Publishing information on two dozen candidates’ positions and records on a spectrum of LGBT issues in D.C., as we did on Thursday, is part of it. I am not going to get into an extended back-and-forth here. Comment boards are a poor choice for constructive discussions.

  7. brian

    February 15, 2014 at 10:56 am

    Hey, Rick. GLOV is a terrific organization with an indispensable mission. But GLOV (and The Center) is not and can not be wholly *INDEPENDENT* of MPD/Lanier/Gray (+their donors/ allied interests, etc.).

    You’ll recall last year, Jason Terry blew the lid off the fiction of a ADL-led MPD ‘unbiased’ study of hate crimes. (MPD wasted yours/GLAA’s time with that nonsense too, I recall.)

    However, Terry’s expose’ invited some of us to drill down even more. Connecting the financial/ donor dots from MPD/Gray/Lanier to ADL to The Center to GLOV doesn’t take a lot of effort either. Now I’m not ‘shocked, shocked’ at all that fairly common urban gov “incest” in Gray’s EOM.

    Still as CM Wells alluded to more generally in a recent J-PS Committee hearing, the principle that LGBT and all victims of hate crimes ought to be protected by some checks and balances *independent* of MPD (and EOM) is one that an ethical, honorable DC government should exalt– and upon which mayoral and Council’s candidates should be judged.

    The Office of Police Complaints (OPC) does seem like a ready-made office to help accomplish that for independent investigation of LGBT police complaints, BTW. OPC *IS* independent and they’re already handling police bias cases. LGBTs and GLAA should find out more about that office.

    However, OPC’s director advises that MPD is not cooperating with OPC as it should. Gray should be docked points for that.

    Also, Gray’s/ Lanier’s ‘death by a thousand cuts’ destruction of GLLU is an alarm which should be sounded now by GLAA, GLOV and everyone right now– before any election, please. In the meantime, Gray’s points ought to be docked for that, too.

    Lastly, just as an organizational “tone/ appearance” matter, I guess, I’d suggest dropping the screaming opening report headline which appears to be a GLAA endorsement. Whatever, your good intentions for it, it does cast doubt among some, I’m sure, upon the assertion that GLAA is unbiased with its survey.

  8. Richard J. Rosendall

    February 16, 2014 at 11:08 am

    Brian, GLAA is well aware of OPC, since its creation resulted in significant part from efforts by a coalition of groups including NAACP, ACLU, National Black Police Association, and GLAA. We cite OPC in our policy brief, and have defended its funding over the years.

  9. brian

    February 18, 2014 at 6:18 am

    Thanks for your confirmation regarding GLAA’s prior support of OPC, Rick. I thought I read that somewhere in GLAA’s archives, but wasn’t sure.

    LGBTs and OPC need GLAA’s help again, however. INDEPENDENT oversight makes *ALL* the difference. Something like MPD’s Special Liaison Division (parent of DHHLU, GLLU, LLU, ALU) should be set up at OPC.

    We need an independent office to turn to– headed by thoughtful lawyers whose craft and training honors human rights, due process, accurate statistical reporting and checks and balances. Enabling language needs to be updated by Council now for OPC so as to prevent more MPD coverups. (See Director Eure’s testimony before Council’s J-PS last month).

    Gray’s (and Lanier’s) titular support for some of DC’s worst opponents of Marriage Equality– especially in Ward 5 and MPD’s Fifth District police– is outrageous…
    http://www.washingtonblade.com/2014/02/04/anti-gay-consultant-working-gray-campaign/

    Gray and Lanier SAY one thing to LGBT voters, but in reality they REWARD our city’s worst anti-LGBT bigots and politicos.

    But kudos to both Wells and Evans for understanding that independent checks on our city’s PD is needed– and that maintaining GLLU’s core unit and office is essential for victims of stalking and intimate partner violence.

  10. Chris

    February 20, 2014 at 2:06 am

    All this hate on Gray too bad he will win come Nov

  11. Pete Perry

    February 24, 2014 at 4:03 am

    How does this rating system work? It appears to strongly favor incumbents and Democrats. Why was DC Statehood-Green Eugene Puryear given only a +4.5?

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Conservatives blame pro-trans policy after assaults in Loudoun schools

‘Gender fluid’ 15-year-old accused of attacking female students

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The Loudoun County, Va., public school system’s recently adopted policy of allowing students to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity has come under fire over the past two weeks by outraged parents and conservative political activists following reports that a 15-year-old “gender fluid” boy allegedly sexually assaulted two girls in different high schools.

The parents of one of the girls released a statement through the Virginia-based Stanley Law Group blaming school officials for failing to put in place safeguards to prevent the boy, who they say was dressed in a skirt, from entering the girl’s bathroom to assault their daughter at Stone Bridge High School in Ashburn, Va., on May 28.

The statement accuses Loudoun County Schools officials and the Loudoun County Board of Education of failing to take steps to prevent the same 15-year-old boy from allegedly sexually assaulting another female student at Broad Run High School, also located in Ashburn, on Oct. 6 in a vacant classroom.

School officials acknowledge that the boy was transferred to the second school after law enforcement authorities released him from a juvenile detention facility following his arrest for the first case, in which the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office said he was charged with two counts of forceable sodomy against his female victim. 

“The sexual assault on our daughter and the subsequent sexual assault by the same individual were both predictable and preventable,” the parents’ statement says. “Subsequent to the sexual assault on our daughter, Loudoun County Public Schools formalized the policy regarding restroom use that was easily exploitable by a potential sexual assailant,” the statement continues. 

“Because of poor planning and misguided policies, Loudoun Schools failed to institute even minimal safeguards to protect students from sexual assaults,” says the statement.

Loudoun County Schools Superintendent Scott A. Ziegler apologized at an Oct. 15 news conference for what he acknowledged was the school systems’ mishandling of the two sexual assault cases. He noted that school officials should have publicly disclosed the two cases or at least alerted parents at the time they occurred. But he said a federal civil rights law known as Title IX that mandates how schools must respond to cases of sexual harassment appeared to prevent Loudoun school officials from initially disclosing the two cases of sexual assault until they were investigated by law enforcement authorities.

Ziegler said the school system was revamping its disciplinary procedures and its interaction with the Loudoun Sheriff’s Office to ensure that parents and students are alerted to potential danger similar to the cases where the 15-year-old boy allegedly assaulted the two female students.

Meanwhile, school officials and the LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Loudoun have pointed out that law enforcement officials have yet to confirm whether the 15-year-old boy charged in the two cases was actually dressed in women’s clothes during the first incident or whether he is trans or gender fluid.

Equality Loudoun’s president, Cris Candice Tuck, released a statement to the Washington Blade on Oct. 18 that she said was the first official known statement responding to the Loudoun school controversy from an LGBTQ organization.

“In light of the reporting of recent sexual assault allegations, the Board of Directors of Equality Loudoun wishes to extend our deepest sympathies to the victims of these heinous attacks and their families,” the statement says. “Equality Loudoun advocates for due process and justice for the victims regardless of whether the alleged perpetrator was a member of the LGBTQ+ community,” the statement continues. “Such actions have no place in our community, and Equality Loudoun does not condone any form of sexual violence, assault, or harassment,” it says.

“However, the accusations that the alleged perpetrator of these assaults is transgender or genderfluid have so far been unverified,” the Equality Loudoun statement asserts. “Attempts to shift blame of this incident to any individual, group, or policy – other than the alleged perpetrator – does a grave disservice to the victims of these crimes and already marginalized youth in our community.”

The statement adds, “We remind those advocating for change to the laws and policies that the initial assault predated any enactment of Policy 8040 by almost 4 months.”

The Equality Loudoun statement was referring to the fact that the Loudoun County School Board did not vote to approve the school system’s trans nondiscrimination policy until August of this year, more than three months after the first of the two sexual assault incidents occurred. 

The policy, among other things, allows transgender and genderfluid students to use the school bathrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity. The policy also requires that teachers, school administrators and fellow students address a trans or genderfluid student by their chosen name and pronouns.

“Inadvertent slips in the use of names and pronouns may occur,” the policy states. “However, staff or students who intentionally and persistently refuse to respect a student’s gender identity by using the wrong name and gender pronoun are in violation of this policy,” it states.

The statement says that rumors of a bathroom “pilot” program that predated the official approval of Policy 8040 that would have allowed female trans or genderfluid students to use the girls’ bathrooms “are simply untrue” and were never put in place.

In a separate statement to the Blade, Equality Loudoun’s Cris Candice Tuck challenged claims by some parents and conservative political activists, some of whom are supporting Virginia’s GOP gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin over Democrat Terry McAulliffe, that the trans nondiscrimination policy is placing students at risk for sexual assault.

“The adoption of nondiscrimination policies are in no way endangering students,” Candice Tuck said. “Across the country, sexual assaults have occurred in schools for decades before any transgender inclusive policies were passed,” she said. “And in those counties and states where such protections have passed in recent years, there has been no verified incidence of anyone abusing such policies to commit such attacks in schools.”

Candice Tuck added, “The focus should be on improving systems of reporting, coordination, and investigation, protecting the victims of these attacks, and creating safer school environments by creating modernized areas and bathrooms that increase protection for all students, including LGBTQ+ students who are statistically more likely to be the victim of such a crime.”  

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D.C. rejects request by gyms to lift mask mandate

LGBTQ-owned venues sign letter calling requirement ‘devastating’ for business

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Owners of two LGBTQ-owned D.C. fitness studios and one gym signed on to a joint letter with the owners of six other similar businesses urging D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and D.C. Department of Health Director Dr. Laquandra Nesbitt to lift a city mandate requiring patrons of gyms and fitness studios to wear masks. 

The Oct. 4 letter, written by gay businessman Bryan Myers, the CEO and president of a chain of local fitness studios using the trademark name of [solidcore], states that the mask mandate, which applies to people who are fully vaccinated for the coronavirus, is based largely on outdated data pertaining to gyms and fitness studios collected prior to the widespread availability of the COVID vaccine.

“More relevant data to inform decision-making would be to study the data from two, large Northeastern cities that have opted to allow fitness classes to continue with the requirement of vaccination in lieu of a mask requirement,” the letter states. “In both New York City and Philadelphia, which have opted for this approach, we have not seen an increase in the trajectory of the Delta variant,” Myers says in the letter.

In the last week of July, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a recommendation that cities and local jurisdictions with 50 new COVID cases per 100,000 residents per week, which at that time included D.C., should ask residents to voluntarily resume wearing masks indoors. That same week, Bowser announced she would go one step further by mandating the indoor use of masks in most public places, including gyms and fitness spas or studios. 

Bowser and Nesbitt said their intention was to take immediate steps to curtail the spread of the coronavirus so that the city would not be forced to return to the full shutdown mode, including the closing of businesses, that the mayor lifted earlier this year.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced they would ask residents of their states to consider using masks in crowded indoor spaces as recommended by the CDC, but said they would not require mask use. 

In their letter to Bowser and Nesbitt, the gym and fitness studio owners called on the mayor to provide the same exemption to their businesses as the city has provided for restaurants, bars, and nightclubs, which requires masks except when patrons are eating and drinking. 

“While it is true that bars, restaurants, and clubs technically have to follow the same guidelines, we know that in practice, these venues have been granted exceptions by D.C. Health,” the letter says. “On any given night, you can find hundreds of individuals crowded into a U Street bar, at a Capitol Hill restaurant, or thousands at a performance or party at The Anthem enjoying themselves – singing, dancing and physically exerting themselves, shouting – maskless – so long as they have a drink somewhere nearby,” says the letter.

“And to be unequivocally clear, we are not advocating that there is anything wrong with what is happening in other industries or that there be a change to the management of those industries/venues,” the letter continues. “We are simply advocating that we be treated the same as they are.”

The letter adds, “Finally, but perhaps most importantly, the mask mandate for fitness studios and gyms has resulted in devastating financial impact to these businesses – many of which are small locally owned.”

It says patronage has dropped 50 percent for some of the fitness centers and gyms since the mayor’s mask mandate took effect July 29. It points out that the drop in customers comes at a time when many of these businesses have spent thousands of dollars and in some cases hundreds of thousands to upgrade their ventilation and filtration systems and other structural steps to curtail the spread of the coronavirus.

Myers told the Washington Blade in a statement that neither the Department of Health nor the mayor’s office replied directly to the gym and fitness studios’ letter.

Channel 7 News reported that in response to its request for the city’s reaction to the gym and fitness studios’ concerns, the Department of Health released a statement saying, “D.C. Health’s stance is that persons should wear masks in gyms and during this time [we] do not have plans to change our stance on this guidance.”

In his statement to the Blade, Myers said the D.C. gym and fitness studios were frustrated and disappointed that the city at this time is not open to reconsidering the mask mandate for gyms and fitness studios, many of which he said are barely surviving.

“This mandate is directly affecting the livelihoods of residents of the District, many of whom are women, people of color, and/or LGBTQ+ in a policy that is simply not equitable, and is steering residents away from services that can help improve the overall health of our community,” Myers said.

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Heather Mizeur congressional campaign raises more than $1M

Former Md. delegate challenging Andy Harris

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Heather Mizeur, Delman Coates, Montgomery County, Silver Spring, Maryland, Maryland House of Delegates, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade, momentum
Former Maryland state Del. Heather Mizeur is running for Congress (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Heather Mizeur has raised more than $1 million in her campaign against anti-LGBTQ Republican Congressman Andy Harris in Maryland’s 1st Congressional District.

“No candidate in #MD01 of either party, incumbent or challenger, has ever hit the $1M milestone this early in the election cycle,” Mizeur tweeted on Oct. 6.

The Victory Fund in an Oct. 8 press release said 80 percent of this $1 million came from Maryland-based donors, “a sign the district is ready for new representation.” And Mizeur continues to outpace Harris, according to campaign finance reports filed with the Federal Election Commission that say she raised $717,445 for the cycle ending June 30, while Harris raised $425,288.

“Andy Harris has taken every opportunity to attack and vilify trans individuals, trying to score political points with his base at the expense of the safety of some of his constituents,” Mizeur told the Washington Blade.

In 2014 Harris made the Human Rights Campaign’s “Hall of Shame” for proactively working “to undermine existing legal protections and promote anti-LGBT discrimination.”

“In contrast, the LGBTQ community knows me for my record,” Mizeur said. “And knows I’ll always lead with compassion and stand up for civil and human rights. I think the 1st District will respond to my message of respect and understanding.”

Mizeur, who now lives on the Eastern Shore with her wife, served on the Takoma Park City Council. Mizeur was a member of the Maryland House of Delegates for eight years.

In 2014, she launched a long-shot, grassroots campaign for governor where she finished a strong third in the Democratic primary, despite being outraised by better-known opponents.

But Mizeur also said she is aware of the challenges her team faces in taking on a well-entrenched Republican in a solidly conservative district.

The Cook Partisan Voter Index in 2017 rated the district as R +14, meaning the previous two presidential election results in the district skewed 14 percentage points more Republican than the national average.

“We have over $760,000 in the bank, and we’ve outraised him during our time in the race,” Mizeur said. “We’re raising the money we need to go toe-to-toe with Andy Harris next year.”

The Baltimore Sun in February reported Harris was “flush with campaign cash” mostly due to a 2010 redistricting that “packed” the area with Republican voters to increase Democrats’ chances in other district races.

“Yes, Andy Harris has over $1 million in the bank, stockpiled over a decade in office,” Mizeur said. “But in the short time I’ve been in the race, we’ve cut significantly into his cash on hand advantage.”

Harris has represented the 1st Congressional District—which includes Maryland’s Eastern Shore and parts of Baltimore, Carroll and Harford Counties—since 2011 and easily fended off most challenges with at least 60 percent of the vote. These challengers include Mia Mason, a transgender military veteran, who ran against him in 2020.

The 2010 redistricting made Harris’ seat safe enough not only to donate nearly a third of his war chest to conservative groups and candidates, such as U.S. Reps. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), but to openly court controversy himself.

Harris last year openly defended then-President Trump’s discredited efforts to overturn the 2020 election. And in December he signed onto an amicus brief supporting a failed lawsuit contesting the presidential election results.

This year he downplayed the violence of the Jan. 6 insurrection in which numerous police officers were attacked, members of Congress were threatened, and the U.S. Capitol was vandalized.

Mizeur told the Blade that while Harris’ actions regarding the Jan. 6 insurrection were the catalyst for her challenging his seat, she feels the district is changing and he no longer represents their interests.

“Our supporters know he’s been embarrassing Maryland in Congress for far too long, and that some of his actions have shown he’s completely unfit to serve in public office, regardless of ideological views,” Mizeur said. “They want someone who will bring compassionate leadership and innovative thinking back to the first district. And that’s appealing to people across party lines.”

Maryland’s primary election is June 28, 2022, and its general election follows on Nov. 8.

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