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Gray wins vote but falls short of Stein Club endorsement

Mayoral candidates appeal for LGBT votes at forum

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Tommy Wells, Vincent Orange, Vincent Gray, Jack Evans, Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, endorsement forum, gay news, Washington Blade

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray finished ahead of four rivals at the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club’s mayoral candidates forum. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray finished far ahead of four of his rivals at the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club’s mayoral candidates forum Thursday night but fell four votes short of the 60 percent threshold needed to win the club’s endorsement.

Gray beat D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), his closest rival, by a margin of 58 percent (112 votes) to 38 percent (74 votes) in a runoff ballot, with 4 percent voting for no endorsement.

“I am so happy about the number of people that came out and supported us tonight,” Gray said after the vote. “It really is an affirmation of our record and we’ll continue to do the things that got us here tonight.”

In a first ballot vote, Gray came in first with 115 votes, ahead of Evans, who received 56 votes. Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) came in third with 28 votes, just ahead of Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), who captured 26 votes. Council member Vincent Orange (D-At-Large) finished fifth with 8 votes. One person voted for no endorsement.

Under club rules, members have the option of holding a run-off vote between the top two vote getters in the first vote if no one obtains the 60 percent margin needed for an endorsement.

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Paul Strauss (left) and Pete Ross at the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club’s endorsement forum. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

In a separate endorsement vote on the contest for the city’s shadow U.S. Senate seat, challenger Pete Ross beat incumbent Paul Strauss by a vote of 93 to 85, with 33 people voting for no endorsement. Similar to the mayoral race, Ross failed to win the endorsement by falling 33 votes short of the 60 percent threshold needed for an endorsement.

Meanwhile, in a development that surprised some Stein Club members, mayoral contenders Andy Shallal and Carlos Allen were disqualified from participating in the forum because they didn’t return a candidate questionnaire that the club requires as a condition for being eligible for an endorsement. The two didn’t attend the event.

Democratic mayoral contender Reta Lewis returned the questionnaire but no one placed her name in nomination at Thursday night’s forum as part of another requirement for endorsement eligibility, according to Martin Garcia, the club’s vice president for political and governmental affairs. Garcia said Lewis also didn’t attend the event.

About 300 people, including D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large) and Council member Anita Bonds (D-At-Large), turned out to watch the forum, which was held at the Metropolitan Community Church of Washington at 474 Ridge St., N.W.

Mendelson and Bonds are running for re-election. Last week the Stein Club endorsed Mendelson but didn’t endorse in the at-large race in which Bonds and three other candidates are running in the April 1 Democratic primary because no one received the required 60 percent of the vote from the club’s membership.

Voting at Thursday’s endorsement forum took place after the participating candidates gave opening remarks and answered questions from the audience, which were submitted on index cards and read by Stein Club member Earl Fowlkes, who served as moderator.

Each expressed strong support for LGBT rights and each has a record of support for LGBT-related issues since the time they won election to the Council, with some, including Gray, pointing to their support for LGBT equality in previous jobs in government or in the private sector.

Evans, who has been on the Council for 23 years, brought with him a stack of 32 LGBT-related bills he said he introduced and helped pass during his tenure on the Council.

“I was the first elected official to support marriage equality at a time when no one was there,” he said.

Gray cited the LGBT-related initiatives he has put into effect since becoming mayor, including a first-of-its-kind transgender job training program. His LGBT supporters, who turned out in large numbers at the forum, have called him the nation’s strongest LGBT-supportive mayor.

“I’m proud to have stood up for what is right in the District of Columbia on behalf of the people who are LGBTQ in the District of Columbia,” he said. “I am proud to have led the fight on the Council of the District of Columbia to be able to approve marriage equality,” he said, referring to his role as chair of the Council in 2009 when the marriage bill came up.

Wells acknowledged that Evans, in his long tenure on the Council, and Gray, in his many LGBT-related initiatives as mayor, have done a lot for the LGBT community. Noting that his record and commitment to LGBT issues is also strong, he suggested that LGBT voters should consider turning their attention to issues such as ethics in government, that impact everyone.

“I am so proud of what we’ve done together to make this a fairer, just city for everyone,” Wells said. “Let me say that everyone on the dais has been part of that,” he said. “Your fight is my fight.”

Bowser said she is proud to have won the club’s endorsement in the past when running for her Ward 4 Council seat.

“I think Tommy is right,” she said. “There have been a lot of people who have worked long and hard so that all the institutions of the District of Columbia are equal.  Because of their hard work we’re talking about marriage equality tonight.”

Bowser, among other things, cited her role as co-introducer of a bill approved by the Council earlier this year calling for services for LGBT homeless youth.

Orange pointed to his role as a committee chair to help push through a bill introduced by gay D.C. Council member Jim Graham to add protections for transgender people in the city’s Human Rights Act.

In keeping with the club’s longstanding format for endorsement forums, the candidates were asked to leave the main hall where the event took place at the conclusion of the forum to give club members a chance to speak among themselves on who they support for the endorsement.

Among those speaking on behalf of Bowser was her gay brother, Marvin Bowser.

“Muriel has been up front in support of all of the LGBTQ issues in her campaign, including marriage equality, the anti-bullying law, and the homeless youth bill,” he said. “She’s about supporting the diversity and the vitality of the city,” he said. “She’s fully engaged in all the issues important to that.”

Martin Garcia, Angela Peoples, Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, endorsement forum, gay news, Washington Blade

Stein Club Vice President for Legislative and Political Affairs Martin Garcia (left) and President Angela Peoples. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Stein Club President Angela Peoples said that while she’s disappointed that the club was unable to make an endorsement in the mayor’s race, along with the shadow Senate seat and several Council races, the endorsement forum has been beneficial to LGBT voters.

“I’m really proud and humbled and excited to see so much energy from the entire LGBT community,” she said. “The turnout at this event really shows that our LGBT community is diverse. We have straight allies. We have transgender leadership in our organization. We have people who have been here for a long time and also people who are new and excited.”

Peoples said the strong support that all of the candidates have expressed for LGBT equality was a testament to the strength of the LGBT community.

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Virginia

Va. Senate subcommittee tables anti-transgender student athlete bill

Virginia Beach Republican introduced SB 766

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A Virginia Senate subcommittee on Thursday tabled a bill that would have banned transgender students from joining school sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity.

Senate Bill 766, which state Sen. Jennifer Kiggans (R-Virginia Beach) introduced on earlier this month, would have required “each elementary or secondary school or a private school that competes in sponsored athletic events against such public schools to designate athletic teams, whether a school athletic team or an intramural team sponsored by such school, based on biological sex as follows: (i) ‘males,’ ‘men,’ or ‘boys’; (ii) ‘females,’ ‘women,’ or ‘girls’; or (iii) ‘coed’ or ‘mixed.’”

“SB 766 (trans sports ban) was passed by indefinitely (it died!) after a long line of speakers testified against it, affirming trans students’ rights to participate in sports just like their cisgender peers,” tweeted the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia after the vote. “Trans students belong in sports. Period.”

Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin during his campaign said he does not support allowing trans children to play on sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity.

The General Assembly’s 2022 legislative session began on Jan. 12 with Republicans in control of the House of Delegates. Democrats still control the Senate by a 21-19 margin.

A bill that would have eliminated the requirement that school districts implement the Virginia Department of Education’s trans and non-binary student guidelines died in a Senate subcommittee on Thursday. The Senate General Laws and Technology on Thursday also tabled a religious freedom measure that would have undermined Virginia’s LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination law.

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Maryland

Hyattsville mayor dies by suicide

Kevin Ward and husband adopted son in D.C. in 2012

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Hyattsville Mayor Kevin Ward (Photo courtesy of the city of Hyattsville)

The city of Hyattsville released a statement on Wednesday afternoon announcing that their city’s openly gay Mayor Kevin Ward had died one day earlier by an apparent suicide.

“The city of Hyattsville reports with great sadness that our beloved Mayor Kevin Ward passed away yesterday, Jan. 25, from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound,” the statement says.

“Mayor Ward was a valued and trusted leader and a fierce advocate for all the people of Hyattsville,” the statement continues. “We are heartbroken at this loss and extend our deepest sympathy to the mayor’s family,” it says.

“No further information is available at this time,” the statement adds. “Details about services and remembrances will be shared when they are available.”

The Washington Post reported that U.S. Park Police disclosed that Ward was found deceased in Fort Marcy Park in McLean, Va., with a “self-inflicted gunshot wound.”

Ward, 44, became acting mayor of Hyattsville on Jan. 1, 2021, following the resignation of former Mayor Candace Hollingsworth. He was next in line to become mayor under the city’s political system in his then-position as president of the Hyattsville City Council.

He won election to complete the remainder of Hollingsworth’s term through 2023 in a May 11, 2021, special election, receiving 57.8 percent of the vote in a three candidate race, according to the Hyattsville election board. His closest opponent, Joseph Solomon, received 31.7 percent of the vote.

Nearby fellow gay mayors — Patrick Wojahn of College Park and Jeffrey Slavin of Somerset — said they got to know Ward through Maryland political circles and thought very highly of him.

“He was insightful, smart and dedicated,” Wojahn said. “He always seemed very confident and together as a person. And he had a great sense of humor.”

Slavin said he shared that remembrance of Ward, adding that he found Ward to be a “very nice person” dedicated to the people he served both as mayor and during his two terms on the Hyattsville City Council.

“There was noting in his public life that would have predicted this,” said Slavin in referring to Ward’s sudden passing.

The Washington Blade first reported on Ward in 2012 in a feature story on Ward and his then-domestic partner Chad Copeland when the two attended a ceremony at the D.C. Superior Court to complete the process of adopting their then-5-year-old son Norman. Ward and Copeland were among several gay couples who had their adoption papers signed by a judge at the ceremony.

On the website for his mayoral election campaign last year Ward said he and his family made Hyattsville their home in 2014 after he and his husband adopted their two sons.

“I am a pretty straightforward person,” he said in message to voters on his campaign website. “I believe in listening more than talking. But when I talk, I am not one to mince words or tell people what they want to hear,” he said. “I believe in doing the work. I believe that if I can help someone, then I can change her or his life,” he continued.

“This is why I dedicated my career to providing the best technology to education and to human services, to help as many people as I can,” he said.  

Ward was referring to his career in the field of educational and human services technology.

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District of Columbia

ANC supports license for Capitol Hill LGBTQ bar

Lesbian owners back ‘settlement agreement’ with restrictions on hours

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Rachel Pike and Jo McDaniel are the bar industry veterans behind As You Are Bar. (Photo courtesy Pike and McDaniel)

The Capitol Hill Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6B voted unanimously on Tuesday night to support a liquor license for the LGBTQ-owned As You Are Bar, which plans to open in a two-story building at 500 8th St., S.E. in a commercial section of Capitol Hill known as Barracks Row.

The ANC’s decision to support the license took place at a virtual meeting attended by nearby residents and supporters of the bar after its owners, lesbian activists Jo McDaniel and Rachel Pike, agreed to the terms of an ANC settlement agreement that calls for restrictions in the hours the bar can offer dancing, entertainment, and music from a DJ.

The agreement means the ANC will not file a protest against the license before the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, a development that would have delayed a decision on the license by the ABC Board by as much as seven months. A protest by the ANC could have cost the bar thousands of dollars in legal fees to contest the protest by providing legal arguments seeking the approval of the license.

The ABC Board makes the final decision on whether to approve all liquor licenses in the city.

McDaniel and Pike have said they plan to operate an upstairs dance bar during evening hours and a café on the first floor during the day as well as in the evenings that will be an inclusive space that “welcomes anyone of any walk of life that will support, love, and celebrate the mission of queer culture.”

The two, who are business and life partners, say As You Are Bar will welcome people of all ages, genders, sexual orientations and gender identities as well as drinkers and non-drinkers as customers.

They have also told the ANC and nearby residents they have taken steps to soundproof the building, which they are renting, to ensure their plans to operate a dance bar with music from a DJ on the second floor will not disturb nearby residents.

Under terms of the settlement agreement, which was posted on the ANC’s website prior to the start of the meeting, the bar’s operating hours will be from 12 p.m. to 12 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and 12 p.m. to 3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. Under D.C. law, bars are allowed to remain open for the sale of alcoholic beverages until 2 a.m. during weekdays and 3 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

The Settlement Agreement further calls for As You Are Bar to restrict the hours of consumption of alcohol from 12 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 12 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. It calls for allowing live entertainment and dancing (indoors only) from 12 p.m. to 12 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and from 12 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. on Friday and Saturday.

However, the agreement says DJ and amplified music will not be permitted after 8 p.m. on weekdays.

 McDaniel told the Blade that at the request of As You Are Bar’s attorney Richard Bianco, the ANC agreed to modify that restriction at the Tuesday night meeting to allow the bar to play “conversational” background music after 8 p.m. until closing time on weekdays.

 Among other things, the agreement requires the bar comply with a noise mitigation provision to “ensure that sound, noise, and vibrations are not audible or felt beyond the curb or any other premises at any time.” It also calls on the bar to provide an “appropriate number of staff” to monitor patrons as they leave the bar through the 8th Street entrance to “prevent loud voices and littering.”

Under rules established by the ABC Board and the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration or ABRA, if a settlement agreement is reached between an applicant for a liquor license and the ANC, a protest against the license by groups of five or more citizens is not allowed. Protests could still be filed by community-based civic groups and residents of an “abutting” house or residential facility.

In the case of As You Are Bar, no citizens group has emerged to oppose the license. There is just one abutting townhouse on E Street whose owner has expressed general support for the settlement agreement, according to McDaniel. But the resident has indicated she will not rule out a possible protest until Feb. 7, which is the deadline for filing a protest under ABRA’s rules.

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