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Attack ad blames Mendelson for rise in hate crimes

Council chair, activists dispute accuracy of campaign ad

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Phil Mendelson, Washington D.C., Washington Blade, gay news
Phil Mendelson, D.C. Council, Washington Blade, gay news

‘Rather than doing nothing, I publicly disagreed with the MPD’s decision to reorganize the GLLU,’ said Council Chair Phil Mendelson. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

LGBT activists are defending D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large) against an election campaign ad by the D.C. police union that accuses him of failing to take steps to prevent the number of anti-LGBT hate crimes from nearly doubling between 2009 and 2011.

The Fraternal Order of Police, Metropolitan Police Department Labor Committee (FOP), which serves as a police union, is calling on city residents to “vote no on Phil Mendelson” in the April 1 primary in which he is running for re-election.

Rick Rosendall, president of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance; transgender activist Jeri Hughes; and gay activist and Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Bob Summersgill called Mendelson a champion of LGBT rights and disputed the FOP’s claim that he didn’t adequately respond to hate crimes targeting the LGBT community.

In what appears to be a first-of-its-kind attack ad accusing a politician of failing to protect the safety of the LGBT community, the FOP ad says that when Mendelson was chair of the Council’s Judiciary and Public safety Committee in 2009, he “sat by and did nothing as the Metropolitan Police Department’s Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit (GLLU) was dismantled.”

The ad, which the FOP posted on its website and placed in the Washington Blade, goes on to say, “The result of Mendelson’s failure to act? The police department’s effectiveness in responding to hate crimes was weakened and it led to an almost 50 percent jump in hate crimes based on sexual orientation.”

Kristopher Baumann, chair of the FOP, told the Blade that LGBT organizations and activists joined the FOP in 2009 in criticizing a decision by the police department to reorganize and restructure the GLLU in a way that most activists said would decrease its effectiveness.

Baumann noted that concerns about the GLLU reorganization were found to be correct by a report assessing the police handling of anti-LGBT hate crimes released earlier this year. The report was prepared by an independent task force created and led by the Anti-Defamation League of the national capital area at the request of D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier.

Most LGBT activists don’t dispute the findings of the task force report that the reorganization of the GLLU by Lanier led to its becoming less effective in addressing hate crimes and led to strains in relations between the LGBT community and the police department. But Mendelson and some of his LGBT supporters, including Rosendall and Hughes, dispute the claim that Mendelson was responsible for these developments.

“The charge is inaccurate and false,” Mendelson told the Blade in a statement on Monday. “Rather than doing nothing, I publicly disagreed with the MPD’s decision to reorganize the GLLU, and this was the subject of a number of public hearings that I held — including several specifically focused on hate crime and MPD’s handling of hate crime,” he said.

Mendelson said he held separate hearings on hate crimes and determined that the increase in hate crimes targeting the LGBT community was likely due, in part, to improved reporting of hate crimes on the part of LGBT victims rather than an actual increase in the number of such crimes.

“It’s easy for negative campaigns to level false charges days before an election, but the charges neither comport with the facts, nor are echoed by any of the LGBT groups that have actually worked on this problem,” Mendelson said.

“This campaign to hold Phil Mendelson accountable is nothing more than an egregious campaign to smear and malign,” said Hughes. “I know several rank and file officers,” she said. “None of them feel that Phil Mendelson deserves this abuse – none.”

Baumann, who has been a longtime critic of Chief Lanier, said Mendelson held “hearing after hearing” but chose not to take legislative action to correct longstanding problems associated with hate crimes reporting and the police Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit.

Mendelson said the hearings were productive and that none of the LGBT advocacy groups or Baumann proposed legislative changes at that time.

“They forced MPD to address the issue — prior thereto they were downplaying it,” Mendelson said of the hearings. “Police handling of [hate crimes] reports improved.”

According to Mendelson, the hearings also prompted the independent Office of Police Complaints, which investigates citizen complaints against police officers, to weigh in on the issue and led to the revival of the then inactive group Gays and Lesbians Against Violence (GLOV).

Baumann said the FOP has not endorsed Mendelson’s Democratic opponent in the primary, Calvin Gurley. Baumann said the police union’s ad campaign was aimed at urging voters to “take another look” at Mendelson and decide how best to vote both in the primary and, if Mendelson wins on Tuesday, as expected, whether to vote for an opponent that surfaces in the November general election.

GLAA gave Mendelson a +10 rating on LGBT issues on a rating scale of -10 to +10, the highest possible score. The group gave Gurley a +1 rating.

Although most political observers believe Mendelson is the odds-on favorite to win Tuesday’s primary, Gurley received close to 69,342 votes when he ran against Mendelson in a special election in 2012. According to Board of Elections returns, Mendelson won that election with 174,742 votes, with 3,017 voters writing in someone else’s name on the ballot.

Hassan Naveed, co-chair of Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence, and Jason Terry, an official with the D.C. Trans Coalition, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the FOP’s attack ad targeting Mendelson.

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Virginia

NoVA Prism Center becomes hub for local LGBTQ community

Leon van der Goetz founded organization in 2022

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(Photo courtesy of Leon van der Goetz)

The NoVA Prism Center in Oakton has emerged as a hub for LGBTQ community engagement in Northern Virginia.

Leon van der Goetz, a transgender man, founded NoVA Prism Center in 2022 after he returned to the U.S. from Japan where he had been an English teacher. The organization has steadily grown since.

NoVA Prism Center this year had five Pride events, including one at the end of May.

Fairfax County helped NoVA Prism Center organize some smaller events. NoVA Prism Center has also put on workshops, hosted monthly club meetings and other events.

NoVA Prism Center has worked with around 20,000 people even though it only has an annual budget of $12,000 that comes through online and in-person donations.

“To the best of my knowledge and research, NoVA Prism Center is the only physical space in the D.C. suburbs (i.e., outside of D.C. city limits), particularly in Northern Virginia, that is by and for the LGBTQ community, open year-round, and does not involve being around alcohol or needing to spend money,” van der Goetz told the Washington Blade in an email. “There are plenty of bars, restaurants, support groups, and meetup groups that gather in other public community spaces, but we’re the only physical LGBT+ center within an approximately 90-minute drive.”

“Before I was about to move back (from Japan), I heard that Fairfax and Loudoun Counties were having protests at the school board meetings, regarding books about people like me,” he said, discussing how the idea behind NoVA Prism Center came about.

A Loudoun County School Board committee in January 2022 voted to uphold then-Supt. Scott A. Ziegler’s decision to remove two LGBTQ-themed books — “Gender Queer” and “Lawn Boy” — from school libraries amid parent protests. The school board later that year fired Zeigler amid criticism over his handling of student sexual assaults.

“And I decided at that moment, rather than go the route of being a public school teacher and potentially be a first-year teacher, early in transition, I decided to specifically start protecting these books, creating NoVA Prism Center as a library and community center around providing access to information about queer lives, stories, and history,” said van der Goetz.

More than a third of the community’s center’s library are LGBTQ-themed books that have been challenged or banned in schools. NOVA Prism Center also has a closet that allows community members who may not feel comfortable shopping at thrift or retail stores for clothes that correspond with their gender identity or expression.

“It started with our binder exchange program, where we started collecting chest binders for the trans masculine community,” said van der Goetz. “When I was early in my transition, I found that I needed more masculine clothing. And I had a whole bunch of feminine clothing to get rid of.”

NoVA Prism Center founder Leon van der Goetz (Photo courtesy of Leon van der Goetz)

NoVA Prism Center also publishes “The Lantern,” an online magazine. It includes art, poems and short stories from community members. “The Lantern”’s first issue is on NoVA Prism Center’s website, while its second is available for purchase. The e-zine’s third issue is currently in the works.

NOVA Prism Center is looking for a more permanent location, but the office building in which it is currently located remains a safe space for anyone who participates in their events. 

The organization hopes to raise money for a new space at their annual fundraising event in October, Coming Out Gay-la, an 18+ LGBTQ prom. Funds will support NOVA Prism Center itself, community programs and expansion of their events. 

NoVA Prism Center next month will begin to promote the prom on its social media pages. https://www.instagram.com/novaprismcenter/ or https://www.facebook.com/NoVAPrismCenter/

Van der Goetz described NoVA Prism Center as an “oasis in the storm” for LGBTQ people who continue to face harassment and efforts to curtail their rights. 

“I see people making connections, building friendships and support structures,” he said. “By being together and protecting each other I think that we’re going to be able to make it through.”

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District of Columbia

New complaint form to help D.C. LGBTQ seniors facing discrimination

Office of Human Rights steps up protections for those in long-term care

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OHR’s Care for Seniors program supports LGBTQ seniors and seniors living with HIV facing discrimination.

The D.C. Office of Human Rights (OHR) announced on July 22 that it is launching new “user-friendly” intake forms designed to facilitate and simplify the filing of discrimination complaints by seniors, including LGBTQ seniors, who encounter discrimination in long-term care facilities such as nursing homes.

“The forms simplify the complaint filing process, making it easier for residents to better access support and understand their rights” at long term care facilities, according to a statement released by OHR. The statement provides a link to access the new intake forms online.

“This initiative is part of OHR’s Care for Seniors program, which supports LGBTQ seniors and seniors living with HIV facing discrimination in such facilities,” the statement continues. “The form addresses concerns related to sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, HIV status, and other prohibited bases of discrimination, streamlining the reporting process and enabling seniors to file claims directly through OHR’s website,” it states.

In addition to the improved intake form for seniors filing discrimination complaints, the OHR announcement says it is also releasing new forms for filing complaints under the D.C. Universal Paid Family Leave Amendment Act, which requires employers in the city to provide 12 weeks of paid leave benefits for parental, family, or medical reasons to eligible employees.

“The form allows individuals to file complaints if they believe their employer has interfered with their right to these benefits or retaliated against them for requesting, applying for, or using paid leave” in violation of the law in question, according to the statement.  

OHR officials have pointed out that D.C. stepped up its protections for LGBTQ seniors through the passage by the D.C. Council of the Care for LGBTQ Seniors and Seniors with HIV Amendment Act of 2020. Among other things, the law calls for OHR certified trainers to “provide specialized information for staff in long-term care facilities, specifically tailored to meet the unique needs of LGBTQ+ seniors and seniors with HIV in long-term care facilities,” OHR states in its website.

“We prioritize safeguarding the new rights and legal protections outlined in the Act, which includes a posted notice of ‘Non-Discrimination’ aiming to ensure that participating facilities actively contribute to creating secure and inclusive environments for all residents,” the OHR website statement concludes.

The questionnaire and complaint form for LGBTQ seniors facing discrimination in long-term care facilities can be accessed at ohr.dc.gov.

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District of Columbia

Nonprofit D.C. groups invited to apply for anti-LGBTQ violence grants

$700,000 available for FY 2025 ‘VPART’ program

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LGBTQ Affairs Office Director Japer Bowles. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs held a conference on July 18 to inform interested officials with local nonprofit community-based organizations that provide services to the LGBTQ community how best to apply for city grants of between $5,000 and $50,000 as part of the city’s Violence Prevention and Response Team program, known as VPART.

Information released by the program states that its mission is to “address, reduce, and prevent crime within and against the LGBT community” by “creating a strong partnership between the community and the government which enables us to focus on coordinating a community response to violence.” 

Addressing hate-bias crimes targeting the LGBTQ community are among the program’s high priority objectives, information released by the program says.

Presentations on how best to apply for the VPART grants and what the requirements are for obtaining them were given by LGBTQ Affairs Office Director Japer Bowles and the office’s grants administrator, George Garcia. The two said the deadline for submitting grant applications for the program is Aug. 5. Organizations whose applications are approved will receive the grant funds they are approved for on Oct. 30, which is the start of fiscal year 2025.

Garcia said a total of $700,000 has been allocated to fund the VPART grants, the number of which will depend on how many applications are received.  

Garcia said that among the key components of the VPART program are Victim Response Services, Case Management, Legal Services, Trauma Informed Mental Health Services, and Cultural Humility Training that he said are aimed, among other things,  to support LGBTQ victims of violent crime.

One of the organizations that has received VPART grants in past years, and that is expected to apply again this year is the D.C. LGBTQ Community Center.

 “Along with offering trauma-informed therapy and casework, the DC LGBTQ+ Community Center directly supports LGBTQ+ survivors with our mental health services, shelter assistance, and other resources victims of violence may need,” the LGBTQ Center says in a statement. “If you are LGBTQ+ and are a victim of violence, or know someone who is, you can refer them to the DC LGBTQ+ Community Center and we will make sure they are supported and connected to the resources they need,” the statement says.

The conference was held at the Reeves Center municipal building where the LGBTQ Affairs office and other city agencies as well as the LGBTQ Community Center are located at 2000 14th St., N.W. About a dozen people attended the conference in person and another 14 attended virtually through Zoom, according to Bowles.

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