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Vince Gray leaves us a stellar city

D.C. is a better place to live, work, play because of outgoing mayor

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Vincent Gray, Muriel Bowser, politics, gay news, Washington Blade
Vince Gray, Muriel Bowser, politics, gay news, Washington Blade

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray and Mayor-elect Muriel Bowser (Washington Blade photo by Damien Salas)

Politics isn’t for the faint of heart. There are often hurt feelings after elections, both those of the candidate and their supporters. But good politicians understand their egos matter less than what is done for the people they want to serve. The goal must always be a good and effective government that serves to protect its citizens, educate its children, and provide help for those who cannot speak for themselves and those our system may have failed in the past.

My support for Vince Gray in the Democratic primary was based on friendship and government doing a good job in those areas. While it was sad when he lost I felt 100 percent comfortable in supporting Muriel Bowser in the general election. Those of us who participate, the voters, make those decisions with every election.

My support for Bowser, a friend and a savvy and intelligent woman, thus far has proven right. She has recognized the good things that Vince Gray is leaving her and stepped up to the plate working with him to ensure that his legacy will include a new soccer stadium. She did it in a way that was honest and kept her commitment to those who elected her. She has made excellent appointments starting with Rashad Young as City Administrator. She followed that up naming Brenda Donald as Deputy Mayor for Human Services, Jennifer Niles as Deputy Mayor for Education and Polly Donaldson as Director of Housing and Community Development.  She is surrounding herself with quality individuals like Beverly Perry as senior adviser and Michael Czin as communications director. She convinced John Falcicchio to become her chief of staff. He follows one of the best people ever to occupy that job, Christopher Murphy, chief of staff to Mayor Gray.

So on Jan. 2 when Gray’s term ends and Muriel Bowser takes the oath of office, she will be ready. Some wonder what kind of city she will inherit. From nearly every perspective the District of Columbia is a better place to live, work and play because Vince Gray was mayor.

The city’s finances are stable with a rainy day fund of more than $1.7 billion. We have bond ratings of AA — the best they have ever been, meaning lower borrowing costs. Bowser is keeping Chancellor Kaya Henderson, appointed by Gray, because she has done such a good job and the new mayor is committed to seeing that reform moves forward and student test scores continue to rise in every ward. She has reappointed Cathy Lanier as chief of police. Lanier has proven again and again that she is a leader and can work across all eight wards. Consequently she is the public official who gets the highest positive ratings from residents across the city. The delivery of services to our youth and seniors is being handled more efficiently than ever and thousands more are getting good healthcare for the first time ever.

Gray has worked 20 hours a day for the people of the District. He was out around the city more than any previous mayor visiting with constituents in all eight wards. He kept a schedule that would be tough for a man half his age. Watching him with constituents it was clear he gained energy from those contacts. He is what sometimes these days is too rare, a politician who really cares about the people he serves.

Vince Gray worked to make our city better for the LGBT community in many ways and did so not only because he knew intellectually it was right but because that is where his heart is. He ensured healthcare for transgender individuals; he fought against hate crimes and stood with the community at vigils when someone was hurt; he performed the first same-sex marriage at City Hall. His administration took on the fight against HIV/AIDS and we are seeing fewer new cases and those who are identified are getting immediate care.

As Bowser takes over, she is being handed a city in the best shape it has ever been in. She will make her mark by seeing it continue to grow and working to ensure those who benefitted the least from the renaissance of the city will now be able to fully participate. She will work to ensure that everyone, no matter the circumstance of their birth, has the tools they need to succeed.

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    December 24, 2014 at 9:19 am

    Vincent Gray reached the zenith of his political power at a time when DC voters' tolerance for breaches of ethics and the public's trust was falling, like a rock, to zero.
    ˙
    It turns out both of those developments have been pretty good for DC residents and stakeholders.
    ˙
    Notwithstanding the failures of his first campaign for mayor, Vincent Gray clearly resolved to do better. After a few missteps, the Gray Administration demonstrated very solid management skills — with few ongoing exceptions.
    ˙
    Gray's skills, in turn, created new facts of progress for DC that will stand the test of time.
    ˙
    On balance, I think history will note those facts well. Indeed, history will be far kinder to Vincent Gray than DC voters' very shaken moral compass could ever be.
    ˙
    Happy holidays, to you and yours, Mayor Gray. Thank you for your service.
    ˙
    brian
    ˙

  2. Anonymous

    December 24, 2014 at 7:38 pm

    — Bowser is keeping Chancellor Kaya Henderson, appointed by Gray, because she has done such a good job and the new mayor is committed to seeing that reform moves forward and student test scores continue to rise in every ward.
    — She has reappointed Cathy Lanier as chief of police. Lanier has proven again and again that she is a leader and can work across all eight wards.
    –Blade/ Peter
    ===
    **After a few missteps, the Gray Administration demonstrated very solid management skills — with few ongoing exceptions.**
    –brian
    ˙
    ================================
    ˙
    Peter is an unabashed cheerleader for both Gray and Bowser, so I don't expect to view anything but positive grades in any report card by Peter on either mayor. But I have to say that Peter's description of Lanier and Henderson here does taste a bit tepid.
    ˙
    JFK and John Adams remind us through the ages that (1) life is unfair, and (2) facts are stubborn things.
    ˙
    I've already applauded, here and elsewhere, the beneficial facts on behalf of DC's LGBTQs, Mayor Vincent Gray unquestionably accomplished, notwithstanding his personal adversities. They are indeed, stubborn facts which will stand as testament to gray's leadership — many for generations of LGBTs to come.
    ˙
    However, as to those "ongoing exceptions" I mentioned– which have already been passed on, de facto, to the Bowser Administration– the anti-LGBT management of Cathy Lanier and Kaya Henderson reveal new, disturbing facts.
    ˙
    For very many LGBTQ people, two of the most important executive departments of any city's mayor are those departments responsible for unbiased public safety and unbiased public education.
    ˙
    Even before her term has begun, Muriel Bowser scores a big goose egg on protecting LGBTQ students, LGBTQ youth, LGBT families and LGBT District employees.
    ˙
    Worse still, Muriel Bowser's picks for Chief of Police and DCPS Chancellor of Schools are encouraging anti-LGBT prejudice, homophobia and transphobia within their respective departments– even now. And it is shameful.
    ˙
    Cathy Lanier has had it in for MPD's award-winning Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit (GLLU, 'glue') and its substation at Dupont Circle for just about as long as she's been police chief — nearly 8 years. Repeatedly, over that time, despite the objections of a number of DC political leaders, Lanier has tried to destroy GLLU's core unit of experienced officers — using a death-by-a-thousand-cuts strategy.
    ˙
    Even a few weeks before last November's general election, Lanier must have been feeling very confident of a Bowser victory and her promised reappointment as chief.
    ˙
    At that time, Lanier's HQ began a super secret demotion of GLLU's 'parent" division, MPD's Special Liaison Division. The SLD's captain was replaced with a lieutenant (lower ranking)– which sends a strong signal throughout MPD's roughly 4,000-member sworn force of the Chief's ongoing contempt for SLD, and by historical inference, SLD's Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit.
    ˙
    Last week the Blade reported a bizarre story regarding GLLU's Dupont office that has Lanier's secretive pick for SLD apparently threatening to move GLLU's Dupont office 3-1/2 miles away to Petworth — with no easy access to Metro a quarter mile away. More death-by-a-thousand-cuts.
    ˙
    Are we hearing the not-so-subtle anti-LGBT message regarding public safety and hate crimes pursuit from the Bowser Admin yet?
    ˙
    In addition on today's front page of WaPo, we can read more about Bowser's and Kaya Henderson's ongoing retaliatory assault on openly gay DCPS principal Pete Cahall at Wilson High.
    ˙
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/wilson-high-school-principal-who-came-out-as-gay-last-year-resigns-immediately/2014/12/23/4bfa341a-8af5-11e4-9e8d-0c687bc18da4_story.html
    ˙
    If anti-LGBT bigots within the Bowser Administration wanted to send a warning message– furthering hate, bullying and anti-LGBT employment discrimination, there was no better way to do that than to triple-down on a very public firing of DCPS HS principal who wore a Catania T-shirt at the Capital Pride Parade just 6 months ago. And that's what has occurred just in the past few weeks.
    ˙
    Many know from experience, without need of any after-the-fact reports, that Bowser's and Henderson's apparent retaliatory school workplace assault on Pete Cahall will be seen by bullies and homophobes as contempt for open and out LGBTQs.
    ˙
    Accordingly, Bowsers and Henderson's actions against Cahall will likely make life much tougher for LGBTQ DCPS school kids and those perceived to be LGBTQ. Kids of LGBT parents can expect increased chances of harassment and bullying too.
    ˙
    We try to assure tormented LGBTQ kids, that about their lives, "it gets better." But in this season of peace, hope and goodwill — that appears not to be the case so far within Muriel Bowser's new administration.
    ˙

  3. Anonymous

    December 26, 2014 at 12:57 pm

    Going back to MPD and Chief Lanier…
    ˙
    Peter, did you know that Chief Lanier does not permit MPD-GLLU, nor its Special Liaison Division, to have true, interactive websites and listservs like MPD's 7 other district listservs have?
    ˙
    How can MPD-GLLU have real community outreach and interaction with DC's LGBT residents and businesses when it is not permitted to have interactive online communications? The chief's media control and secrecy is what third world countries like North Korea do. Isn't it?
    ˙
    Shouldn't Mayor Bowser and our new Council investigate why that anti-LGBT communications discrimination exists at MPD?
    ˙

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Opinions

Trend of banning books threatens our freedom

‘History has taught you nothing if you think you can kill ideas’

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National Book Festival, gay news, Washington Blade

I knew Helen Keller was a DeafBlind activist. But, until recently, I didn’t know that some of her books were torched.

Nearly 90 years ago, in 1933 Germany, the Nazis added “How I Became a Socialist,” by Keller to a list of “degenerate” books. Keller’s book, along with works by authors from H.G. Wells to Einstein were burned. 

The Nazi book burnings were horrific, you might think, but what does this have to do with the queer community now?

I speak of this because a nano-sec of the news tells us that book censorship, if not from literal fires, but from the removal from school libraries, is alive and well. Nationwide, in small towns and suburbs, school boards, reacting to pressure from parents and politicians, are removing books from school libraries. Many of these books are by queer authors and feature LGBTQ+ characters.

Until recently, I didn’t worry that much about books being banned. My ears have pricked up, every year, in September when Banned Books Week is observed. Growing up, my parents instilled in me their belief that reading was one of life’s great pleasures as well as a chance to learn about new ideas – especially, those we disagreed with. The freedom to read what we choose is vital to democracy, my folks taught me. 

“I don’t care if it’s ‘Mein Kampf,’” my Dad who was Jewish told me, “I’ll defend to my death against its being banned.”

“Teachers should be allowed to teach it,” he added, “so kids can learn what a monster Hitler was.”

In this country, there have always been people who wanted to ban books from “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” by writer and abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe to gay poet Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl.”

In the 1920s, in the Scopes trial, a Tennessee science teacher was fined $100 for teaching evolution. (The law against teaching evolution in Tennessee was later repealed.)

But, these folks, generally, seemed to be on “the fringe” of society. We didn’t expect that book banning would be endorsed by mainstream politicians.

Until lately.

Take just one example of the uptake in book-banning: In September, the Blade reported, Fairfax County, Virginia public school officials said at a school board meeting that two books had been removed from school libraries to “reassess their suitability for high school students.”

Both books – “Lawn Boy” a novel by Jonathan Evison and “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by non-binary author Maia Koabe feature queer characters and themes, along with graphic descriptions of sex.

Opponents of the books say the books contain descriptions of pedophilia. But, many book reviewers and LGBTQ students as well as the American Library Association dispute this false claim.

The American Library Association honored both books with its Alex Award, the Associated Press reported. The award recognizes the year’s “10 books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults ages 12 through 18.”

Given how things have changed for us queers in recent years – from marriage equality to Pete Buttigieg running for president – it’s not surprising that there’s been a backlash. As part of the blowback, books by queer authors with LGBTQ+ characters have become a flashpoint in the culture wars.

As a writer, it’s easy for me to joke that book banning is fabulous for writers. Nothing improves sales more than censorship.

Yet, there’s nothing funny about this for queer youth. My friend Penny has a queer son. “LGBTQ kids need to read about people like themselves,” she told me. “It’s horrible if queer kids can’t find these books. They could become depressed or even suicidal.”

If we allow books to be banned, our freedom to think and learn will be erased.

“History has taught you nothing if you think you can kill ideas,” Keller wrote in a letter to students in Nazi Germany.

Anti-queer officials may remove LGBTQ books from school libraries. But, our thoughts will not be unshelved.

Kathi Wolfe, a writer and a poet, is a regular contributor to the Blade.

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Opinions

Thanksgiving is a time to share

Take a moment to think about what you can do to help others

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This Thanksgiving, many of us will once again celebrate with family and friends around the dinner table. Sadly at too many tables friends and family members will be missing. They will be one of the over 766,000 Americans who lost their lives to coronavirus. May the shared grief over lost loved ones cause us to try to bridge our differences and lift each other. As those of us with plenty sit down for dinner let us not forget the many in the world not so fortunate and think of what we can do to make their lives better.

In the midst of the pandemic we defeated a president who through his words and actions tore our country apart — a president who managed to poison relationships among family and friends. We elected a president who we felt would try to unite the nation. But we know that has yet to happen and the recent reaction to the not-guilty verdict in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial shows us that. The use of race-baiting in the recent Virginia governor’s election shows us that. We still suffer from the implicit permission the former president gave to some Americans to once again give public voice to their sexism, homophobia, racism, and anti-Semitism. That didn’t suddenly end with his loss. While we cannot pretend those feelings weren’t always there it seemed we had reached a point in American society where people understood you couldn’t voice them in public without rebuke. While it will take many years to put that genie back in the bottle we need to try if we are to move forward again. Around our Thanksgiving table is a place to begin. I am an optimist and believe we can do that even while recognizing it won’t be easy.

Thanksgiving should be a time to look within ourselves and determine who we are as individuals and what we can do to make life better for ourselves, our families, and others here in the United States and around the world.

Around our Thanksgiving table we should take a moment to think about what we can do to help feed the hungry, house the homeless, and give equal opportunity to everyone who wants to work hard. Maybe even give some thought as to how we change policies causing institutional racism to ones giving everyone a chance to succeed. It is a moment to think about how we can open up the eyes of the world to understand how racism, homophobia, and sexism hurt everyone, not just those who are discriminated against.

We must renew our efforts to heal the rifts in our own families and make an effort to try to see each other in a more positive light. If we start to do that with those closest to us we might have a fighting chance to do it with others.

I recognize my life is privileged having just returned from a 14-day transatlantic cruise. My Thanksgiving weekend will be spent with friends in Rehoboth Beach, Del., and we will remember our experiences over the past year. For many it also begins the Christmas season and the Friday of Thanksgiving weekend each year Rehoboth Beach lights its community Christmas tree. So surely we will talk about what that season means to each of us.

For me each year it means thinking about which charities I can support as the requests for end-of-year gifts arrive. It is a time to think about volunteering some precious time for a cause you care about.
Wherever you live, there are many chances to volunteer and do your part to make a difference for others. The rewards of doing so will come back to you in abundance. As anyone who has helped someone else will tell you the feeling you get for having done so is wonderful.

So wishing all my friends and those of you who I may be lucky enough to call friends in the future, a very happy Thanksgiving. May this holiday find you happy, healthy and sharing peaceful times with those you love.

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

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Fighting for equality for decades, trans elders still face endless hardships

Lisa Oakley rejected by 60 long-term care facilities in Colo.

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transgender, Gender Conference East, trans, transgender flag, gay news, Washington Blade
(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

November 20 will mark the 22nd International Transgender Day of Remembrance, an international event honoring and commemorating the many transgender people murdered in transphobic hate crimes every year.

Since 2013, at least 200 transgender people have been murdered in the United States alone, 80 percent being Black and Latinx women. This number is undoubtedly an underestimate, as many murders go unreported and trans victims often are misgendered by law enforcement.

These murders are not isolated crime statistics. They grow out of a culture of violence against transgender and non-binary (TGNB) people that encompasses stigma, exclusion, discrimination, poverty, and lack of access to essential resources, including health care, employment and housing. 

These challenges result in early death. In Latin America, for example, it has been reported that the average life expectancy of a transgender person is only 35 years.

This climate of stigma and transphobia is particularly challenging for TGNB older people, who face extraordinary hardships due both to the cumulative impact of lifetimes of discrimination and regular mistreatment in their elder years. Due to isolation from family and greater medical and financial needs, trans older people are more likely to require professionalized elder services and care. 

Unfortunately, these services and the facilities that provide them are often either unavailable to TGNB elders, or hostile to them. A national survey of LGBTQ+ older people by AARP found that more than 60 percent of those surveyed were concerned about how they would be treated in a long-term care setting. This includes the fear of being refused or receiving limited care, in danger of neglect or abuse, facing verbal or physical harassment, or being forced to hide or deny their identity once again. 

This is a sobering reality. In October, GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders filed a claim against Sunrise Assisted Living in Maine, which openly denied admission to an older transgender woman because of her gender identity. 

In Colorado, Lisa Oakley was, astonishingly, rejected by 60 long-term care facilities, which her caseworker ascribes to Lisa’s gender identity. One facility that agreed to admit Lisa would only house her with a male roommate. 

After waiting far too long for welcoming care, Lisa eventually got help from SAGE and other community supporters and found a home in Eagle Ridge of Grand Valley. Fortunately, Eagle Ridge has participated in specialized training to be LGBTQ+-welcoming. While Lisa feels welcomed at Eagle Ridge and has made friends, she has been forced to live far from a community she loves. 

These cases in Maine and Colorado are just the tip of the iceberg regarding the discrimination faced by TGNB elders. That’s why it’s so important that Congress pass the Equality Act, which would once and for all prohibit discrimination based on gender identity in key areas like employment, housing, and care and services.

And while legal progress is important, it’s not enough. TGNB elders need more equity in their day to day lives. Older transgender people are more likely to experience financial barriers than non-transgender elders, regardless of age, income and education.

They’re also at a higher risk of disability, general poor mental and physical health, and loneliness, compared to their cisgender counterparts.

These experiences have been part of everyday life for trans elders for far too long. We continue to see them struggle with the long-term effects of transphobia and violence every day. That’s why organizations like SAGE are stepping up our support for TGNB elders by investing $1 million to support TGNB-focused services and advocacy both in New York and nationwide.

And we are continually amazed by the resilience of TGNB elders, creating communities built on their strength and courage. 

Their resilience is nothing new. It dates back generations and was evident during the Stonewall Uprising. Over the years, trans luminaries like Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, Victoria Cruz—leaders of the modern LGBTQ+ civil rights movement—and countless others have repeatedly proved that they will not be invisible.  

We see this determination in so many programs and activities led by trans elders at SAGE. 

For example, the TransGenerational Theater Project brings together transgender people of all ages to create theater from their experiences and perspectives. These types of elder-driven programs serve as powerful reminders that transgender older people are leading their lives with resilience, creativity, and perseverance, despite the dangers they face. 

Transgender and non-binary elders have survived and fought for equality for decades. They are brave. They are strong. They are leaders. Here at SAGE, we will continue to walk side-by-side with them as we continue the fight to ensure TGNB elders get the respect, change, and acceptance they deserve.

Michael Adams is the CEO of SAGE, the world’s largest and oldest organization dedicated to improving the lives of LGBTQ+ elders.

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