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Georgetown should surrender, not be held hostage

Businesses struggle to revitalize commerce against ANC, ‘citizen group’ objection

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Georgetown, gay news, Washington Blade

Georgetown (Photo by Daniel Lobo; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

While the village-like historic district has retained its architectural charm, Georgetown has lost its soul.

Once a primary destination for hometown residents, the area had long been a premier shopping, dining and socializing district in D.C. Until advisory neighborhood commissioners and a “citizens group” exerted a combined influence nearly three decades ago to impose artificial marketplace restrictions that would have made Soviet apparatchiks proud.

Of notable irony, the Georgetown liquor license moratorium, the city’s very first among the very few now largely abandoned experiments in arbitrary licensing limits in only a handful of hyper-localized retail areas, went into effect the same year the Berlin Wall came down.

Georgetown became a mere victim of a failed prohibition regime once fancied by bureaucrats. One that savvier neighborhoods of Dupont Circle and Adams Morgan have been slowly shedding, although too timidly, in an attempt to undo the damage done.

All four neighborhoods with the five notorious license bans beginning 15 to 26 years ago experienced a reduction in amenities and an explosion of regret. Both engendered variable loosening of restrictions so minor they failed to revive much business investment interest. Commercially successful areas simply rejected falling for the scheme in the first place, including by overwhelming opposition in the vibrant Logan Circle, Shaw and U Street neighborhoods three years ago.

Georgetown has apparently learned little observing the ineffectualness of lifting only a little of the bans or the benefit of never having made the marketplace mistake.

A decade after the repeatedly renewed moratorium was first imposed in 1989, the Georgetown Business Improvement District (BID) organization was established for the purpose of “protecting and enhancing the accessibility, attractiveness and overall appeal of Georgetown’s commercial district.” In recent years the BID has been loudly sounding alarms that the area has become one of those places you can easily forget even exists and rarely, if ever, feel compelled to patronize.

The group has highlighted eroded economic vitality and crumbling commercial viability of a once bustling retail and restaurant-bar scene.

In September, the Georgetown BID released a white paper on the area’s liquor license restrictions, detailing a litany of market-manipulating effects that have rendered abandoned licenses available by atrophy unattractive and unutilized. The organization’s leadership sought to negotiate a deal to avoid continued opposition to ending the moratorium by the ANC and Citizens Association of Georgetown, both of which will vote this week on an ill-advised “compromise” offered to the recalcitrant groups.

ANC-2E vice chair Bill Starrels recently proclaimed that eliminating the ban would “create chaos.” He is presumably alleging destruction other than what has befallen Georgetown’s flailing retail environment.

Starrels hopes to overrule city law by imposing “cookie-cutter” restrictions allowing only restaurants, not bars, and forcing early closing hours, prohibiting alcohol service after midnight, banning amplified recorded music and other unpopular operating limits. He doesn’t seem to realize the explosion in nighttime enterprise across the city reflects strong community desire for multi-activity and late-night venues offering combinations of dining, drinking, lounging and dancing.

He’s apparently chasing ghosts from a formerly broke-down alcohol-licensing agency for which operators advocated repair to allow for more efficient and fair administration.

Starrels and “fellow-travelers” in state-sanctioned economic planning appear to have coerced a clearly cowered BID into counterproductive diplomacy with denizens. The BID has acceded to demands rendering regulatory reform meaningless and is recommending restrictions on potential licensees so deal-breaking that takers will remain flat-lined.

BID CEO and president Joe Sternlieb’s concessions on no longer advocating a clear moratorium end and endorsing ANC-negotiated bans on essential nightlife activities are shameful. It will only relegate Georgetown to continued commercial decline.

Under those negotiated terms, businesses and residents should simply surrender and refuse being held hostage. At least they wouldn’t advance the false premise city law grants ANCs the ability to superimpose blanket “policies” on permissible activities at dining and drinking establishments.

Better that one neighborhood suffer a self-inflicted demise than bring harm to others.

 

 

Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow on Twitter: @MarkLeeDC. Reach him at [email protected].

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9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. I'm Just Sayin'

    November 27, 2015 at 9:31 am

    Mr. Lee was recently named the Executive Director of the DC Nightlife Hospitality Association an organization founded “by owners and operators of local bars, restaurants, nightclubs and entertainment associates. ” As reported in the Blade on 10/31/15, Mr. Lee was engaged to represent the interests of the alcohol-licensed business compromising the “city’s vibrant and growing” night-time community.” Whether you agree or disagree with the point of view Mr. Lee’s has expressed here, the fact that he is a paid spokesperson for DCNHA should have been clearly stated in his bio. He may be a “community business advocate” but that clearly was not the genesis of this op-ed.

    • BruceMajors4DC

      November 30, 2015 at 5:19 am

      But Mr. Starrels is a mortgage broker. If M Street businesses fail so more of those buildings are converted to condos, he will profit.

      • Kyle

        December 1, 2015 at 2:09 pm

        The point is that the author of this opinion piece did not disclose the fact that he is part an organization which supports the ideas he’s promoting in his opinion piece. If Mr. Starrels were the writer and had done the same, I’d expect the same standard. It’s standard media practice, in fact.

  2. ShadrachSmith

    November 28, 2015 at 11:41 am

    Now that Moslem immigrants are murdering young people in Paris for drinking and dancing in public…does the lack of drinking and dancing make Georgetown a safer place to live?

    • BruceMajors4DC

      November 30, 2015 at 5:17 am

      So Bill Starrels is a secret proponent of Sharia Law? I thought he was just a mortgage broker trying to protect his residential clients from commercial noise, even if his means to do so kills M street businesses. Which in itself seems an odd conflict of interest, a mini version of cronyist statism.

  3. Kyle

    December 1, 2015 at 9:21 am

    Can someone please explain how encouraging rowdy drunks to roam the streets at all hours of the night helps retail businesses during the daytime. It would seem to me that turning Georgetown into Adams-Morgan circa 1999 would actually harm daytime businesses, since tripping over half-eaten pizza slices and crushed solo cups really doesn’t make for a pleasant shopping experience. You can be a drinking destination or you can be a shopping destination, but when you try to be both, usually the retail businesses suffer (not to mention the poor souls just trying to sell shoes but having to fend off drunken customers).

  4. Dave

    December 1, 2015 at 10:47 am

    I agree with everything you’re saying here . . . but I’m quite ashamed in the Blade for printing it in the first place, and more so for printing it without any acknowledgement of your position as a paid shill for the DC Nightlife Hospitality Association.

  5. Sidney Rock Dove

    December 1, 2015 at 4:48 pm

    This writing is excruciating.

  6. kyleyoder

    December 2, 2015 at 8:33 pm

    The good news is gay bars are already old news. Everyone is online hooking up these days and smoking crystal meth. So who needs expensive booze and cruisy bars? Come to think of it, heroin is easier to get in DC than a beer. Enjoy, comrades.

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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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Commentary

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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