Below are the Blade’s staff picks for the top 10 local stories of the year.
#10 Gay Republican wins race for D.C. GOP chair
Jose Cunningham, a local gay Republican activist and prominent GOP fundraiser, won an upset victory in his race for chair of the D.C. Republican Committee in January 2015, beating incumbent chair Ron Phillips by a vote of 74 to 41.
Cunningham ran on a platform calling for the DCRC to take more aggressive steps to expand the membership of the D.C. Republican Party and recruit more qualified candidates for public office in a city with an overwhelmingly Democratic electorate.
The DCRC, which serves as the D.C. Republican Party’s governing body, has been supportive of LGBT rights, including marriage equality, for a number of years, placing it at odds with the national Republican Party.
In his role as the DCRC chair, Cunningham has an automatic seat on the Republican National Committee. Among other things, he has said he would push for removing anti-gay language from the national party’s platform at the 2016 Republican National Convention.
#9 Kameny memorial unveiled
A four-year saga surrounding efforts to secure a D.C. memorial site for gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny ended in November with a ceremony dedicating a memorial headstone in his honor at Congressional Cemetery.
Four gay members of the Army and one from the Navy stood at attention in full dress uniform as U.S. Air Force General Counsel Gordon O. Tanner, who’s gay, and Congressional Cemetery President Paul Williams unveiled the newly installed Kameny headstone.
The headstone along with a footstone bearing the slogan, “Gay is Good,” which Kameny coined in 1968, were placed at a cemetery plot just behind the gravesite of gay Air Force Sgt. Leonard Matlovich. With Kameny’s advice and coaching, Matlovich disclosed he was gay in 1975, becoming the first active duty U.S. service member to challenge the military’s ban on gays.
The dedication of the Kameny memorial site came just over four years after he died on National Coming Out Day on Oct. 11, 2011. He died of natural causes at his Washington home at the age of 86.
#8 D.C. judge criticized for ‘lenient’ sentence in hate crime
A D.C. Superior Court judge surprised court observers in August by rescinding an earlier decision to lower the sentence she gave to one of two defendants convicted of committing an anti-gay assault.
Judge Yvonne Williams, responding to objections by prosecutors, issued an order vacating her earlier order of July 15 that lowered the sentence for lesbian Christina Lucas, 22, from one year to six months in prison.
Lucas and her twin brother, Christopher Lucas, were convicted by a jury following a two-week trial on a charge of aggravated assault while armed with a hate crime designation. The case is the same one in which a grand jury took the unusual step of designating the assault as a hate crime, even though prosecutors didn’t ask it to do so.
Judge Williams came under fire from LGBT activists after stating in a post-trial hearing that she didn’t believe the two defendants should receive anywhere near the 15-year prison term recommended by prosecutors because the victim’s injuries were not serious enough. Prosecutors argued that the beating initiated by Christina Lucas and carried out by her brother and other men with them could have resulted in the victim’s death.
Williams drew further criticism by LGBT activists when she said she didn’t believe Christina Lucas could be accused of committing an anti-gay hate crime because she’s gay.
#7 ‘Runaway’ jury rebukes U.S. Attorney
A former member of a D.C. Superior Court grand jury disclosed in July that grand jurors took the unusual step of handing down a hate crime indictment in an anti-gay assault case after prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office did not recommend that the case be listed as a hate crime.
The former grand juror, who spoke on condition of not being identified, said witnesses, including a D.C. police detective and the gay male victim, told the grand jury in August 2014 that then 20-year-old Christina Lucas and her twin brother, Christopher Lucas, knocked the gay male victim to the ground and punched and kicked him while shouting anti-gay names.
A police report says witnesses told police that Christina Lucas slashed the victim’s face with a sharp object while he was lying on the ground shortly after calling him a “faggot motherfucker.”
A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office said the office was barred by law from commenting on any aspect of grand jury deliberations, which by law must remain confidential. In May 2015, a Superior Court jury found the Lucas siblings guilty of aggravated assault while armed with a hate crime designation following a two-week trial. A judge sentenced the twins to one year in jail and five years of supervised probation upon their release, a sentence that law enforcement sources criticized as too lenient.
#6 Gay candidates win Va. House, College Park mayor races
Gay rights attorney and former congressional staffer Mark Levine won election in November to a seat in the Virginia House of Delegates, becoming the third out gay member of the Virginia Legislature.
On the same day, gay attorney and College Park, Md., City Council member Patrick Wojahn won election as College Park mayor, becoming the first gay person to serve as that city’s mayor. Wojahn beat fellow Council member Denise Mitchell in a two-person race for the mayoral post.
Levine, a Democrat, ran unopposed in the November general election in an overwhelmingly Democratic district that includes parts of the city of Alexandria and Fairfax County. He won an upset victory in the June Democratic primary in a five-candidate race, finishing ahead of Alexandria government official Craig Fifer, who was considered by political observers to be the frontrunner, by a margin of 27.8 percent to 24.3 percent.
#5 D.C. trans residents face ‘devastating’ poverty
Two studies of D.C.’s transgender community released in November found that similar to other parts of the country, trans people living in the District continue to experience “devastatingly high rates” of poverty, unemployment, employment discrimination and health disparities.
The findings of one of the studies, compiled from the largest-ever city-based survey of transgender people, were released in a 116-page report called “Access Denied: 2015 Washington, D.C. Trans Needs Assessment Report.”
Among other things, the survey found that 46 percent of the trans people living in D.C. participating in the survey earned less than $10,000 a year, with 57 percent of trans people of color making below $10,000.
The second study was conducted by the D.C. Office of Human Rights. It found that 48 percent of employers “tested” by the office appeared to prefer at least one less-qualified job applicant over a better qualified applicant perceived as being transgender.
OHR said the testing consisted of sending 200 made up cover letters and resumes prepared by OHR to 38 employers that advertised 50 individual job openings. One set of cover letters and resumes were written to give the impression the applicant was a transgender person, with the other set portraying the applicant as cisgender.
Details of the study along with its finding are compiled in a 28-page report called “Qualified and Transgender: A Report on Results of Resume Testing for Employment Discrimination Based on Gender Identity.”
#4 ‘Gay pickup’ murder of lawyer at Donovan Hotel
A D.C. woman who pled guilty in May to second-degree murder while armed for fatally stabbing 30-year-old attorney David Messerschmitt at the city’s Donovan Hotel on Feb. 9 was sentenced in August to 24 years in prison.
Jamyra Gallmon, 21, confessed to police that she targeted Messerschmitt for a robbery by pretending to be a man while answering an ad he placed on Craigslist seeking to meet another man for sex.
Police and prosecutors said she stabbed Messerschmitt at least seven times in the chest, groin area, arm and back when he attempted to fight back after she entered his hotel room and started to rob him of his possessions.
Hotel employees found Messerschmitt’s body in his room several hours after his wife reported him missing. LGBT activists said the case was a sad reminder that closeted gay men married to women sometimes fall victim to a phenomenon that has long plagued out gay men known as gay pickup murders.
#3 Trans woman named head of D.C. Police GLLU
D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier in March named Sgt. Jessica Hawkins, an out transgender woman, as supervisor of the department’s Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit. Hawkins became the first transgender person to hold that position.
In an interview with the Blade, Hawkins said she planned to build on what she said was a strong foundation for the unit begun by her predecessors, including Sgt. Brett Parson.
Hawkins assumed her position at a time when some LGBT activists expressed concern that Lanier had reduced the GLLU’s effectiveness by assigning its officers to non-GLLU related duties for as much as half of each work shift. Police officials said the chief had made similar reassignments for members of most other specialized police units due to a shortage of officers brought about by a recent retirement “bubble” in which more officers are retiring than can be replaced by new recruits.
“My officers are dedicated,” Hawkins said. “We will make sure that when any GLLU call comes out they are going to respond to it.”
#2 Pope’s D.C. gay friend speaks out after Pontiff’s visit
D.C. resident Yayo Grassi, a native of Argentina, made international headlines in September when news surfaced that he and his boyfriend of 19 years met with Pope Francis at the Vatican Embassy in Washington during the Pope’s visit to the United States.
Grassi, 67, the owner of a D.C.-based catering business, said he has known and admired Francis since the future Pontiff was his high school teacher at a Catholic school in Argentina.
His and his boyfriend’s visit with the Pope drew media attention because it took place shortly after Kim Davis, the county clerk in Kentucky who refused to issue marriage licenses for same-sex couples on religious grounds, announced that she had met with Francis at the Vatican Embassy.
Following a flurry of criticism that the Pope appeared to be condoning anti-gay discrimination by associating with Davis, the Vatican issued a statement saying Davis was part a group of visitors at the embassy and had not been personally invited by the Pope. According to the statement, Grassi and his family members were the only ones directly invited by Francis for a personal audience during the Pontiff’s Washington visit.
Grassi said he believes the Pope is making a genuine effort to change the church for the better for LGBT people.
#1 Bowser takes office, names 5 gays to Cabinet
In her first four months in office D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser appointed five out gays or lesbians to cabinet-level positions, including a first-ever appointment of a lesbian as deputy mayor.
In April, Bowser named lesbian activist and public affairs lobbyist Courtney Snowden as Deputy Mayor for Greater Economic Opportunity, a newly created position in the Executive Office of the Mayor. The position involves coordinating the city’s efforts to “create pathways to the middle class for residents in every corner of the city,” Bowser said.
The other appointees included veteran lesbian activist and media professional Sheila Alexander Reid as director of the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs; gay urban planning specialist David Do as director of the Mayor’s Office of Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs; lesbian housing and homelessness policy expert Polly Donaldson as director of the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development, and gay former city official Matt Brown as director of the Mayor’s Office of the Budget.