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Jim Graham, a life well lived

A complicated man who made a difference

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Jim Graham, gay news, Washington Blade, Democratic Party, primary
Jim Graham, promoter, gay news, Washington Blade

Jim Graham (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Jim Graham was born James McMillan Nielson Graham in Wishaw, Scotland, on Aug. 26, 1945. Surely his parents could never have envisioned the road their son’s life would take when they brought him from war ravaged Britain to America to settle in Michigan. Jim lived his life to the hilt in many ways. He was a brilliant man with a huge ego who at times made questionable decisions. He could be arrogant yet his life’s work did much good for many.

The Washington Post reported as a young man Jim was an anti-war activist who said, “It was obvious to anyone who was listening that the United States was planning to forcibly bring the Vietnamese people to their knees at whatever cost. He wore his hair in a ponytail and contemplated returning to Scotland and was relieved when he got a low draft number.” I can understand that sentiment having grown up at the same time living through the turbulent Vietnam War years also protesting the war and having a pony tail.

Jim earned his law degree from the University of Michigan and clerked for Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren. According to the Post, Warren “hired him to help him write his memoirs but the chief justice died before the project began.”

I first met Jim when I volunteered with Whitman-Walker Clinic in 1986. That was the first of many interactions with him over the years. When first meeting Jim it was clear the major turning point in his life was in 1981 when he became president of the board at WWC. The same year according to a history of the clinic posted on its website, “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s weekly Morbidity and Mortality Report contains an account of five young gay men who had an unusual cluster of infections. This was the first medical report on what would come to be known as AIDS.”

From that time until he resigned from the clinic to begin his time on the Council of the District of Columbia Jim Graham’s name was inextricably associated with HIV/AIDS. Whitman-Walker began its life as a VD clinic for gay men, part of what then was known as the Washington Free Clinic. By the time AIDS began ravaging the gay community in the District of Columbia Jim had begun to build the clinic into an institution recognized for its work across the nation and around the world. In 1985, the clinic opened the first of what were to become numerous homes for people living with AIDS who were unable to find any other housing. Like so many projects Jim undertook eventually there were questions about how the homes were bought and sold. But when it came to the clinic Jim had a handpicked board and made many decisions on his own as he built the clinic to serve the community in the way he thought best. During his years at WWC Jim was an ever present presence in the community. He dedicated his life at the time to helping those who were suffering. He often told me about how many funerals he had attended saying after each one he would first feel a sense of despair but that would quickly turn into renewed energy to continue to make a difference for those still living. Those were the years when even young men would first turn to the obituary columns each morning to see if any of our friends had died. Jim spent countless hours raising money to build the clinic and keep up with the case load that kept growing. He wanted to see a cure for AIDS but his lasting contribution and fundraising efforts were dedicated to trying to make life better for those living with AIDS.

One of his proudest moments came in 1993 when he introduced Elizabeth Taylor at the dedication of the Elizabeth Taylor Medical Center at WWC. The center that Jim fought to build was able to offer more services to the clients of WWC including an eye care center, x-ray facilities, an expanded laboratory, a new dental facility and 12 examination rooms.

By 1998, Jim’s ego was demanding a bigger platform and he applied for the position of executive director of amfAR, the AIDS foundation founded by Elizabeth Taylor and Mathilde Krim, Ph.D. He traveled to California for final interviews with Elizabeth Taylor but in the end didn’t get the job. So he made what some at the time considered an ill-advised decision, to run against Ward 1 Council member Frank Smith. Jim won that race and was to spend the next 16 years on the Council until he was defeated in 2014 by Brianne Nadeau.

His years on the Council were spent fighting for the poor and underserved. While supporting gentrification of Columbia Heights and bringing new retail and new housing he never gave up his fight for more affordable housing and to keep the safety net of government programs for those in need. He was everywhere in his Ward driving his beige VW convertible.

Jim’s outsized personality sometimes got in his way and his arrogance could at times cloud some of the good things he did. There were many sides to Jim Graham as there often are to brilliant and driven people. When he left the Council he shocked many when in an interview with the Blade he said, “I’ve told people I’m in the adult entertainment industry.” Graham had organized and was promoting a male strip show for a club on Georgia Avenue, which he called ‘Rock Hard Sunday.’ He was to do that until his recent passing.

If you look at the totality of Jim’s life it is clear he was dedicated to helping others and did that in many different ways. He put his heart and soul into everything he did. He will be missed and he will be remembered fondly by the many he helped; and with gratitude by the families and friends of those he helped who are no longer with us. Jim, rest in peace, knowing you lived a good life.

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

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Casa Ruby’s services must survive

But the organization’s name doesn’t matter

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A group of asylum seekers gather at Casa Ruby on March 5, 2019. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

A judge approved putting Casa Ruby into the hands of a receiver and approved the D.C. Attorney General’s recommendation of the Wanda Alston Foundation, of which June Crenshaw is the executive director. She is an amazing person. Founded in 2008, according to its website “the Wanda Alston Foundation provides housing and support services for D.C. homeless and at-risk LGBTQ youth ages 18 to 24 and advocates for expanded city services for LGBTQ youth.” 

Contrary to what Ruby Corado said at the hearing she apparently Zoomed into from El Salvador, it is only important to have someone who knows the work of Casa Ruby and if it is someone who worked for a successful organization in the area all the more reason for them to be named. 

It’s not important that the name Casa Ruby survives. What is important is the services it once provided to the transgender community survive, and even expand. That can be done under any name. 

Taking over as receiver will not be an easy task. Crenshaw will have to unravel the mess that is there now. The receiver will have to face the fact money may have been stolen and deal with employees who weren’t paid. They will have to deal with the fact, which now seems clear, that Casa Ruby was out of compliance with the District Non-Profit Corporations Act. 

D.C. was an amazing place for me to come out and I did so after moving here in 1978.  As a political person I got involved with what was then the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, which had just played a major role in electing Marion Barry as mayor. Over the years I got more and more involved in the LGBTQ community. I, along with Rick Rosendall, founded and incorporated the Foundation for all DC Families, the organization we set up to fight for marriage equality in D.C. We worked hard, raised funds and had Celinda Lake do the first major poll on the issue in D.C. We found the white community in D.C. was heavily in favor of marriage equality and the Black community was partially supportive based on age and religion. We recognized many of us who began the organization had white privilege, which made life easier for us. We never earned that privilege it was something society just awarded us. We worked hard to recruit a diverse board for the organization and involved the faith community in the fight as well. Then along with Sheila Alexander-Reid and Cornelius Baker we incorporated the Campaign for All DC Families as the 501(c)(4) to do the political work to secure marriage equality. We continued to raise some money for the organization and worked with HRC, which lent us staff and meeting space. We recruited new people. We won the fight working with Council member David Catania and the rest of the Council. Mayor Adrian Fenty signed the D.C. marriage equality bill and I still have one of the pens presented to me at the signing. 

White privilege made it easier for me to be out. Because of this over the years I supported groups like the Wanda Alston Foundation, and Casa Ruby, because there are so many members of the LGBTQ community who still struggle in the District, no matter how LGBTQ-friendly our laws are. We must all work to ensure no one falls behind due to homophobia, transphobia, racism, or sexism. Again, I will continue to support the services for the transgender community, which Casa Ruby provided, but don’t care what the organization providing them is called. 

The problem I have with Ruby Corado was compounded when I read in the Blade what she said at the virtual hearing disputing “the allegations, saying among other things, that claims that she was not in communication with the Casa Ruby board was a misconception.”

If Corado cares about the people Casa Ruby served, why is she in El Salvador? Who has she been in touch with — which board members, and will they confirm this? If she cared about the organization and people it served, and has done nothing wrong, why is she not here in the District fighting for the employees, calling a board meeting (if there is a board)? Non-profit boards hire executive directors and oversee their work. I don’t think Casa Ruby ever had a real ‘working’ board overseeing Corado’s work. We need to question and get affidavits from former ‘board’ members as to what they did and what they know about what Corado did.

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

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Opinions

Supporting LGBTQ rights is good for business and the right thing to do

Equity and inclusion must be a corporate imperative

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Brad Baumoel is the Global Head of LGBT+ Affairs at JPMorgan Chase.

In communities across the United States, LGBTQ+ people and their families are facing a growing number of significant barriers to equal rights and protections. In 2022 alone, at least 30 states have introduced anti-LGBTQ+ bills, with a majority targeting transgender and non-binary youth, on top of continued anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and bias in various states across the country. Despite progress toward equity and inclusion, the LGBTQ+ community is increasingly struggling for equality and basic human rights.

I’m truly concerned for members of my community, given the impact these actions are having on our mental health and wellbeing. Several of my LGBTQ+ colleagues and colleagues with LGBTQ+ family members have expressed fear for themselves and their children. Some are scared their transgender child will be taken from them and placed in foster care. Others feel they might be personally prosecuted for seeking gender affirming care for their child. Many are worried they’ll need to move to a different state just so they can continue accessing essential forms of health care.

I feel lucky to work for a company that opposes discriminatory actions that could harm our employees, customers, and the communities where we do business, and has equally advanced policies, practices, and benefits to support our LGBTQ+ workforce. It comforts me to know my employer supports a society that serves all Americans, including the LGBTQ+ community. But not everyone has the same assurance when they go to work.  

Now more than ever, LGBTQ+ equity and inclusion must be a business imperative. Business leaders must use their voice to condemn the hate, bias, transphobia and homophobia that sadly exist in our communities. We also need businesses to take meaningful and measurable action in promoting and advancing inclusion for the LGBTQ+ community year-round, not just during Pride month. While it starts with inclusive benefits, policies and networks of support, this commitment requires businesses to lead with the values of acceptance and belonging in every decision they make. It’s only then that your LGBTQ+ employees, customers and communities will truly feel included and equal. 

Since the first LGBTQ+ Business Resource Group at JPMorgan Chase was created in the 1990s, many, like me, have worked hard to make our company a place where LGBTQ+ employees feel they can be their authentic selves when they come to work. Last year, we strengthened this commitment by creating the Office of LGBT+ Affairs, a full-time, dedicated team focused on advancing equity and inclusion for LGBTQ+ employees, customers, clients, and communities. It’s my sincere hope that we don’t see our efforts slowed down by attempts to threaten the rights of people for who they are, whom they love or how they identify.

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Queer kids are not brainwashed

Trans children are real transgender people, not trend chasers

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In some conversations with progressive friends, my peers, despite their proclaimed liberal attitudes, voice concern over the fact that children can experiment with gender and sexuality. They say things like “kids are too young to question their gender…that seems dangerous” or “a lot of children are just following gender trends and are not actually trans.” Other friends state that they don’t believe that transgender children should have access to hormone blockers. 

All of these statements are bogus and harmful. Many people who question gender fluidity in children don’t realize that they themselves have been brainwashed into thinking, from a young age, that being cisgender and straight is the norm. It should not be the norm. In fact, queerness is ever more common now among Gen Z’ers, and this is because the youth of today are feeling more and more comfortable opening up about their different sexuality and gender from an early age. 

Being able to safely come out as trans or gay in high school is an extremely healthy process and greatly improves the mental health of kids who would otherwise struggle. In red states, and conservative high school districts, this kind of coming out is still difficult, and might even be banned in the future, if Republicans continue with their cruel agenda. But there is hope in progressive cities like Portland and New York, where students feel free to question cishet and straight standards. 

Much research points to the fact that trans children are who they say they are: real transgender people, and not trend chasers. Kristina Olson, a psychologist at the University of Washington, started running a long-term study on trans youth in 2013. Olson eventually amassed a group of more than 85 trans kids. Olson kept in touch with both the children and their parents over the years. Her team ultimately found that an overwhelming, vast majority of the children stayed consistent with the gender nonconforming identity they chose in childhood. In other words, these trans children were correct about their gender identity from a young age. The notion that children pick up trans identities as a “fad,” or are wrong about them, is outdated. 

We already know that Republicans are dangerous to trans children, and have already prevented them from receiving health care or playing sports in many red states. But what we need to stop is dialogue from progressive voices that discourages gender fluidity in youth. These statements from otherwise liberal leaning people are contradictory to the very values that Democrats stand for. 

Isaac Amend (he/him/his) is a trans man and young professional in the D.C. area. He was featured on National Geographic’s ‘Gender Revolution’ in 2017 as a student at Yale University. Amend is also on the board of the LGBT Democrats of Virginia. Find him on Instagram @isaacamend.

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