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Revisiting 10 unsolved LGBT murders in D.C.

Cold cases of 6 trans women, 4 gay men frustrate officials as police say investigations prevent release of more details

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Peter Newsham, gay news, Washington Blade, unsolved murders

‘One of the things … beneficial to us in cold cases in particular is to highlight those cases again with the information we do have out to the public,’ said D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Transgender rights advocate Earline Budd for the past year has been urging D.C. police to consider disclosing “just a little more” information about six unsolved murders of transgender women that took place in D.C. since the year 2000.

In response to an inquiry from the Washington Blade, police have confirmed that the murders of four gay men since 2000 also remain unsolved, three in D.C. and one in Prince George’s County, Md.

D.C. police, meanwhile, point out that they have made arrests and closed six other murders of transgender women in the District since 2000.

Budd said she and others in the transgender community remain hopeful that witnesses or others who may have known the female transgender victims in the unsolved cases – all of whom were African American – might come forward with information to help police make an arrest.

The release of additional details about the victims or the circumstances surrounding the cases might jog the memory of someone who could provide investigators with an “important tip,” Budd said.

But the commander of the D.C. police Homicide Branch, Capt. Anthony Haythe, said that while he and the team of detectives working on the unsolved trans and gay murder cases welcome information from citizens, releasing further details about the cases could compromise their ongoing investigations.

“We typically do not release any information that’s intimate to the case or any very specific information,” he told the Washington Blade in an interview earlier this month.

“Those are the things we would not want to put out because there are perpetrators still out there and you’re actually giving them information and different things they can use as their defense if they are eventually caught and arrested,” he said.

He noted that police offer a reward of up to $25,000 to anyone providing information leading to the arrest and conviction for a murder case.

D.C. police are offering a reward of up to $50,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for the double murder of transgender women Ukea Davis, 18, and Stephanie Thomas, 19, on Aug. 12, 2002.

In a development that shocked LGBT activists and city officials, an unidentified gunman fired multiple rounds from a semiautomatic weapon, execution style, into the upper body and head of the two women while they sat inside a car on the 4900 block of C Street, S.E. about 3:20 a.m.

Although at least one witness saw the shooting, police said they have no known motive or suspect in the case.

Haythe, meanwhile, reiterated a longstanding D.C. police policy of not disclosing the sexual orientation of homicide victims unless investigators obtain evidence showing that the murder was linked to the victim’s status as a gay or lesbian person.

Police spokesperson Rachel Schaerr Reid said the policy also calls for not disclosing the gender identity of a crime victim unless there is evidence to show there is a nexus between the crime and the person’s gender identity, such as in the case of a hate crime.

In the four unsolved murders of gay men in the D.C. area since 2000 – three in D.C. and one in Prince George’s County — police in the two jurisdictions did not disclose that the victims were gay.

The Blade learned about the gay male victims’ sexual orientation from friends and family members, some of whom spoke to the media.

According to police spokesperson Reid, investigators have classified only one of the unsolved trans or gay murder cases in D.C. since 2000 as a hate crime. That was the Aug. 26, 2009 murder of transgender woman Tyli’a ‘Nana Boo’ Mack, 21, who was stabbed to death on the street in the 200 block of Q Street, N.W. in broad daylight at 2:38 p.m.

A trans woman friend who was with Mack during the attack and who suffered non-fatal stab wounds from the same male assailant told friends the attacker called the two women anti-gay and possibly anti-trans names shortly before the attack.

Prince George’s County police have said the case occurring in that jurisdiction also has not been classified as a hate crime. P.G. police have said they have yet to determine a motive. That case involved the May 30, 2017 stabbing death of Matthew Mickens-Murrey, 26, who was found dead inside his apartment in a neighborhood just outside Hyattsville, Md.

Friends said Mickens-Murrey was last seen at the D.C. gay bar Nellie’s during the Memorial Day weekend after attending events related to D.C. Black Pride that same weekend.

All but one of the gay male victims was African American. One of the gay victims, Gaurav Gopalan, 35, who was found dead Sept. 10, 2011 on a sidewalk in the 2600 block of 11th Street, N.W. about 5:20 a.m., was a native of India. Police said the cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head.

Devin Barrington-Ward, president of Impulse Group D.C., a local organization that provides entertainment and AIDS education services for black gay men, said Mickens-Murrey was a regular participant of the group’s events and friends with several of its members.

Barrington-Ward said he is especially troubled that virtually all of the unsolved murder cases involved victims who were people of color.

“Many of us feel very strongly that if these victims were white, that their cases would be solved and their killers brought to justice,” he said.

“D.C. area police could do a much better job of publicizing these murder cases and the rewards for information that could lead to arrest and conviction of those responsible,” Barrington-Ward said. Police, among other things, “could be using social media and dating apps like Jack’d and Grindr to get the word out about these unsolved cases,” he continued.

“There needs to be respectful and lawful engagement by the police with LGBTQ people of color to secure justice in these cases,” he said.

He said he was also troubled that local and national LGBT organizations for the most part haven’t spoken out aggressively enough, if at all, about the unsolved gay and trans murders and whether police were doing enough to solve the cases.

David Mariner, executive director of the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community, said the Center has posted police fliers in the center’s office that have announced nearly all of the unsolved gay and trans murders and that include photos of the victims. But the Center’s D.C. Anti-Violence Project, which works to curtail anti-LGBT violence in the city, has not released a public statement to draw attention to the unsolved murders, a development that Barrington-Ward says is indicative of the apparent failure of most LGBT organizations to respond to the murders.

Arrests made in 6 trans murders

D.C. police spokesperson Schaerr Reid told the Blade that the Homicide Branch secured arrests in six transgender murders that occurred in D.C. since the year 2000. Five of the victims in those cases were African-American trans women and one was a Latina transgender woman.

The only known gay-related murder in D.C. since 2000 that police have closed involved the widely publicized stabbing death of D.C. attorney David Messerschmitt, 30, in his room at the upscale Donovan Hotel on Feb. 9, 2015.

Messerschmitt, who was white, was married to a woman who reported him missing when he didn’t return home after spending the day at his law office. Court records show that police found through their investigation that he posted an ad on a gay male hookup site seeking a male sex partner and rented the hotel room to engage in what he thought would be a gay tryst after he got off work and before returning home to his wife.

The investigation found that a 21-year-old D.C. woman named Jamyra Gallmon answered the ad by pretending she was a man and made arrangements to meet Messerschmitt for sex at his hotel room. A police arrest affidavit filed in court says Gallmon and her girlfriend, Dominique Johnson, 19, conspired to arrange for Gallmon to rob Messerschmitt.

Following her arrest, Gallmon pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and confessed to having stabbed Messerschmitt when he “fought back” at the time she attempted to rob him. Police said Gallmon stabbed Messerschmitt seven times – in the abdomen, groin and heart. She was sentenced to 24 years in prison. Johnson, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit robbery, was sentenced to six months in jail.

Police have not officially listed the Messerschmitt murder as a gay case, raising concern among some activists that police may be downplaying the longstanding phenomenon of gay “pickup” murders.

Law enforcement experts in D.C. and other cities have said such murders are not hate crimes but crimes of opportunity in which a perpetrator targets a gay man for robbery by pretending to be interested in sex as a means of getting invited to the victim’s home or other meeting place. Such schemes sometimes result in a murder like the Messerschmitt case, law enforcement experts familiar with those cases have said.

D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham, when asked about the unsolved trans and gay cases at a news conference last month, said the department routinely seeks to continue to release information about unsolved cases that had been released at the time the murders occurred.

“One of the things that are very beneficial to us in cold cases in particular is to highlight those cases again with the information we do have out to the public,” he said. “Because that can spur a memory or somebody may be in a different position in their life when they see that information and come forward now where they may not have otherwise done that,” Newsham said.

Homicide Branch commander Haythe said the unsolved gay and trans cases that are four years old or older are classified as “cold” cases. He said most of them are being investigated by Detective Danny Whalen, who is known as an experienced investigator who is highly knowledgeable on LGBT-related cases.

‘Tragic, heartbreaking, chilling’

In nearly all of the unsolved and solved murder cases of transgender women in D.C. since 2000, police have identified them by their male birth names, with their female names placed in quotation marks or parentheses. This practice has troubled transgender activists, who say using a birth name is disrespectful to the victims because it mischaracterizes the gender to which they identified and lived.

Police in the past have said using the birth name and changed name when known could be helpful to their investigation into crimes against transgender people because potential witnesses may only have known the victim by their birth name.

Harper Jean, director of policy for the National Center for Transgender Equality, said her organization is glad that D.C. police are continuing to take steps to solve the transgender murders. But she called the police handling of the trans victims’ named in the police reward fliers “an unfortunate step” that undermines efforts to build trust in the transgender community.

“The problem is the way in which they use somebody’s old name and their adopted name using AKAs, parentheses or quotation marks for their adopted name,” Jean said. “Even if somebody was never able to legally change their name, treating their old male name as real in this way and their adopted female name as an alias or nickname, as these fliers suggest, invalidates their very identity.”

Jean didn’t rule out the police use of a trans person’s old name for investigative purposes. But she said it would be more respectful to the victims and the trans community if police stated in their fliers or other literature that the victim was formerly known as or formerly went by another name and this is that other name rather than characterizing the new name as an alias.

Guillaume Bagal, president of the D.C. Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, said GLAA has closely monitored and spoken out on LGBT-related murders in the city for many years. He said the unsolved cases since 2000 raise questions about police handling of the cases.

“These murders are tragic, heartbreaking, chilling, and frustrating in part due to the difficulty getting witnesses,” Bagal said. “But the policy of not disclosing the sexual orientation or gender identity of victims makes the task that much harder,” he said.

Bagal praised D.C. Police Chief Newsham and the department’s LGBT Liaison Unit for being “helpful and accessible” to concerns of the LGBT community. But he called on the department to respond to the unsolved gay and trans murder cases as well as the increase in anti-LGBT hate crimes reported in the city by, among other things, acknowledging “the sexual and gender minority status of the victims.”

This may not be a comprehensive list since police do not disclose sexual orientation and gender identity in all murder cases.

Tyra Henderson

Tyra Henderson, 22                          

Beaten to death April 23, 2000

Rear of 3600 block of 11th Street, N.W.

Reward up to $25,000 offered by police

According to D.C. police, at approximately 6:26 a.m. on Sunday, April 23, 2000, 22-year-old Tyra Henderson, a transgender woman, was found beaten to death in an alley behind the 3600 block of 11th Street, N.W.

Police have released little additional information. A Washington Post story on April 29, 2000 reported that Henderson lived at the time on the 1700 block of T Street, S.E.

The Post reported that someone filed a complaint against the police and sought help from the ACLU of the National Capital Area over an allegation that police took too long to respond to a 911 call at 2:20 a.m. that someone was moaning in the alley where Henderson was found unconscious. A police spokesperson told the Post police were investigating the complaint.

In a December 2006 report on murders of transgender people in the decade from 1996 to 2006, the Gender Public Advocacy Coalition, known as Gender PAC, said Henderson had been involved in sex work.

Transgender activists have said widespread anti-trans discrimination and bias often forces trans women to engage in sex work as a means of survival.

Anyone with information about the case is asked to contact D.C. homicide detective Daniel Whalen at 202-277-9225 or the police Command Information Center at 202-727-9099. Anonymous tips can be sent by text message to 50411.

Similar to all of the unsolved murder cases profiled in this report, police are offering a reward of up to $25,000 for information leading to an arrest and conviction of the perpetrator or perpetrators responsible for the murder of each victim.

More information here.

From left, Ukea Davis and Stephanie Thomas

Ukea Davis, 18, and

Stephanie Thomas, 19     

Both shot to death Aug. 12, 2002

4900 block of C Street, S.E.

Reward up to $50,000 offered by police

In a development that shocked LGBT activists and city officials, transgender women Ukea Davis, 18, and her good friend Stephanie Thomas, 19, died in a hail of bullets fired by an as-yet-unidentified attacker while they sat inside Thomas’s car along the 4900 block of C Street, S.E.

Police said the incident occurred about 3:20 a.m. on Aug. 12, 2002. People familiar with the incident, including Thomas’s mother, Queen Washington, who was supportive of Thomas, said the shooting took place a short distance from Thomas’s apartment and where Davis lived as her roommate.

Sources familiar with the incident said the two teens were shot at last 10 times each by someone who pulled up next to them in a car and who appeared to have used a semiautomatic weapon.

The sources said Thomas and Davis told friends around 11:30 p.m. on the night of the murders that they were going to a nearby convenience store, possibly to a gas station, to buy cigarettes. Police have not said publicly if they learned whether the two teens had an encounter or altercation with someone at the convenience store or someplace else. But at least one witness reportedly saw a car pull up to Thomas’s car at the corner of 50th and C Streets, S.E. and fire a gun multiple times at Thomas and Davis as they sat in Thomas’s car.

According to an account of the incident by the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Winter of 2003 edition of its publication Intelligence Report, which focused on anti-transgender violence nationwide, an eyewitness told police a second car approached Thomas’s car after the initial shooting. The witness reported that a man got out of the second car and walked to Thomas’s car and saw that Davis appeared dead.

“When the man nudged Thomas’s shoulder to see if she was still alive, she moaned in confirmation,” the witness reportedly said. “But her helper fled as the first car returned,” the SPLC’s Intelligence Report says. “The gunman got out and fired more shots, making sure Thomas was dead.”

Washington, Thomas’s mother, told news media outlets that Thomas’s transition into a young woman several years earlier in a neighborhood a short distance from where the shooting occurred drew the attention of nearby residents who knew her and her family. Washington said while many accepted Thomas’s transition, others, including kids at the school Thomas attended, taunted and sometimes assaulted Thomas, prompting Thomas to quit high school before graduating.

LGBT activists organized a vigil at the site of the murders to honor the two slain trans teens and to draw attention to what they called an alarming number of instances of anti-transgender violence in D.C. around that time. Among those who attended and spoke at the vigil were then-D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams and D.C. Congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton.

Many of the LGBT activists participating in the vigil said they considered the double murder a hate crime. But D.C. police, more than 15 years after the incident, say they don’t have sufficient evidence to classify the case as a hate crime and have yet to determine a motive for the killings.

Homicide Detective Daniel Whalen, a “cold case” and LGBT case expert, continues to work on the case, according to Acting Capt. Anthony Haythe, who serves as commander of the police Homicide Branch. Anyone with information about the case should contact Whalen at 202-277-9225.

More information here.

Elexuis Woodland

Elexuis Woodland, 23                          

Shot to death Dec. 2, 2005

2000 block of Savannah Terrace, S.E.

Reward up to $25,000 offered by police

D.C. police say transgender woman Elexuis Woodland, 23, a hairstylist, was fatally shot during a botched robbery that took place about 1:20 a.m. on Dec. 2, 2005 as Woodland and a male friend were walking home after purchasing food from a carryout store.

According to a police account, a gunman got out of a light blue American made car, possibly a Buick or Oldsmobile, that pulled up next to them and demanded money. Police said Woodland and the friend didn’t have any cash and the “robbery plan went haywire,” the Washington Post reported. The gunman shot and killed Woodland and shot and wounded the friend, who survived the attack.

A police flier seeking information about the incident includes an artist’s drawing of a suspect based on the description of the friend. The suspect is described as a black male in his 20s said to be 5 feet 11 inches to 6 feet tall, weighing 160-170 pounds, with a slight mustache and hair in plats or dreads.

The police flier also includes a photo of a car said to be the identical make and model from which the unknown suspect emerged.

In a profile of Woodland, the Post reports that she began transitioning as a woman at the age of 19 and was accepted by her family, which is related to Calvin Woodland Sr., Elexuis Woodland’s grandfather. Calvin Woodland was a former boxer who for many years dedicated his life to helping young people in D.C.’s sometimes troubled neighborhoods. He died of natural causes in 2000.

The Post profile says Elexuis, whose original surname was Tolliver, changed her last name to Woodland in honor of her grandfather.

Anyone with information about the case is asked to contact homicide Detective Daniel Whalen, the cold case specialist, at 202-277-9225.

More information here.

Tyli’a ‘Nana Boo’ Mack (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Tyli’a ‘Nana Boo’ Mack, 21          

Stabbed to death Aug. 26, 2009

200 block of Q Street, N.W.

Reward up to $25,000 offered by police

LGBT activists have said they are especially concerned that the Aug. 26, 2009 murder of transgender woman Tyli’a ‘Nana Boo’ Mack, 21, remains unsolved because it occurred in broad daylight in a busy section of the city’s Shaw neighborhood where many people were on nearby streets and sidewalks.

D.C. police have classified Mack’s murder as a hate crime, according to police spokesperson Rachel Schaerr Reid. It’s the only one of the six unsolved trans murder cases and the four unsolved gay male murders featured in this story to be listed as a hate crime.

Police have said an unidentified male assailant fatally stabbed Mack on the 200 block of Q Street, N.W., about 2:38 p.m. as she was walking with a transgender female friend. People who knew the two women said they were walking to the nearby offices of the transgender advocacy and services group Transgender Health Empowerment (THE). The attacker also stabbed the friend, but her wounds, while serious, were not life threatening and she has fully recovered.

Longtime D.C. transgender rights advocate Earline Budd, who at the time worked for THE, said the friend later told her that the incident began when the friend and Mack were laughing about something as they walked past what appeared to be a child daycare center operating out of a townhouse.

According to Budd, the friend reported that a man standing in the doorway of the townhouse apparently thought that Mack and her friend were laughing at him, and he took offence. He shouted at the two trans women and called them derogatory names, possibly anti-gay names. Mack may have yelled back at him before the friend persuaded Mack to quickly walk away and continue on to the THE office.

But a short time later, Budd recalls the friend telling her, the man appeared behind Mack and appeared to have begun hitting Mack. When the friend shouted at the man to leave Mack alone he rushed over to the friend and started “hitting her,” Budd recalls the friend as saying. Seconds later the friend realized the man had stabbed her and Mack. Mack then ran along the street calling for help before she collapsed and soon lost consciousness, Budd recounted the friend as telling her.

Among those responding to the scene after police were called was then acting Lt. Brett Parson, who at the time served as director of the police Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit.

Mack was taken to Howard University Hospital, where she was pronounced dead a short time later, police said.

Budd said the friend told her she never got a good look at the attacker because she wanted to avoid a confrontation when the unidentified man acted in a hostile way toward her and Mack. Although police have declined to comment on why they haven’t released a drawing of the attacker in the Mack murder case, Budd said the friend’s claim that she couldn’t provide a detailed description of him might be one reason why police haven’t released an artist’s drawing of a suspect as they have in other unsolved trans murder cases.

Mack’s mother, Beverlyn Mack, was among those who spoke at a news conference and later at a vigil organized by LGBT activists to draw attention to Mack’s unsolved case.

“My child was born like everyone else – through a mother’s womb,” she said. “And I don’t think it’s fair for other people to take other people’s lives.”

Similar to other unsolved trans murder cases, police are asking anyone with information that may help them identify and apprehend a suspect in the Mack case to contact homicide Det. Daniel Whalen at 202-277-9225.

More information here.

Lashay McLean

Lashay Mclean, 23                  

Shot to death July 20, 2011

6100 block of Dix Street, N.E.

Reward up to $25,000 offered by police

D.C. police say transgender woman Lashay Mclean, 23, was found suffering from a gunshot wound in the 6100 block of Dix Street, N.E., at approximately 4:26 a.m. on Wednesday, July 20, 2011. She was pronounced dead a short time later at a nearby hospital.

Then Deputy D.C. Police Chief Diane Grooms told LGBT activists at a vigil held for Mclean July 23 at the site of the murder that homicide detectives were pursuing information provided by a witness that the fatal shooting took place shortly after two unidentified males “had some words” with Mclean in an alley shortly before she was shot.

“The motive is still not clear to us,” Grooms told the Blade after the vigil. She said that in the early stage of the investigation police had not found evidence for either a robbery or a hate crime. Now, more than six years later, police have not disclosed whether they have identified a motive or suspect in the case, only that the case remains open.

The location where Mclean was shot was well known at the time as a gathering place for transgender sex workers and the men that patronize their services. Mclean’s friends and some family members who attended the vigil acknowledged that she had been arrested the previous year on a misdemeanor charge of solicitation for prostitution at the unit block of K Street, N.E., which is also known as a location where trans sex workers congregate. Grooms, however, said investigators at the time had no evidence that the murder was prostitution related.

Transgender activists, meanwhile, expressed concern that at the time police first publicly announced Mclean’s murder they identified her in an official press release by her male birth name and did not mention the victim was a transgender woman. However, the police Special Liaison Division, which at the time had jurisdiction over the then Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit, disclosed that Mclean was a trans woman in emails it sent to community activists, including LGBT activists.

A police spokesperson told the Blade at the time that the decision not to publicly announce that Mclean was transgender was based on the department’s longstanding policy of not disclosing the sexual orientation or gender identity of a crime victim unless they have evidence that those characteristics are related to the crime.

The D.C. Trans Coalition, which was among the groups that organized the vigil for Mclean, said Mclean was a friend to many people in the LGBT community, including several D.C. Trans Coalition organizers. Mclean’s mother and several other family members attended the vigil for Mclean and said she was loved and cherished by her family.

Police say anyone with information that could help police identify a suspect should contact Det. Daniel Whalen at 202-277-9225 or the police command information center at 202-727-9099.

More information here.

Gaurav Gopalan (Photo courtesy Facebook)

Gaurav ‘GiGi’ Gopalan, 35               

Sept. 10, 2011

2600 block of 11th Street, N.W.

Blunt force trauma to head

Reward up to $25,000 offered by police

 

Gaurav Gopalan, 35, an aerospace engineer and highly acclaimed local theater director, was found dead on the sidewalk in the 2600 block of 11th Street, N.W., about 5:20 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2011.

Friends and Bob Shaeffer, his partner of nearly five years, said he identified as a gay man over the many years they knew him. But police said when he was found unconscious on the sidewalk a short distance from his home in the Columbia Heights neighborhood, he was dressed in women’s clothes and appeared to have been carrying a pair of women’s high heel shoes.

With no identification documents found in his possession, it took police several days to track down his identity. And with no obvious signs of trauma or injury, it took authorities nearly two weeks to determine from an autopsy that the cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head. The city’s Medical Examiner ruled the death a homicide.

Police said Gopalan’s car, a gold-silver 2007 BMW 2-door sedan with a NASA sticker on the rear bumper, was seen being driven after his death. Police said it was later recovered and investigators were hoping to talk to anyone who may have seen the car during the weekend of Sept. 10-11, 2011.

Shaeffer told the Washington City Paper that on the Friday night prior to Gopalan’s murder early Saturday morning he told Shaeffer he planned to go out to some of the straight clubs on U Street, N.W. Police have said they obtained video of someone appearing to be Gopalan walking along U Street from surveillance cameras in that area. But they said employees of some of the bars in the area could not recall whether he had been to their establishments. The gay bars Town and Nellie’s are in that area.

Similar to nearly all of the unsolved murders of LGBT people since the year 2000, police told the Blade last week the case remains open and has been assigned to the Homicide Branch’s Cold Case Squad. Police have not disclosed whether they have determined a motive or identified a potential suspect in the case.

In the last months of his life Shaeffer and others who knew Gopalan said he began dressing occasionally in women’s clothes and said he was going by the name of Gigi during times when he took on a female persona.

D.C. transgender activist Earline Budd, who said she has spoken to some people who knew Gopalan, believes Gopalan may have been in the early stages of transitioning as a transgender woman. Regardless of what Gopalan’s actual gender identity was, Budd said she’s concerned that the beloved engineer and Shakespeare theater director may have been targeted because of the perception that he was a transgender woman at a time when trans women had been subjected to violent attacks in D.C.

His murder took place less than two months after transgender woman Lashay Mclean was shot to death on Dix Street, N.E. and less than a year after trans woman Tyli’a Nana Boo Mack was stabbed to death in the city’s Shaw neighborhood.

More than 200 people turned out for a vigil in Dupont Circle two weeks after his death to honor Gopalan and his life’s accomplishments. At the conclusion of the vigil participants carrying photos of Gopalan walked from Dupont Circle to the site of his murder in Columbia Heights, placing fliers and photos of him next to the sidewalk.

Anyone who may have any information that could be helpful to the investigation into Gopalan’s death is asked to contact the D.C. police Homicide Branch at 202-645-3421 or the police command information center at 202-727-9099.

More information here.

Demencio Lewis

Demencio Lewis, 23                         

Shot to death March 13, 2014

2500 block of Sayles Place, S.E.

Reward up to $25,000 offered by police

Demencio Lewis, 23, an aspiring model, actor and rapper, was shot to death in a hail of gunfire about 11:57 p.m. on Thursday, March 13, 2014, in the 2500 block of Sayles Place, S.E., according to a D.C. police announcement of his murder.

Police said later that a witness saw four men wearing hooded sweatshirts leaving the scene of the shooting in a black Hyundai Sonata. Lewis’s mother, Sharita Lewis, told Fox 5 News that she and her son were dining together when Demencio Lewis received a call on his cell phone from someone named Chris, who was waiting to see him outside his home.

He told his mother he needed to talk to Chris and he would be right back, Fox 5 News reported. Within minutes, D.C. police officers responded to the 2600 block of Sayles Place, S.E. and found Lewis lying unconscious on the street. His mother told Fox 5 he had been shot 27 times.

She also told the TV news station that she and other members of her family believe Lewis’s status as an openly gay man may have had something to do with his death. Among other things, the family members think he was lured into a trap and killed.

Sharita Lewis told Fox 5 her son was killed at a time when he and his loved ones expected him to excel in his chosen fields of modeling and acting as well as writing.

“He was talented,” the news station quoted her as saying. “He was all over the place and then he started acting,” she said. “He was on ‘The Good Wife,’ ‘Ugly Betty,’ ‘106 & Park,’ so he did a lot of stuff.”

D.C. police Homicide Branch commander Anthony Haythe said the Lewis case remains under active investigation by the homicide detectives that worked on the case from the time the murder occurred.

Anyone with information about case is asked to contact Det. Anthony Green at 202-607-8268 or Det. Gabriel Truby at 202-270-1202. The department’s command center number, which serves as a tip line, can also be reached at 202-727-9099.

More information here.

Stephon Marquis Perkins

Stephon Marquis Perkins, 21                   

Shot to death June 25, 2015

16th and Galen Streets, S.E.

Reward up to $25,000 offered by police

D.C. police have released few details about this case other than that Stephon Marquis Perkins, 21, was found suffering from a fatal gunshot wound near the intersection of 16th Street and Galen Street, S.E. about 3:44 a.m. on Thursday, June 25, 2015.

An employee of the D.C. LGBT community services center Casa Ruby, who identified herself only as Molly H., told the Blade that she and Perkins were close friends and that Perkins identified as gay.

“He was almost like family,” she said. “He was a kind, open-hearted person. He could be the life of the party.”

Police said that Perkins, a Maryland resident, was taken to a nearby hospital, where he was pronounced dead. A police source said the cause of death appeared to be a gunshot wound to the head.

The source, who spoke on condition of not being identified, said there was no evidence in the early stage of the investigation that the murder was a hate crime. The source said homicide detectives investigating the case spoke to Perkins’ boyfriend and consulted with the department’s Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit as part of their investigation into the murder.

Similar to the Lewis case, the Perkins case is considered active and current and is being investigated by detectives familiar with the case from the time the incident occurred. They can be reached at 202-645-9600. Tips can be left with the command center at 202-727-9099.

More information here.

Matthew Mickens-Murrey, gay news, Washington Blade

Matthew Mickens-Murrey

Matthew Mickens-Murrey, 26              

Stabbed to death May 30, 2017

5400 block of Newton Street, Hyattsville, Md.

Reward up to $25,000 offered by police

Prince George’s County, Md., police have said Matthew Mickens-Murrey, 26, was found stabbed to death inside his apartment in the 5400 block of Newton Street in an unincorporated section of the county just outside Hyattsville.

Friends and family members said Mickens-Murrey’s boss at a firm where he worked as a security guard in D.C. called P.G. County police after Mickens-Murrey didn’t show up for work. A P.G. County police statement says officers arrived at his residence about 2:40 p.m. on May 30 and found him unconscious and “suffering from trauma.” It says he was pronounced dead at the scene.

Mickens-Murrey’s mother and sister, who live in Pennsylvania, told the Washington Blade at a birthday celebration in Mickens-Murrey’s honor in D.C. on Nov. 9 that investigators told them he had been stabbed multiple times. They said police told them there were no signs of a forced entry into the apartment, leading police to believe he knew his attacker and most likely invited that person to his home.

Friends said that on the weekend preceding the murder, Mickens-Murrey had attended events associated with D.C. Black Pride, which takes place each year over the Memorial Day weekend. One of his friends, Devin Barrington-Ward, president of Impulse Group D.C., which organizes events catering to black gay men, said Mickens-Murrey was an active participant in the group’s activities.

At least one friend said Mickens-Murrey was last seen around 9 or 10 p.m. Sunday night, May 28, at the D.C. gay bar Nellie’s. The friend, Terrance Ford, said he and Mickens-Murrey also would sometimes visit the Dupont Circle area gay bars Fireplace and Cobalt and the Capitol Hill gay bar Bachelor’s Mill.

Prince George’s County Police Chief Hank Stawinski, who attended a memorial service for Mickens-Murrey, told the gathering that his investigators were pursuing excellent leads in the case.

“We do not believe this is random and we do not believe he was targeted because of his lifestyle,” Stawinski told ABC7 News.

A P.G. County police spokesperson said it would be inappropriate for police to release specific details of the investigation, including whether they were looking into the possibility that Mickens-Murrey met his killer at a gay meeting place such as a gay bar or through an online hookup site.

Anyone with information about the case is asked to contact police at HYPERLINK “tel:(301)%20772-4925”301-772-4925.

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Kelley Robinson, a Black, queer woman, named president of Human Rights Campaign

Progressive activist a veteran of Planned Parenthood Action Fund

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Kelley Robinson (Screen capture via HRC YouTube)

Kelley Robinson, a Black, queer woman and veteran of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, is to become the next president of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s leading LGBTQ group announced on Tuesday.

Robinson is set to become the ninth president of the Human Rights Campaign after having served as executive director of Planned Parenthood Action Fund and more than 12 years of experience as a leader in the progressive movement. She’ll be the first Black, queer woman to serve in that role.

“I’m honored and ready to lead HRC — and our more than three million member-advocates — as we continue working to achieve equality and liberation for all Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer people,” Robinson said. “This is a pivotal moment in our movement for equality for LGBTQ+ people. We, particularly our trans and BIPOC communities, are quite literally in the fight for our lives and facing unprecedented threats that seek to destroy us.”

Kelley Robinson IS NAMED as The next human rights Campaign president

The next Human Rights Campaign president is named as Democrats are performing well in polls in the mid-term elections after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, leaving an opening for the LGBTQ group to play a key role amid fears LGBTQ rights are next on the chopping block.

“The overturning of Roe v. Wade reminds us we are just one Supreme Court decision away from losing fundamental freedoms including the freedom to marry, voting rights, and privacy,” Robinson said. “We are facing a generational opportunity to rise to these challenges and create real, sustainable change. I believe that working together this change is possible right now. This next chapter of the Human Rights Campaign is about getting to freedom and liberation without any exceptions — and today I am making a promise and commitment to carry this work forward.”

The Human Rights Campaign announces its next president after a nearly year-long search process after the board of directors terminated its former president Alphonso David when he was ensnared in the sexual misconduct scandal that led former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to resign. David has denied wrongdoing and filed a lawsuit against the LGBTQ group alleging racial discrimination.

Kelley Robinson, Planned Parenthood, Cathy Chu, SMYAL, Supporting and Mentoring Youth Advocates and Leaders, Amy Nelson, Whitman-Walker Health, Sheroes of the Movement, Mayor's office of GLBT Affairs, gay news, Washington Blade
Kelley Robinson, seen here with Cathy Chu of SMYAL and Amy Nelson of Whitman-Walker Health, is the next Human Rights Campaign president. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)
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Eastern Europe

Former Ambassador Daniel Baer explains it all on Ukraine crisis

Expert downplays strategic thinking behind Putin’s move

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Daniel Baer, United States Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, gay news, Washington Blade
Daniel Baer served as U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security & Cooperation in Europe. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Daniel Baer, who worked on LGBTQ human rights and transatlantic issues as one of several openly gay U.S. ambassadors during the Obama administration, answered questions from the Washington Blade on Ukraine as the international crisis continues to unfold.

Topics during the interview, which took place weeks ago on Jan. 27, included Putin’s motivation for Russian incursions, the risk of outright war, predictions for Russia after Putin and how the crisis would affect LGBTQ people in Ukraine.

Baer was deputy assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor and U.S. ambassador to the Organization of Security & Cooperation in Europe.

The full interview follows:

Washington Blade: What’s your level of engagement with this affair? Are you doing any consulting work? Is the administration reaching out to you at all?

Daniel Baer: I actually think the White House is doing a pretty good job of recognizing that they need to not only have press conferences, but also talk to other people who are trying to figure out how to be constructive critics, idea generators from the outside.

Blade: OK, so you’re being solicited and engaging on this issue. My next question for you is why do you think Putin is doing this at this time?

Baer: So, I guess taking a step back from the whole thing, one of the things about a problem like this is that everybody is searching for the right answer assuming that there is a like comfortable or compelling or intellectually accurate answer, and I actually think we’re just in a really hard moment.

I don’t know why he’s doing it now. And in fact, I think that one of the puzzles that we haven’t solved yet is that all the things that he says are the reasons that he’s doing it — that he feels encirclement by NATO, … or that the situation in Ukraine is untenable — none of those things have changed. Setting aside the fact that they’re spurious, it’s not like there’s been some new move in the last 12 months that has precipitated [a reaction] on any of those fronts that you can say, “Oh, well, he’s responding to the recent meeting where Ukraine was offered membership in NATO, or he’s responding to a change in government in Ukraine that it’s clearly anti-Russia, or any other move that we’ve done.” The explanation just doesn’t hold water, and so I think we need to look for alternative ones.

The best I can come up with is actually just a broad — it doesn’t actually explain this particular moment, but I think you could look at the timing of his life. He has, I don’t know, 10 years left. And during those 10 years, it’s unlikely that Russia is going to grow more powerful; it’s much more likely that it’s going to become at least relatively and probably nominally less powerful. And so, if you’re unhappy with the status quo, and you feel like you’re a declining power, and you don’t have endless time, there’s no time like the present. And you’ll make up whatever reasons you need to in order to justify it.

I also think there’s a tendency on our part to attribute far more “strategery” to Putin than there necessarily is. I mean, he’s a bully and a thug. I think the whole Putin’s playing chess and we’re playing checkers is actually completely inverted. We’re in our own heads that there’s some kind of nuanced position that would mollify him. He’s just a gangster and he’s taking a punch because he has one. And I don’t think it gets much more complicated than that. And so, I guess the answer to why he’s doing this now, because the international conditions are such that he feels like the United States is focused domestically, the Ukrainians are not moving forward with succeeding to build — they’re kind of in stasis on building a European state— and he has, you know, he has the space to take a punch, so he’s contemplating doing it, or he’s already decided to do it. And he’s just extracting as much as possible before he takes it.

Blade: That leads me to my next question: What is your judgement of the risk of out and out war?

Baer: I don’t know because I have two hypotheses that cut both ways. One is that I think Putin is vastly underestimating the degree of resistance. On the other hand, I think that nothing short of domination is satisfactory. And so, I don’t know. I guess I think there’s a 90 percent chance that he does something, and I think there’s a 75 percent chance that what he does is not an all out invasion or ground invasion, at least not at first, but rather something that is aimed at confusing us. So some sort of hybrid or staged or false flag kind of attack in tandem with a political coup in Kiev, where he works to install a more Russia-loyal leader.

The thing with the ground invasion is that Russian soldiers’ moms are one of the only, like, powerful political forces in civil society in Russia. I just don’t see any way that a ground invasion doesn’t involve massive Russian casualties, even if they will be dominant. The people who are going to impose the consequences on him will be the Ukrainians, not the rest of us, and he should not invade, and if he does, we should, frankly, work hard to make it as painful and difficult for him as possible.

Blade: What will that look like?

Baer: I think we should at that point continue — we shouldn’t pause, we should continue to send the defensive equipment and backfill as much as possible their ability from an equipment basis to resist.

Blade: So if we were to look at a model for past U.S. engagements. I’m thinking Greece under President Truman, which was so successful that nobody really knows about it, I don’t think. Is there any model we should be looking toward, or not looking toward?

Baer: No, I guess. I’m not sure there’s any good historical model because obviously, any of them you can pick apart. I do think that one thing that has gotten lost in a lot of the analysis — and this goes back to Putin being a gangster thug, and not being such a genius — is there’s a moral difference between us. The reason why Putin gets to control the dialogue is because he’s willing to do things that we aren’t willing to do — as gangsters are, as hostage-takers are — and so yes, they get to set the terms of what we discussed, because we’re not holding hostages. We’re trying to get hostages released. And the hostage-taker has an upper hand and asymmetry because they are willing to do something that is wrong.

We shouldn’t lose the kind of moral difference there. Nor should we lose sight of the fact that Ukraine is being menaced. And I’m not saying it’s our obligation [to intervene militarily], certainly not our obligation. They aren’t a treaty ally. We have neither a political obligation nor a moral one to necessarily risk our own lives, our own soldiers in defense of Ukraine. But if Ukraine wants to defend themselves, there’s a strong moral case to be made that anything, short of risking our own lives, is something that is morally good. We generally believe that self-defense from lethal threat is a reasonable moral cause and assisting others in defending themselves is too — I think there’s a lot of back and forth that get glossed over whether that’s a provocation or whatever, and I want to say to people stand back, look at this: we’ve got one party that is attacking another. And the question is, does the other have a right to defend itself? Yes. And if they have a right to defend themselves, and they also have a right to have whatever assistance people will offer them in defending themselves.

That doesn’t mean that they get to demand that we show up and fight in the trenches with them, of course, and I don’t think there’s any serious people who are recommending that but it’s a good thing to help them. It’s not like a technical thing. It’s a good thing to help

Blade: Getting into that moral background, one thing I want to ask you was about the significance of what would happen in this concept of democracy versus autocracy. First of all, how much is Ukraine a functional democracy, in the sense that if we’re defending Ukraine, we are defending a democracy, and what signal do you think it would send if that Ukrainian government fell to Russian autocracy?

Baer: I think the institutions of government that the Ukrainian people have are not worthy of the Ukrainian people’s own demonstrated commitment …

They are not worthy of the Ukrainian people’s own demonstrated commitment to the idea of democratic institutions. So the answer is today’s Ukrainian government is a mixed bag and it’s very hard to build, on the rot of a Russian fiefdom, a functioning democracy, so I think it’s a mixed bag. I don’t want to sound like I’m minimizing [the changes], or that they’ve completely bungled an easy project. It was always going to be a hard project, and it was never going to be linear.

But I think that what we’ve seen from the Ukrainian people — by which I mean not Ukrainian people, but people of Ukraine — is that there is a broad part of society that a) does not want to live under a Russian thumb and b) sees its future in kind of European style democracy. And so I think that if there was, there’s no question that the Russian attack would be in part about subjugating the people of Ukraine and forcing them to live under some sort of new Russian satellite. And I think that there’s little space for serious argument that that’s something that the people of the country wish to have.

Blade: But I’m just kind of getting at — you’re kind of minimizing that this is a strategic move by Putin, but if he were to successfully dominant Ukraine it becomes a Russian satellite isn’t that saying like, “Well, ha ha West, you thought the Cold War was over and there’s going to be just be a unipolar world in the future but no, we’re gonna we have this we’re back and we’re gonna create a multipolar world for the future.”

Baer: Yeah, I mean, my answer to the Russians who always raise the multipolar world to me is, “Fine, it’s going to be a multipolar world. What makes you think that Russia is one of the poles?” Poles by definition draw people to them, they are compelling and a pole attracts, magnetically or otherwise, and there is nothing attractive about the model that Russia is pursuing. And if the only way that you can be a pole is by subjugating, to force your neighbors, you are proving that you are not one.

I think the benefits for Russia are far smaller than Putin thinks and I think the consequences for the rest of the world of allowing a violation of international order to go forward are much larger than many people recognize.

Blade: But that was their approach when they were the Soviet Union. They were subjugating the Eastern Bloc through Russian force. They did have, in theory, the concept of their worldview of you know, of socialism, or whatever you want to put it charitably, was going to be the right way to go. Is there really that much of a difference?

Baer: Yeah, however disingenuous it was, they did have an ideology . So you’re right, that was a key distinction. The other thing is that the Soviet Union in relative size — its economy and population etc. — was much larger than Russia is today. And Russia is shrinking, and its economy is less diverse than the Communist one was. I think it’s a delusion to think that they’re going to kind of rebuild an empire, even if yes, because of their willingness to do awful things, they could potentially for a time politically control through violence, their neighbors. I just don’t — in a multipolar world, I don’t see Russia being one of the poles, at least not on its current path.

Blade: How would you evaluate the U.S. diplomatic approach to this issue?

Baer: There’s been very clear over-the-top effort to include the Europeans at every step — meetings with them before each meeting and after each meeting, to force conversations into fora that are more inclusive and stuff like that. And I think that Secretary Blinken is rightly recognizing the need to kind of play a role of kind of keeping everybody on the side while we test whether diplomacy whether there’s anything to do, whether there’s any promise with diplomacy.

I think there’s kind of, sometimes kind of, two camps in U.S. foreign policy circles. One is like: We should give the Russians what they want because it just doesn’t matter that much. War is much worse than anything that we would give them. And another is that we can’t give them an inch and we have to punch them in the face whenever we can. And I think both of those are kind of knee-jerk positions that have become a bit religious for people and neither of them is paying attention to the practical challenge that’s in front of the administration, which is like this guy’s threatening to invade and we need to identify whether there’s any opportunity for a functional off ramp, and that doesn’t mean we do that in a vacuum and ignore the long-term consequences, but our problem is not a religious one, it’s a practical one. And I think they’re doing a pretty good job of threading the needle on that and being not too far forward and not too far back.

Blade: Do you see any significant daylight between the United States and Europe?

Baer: No, I mean, no more than the minimum that is possible. There’s a lot of talk about Germany these days. Look, I think some of the things they say are not particularly helpful, but I don’t actually think that in the long run, if Putin invaded, I don’t think that they would hold up sanctions or anything like that. So I think they’re on our side, even if they’re talking out of both sides, in some cases.

Blade: I am wise to the fact that this is a nuclear power. It might be a little old school, but could escalation get that far?

Baer: There can’t be war. There can’t be war between NATO and Russia. It should be avoided. Obviously, there can be, but it should be avoided.

Blade: How committed do you think President Biden is to protecting Ukraine?

Baer: Reasonably so. I think he’s enough of an old school trans-Atlantist that he understands that this isn’t just about Ukraine.

Blade: I was wondering because he had those comments from his press conference about “minor incursion” and I’m just wondering if you’re reading anything into that or not.

Baer: No, I think that was that was a — I think broadly speaking, everything he says is in line with the kind of view that you would expect. And of course, one sentence can catch [attention]. That wasn’t what he meant. What he meant was that he didn’t want to draw a “red line” that would prejudge policy in response to something short of the most extreme scenario.

I think it is a good caution to not obsess over a single sentence and to look at the broad considered policy statements.

Blade: What do you think if you were looking for developments, like what would you be looking out for is significant in terms of where we are going to be going in the near future? This is one thing to keep an eye out for but is there anything else that you are kind of looking out for in terms of the near future?

Baer: I guess I would look out for whether or not the United States joins meetings of the so-called Normandy Format, which is the France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia grouping, which has so far been unsuccessful, but I think can only be successful as the United States joins it, but the Russians, I think have misgivings with the idea of our joining it.

Blade: I’m not at all familiar with that. What makes this forum particularly so —

Baer: So it was started in the summer in like June of 2015, on the margins of some meeting between Merkel and Hollande. The French and the Germans are very committed to the idea that they might be able to mediate peace between Ukraine and Russia. It was supposed to implement the Minsk Agreement, and it just hasn’t been productive so far. I don’t think that the Russians will do anything — I don’t think the Ukrainians feel comfortable negotiating anything without the Americans at the table. And I don’t think the Russians feel like anything is guaranteed without the Americans at the table. So I just, I’m fine with France and Germany taking the lead, but I think the U.S. has to be there.

And there was a meeting of this group in Paris yesterday, and which the U.S. was supportive of, and so I’m watching to see whether or not the United States gets added in some ad hoc way, whether there are future meetings. I guess the reason I would watch it, if the U.S. were to join future meetings that would signal to me that it’s actually there’s some diplomacy happening there.

That’s meant to be focusing mainly on the existing Russian invasion, the occupation of the Donbas, so that’s not about the threat of the new invasion, but it would be interesting to me if there was forward movement on other parts of Ukraine. The announcement of the American ambassador is one. I think that last week movement of troops into Belarus was a game changer for the U.S., because there are all kinds of new implications if you’re using a third country as your launchpad for war, and so it complicates things and it also looks more serious if you’re starting to deploy to third countries and stuff like that. So I think that was that last week, you noticed a difference in the U.S. tone and tenor in response to that.

So things like that. But in general, like what I would do and I don’t think people always catch this is because there’s a boiling frog aspect to it. There are statements coming out from the White House or State Department. Almost every day on stuff related to this and like last week, there was a noticeable change in the tenor as the U.S. became less, I think more pessimistic about the prospects of diplomacy and those I don’t have anything better to look for in those statements as tea leaves, in terms of what the U.S. assessment is of the prospects of the escalation are, so it’s bad.

Blade: Right. That’s very sobering.

There’s a lot of talk, and I’ve just been seeing some like about in terms of, there’s like comparisons to Afghanistan and making sure that all Americans are able to get out of Ukraine. Is that comparing apples to oranges?

Baer: Yes.

Blade: And could you unpack that a little bit? I mean, I can kind of guess the reasons why. How is that apples to oranges?

Blade: Well, the level of development in Ukraine in terms of infrastructure and transport and stuff like that is not comparable to Afghanistan. I think it would be– if there were a Russian invasion–you would definitely want to, obviously, for safety reasons, it’s not safe to be in a war zone, so you would want people to be able to evacuate and you’d have to plan for that.

A major concern [in Afghanistan] was also that there were tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of locals who had worked for the Americans. The Americans that are in Ukraine are not a departing occupying power. There’s just not the same footprint there — the Americans are in Ukraine or there as business people or young [people working on] democracy assistance or whatever. And it’s just it’s a different context.

Blade: Why do you think the Russians put up with Putin? I mean, this is a country that was a world power and I would think has some economic potential just given its sheer size, first of all, and they do have oil to offer people. So why aren’t the Russians like angry at him for obstructing their participation in the global order as opposed to just putting up with him for years and years and years.

Baer: Successful instrumentalisation of cynicism. The lack of a belief in an alternative will keep you from fighting for it.

Blade: That’s pretty succinct.

Baer: I mean, I don’t think there’s any question that the people of Russia could be better off or different in terms of kitchen table issues, and ease of navigating the world, prospects for their future for their children’s future. The amount of money that Putin has invested into military modernization that Russia can ill afford, while he’s cut pensions and social services and health care. It’s just it’s objectively true that the average Russian person would be better served by a different leader. But he’s done a very good job of effectively selling off the country for profit and persuading people through repression and propaganda that there is no alternative.

Blade: And Putin won’t be around forever. Once he finally goes, is an alternative going to emerge, or will it be the next guy in Putin’s mold?

Baer: I think it’s far from clear that what comes after Putin isn’t worse and bloody. Regimes like this don’t reliably have stable transitions.

Blade: Wow, okay.

Baer: Yeah, we shouldn’t… we should be careful about wishing… wishing for his demise.

Blade: That’s good to know. It’s kind of a frightful note for me to end my questions. But actually before I sign off, there’s one more thing too because I do kind of want to talk about the intersection about your old job in democracy and human rights and then a Venn diagram of that with your experience in Eastern Europe in particular. Do you have a sense of what’s at stake for LGBTQ people in Ukraine or if they’re in more danger right now than they would be otherwise?

Baer: That’s a good question. I mean, my knee jerk reaction is yes. That — as mixed of a picture as Ukraine has been in the last seven years, or eight years — there have been meaningful steps forward, and certainly, in terms of visibility.

I guess, in the sense that Ukraine is better than Russia today, if you’re gay, if Russia is going to occupy or control Ukraine we can expect that it will get worse because it will become more like Russia.

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Trump ribbed Pence for thinking ‘it’s a crime to be gay,’ new book says

Former president openly wanted gay Fox News analyst for Supreme Court

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Donald Trump (left) ribbed former Vice President Mike Pence (center) in a meeting with Andrew Napolitano for thinking "it's a crime to be gay." (Blade photos of Donald Trump and Mike Pence by Michael Key; screen capture of Andrew Napolitano via Fox News YouTube)

Donald Trump, in the days before he took office after the 2016 election, openly contemplated naming an openly gay Fox News contributor to the U.S. Supreme Court amid concerns from social conservatives about his potential choices and ribbed former Vice President Mike Pence for thinking “it’s a crime to be gay,” according to the new book “Insurgency” detailing the former president’s path to the White House.

The key moment between Trump, Judge Andrew Napolitano and Pence took place during the transition period after the 2016 election when Trump invited the other two for a meeting at Trump Tower.  That’s when Trump reportedly took the jab at Pence.

“During their meeting, for part of which Mike Pence was present, Trump ribbed Pence for his anti-gay rights views,” the book says. “Addressing Napolitano, Trump gestured toward the archconservative vice-president-elect and said, ‘You’d better be careful because this guy thinks it’s a crime to be gay. Right, Mike?’ When Pence didn’t answer, Trump repeated himself, ‘Right, Mike?’ Pence remained silent.”

The potential choice of Andrew Napolitano, who was fired last year from Fox News amid recently dropped allegations of sexual harassment from male co-workers, as well as other TV personalities Trump floated for the Supreme Court, as detailed in the book, were among the many reasons conservatives feared he wouldn’t be reliable upon taking the presidency. Ironically, Trump would have been responsible for making a historic choice for diversity if he chose a gay man like Napolitano for the Supreme Court, beating President Biden to the punch as the nation awaits his selection of the first-ever Black woman for the bench.

The new book — fully titled “Insurgency: How Republicans Lost Their Party and Got Everything They Ever Wanted” and written by New York Times political reporter Jeremy Peters, who is also gay — identifies Trump’s potential picks for the judiciary as a source of significant concern for conservatives as the “Never Trump” movement was beginning to form and expectations were the next president would be able to name as many as four choices for the Supreme Court. Among the wide ranges of possible choices he floated during the campaign were often “not lawyers or judges he admired for their legal philosophies or interpretations of the Constitution,” but personalities he saw on TV.

Among this group of TV personalities, the books says, were people like Fox News host Jeanine Pirro, whom Trump “regularly watched and occasionally planned his flight schedule around, directing his personal pilot to adjust the route accordingly so the satellite signal wouldn’t fade.” Trump told friends Pirro “would make a fine justice,” the books says.

Trump potentially making good of his talk about naming Napolitano as one of his choices for the Supreme Court “would have been doubly unacceptable to many on the religious right,” the book says. Napolitano, a former New Jersey Superior Court judge, was friendly with Maryanne Trump Barry, Trump’s sister and a federal judge with a reputation for liberal views, such as a ruling in favor of partial-birth abortion, and is also gay, both of which are identified in the book as potential concerns by the religious right.

Napolitano and Trump were close, the book claims. Napolitano, as the book describes, had a habit of telling a story to friends about Trump confiding to him the future president’s knowledge of the law was based on Napolitano’s TV appearances. Trump told Napolitano: “Everything I know about the Constitution I learned from you on Fox & Friends,” the book says.

The book says the meeting with Trump, Pence and Napolitano when the former president took a jab at Pence in and of itself suggested Trump “was indeed serious about giving the judge some kind of position in the government.” Napolitano, known for making outlandish claims as a Fox News contributor —such as the British government wiretapped Trump Tower — never took a post in the Trump administration.

The new book isn’t the only record of Trump ribbing Pence for his anti-LGBTQ reputation. A New Yorker profile in 2017 depicted a similar infamous meeting with Trump and Pence in which the former president joked about his No. 2’s conservative views. Per the New Yorker article: “When the conversation turned to gay rights, Trump motioned toward Pence and joked, ‘Don’t ask that guy— he wants to hang them all!'”The incident described in “Insurgency” was similar to the meeting detailed in the New Yorker profile.

Trump ended up making a list of names he pledged he’d limit himself to in the event he was in the position to make a selection to the Supreme Court and made good on that promise based on his selection. By the end of his presidency, Trump made three picks to the bench who were each confirmed by the U.S. Senate: Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett. 

But Trump limiting his options to the list of potential plans was not a fool proof plan for conservatives. To the surprise of many, Gorsuch ended up in 2020 writing the majority opinion in the case of Bostock v. Clayton County, a major LGBTQ rights decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, which determined anti-LGBTQ discrimination is a form of sex discrimination and illegal under federal civil rights law.

The Washington Blade has placed a request in with Trump’s office seeking comment on the meeting with Pence and Napolitano as described in “Insurgency.” Napolitano couldn’t be reached for comment.

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