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Barry still a hero to some and an enigma to others

Former mayor’s statue a fitting tribute to civil rights icon

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Marion Barry, Washington D.C., Washington Blade, gay news
Marion Barry statue, gay news, Washington Blade

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

When Marion Barry Jr. died in 2014, I wrote a column with the headline, “A hero to some; an enigma to others.” Listening to comments and reading columns surrounding the unveiling of his statue on Pennsylvania Avenue last Saturday that clearly hasn’t changed. Partly responsible is the ongoing racial divide in our city. But there is also an age divide between those who knew Marion Barry before he uttered the famous line “the bitch set me up” when he was arrested for doing drugs and those who only learned about him later. Defying all odds he was once again elected mayor after he got out of jail. But many feel after that election he only added to the downhill slide the District’s finances were undergoing under Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly.

Barry was first elected mayor in 1978. Glenn Baker, producer of a documentary for WETA on D.C. in the 1980s, said of Barry, “Whites helped elect him; he embraced the gay community and was very wise about developing that constituency. He had gay members on his staff and in the city government, and as a result, D.C. became known as a gay-friendly city, and grew to be one of the most vibrant gay communities in the country.” That history made it so shocking to the LGBTQ community when he came back onto the Council after his last term as mayor and voted against marriage equality. He publicly supported, in a speech on Freedom Plaza, a bunch of homophobic ministers and never adequately explained himself.

But to the African-American community and many of us who knew Barry from the late ‘70s and ‘80s he was in some ways larger than life. We knew him as a civil rights icon and in many ways a great mayor. He was supportive of me as a member of the LGBT community during the years I was coming out. It turned out even though he voted against marriage equality it was his early efforts and success in amending the city’s Human Rights Act that ensured there could be no referendum on marriage equality in the District and the majority could never vote to curtail the rights of a minority.

I first met Barry just after moving to D.C. prior to the 1978 mayoral election. He asked for my vote but I wasn’t yet a D.C. voter. Like many who came to work for the Carter administration we all thought after a few years we would return home. Forty years later I am proud to say D.C. is my home. I am a policy wonk and my work on disability issues in the Carter administration led to my first appointment to a D.C. commission by Mayor Barry. As the second elected mayor of the city, after Walter Washington, Barry was responsible for turning the District of Columbia from a small sleepy Southern town into a real city. When he was elected in 1978, the city still had visible and invisible vestiges of the 1968 riots. Barry began the building of a vibrant downtown and was responsible for the Reeves Center, the municipal building that began the rebirth of the U Street corridor.

Barry was reelected in 1982 and 1986 without much competition. But the third term was marred by womanizing, drinking and drug use. Several of his top aides were convicted of corruption. The U.S. Attorney at the time tried every way to connect Barry to the corruption but couldn’t. Then, in what some believed to be an outrageous perversion of power, he set up the sting in which Barry was caught smoking crack cocaine. After all that, Barry was convicted of only a misdemeanor charge but received a six-month jail term.

Sharon Pratt Kelly had been elected mayor in 1990 with the support of countless editorials in the Washington Post. Vowing to “sweep the city clean” she instead oversaw the demise of the city’s finances. After getting out of jail, Barry ran for Council in 1992 and won the Ward 8 seat. Then to the surprise of many ran and won his fourth term as mayor in 1994 with nearly 56 percent of the vote. Barry was magnanimous to many like me who didn’t support him in that race and continued to work with us on a host of issues we cared about.

In 2004, Barry ran again in Ward 8 for Council and won. He held the seat until his death. Marion Barry’s statue on Pennsylvania Avenue is appropriate as he and the District of Columbia will forever be linked in history. Barry will be remembered for all the good things he did and for all those families who have a better life because of him.

Marion Barry, gay news, Washington Blade

Marion Barry (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

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

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Reflecting on Center Faith’s Pride interfaith service

Much work to be done before welcoming the world in 2025

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(Photo by WINDCOLORS/Bigstock)

“We must not rest! We must not rest! We must not rest!” These words rang out in Foundry Methodist Church during Center Faith’s recent 2024 Pride Interfaith Service. Rev. Cathy Alexander, associate pastor at the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC)-Washington, DC, implored everyone in attendance to keep fighting “until the doors of churches and temples and houses of faith open wide in welcome to all people.” She quoted Reverend Troy Perry, founder of the first MCC church in 1968, from the 2000 Millennium March for Equality. 

It was a moving reminder of the many LGBTQ elders who have passed on, who have fought for LGBTQ rights today and made this service, held in a rainbow draped church, possible. This was especially meaningful as this year’s service also remembered Allan Armas — co-founder of the Pride Interfaith Service — who died this past October. 

Held on a drizzly evening, the service began with an opening drum call to gather by members of the Unity Fellowship Church of Washington, D.C., and a procession of all presenters. Church Elder and Unity Fellowship Pastor Akosua McCray offered a libation to the ancestors, like Armas, who won many of the rights that LGBTQ individuals have today. “Let us together call out their names and invite their spirit here today,” McCray shared. “Carlton Smith,” an attendee shouted from the back. “Allan Armus,” said another. “Marsha P. Johnson.” “Bishop Thomas Gumbleton.” With each name, McCray filled a red vase with water in their honor. 

Thus commenced the 41st annual Pride Interfaith Service, focused on the radical past, present, and future of LGBTQ interfaith action in the nation’s capital. The three-part service resonated with Capital Pride’s theme of “Totally Radical!” and included representatives from the DC LGBTQ+ Community Center and Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs. McCray’s Libation was the first part of the creation and blessing of a sacred space, featuring a call to the elements, directions and divine by Jonathan White of Stone Circle Wicca, a call to prayer by Nabeel Kirmani and translated by Sister Michelle Munson of Muslims for Progressive Values, and an opening prayer by Rev. Thomas Wieczorek from the National Catholic Church, among others. 

GenOut Chorus, the youth chorus for the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, D.C., provided music, opening with Philip Silvey’s “Always a Place for You.” Their song began a reflection on the radical origins of the Pride Interfaith Service all the way back to the 1960s. Reverend Elder Robert “Michael” Vanzant, a Doctor of Theology at the Faith Temple and one of the pioneers of the Pride Interfaith Service, recounted his own journey from a fundamentalist rural Southern community all the way to the steps of the Temple Church of God in Christ on Sunday, Sept. 19, 1982. 

Together, he and 16 others “embraced being same-gender loving and created a gathering of predominantly people of color, called a Third World gathering, to create a community for our sacred selves.” They gathered with signs, his reading “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all people” (Isaiah 56:&, Mark 11:17), after a Church elder Dr. James Tenney was told by the Bishop that by including LGBTQ+ individuals at All Souls Church DC, he had excommunicated himself from the Church. The bishop warned that Tenney’s problem was that he had no shame so the group gathered that Sunday morning before and after church “bearing witchess that we lived our lives without shame.” Thus Faith Temple was born. 

Rev. Cathy Alexander reflected on MCC’s own history, followed by Rev. Eric Eldrith, Pagan clergy with Circle Sanctuary, Kirmani, Jonathan White, myself, and Armas’s best friend cellist John Kaboff sharing fond memories and words of love and life about Armas. Eldritch spoke to Armas’s radical welcome of him as an ex-ex-gay fundamentalist to a Radical Faerie to Pagan clergy at Circle Sanctuary. This tribute spoke to the importance of all including faith communities beyond Abrahamic traditions. Pagan, Wiccan, and folk magic communities have for centuries been places of belonging and acceptance for LGBTQ+ people but are normally excluded from LGBTQ+ religious historical narratives. Armas challenged this exclusion. 

“His deeply held Jewish faith,” White explained, “led him to care passionately about justice and liberation for all people, especially LGBTQ+ people, and to pursue justice as part of his own spiritual journey. He was humane, kind, thoughtful–he was a mensch. May his memory be a blessing.” He led his community surrounded by elders until he himself became one; one of the far too few LGBTQ+ elders who see the realization of their efforts. White celebrated this queer elderhood in Armas’s faith community, of bringing his experiences and wisdom to the community he helped to create. Kaboff played a Jewish funeral piece–one performed at an annual memorial service Armas founded, and Rabbi Jake Beilin-Singer blew the shofar, an instrument sounded during High Holy Day services, in recognition of his leadership. 

Armas’s radical welcome has made LGBTQ faith experiences possible, from radical living as interfaith families, to radical justice through collective liberation, to radical presents through living as authentic selves, and radical leadership through DC’s LGBTQ+ religious leaders including the first lesbian rabbi, Julie Spitzer, at the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation in 1987. Even radical pride from that first Pride Interfaith Service in 1983. 

During this time when over 500 anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced in state legislatures across the country, lay member of Sunstone Chapel Ebony C. Peace called us to remember, “hatred continues to come our way in full force because our liberation threatens their control. The liberation of all people threatens them. They are coming at us strong because we ourselves have become stronger.” It is only through love, Peace shared, that we can drive out hatred. This was especially true when two protestors interrupted the service, and were met with all attendees singing “This Little Light of Mine” to drown out their voices as ushers escorted them outside. 

The service ended by envisioning this future of love, including radical inclusive love in faith communities and interfaith relationships that imagine a future of collaboration with newly established groups like Queerly Gathered, introduced by Presbyterian minister Matt Nabinger and Cali Bronkema. 

Richmond looked ahead toward World Pride to be held in D.C. in 2025. Just as attendees committed this year’s service to “demonstrating the breath, depth, and sincerity of our faith, exposing the lie that anti-gay fundamentalists have a monopoly on faith and religion,” Pride Interfaith Service planner Jonah Richmond shared, next year’s service will include people from around the world remembering their LGBTQ religious histories, celebrating their presents, and pushing for LGBTQ+ religious liberation and community. It will celebrate LGBTQ elders of faith from around the world. As Alexander said, we must not rest! There is much work to be done before welcoming the world at the next service on June 3, 2025. 

Emma Cieslik served as a historian for this year’s Pride Interfaith Service.

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ROSENSTEIN: Is D.C. prepared for World Pride? Not just yet

An incredible opportunity for the city to shine

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(Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The 2024 Pride parade and festival in D.C. were a tremendous success. Congratulations to all who worked so hard on this at Capital Pride, and others, including the mayor’s office, to make it a success. Now it’s onward to the next event, WorldPride 2025.

From all accounts, WorldPride celebrations around the world have been amazing. From Tel Aviv, to Rome, to Sidney, millions have enjoyed them. It is an event awarded to a city by InterPride, the international Pride organization. In 2025, from May 23-June 8, it is D.C.’s turn to shine. The event was awarded to the Capital Pride Alliance. While I know the great people in D.C. can handle this event, I have real concerns over whether the city as a whole will be ready. It will take an incredible amount of work and coordination, to prepare for close to three million people who will descend on D.C. in less than a year.

Since I moved to D.C. in October 1978, it has been a place that supports the LGBTQ community. That was the year Marion Barry was first elected mayor. In early 1979, I attended a dinner, even though not yet out, of what was then called the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club. Barry spoke and thanked the leaders of the Club, and the “GLBT community,” that is what we were called then, for helping him win the mayoralty. Today the club is called the Stonewall Democratic Club. I quickly got involved in the civic life of D.C., and local politics. Over the years there were members of the community on the Council, including Jim Graham and David Catania. Today, Zachary Parker represents Ward 5. As an activist, I have always had positive interactions with the mayors and Council. 

Recently, the Washington Post had a column on how much the D.C. Council has placed in the budget for the LGBTQ community. It includes grants for housing, and for the new LGBTQ Community Center. It also has about $5 million for World Pride. It was sad to see some of the negative online comments, some asking why the money wasn’t being spent instead on the poor. Part of the problem is that it was a poorly written column. While talking about WorldPride as good for the economy of the city, it left out any detail, easy to calculate, on how good it will be. How much money will be spent in D.C. by the millions coming here for those two weeks. How much the city will add to its tax revenues. How much small businesses will make and how this benefits workers. This information would have helped people better understand the investment the city is making. I don’t think the budget investment is big enough. This is a giant undertaking, and I’m not sure there are enough people involved. This will be a citywide, multi-state event, because of our close-in suburbs. At least it should be. There should be planning for events in all eight wards of the city. Council members and community leaders in each ward, should be working on events, ensuring the businesses and residents in their wards feel a part of, and benefit from, the huge influx of tourists to our city. There will be concerts, dances, sporting events, and a Human Rights Conference. Potentially there could be an HIV/AIDS conference, as major research is going on in D.C. 

I question whether those planning for this event have had serious discussions with airlines, and global companies like Amazon, and FedEx, to involve them in funding and sponsoring events. Is there a committee working to involve all the embassies, in planning events beyond a float in the parade? They will all have attendees from their countries here. Like it or not, there will be issues with visas and passports, and people will need help solving their issues. Then there is the worldwide press operation. I can imagine that could be set up in the convention center, or other facility. If D.C. is to get the kind of long-term public relations promotion such an event should bring, organizing that is crucial. 

How is the planning group liaising with Congress? How are the couple of hundred members of the Equality Caucus involved? This is the time for them to show their support, while thousands of their own constituents will be visiting D.C. for the event. Maybe WorldPride is time to encourage another push to pass the Equality Act. If Democrats take the House, keep the Senate, and Biden is president, we could pass it. It’s important to bring together HRC, the Victory Fund, the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce, the National Center for Transgender Equality, Trevor Project, Carr Center at Harvard, among others, to work on this and other issues.  Each will contribute what they can and each will have ideas. Have the LGBTQ staffing groups on the Hill been involved with WorldPride yet? Then has the Capital Pride Alliance reached out to all the LGBTQ groups in the federal agencies, or to the wealth of talent within the leadership of groups like Whitman-Walker, SMYAL, and the LGBTQ+ Center, as well as those in the surrounding suburbs of Virginia and Maryland? Everyone should be involved. 

It is important to find a way to ensure visitors from around the world have a way to easily access information about all the events that will take place during the two weeks of WorldPride, as they plan their trips. This information can be shared through all the embassies, and worldwide press. We know many events, and venues, will require tickets, and reservations. Any traveler knows, having this information well in advance, clearly helps make for a successful trip. The information shared could include information on potential add-on trips to Rehoboth Beach, and other venues.  

One of the things we cannot know, is who will be president of the United States at that time. If it is Joe Biden, we are fine. If, God forbid, it’s Donald Trump, that could be scary. How would that impact how federal agencies get involved, how about Homeland Security? All contingencies need to be prepared for. 

WorldPride will bring together people from across the country. Young people from San Francisco to rural Mississippi, places where being out is not yet so easy. We must showcase how being free to be who you are will make your life better. We need to showcase the best of the LGBTQ community, and show the world here in the United States, we are working to be truly equal and free. We need to involve all those who support us, and who we support. That includes the corporate community, police departments, and the military. We have fought long and hard to get their support, now is the time for us and them to be proud of it. 

We have an incredible opportunity for D.C., and the entire United States, to shine. I urge those doing the planning to involve as many people as you can. Reach out, and let each person, and each group, take an active role in this venture. WorldPride 2025 will be better if you do. 

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

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Fathers should speak to kids about drugs, alcohol

Highlight dangers of illicit substances, how to manage peer pressure

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What does it take to be a good father? While there are many answers, it generally involves showing up daily, playing an essential role in their life, being there for them, and loving them unconditionally. 

Fathers are there to provide abundant love and support. Most fathers know the sacrifice it takes to ensure their children are loved and cared for. A father is always there for their kids, offering guidance, support, and education. The greatest joy for any father is seeing their children thrive, do well in life, and be healthy. 

However, things can get derailed in life, and teens and young adults take risks, such as experimenting with drugs or alcohol. Fathers have a responsibility to speak to their kids about drugs and alcohol and help them understand the risks and consequences. 

Data has shown that more than half of LGBTQ youth used alcohol in the last year, and more than one in three LGBTQ youth used marijuana in the previous year. Approximately 11% of LGBTQ youth reported regular use (defined as daily or weekly use) of both alcohol and marijuana.

Illegal drugs today are more readily available than ever before. According to the DEA, drug traffickers have turned smartphones into a one-stop shop to market, sell, buy, and deliver deadly fake prescription pills and other drugs. Amid this ever-changing age of social media influence, kids, teens, and young adults are easily influenced.  

Drug traffickers advertise on social media platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook. The posts are promptly posted and removed with code words and emojis used to market and sell illicit drugs. Unfortunately, digital media provides an increased opportunity for both marketing and social transmission of risk products and behaviors. 

Fathers are responsible for protecting and preparing our children for the world. Drug education is essential. Take the time to speak to your kids about the dangers of illicit substances, how to avoid and manage peer pressure, and what to look for. Be prepared to share personal experiences and help them understand that some choices have consequences. 

However, it can be challenging to see our kids struggle with things in life, and as fathers, we can also face our own difficulties, making it more difficult to help our children. The responsibility of raising children can be a lot; there are many challenges along the way, and the pressure of being a good influence can get the best of us. 

All of this makes it vital not to ignore our mental health; children, especially younger kids, mimic what they see. How we cope with frustration, anger, sadness, or isolation impacts our children in several ways. 

Our actions have consequences. Children see how we handle every situation, and while no father is perfect, we must be conscious of the fact they are impressionable when they are young. They look up to us, mimic our actions, and see when we are doing well in life mentally.   

The key for fathers caring for children is to take the time to care for themselves. However, if you are struggling, contact the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. Taking care of your mental health is the same as taking care of your physical health; it is an integral part of your well-being and contributes to you being the best father you can be.

Nickolaus Hayes is a healthcare professional in the field of substance use and addiction recovery and is part of the editorial team at DRS. His primary focus is spreading awareness by educating individuals on the topics surrounding substance use.

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