Five D.C. Council members, the director of the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs, and D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham joined about 100 people Thursday night for the Gay & Lesbian Activists Alliance’s 47th Anniversary Reception.
The event, held at Policy Restaurant on 14th Street, N.W., highlighted what many of the group’s longtime members and supporters say is its role as the nation’s oldest continuously active gay and lesbian civil rights organization that later expanded its mission to advocate for transgender rights.
It was founded in 1971 by a group of gay activists who worked that year on D.C. gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny’s election campaign for the city’s non-voting representative to Congress. Kameny lost the election but his highly visible campaign drew attention to the city’s emerging gay rights movement.
Guillaume Bagal, the group’s current president, said the turnout for the reception reflected the efforts by a new crop of officers who took charge of the group last year to expand its ranks.
“Just looking into the crowd I saw many of the old faces but so many new ones as well, which is really what we tried to achieve beginning last year – to bring in new members and even younger ones with fresh ideas,” Bagal said. “It gives me hope for the future of GLAA.”
Bagal and other GLAA officers presented the group’s annual Distinguished Service Award to one organization and two individuals that the group said advanced the cause of LGBT equality as well as helped uplift marginalized communities beyond just the LGBT community.
Among the recipients of the award was Check It Enterprises, formerly known as the Check It Gang, which was started by a group of young LGBT people that came together as a street gang to protect each other from being bullied and attacked because of their identities as gay, lesbian or transgender.
With the help and encouragement of D.C. youth advocate Ron Moten, Check It members transformed themselves from a gang into a fledgling business enterprise in which they produce, market and sell a line of clothing. Since the transformation began five years ago they have held several fashion shows that began in public spaces but are now held, along with other events, at their own headquarters office and production space in historic Anacostia.
“They also use the building as a safe haven and conduct activities and programming for LGBT youth and young adults,” according to a GLAA write-up about the group, which notes that Check It became the subject of an award-winning documentary film.
The two individuals receiving GLAA’s Distinguished Service Award on Thursday night were D.C. Council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), and Whitman-Walker Health Executive Director Don Blanchon.
GLAA noted that Cheh, among other things, has been a longtime supporter of LGBT rights and introduced and pushed through a bill in the D.C. Council in 2013 that prohibits so-called conversion therapy seeking to change people from gay to straight from being practiced on people younger than 18 years old.
Other accomplishments of Cheh cited by GLAA include the Death with Dignity Act of 2015, which she authored; her advocacy for legislation to protect the environment, improve the health of D.C. residents, efforts to combat homelessness and prosecute bias crimes against homeless people; and an effort to eliminate the statute of limitations for the prosecution of sexual assaults.
In presenting its Distinguished Service Award to Blanchon, GLAA said he has played a key role for the past 11 years as executive director of Whitman-Walker Health in providing “an affirming and safe healthcare environment to gender and sexual minorities and other marginalized communities in the District.”
In addition to Cheh, members of the D.C. Council who attended the GLAA anniversary reception were Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large), Robert White (D-At-Large), Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), and Elissa Silverman (I-At-Large). Also attending were former D.C. Council member and longtime LGBT rights supporter Carol Schwartz and D.C. Council candidate Ed Lazere, who’s running against Mendelson for the Council Chair seat in the June 19 Democratic primary.
Evans presented GLAA with an official proclamation unanimously approved by the D.C. Council recognizing GLAA’s anniversary. Sheila Alexander-Reid, director of the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs, presented the group with an official proclamation issued by Mayor Muriel Bowser honing GLAA on its 47th anniversary.
D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham also attended the event along with Lt. Brett Parson, who oversees the department’s special liaison units, and Sgt. Jessica Hawkins, who serves as supervisor of the LGBT Liaison Unit.