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Top 10 local stories of 2018

Hate crimes, election results and big changes to D.C. nightlife top our list

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Top 10 local stories of 2018, gay news, Washington Blade

Hate crimes, election results and big changes to D.C. nightlife top our list for biggest local stories of 2018. (Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

No. 10: Many LGBT tipped workers join effort to oppose Initiative 77

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A large number of LGBT servers, bartenders, and other tipped workers joined the restaurant industry’s campaign in the spring of 2018 to oppose a D.C. ballot initiative calling for ending the city’s tipped wage system.

The system, which is part of the city’s labor law, allows restaurants and other hospitality industry businesses to pay employees a lower minimum wage than that offered to non-tipped workers as long as tipped workers earn the equivalent of the full minimum wage through their tips. If the tips fall short of that the businesses are required to pay the difference.

D.C. voters in June approved the initiative, but the D.C. Council a short time later voted to overturn the measure under its legal authority to do so. Supporters of the initiative quickly organized a new ballot measure in the form of a referendum to “repeal” the Council repeal of Initiative 77.

In yet another twist and turn over the Initiative 77 battle, the restaurant industry association filed a lawsuit that resulted in a D.C. Superior Court judge in December halting the referendum on grounds that the D.C. Board of Elections failed to give sufficient public notice of a hearing in which the wording of the referendum was approved. Supporters of the initiative said they planned to appeal the judge’s ruling.

No. 9: Major changes to D.C.’s nightlife scene

Town nightclub closed in 2018 but Pitchers quickly emerged as a new go-to nightspot. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The closing of the popular D.C. gay dance club Town due to displacement by real estate development and the opening of a new dual gay sports bar Pitchers and its adjacent lesbian bar League of Her Own were among a number of changes in the D.C. and Baltimore area LGBT nightlife scenes in 2018.

Other changes included the sale of the buildings in which two D.C. gay bars have operated for many years – Bachelor’s Mill on 8th Street, S.E., near the Washington Navy Yard; and Cobalt at 17th and R streets, N.W. Both clubs have continued to operate as usual, but Bachelor’s Mill’s owner has declined to say whether the new owner plans to allow the club to remain in its building indefinitely.

Cobalt owner Eric Little has said Cobalt’s current lease lasts until 2021 and that he is uncertain what might happen after the lease runs out.

The start of 2018, just after New Year’s Day, marked the end of a two-year run of a Sunday night gay male strip club venue on Georgia Avenue, N.W. created by gay former D.C. Council member Jim Graham in partnership with the owner of The House, which hosted Graham’s Sunday night venue called Rock Hard. On all other nights The House continued its regular venue of female strippers for a straight clientele.

When Graham died suddenly in June 2017 from complications associated with an intestinal infection The House owner said he planned to continue the Sunday night Rock Hard venue. But regular customers said that without Graham’s guidance the clientele dropped off and owner Daryl Allen decided to discontinue the event in January.

Ownership and management changes saw the Baltimore Eagle close, though the owner has said the club will reopen. The Baltimore gay club Grand Central was sold in fall of 2018, with the new owner saying the club will remain ‘gay’ for the time being. In Rehoboth Beach, the Double L gay bar also changed ownership and reopened as Diego’s Hideaway.

No. 8: CAMP Rehoboth leader Steve Elkins dies at 67

Steve Elkins, CAMP Rehoboth, gay news, Washington Blade

Steve Elkins (left) shown here with his husband Murray Archibald. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

LGBT people and their supporters who frequent the popular resort town of Rehoboth Beach, Del., in March mourned the loss of Steve Elkins, the co-founder and executive director of CAMP Rehoboth, an LGBT community services center.

Elkins, a widely recognized advocate for LGBT rights since the 1980s, died March 15 following a battle with lymphoma. He was 67.

“For over 25 years as its Executive Director, Steve’s leadership and vision has allowed CAMP Rehoboth to become one of the most respected and successful non-profit organizations in Delaware and has contributed greatly to establishing Rehoboth as a widely recognized community with ‘room for all,’” the organization stated on its Facebook page.

“As he did throughout his life, fighting for the rights of so many in this state, he fought lymphoma with courage and dignity until the very end,” the statement said.

Elkins’ passing followed an announcement made one month earlier in what became his last column in the Rehoboth magazine Letters From CAMP Rehoboth, in which he said he was taking a medical leave of absence and that his husband and life partner of 39 years, Murray Archibald, would serve as the organization’s interim executive director.

Archibald, who co-founded CAMP Rehoboth with Elkins, has since been named Elkins’ successor as the organization’s executive director.

“The evolution of Rehoboth Beach from a city where homophobia reared its evil head too frequently to a city that is truly accepting to all is largely the work of Steve Elkins,” said Delaware LGBT rights advocate and former Sussex County Democratic Party Chair Mitch Crane.

No. 7: Mayor Bowser ‘takes over’ high heel race                

The 32nd annual High Heel Race was held on Frank Kameny Way on Tuesday, Oct. 30. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser made official in mid-October what LGBT activists have said has been a developing trend during the past several years – that the D.C. government directed by the mayor’s office would be the official sponsor and organizer of the city’s 32nd Annual 17th Street High Heel Race.

For years the event has been one of the city’s most popular Halloween events, with thousands of people lining the street to watch as many as 100 drag queens racing down the street wearing a required pair of high heel shoes.

“The mayor was really excited about this when we talked about it a year ago because this shows her support of the LGBTQ community and its diversity,” said Sheila Alexander-Reid, director of the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs.

“And I think this is going to go a long way toward making sure this event last and continue,” Alexander-Reid said. “I know Mayor Bowser loves this event and I know she’s proud to present it.”

The event took place Tuesday night, Oct. 30, with Bowser giving the official signal to start the race.

No. 6: Four gay men, one trans woman murdered in D.C.-Baltimore

Brendon Michaels was found dead in his Baltimore apartment on Nov. 8, 2018. Police have not made any arrests in connection with his murder. (Photo courtesy of Carroll Community College)

Two gay men in D.C., a gay man in Beltsville, Md., a gay man in Baltimore, and a transgender woman in Baltimore were victims of murder in 2018.

But police in each of those locations said they had yet to obtain evidence to show the victims were targeted because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Arrests have been made in two of the five cases.

Meanwhile, D.C. police in early 2018 made three arrests for the Dec. 28, 2017 murder of lesbian Kerrice Lewis, 23, who was found shot to death in the trunk of her car that had been set on fire by one of the suspects arrested in the case.

D.C. police said the motive for her killing appeared to be a dispute between a group of friends. Police said they had no evidence to indicate Lewis was targeted because of her status as a lesbian.

Three men have been charged with first degree murder while armed in connection with her death. The three are being held without bond while awaiting trial.

The first of the five 2018 cases took place on March 14, when Antonio Barnes, 27, was fatally stabbed outside his residence in Beltsville. P.G. County police one month later charged Barnes’ boyfriend, Canaan Peterson, 23, with first degree murder, but prosecutors later allowed Peterson to plead guilty to a lower charge of first degree assault. Authorities said the case was an act of domestic violence and they didn’t believe Peterson, who stabbed Barnes in the upper leg, intended to kill him. Authorities said Barnes bled to death after the stab wound punctured an artery.

On March 14, gay D.C. resident Sean Anderson, 48, was found shot to death in his apartment on the 2300 block of Good Hope Rd., S.E. In April D.C. police charged Jerome Wilson, 35, an acquaintance of Anderson, with second degree murder. On July 21, District resident Michael Miller, 37, was found shot to death in an alley behind the 1600 block of Minnesota Ave., S.E. Police say no suspects and no motive have been identified in the case.

On Nov. 8, Brendon Michaels, 43, a fitness instructor at Carroll Community College, was found beaten to death in his apartment on the 1200 block of St. Paul Street in Baltimore. Police have no suspects and no known motive for his murder.

On Nov. 26, 37-year-old transgender woman Tydi Dansbury was found suffering from a gunshot wound to her body in the 1900 block of W. Lanvale Street in Baltimore, according to Baltimore police. She died two days later at a nearby hospital. Police say they have no suspects and no known motive in the case. They are seeking help from the public in their investigation into the murder.

No. 5: Md., Del. ban conversion therapy; Va. measure killed

Maryland and Delaware passed laws in 2018 that ban licensed mental health professionals from performing so-called conversion therapy for minors. Separate bills calling for banning the therapy for minors in Virginia died in committee in the state House and Senate.

In May, Republican Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland signed into law a conversion therapy ban that had been passed at that time in D.C. and 11 other states. In July, Delaware Gov. John Carney (D) signed a similar bill approved by the Delaware Legislature.

LGBT activists in both states praised their governors and state lawmakers for enacting laws that they said would protect LGBT young people from the serious harms attributed to “therapy” seeking to change someone’s sexual orientation from gay to straight.

All of the mainline professional medical and mental health organizations, including the American Psychiatric Association and the American Medical Association, have warned that conversion therapy is ineffective to changing someone’s sexual orientation and has been found to cause harmful side effects such as depression, suicidal ideation.

In Virginia, Republican lawmakers tabled two bills in February calling for banning conversion therapy for minors in Virginia, effectively killing the bills for the legislature’s 2018 session. Supporters of the bills said they would reintroduce them in 2019.

No. 4: Matthew Shepard interred at National Cathedral

Judy and Dennis Shepard at Washington National Cathedral in D.C. on Oct. 26. Their son Matthew’s ashes were interred in the church’s crypt. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The ashes of Matthew Shepard were interred in the Washington National Cathedral’s crypt on Oct. 26 during a private ceremony following a service open to the public in the cathedral’s main hall, which was filled to capacity.

Shepard, a gay University of Wyoming student, died on Oct. 12, 1998, after being bludgeoned with the barrel of a pistol by Aaron McKinney and tied to a fence in a desolate field in Laramie, Wyo., by accomplice Russell Henderson in what has become known as one of the nation’s most notorious anti-gay hate crimes.

Matthew Shepard’s parents, Dennis and Judy Shepard, were among those who attended the National Cathedral service after announcing their decision to have their son laid to rest at the Cathedral 20 years after his passing. The two have become vocal advocates for LGBT rights and for efforts to pass hate crimes legislation nationally and in states across the country

“It’s so important that we have a home for Matt,” said Dennis Shepard before the interment. “A home that others can visit; a home that is safe from haters, a home that he loved dearly from his younger days in Sunday school and as an acolyte at his church back home.”

Retired New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson, who in 2003 became the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church, delivered an emotional homily at the service.

“Gently rest in this place,” he said. “You are safe now…welcome home.”

No. 3: Six anti-gay assaults target gay men in D.C.

Gay men were the victims in at least six anti-gay assaults that occurred in D.C. in 2018 beginning in April. Arrests have been made in just two of the incidents.

The first took place April 15 at Vermont Ave. and U Street, N.W. at about 12:30 a.m. when three unidentified male suspects assaulted two gay men while shouting anti-gay names. Both men were hospitalized and treated for non-life threatening injuries. On May 20, two or three male suspects assaulted a gay man while yelling anti-gay names about 1 a.m. at Sherman Ave. and Harvard St., N.W.

On May 27 one unidentified male suspect shouted anti-gay names at two men walking on the sidewalk on the 1300 block of 14th St., N.W. about 6:30 p.m. The suspect punched one of the men in the face before fleeing the scene. On June 5, D.C. police arrested District resident Bertrand Lebeau Jr. for allegedly punching a male victim in the head and stomping on the victim’s cell phone while calling the victim a “faggot.” Lebeau was charge with simple assault and destruction of property.

On June 10 male suspect Uduak Iben was charged with simple assault and destruction of property for allegedly destroying LGBT Pride decorations displayed outside a pet store near the corner of 17th and R streets., N.W. and assaulting two of the store’s employees who tried to stop him from pulling down the decorations. He shouted “fuck gay people” while attacking the employees, according to a police report.

The last of the six incidents took place on Sept. 16 along the 2000 block of New Hampshire Avenue, N.W. near a D.C. police station. Four males and one female suspect jumped out of two vehicles and attacked and beat two gay men while shouting anti-gay slurs, a police report says. One of the victims was hospitalized. Both victims were wearing Stonewall Kickball T-shirts associated with a gay kickball league. No arrests have been made in the case.

No. 2: Danica Roem sworn in, makes history

Danica Roem, gay news, Washington Blade

Danica Roem was sworn in on Jan. 10. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

On Jan. 10, history was made when Danica Roem was sworn into office as a member of the Virginia House of Delegates from her district in Manassas to become the nation’s first transgender person to serve in a state legislature.

Roem, a Democrat, won election to the seat in November 2017 by defeating anti-LGBT incumbent Robert Marshall (R), who held the seat for more than two decades.

“While at first Danica received international attention because of her groundbreaking win, now she receives coverage because of her deep policy knowledge and the legislation she has advanced that improves the lives of Virginians,” said Ruben Gonzales, president of the LGBTQ Victory Institute, which supported Roem in her election campaign.

Roem has been credited with running a highly effective campaign by focusing on local issues that most impact the residents of her district, including traffic congestion and innovative ways to alleviate the free up clogged commuter roads and highways.

She has emerged as one of the Virginia General Assembly’s most outspoken advocates for LGBT equality.

No. 1: 2018 election results

Dionne Reeder, gay news, Washington Blade

Dionne Reeder ran a spirited, but unsuccessful, campaign for City Council. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The so-called “rainbow wave” in which a record number of openly LGBT candidates won election to public office across the country on the state and national level in 2018 did not appear to reach D.C., Delaware, and Virginia.

In what some LGBT activists viewed as a disappointment, seven gay or lesbian candidates lost their races this year in D.C. for several key positions, including mayor, City Council member, attorney general, and the city’s congressional delegate seat.

But in what other activists view as a positive sign for LGBT equality, all of the incumbent public office holders that defeated the gay and lesbian candidates in D.C. have longstanding records of strong support for LGBT rights.

And while the seven gay and lesbian candidates lost their races for the more traditional positions such as mayor and D.C. Council seats, Ward 3 community activist Monika Nemeth broke new ground on Nov. 6 by becoming the first known transgender person to win election to a seat on one of the city’s Advisory Neighborhood Commissions.

Another 23 gay men or lesbians won election or re-election to 22 other ANC seats, which are unpaid positions with no powers other than to advise city officials on local community based issues such as trash collection and liquor license approval.

Among the LGBT supportive incumbents to win re-election to the D.C. Council was Elissa Silverman (I-At-Large) who defeated lesbian challenger and businesswoman Dionne Reeder, who also ran as an independent. Reeder was considered to have the best shot at winning among the other six gay candidates that lost, all of whom were men.

The remaining six non-ANC gay candidates that lost were Kent Boese, who challenged incumbent Council member Brianne Nadeau (D-Ward 1) in the Democratic primary; Jamie Sycamore, who challenged Nadeau as an independent in the general election; Libertarian Party activist Martin Moulton, who waged a longshot challenge to Mayor Muriel Bowser (D); and longshot Libertarian candidates Joe Henchman, who ran for Attorney General and his husband Ethan Bishop Henchman, who ran for D.C. Council Chair against incumbent Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large). Gay Libertarian Bruce Majors ran against D.C. Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D). All six lost by wide margins.

In a similar development in Delaware, lesbian civic activist Kerri Evelyn Harris lost her Democratic primary challenge in September by a lopsided margin to incumbent U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, who has a record of strong support for LGBT rights. Gay Republican businessman Eugene Truono also threw his hat in the ring for Carper’s Senate seat but lost to challenger Rob Arlett in the Republican primary. Carper beat Arlett by a wide margin in the November general election.

In Virginia, no openly LGBT candidates surfaced in 2018 in the state’s congressional races. No candidates were up for election in the Virginia General Assembly in 2018.

In Maryland, three of the four incumbent openly gay or lesbian members of the Maryland House of Delegates – Bonnie Cullison (D-Montgomery County), Anne Kaiser (D-Montgomery County), and Luke Clippinger (D-Baltimore City) won re-election.

The fourth incumbent, lesbian Del. Mary Washington (D-Baltimore City), won election to the Maryland State Senate in a separate district in Baltimore City.

Also winning re-election was gay Howard County Register of Wills Byron Macfarlane, who will begin his new term in that position in January.

And in a development that continues Maryland’s status as a pre-existing “rainbow wave” state, gay civic activist Gabriel Acevery, a Democrat, won election to the House of Delegates in a District in Montgomery County. Acevery’s election continues Maryland’s status of having five openly gay or lesbian members in its state legislature, among the highest number of LGBT state lawmakers in the nation.

Meanwhile, three other LGBT candidates lost their races for seats in the Maryland Legislature in 2018. Transgender rights advocate Dana Beyer lost her bid for a State Senate seat in Montgomery County in the Democratic primary. The seat had been held by longtime gay incumbent Richard Madaleno (D), who gave up the seat in an unsuccessful race for governor.

Also losing their races in the Democratic primary for House of Delegate seats in Montgomery County were bisexual Mila Johns and gay candidate Kevin Mack.

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Patrick O’Connell, acclaimed AIDS activist, dies at 67

Played key role in creating red ribbon for awareness

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Activist Patrick O’Connell was instrumental in creating the red ribbon to promote AIDS awareness. (Photo courtesy of Allen Frame; courtesy Visual AIDS)

Patrick O’Connell, a founding director of the New York City-based AIDS advocacy group Visual AIDS who played a lead role in developing the internationally recognized display of an inverted, V-shaped red ribbon as a symbol of AIDS advocacy, died on March 23 at a Manhattan hospital from AIDS-related causes, according to the New York Times. He was 67.

Visual AIDS said in a statement that O’Connell held the title of founding director of the organization from 1980 to 1995.

During those years, according to the statement and others who knew him, O’Connell was involved in the group’s widely recognized and supported efforts to use art and artist’s works to advocate in support of people with HIV/AIDS and efforts to curtail the epidemic that had a devastating impact on the art world.

Thanks to a grant from the Art Matters foundation, Visual AIDS was able to retain O’Connell as its first paid staff member in 1990, the group said in its statement.

“Armed with a fax machine and an early Macintosh computer, Patrick helped Visual AIDS grow from a volunteer group to a sustainable non-profit organization,” the statement says. “A passionate spokesperson for the organization, he helped projects like Day Without Art, Night Without Light, and the Red Ribbon reach thousands of people and organizations across the world,” the group says in its statement.

“We were living in a war zone,” the statement quoted O’Connell as saying in a 2011 interview with the Long Island newspaper Newsday. “But it was like a war that was some kind of deep secret only we knew about,” O’Connell said in the interview. “Thousands were dying of AIDS. We felt we had to respond with a visible expression,” he told the newspaper.

With O’Connell’s help, Visual AIDS in 1989 organized the first annual Day Without Art in which dozens of galleries and museums in New York and other cities covered art works with black cloths to symbolize the mourning of those who died of AIDS. Among those participating were the Brooklyn Museum, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which replaced a Picasso painting with a “somber informational placard,” according to the New York Times.

In 1990 O’Connell helped Visual AIDS organize the first Night Without Light, which was held at the time of World AIDS Day. New York City’s skyscraper buildings, bridges, monuments, and Broadway theaters turned off their lights for 15 minutes to commemorate people who lost their lives to AIDS, the New York Times reported.

In the kickoff of its Red Ribbon Project in 1991, McConnell helped organize volunteers to join “ribbon bees” in which thousands of the ribbons were cut and folded for distribution around the city, the Times reports. Those who knew McConnell said he also arranged for his team of volunteers to call Broadway theaters and producers of the upcoming Tony Awards television broadcast to have participants and theater goers display the red ribbons on their clothes.

Among those displaying a red ribbon on his label at the Tony Awards broadcast was actor Jeremy Irons, who was one of the hosts. In later years, large numbers of celebrities followed the practice of wearing the red ribbon, and in 1993 the U.S. Postal Service issued a red ribbon stamp.

The Times reports that O’Connell was born and raised in Manhattan, where he attended Fordham Preparatory School and later graduated from Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., in 1973 with a bachelor’s degree in history. According to Visual AIDS, O’Connell served as director of the Hallwalls arts center in Buffalo, N.Y. from 1977 to 1978 before returning to New York City to work for a gallery called Artists Space.

The Times reports that O’Connell learned in the middle 1980s that he had contracted AIDS and began a regimen of early AIDS treatment with a cocktail of over 30 pills a day. His involvement with Visual AIDS, which began in 1989, ended on an active basis in 1995 when his health worsened, the Times reports.

As one of the last remaining survivors of his New York contemporaries who had HIV beginning in the 1980s, O’Connell continued in his strong support for AIDS-related causes through 2000s and beyond, people who knew him said.
Visual AIDS says it is gathering remembrances and photos for a tribute post for O’Connell on its website. It has invited people to share their memories of him by sending written contributions and images via email to: [email protected].

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Activists concerned over removal of D.C. AIDS office executive

Dept. of Health declines to explain abrupt replacement of Kharfen

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annual AIDS report, gay news, Washington Blade
D.C. Department of Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt abruptly dismissed Michael Kharfen from his position. (Photo via Linkedin)

The leaders of several local and national AIDS organizations have expressed concern over a decision by D.C. Department of Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt to abruptly dismiss Michael Kharfen from his position since 2013 as Senior Deputy Director of the department’s HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, Sexually Transmitted Disease and Tuberculosis Administration.

Under the leadership of Kharfen, who is gay, the Department of Health entity commonly referred to as HAHSTA has played a lead role in what AIDS advocacy organizations consider to be D.C.’s highly successful efforts in recent years to lower the rate of new HIV infections among city residents.

Alison Reeves, a spokesperson for Nesbitt, declined to give a reason for Kharfen’s termination, saying the DOH does not comment on “personnel matters.” Reeves said DOH official Dr. Anjali Talwalker has been named as interim Senior DOH Deputy Director for HAHSTA while a national search is being conducted for a permanent HAHSTA leader.

People who know Kharfen have said he has declined at this time to publicly comment on his departure from HAHSTA. He could not immediately be reached by the Blade for comment.

“Michael Kharfen’s departure is a real loss to HAHSTA, the D.C. community, and nationally,” said Paul Kawata, executive director of the D.C.-based National Minority AIDS Council. “It is important to remember that when Michael took over HAHSTA there were real challenges and concerns,” Kawata said.

“He transformed the agency and built strong relationships with local organizations and D.C.-based national organizations,” said Kawata. “His reasoned voice and ability to collaborate will be sorely missed.”

At least three sources familiar with HAHSTA, who spoke on condition of not being identified, have said reports have surfaced internally from DOH that director Nesbitt is planning to reorganize several DOH divisions, including HAHSTA.

The sources say people familiar with the reported reorganization expressed alarm that HAHSTA would be dismantled as a separate DOH entity, with AIDS-related programs operated by other DOH divisions.

“Some think she wants to use the funds earmarked for HAHSTA for other things,” said one of the sources. “She could be jeopardizing federal grant money for HIV and hepatitis,” the source said.

The Washington Blade raised questions surrounding Kharfen’s departure with John Falcicchio, the D.C. Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, who also serves as Mayor Muriel Bowser’s chief of staff, at a press conference on Monday on an unrelated topic. Falcicchio said he would try to arrange for mayoral spokesperson LaToya Foster to respond to the Blade’s questions about a possible DOH reorganization of HAHSTA and the issues surrounding Kharfen’s departure from DOH.

Neither Foster nor another mayoral spokesperson had responded as of late Tuesday.

“Michael Kharfen’s leaving D.C. government is a huge loss to the D.C. community and potentially puts at risk federal grants for HIV, sexually transmitted diseases, and hepatitis,” according to David Harvey, executive director for the D.C.-based National Coalition of STD Directors.

“If his departure is about a consolidation of agencies within DOH, then the community will be the loser,” Harvey said.

“We need HAHSTA to continue,” he said, adding, “The mayor should reverse this decision and reinstate Michael Kharfen.”

Sources familiar with the D.C. government’s personnel polices have said that Kharfen and other high-level officials holding positions such as that of a senior deputy director are considered “at will” employees who serve at the pleasure of the mayor and the agency head for whom they work. They can be removed for any reason or no reason, those familiar with the personnel policy say.

Before becoming the DOH Senior Deputy Director in charge of HAHSTA in 2013, Kharfen served from 2006 to 2013 as HAHSTA’s Bureau Chief for Partnerships, Capacity Building, and Community Outreach. Those who know Kharfen said in that role he is credited with working closely with a wide range of local and national organizations that provide services for people with HIV/AIDS as well as other public health organizations.

Among them is the D.C. Appleseed Center for Law & Justice, which has worked closely with HAHSTA and the DOH to develop, among other things, a plan to significantly curtail new HIV infections in the city by 2020.

Other groups working closely with Kharfen have been the Washington AIDS Partnership, the National Coalition of STD Directors, the Prevention Access Campaign, and the HIV-Hepatitis Policy Institute.

“Under Michael’s leadership, D.C. was instrumental in pioneering many new innovations in preventing and treating HIV that were later adopted by other jurisdictions,” said Carl Schmid, executive director of the D.C.-based HIV-Hepatitis Institute. “And if you look at the results, I think it demonstrates success,” Schmid said.

“I do not know any details of his departure, but I know he will be missed not only in D.C. but across the country,” Schmid told the Blade.

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Trans teacher, P.G. County schools face off in discrimination lawsuit

Officials deny charges of harassment, retaliation

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Jennifer Eller, gay news, Washington Blade
Jennifer Eller alleges the P.G. County school system subjected her to discrimination and harassment. (Photo courtesy of Lambda Legal)

Attorneys representing transgender former English teacher Jennifer Eller in a 2018 discrimination lawsuit against the Prince George’s County Public Schools and the county’s Board of Education filed a motion in federal court last week asking a judge to rule in support of Eller’s two main allegations against school officials.

The motion for partial summary judgment, filed on April 28 in U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, calls on the court to affirm Eller’s charges that school officials acted illegally by failing to intervene when she was subjected to a hostile work environment for five years that included abuse and harassment by students, parents, fellow teachers and supervisors and retaliation by administrators.

The motion also calls on the court to affirm that Eller, 39, was forced to resign from her teaching job in 2017 because of the harassment and discriminatory action based on her gender and gender identity.

Eller’s motion for summary judgement, which calls for a ruling in her favor on the allegations, came one month after attorneys for the P.G. County Schools and the school board filed their own motion seeking summary judgment against all the allegations in Eller’s lawsuit. If U.S. Magistrate Judge Charles B. Day rules in favor of the school system’s motion, which court observers do not think will happen, it would result in the dismissal of the lawsuit.

The motion filed by Eller’s attorneys calls on the court to rule against the school system’s motion for summary judgment.

Court records show that the motions by the opposing sides in the case came after Magistrate Judge Day issued a March 26 directive requiring the two sides to attend a May 7 settlement conference in which an effort must be made to settle the case before it goes to trial.

Day’s directive, in the form of a letter to the attorneys, called for Eller and her attorneys to submit 10 business days in advance of the conference a “written demand” for what a settlement agreement should include. Day’s letter calls for P.G. school officials and their attorneys to submit five days in advance of the conference a “written offer” to Eller for what a settlement should consist of.

“For years, I was aggressively misgendered, attacked and harassed in the hallways and even in my own classroom by students, peers and supervisors,” Eller said in a statement released by the LGBTQ litigation group Lambda Legal, which, along with the D.C. law firm Arnold & Porter, is representing Eller.

“My pleas for help and for sensitivity training on LGBTQ issues for students and staff, were ignored,” Eller said. “The relentless harassment stripped me of the joy of teaching and forced me to resign,” said Eller. “It is time for Prince George’s County Public Schools to be held accountable.”

Eller charges in her lawsuit that the harassment and discriminatory action against her began in 2011 when she began presenting as female during the school year. The lawsuit says school officials initially responded to her complaints about the harassment by demanding that she stop dressing as a woman and return to wearing men’s clothes, which she refused to do.

The lawsuit says she was forced to resign from her teaching job in 2017 after being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder due to the alleged abuse she faced on the job.

In addition to naming P.G. County Public Schools and the P.G. County Board of Education as defendants, the lawsuit also names as a defendant the school system’s CEO Monica Goldson.

The lawsuit charges that the school district and its administrators violated Title VII of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX of the U.S. Education Amendments of 1972, the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution, the Maryland Fair Employment Practices Act, and the Prince George’s County nondiscrimination code.

In its official response to the lawsuit, attorneys for the school system denied Eller’s allegations and claimed the school system had in place nondiscrimination policies that covered gender identity and sexual orientation for school employees and students. The school system also states in its response that Eller may have failed to exhaust administrative remedies required prior to filing a lawsuit and that the lawsuit missed deadlines for certain legal claims.

It also says her legal claims may be disqualified because of her “voluntary resignation of employment,” an assertion disputed by Eller’s attorneys who say the resignation was forced by the abuse and harassment Eller faced on the job.

Her attorneys also point out that Eller filed a complaint against school officials in 2015 before the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which conducted an extensive investigation into Eller’s complaint. The attorneys note that in 2017 the EEOC issued a letter stating that there was “reasonable cause” to believe Eller had been subjected to unlawful treatment based on her sex and gender identity.

“After she filed this discrimination charge, the school administration retaliated against Ms. Eller by taking away her advanced placement English class and opening a disciplinary hearing against her that ended in no discipline,” the Lambda Legal statement says.

P.G. County school officials have declined requests from the Washington Blade for comment on Eller’s lawsuit, saying they have a policy of not commenting on pending litigation.

Among those expressing concern over the issues raised in the Eller lawsuit is College Park, Md., Mayor Patrick Wojahn, who is gay. College Park, which is home to the University of Maryland, is in Prince George’s County.

“It’s important for our county and for the entire community, especially for the kids, that the schools be places free of harassment and discrimination,” Wojahn said. “And if what Ms. Eller says is true, then it shows that the school system has fallen seriously short.”

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