December 27, 2018 at 5:00 am EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Top 10 local stories of 2018
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.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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