April 29, 2020 at 10:01 am EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Bowser names LGBTQ members to ReOpen DC Advisory Group
ReOpen DC, gay news, Washington Blade
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced creation of a new group that will plan the city’s reopening after the COVID lockdown. (Photo by AFGE via Flickr) (Photo by AFGE via Flickr)

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser on Monday announced she has created a ReOpen DC Advisory Group to be led by prominent national and local figures that includes at least seven LGBT community members to help the city develop the best plan for emerging from the coronavirus shutdowns of businesses and services.

Bowser named Michael Chertoff, former U.S. Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security under the George W. Bush administration, and Susan Rice, former White House National Security Adviser under the Obama administration, as chairpersons of the Advisory Group.

The mayor named six co-chairpersons of the advisory body, including two former D.C. mayors – Anthony Williams and Adrian Fenty. Also named as co-chairpersons were Nicole Lurie, former Assistant Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services under the Obama administration; D.C.’s current Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey DeWitt; D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson; and senior Bowser administration adviser Beverly Perry.

A statement released by the mayor’s office says the ReOpen DC Advisory Group, among other things, will develop “recommendations on reopening the District safely and sustainably through a plan based on science and tailored to the needs of the community.”

The statement says the recommendations by the advisory group would consist of a “phased reopening with mitigation guidelines” to ensure the safety of all residents and visitors.

However, during a press briefing in which she announced the launching of the Advisory Group, the mayor said the city isn’t ready, based on federal guidelines, to allow businesses deemed nonessential to reopen at this time and it was still too soon for her to lift her stay-at-home order for city residents.

Bowser appointed the Advisory Group’s LGBTQ members to serve on at least three of its 11 subcommittees whose total ranks consist of close to 200 members.

The LGBTQ members include gay D.C. Department of Transportation Director Jeff Marootian and gay D.C. real estate developer David Franco, who are serving on the Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee. Gay photographer and arts activist Marvin Bowser, the mayor’s brother; gay D.C. hotel executive Jay Haddock; and gay arts advocate and political activist Peter Rosenstein are members of the Faith, Arts, Culture, Hotels, Entertainment and Sports Subcommittee.

Bowser named gay former D.C. Council member David Catania as Community Co-Chairperson of the Human Services, Social Services, and Health Subcommittee. The mayor also appointed to that subcommittee gay D.C. physician Jim D’Orta and longtime LGBTQ community ally Don Blanchon, who serves as an official with D.C.’s Whitman-Walker Health.

The mayor also named another longtime LGBTQ community ally, anti-violence advocate Ron Moten, who serves as lead adviser to the LGBTQ youth retail business and community services center Check It Enterprises, as a member of the Government Operations, Public Safety, and Criminal Justice Subcommittee.

The Subcommittee on Equity, Disparity Reduction, and Vulnerable Populations lists “LGBTQ” as one of its seven focus areas, but the Washington Blade couldn’t determine whether any of its 14 members identify as LGBTQ.

“We can confirm that LGBTQ people are represented across the committees and the LGBTQ community is the focus of the committee on Equity, Disparity, and Vulnerable Populations,” said Sheila Alexander Reid, director of the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs. But neither Reid nor the mayor’s press office responded to a request by the Blade for the names of all committee and subcommittee members who openly identify as LGBTQ beyond the seven that the Blade has identified and who are well known to the community.

Some representatives of the city’s nightlife businesses, including bars and nightclubs, expressed concern that while a few restaurant industry representatives were named to the subcommittee on Restaurants and Food Retailers – the only subcommittee covering nightlife related businesses – no one directly involved in operating bars or nightclubs was named to the subcommittee.

“Only two restaurateurs are included on the subcommittee and neither, while respected business persons, represent the breadth and diversity of local nightlife establishments and no bar or nightclub venues are among them,” said Mark Lee, who serves as coordinator of the D.C. Nightlife Council, an association representing bars, restaurants and nightclubs.

“In addition, there is not a single representative of the industry’s 65,000 employees who are directly and mightily affected by the city shutdown order,” Lee said.

When asked about her selection of the people she appointed to the Advisory Group and its subcommittees at her Monday press briefing, Bowser said the appointees represent the broad diversity of city residents and businesses.

“We are dealing with a local, national and a global pandemic,” she said. “I think we have called on a great mix of people that embody all of those needs and have all of those experiences.”

On Tuesday, one day after the mayor launched the new Advisory Group, the mayor’s office announced it has revised its coronavirus website to include a survey providing all D.C. residents an opportunity to give their immediate input and ideas on how the city should reopen.

The mayor’s office also announced on Tuesday that it would conduct a ReOpenDC Virtual Town Hall on Wednesday, April 29, at 5 p.m. through the revised website www.coronavirus.dc.gov/reopendc. Members of the public will be able to ask questions at the town hall to Mayor Bowser and ReOpen DC chairs Rice and Chertoff, the announcement says.

The public survey can also be accessed on that same website, according to the mayor’s office.

Also on Tuesday, the city released its latest figures on the coronavirus epidemic in D.C., which show there were 102 new positive COVID-19 cases on Monday, bringing D.C.’s overall positive case total to 3,994.

The figures show there were five new COVID-19 deaths reported on Monday, bringing the total number of COVID-19 related deaths in the city so far to 190. The city’s figures show that as of Monday, African Americans made up 79 percent of the D.C. deaths and 50 percent of the total positive cases.

A spokesperson for the D.C. Department of Health said the city was in the process of taking steps to collect data on the number of cases based on the category of sexual orientation and gender identity but the department was not ready to release those figures.

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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