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Biden falls short of 100-day goal to sign Equality Act into law

Biden made legislation cornerstone of promise to LGBTQ people

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Biden administration, gay news, Washington Blade

With President Biden’s first 100 days in office coming to a close, the Equality Act doesn’t appear even close to passage after his campaign promise to sign the legislation into law within that timeframe, although defenders say talks are ongoing and point to his executive actions in favor of LGBTQ rights.

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), the first out lesbian elected to the U.S. Senate and a co-sponsor of the Equality Act, told the Washington Blade on Monday the Equality Act wasn’t completely dead in the water, alluding to imminent talks with fellow senators on the comprehensive LGBTQ legislation.

“Conversations continue to try to get to 60 votes,” Baldwin said. “I am hoping to personally be involved in several of those before the recess next week, but they’re still tentative.”

Asked what the reception has been to lawmakers amid talks on the Equality Act, Baldwin referenced items of traction, but wouldn’t get into details.

“I think there’s a commitment among a bipartisan group of getting to ‘yes,’” Baldwin said. “It’s just the, you know, law-making is like sausage-making.”

When the Blade pointed out Biden had said he’d sign the legislation into law within his first 100 days and asked whether the White House was being helpful, Baldwin said she had no reason to think otherwise.

“I’ve been dealing directly with my Senate colleagues, but I have no reason to believe they’re not being helpful,” Baldwin said.

Senators considered on the fence about the Equality Act wanted nothing to do with inquiries about where things stand with them on the legislation when the Blade approached them.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who remains the lone Democrat in the Senate uncommitted on the Equality Act amid efforts of trying to pry him out by winning over the junior Republican senator from his state, professed to be unaware of the legislation when asked by the Blade if anyone has reached out to him.

Manchin, who previously signaled he couldn’t support the Equality Act because of concerns over public schools having to implement the transgender protection, told the Blade he “hasn’t seen” the bill.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who declined to co-sponsor the legislation this Congress after having previously supported it, pushed back when the Blade made similar inquiries about whether she’s involved in talks on the bill.

“I’ve talked to several people about it; I’m not going to give you a list of names,” said Collins just before a nearby aide closed down further inquiries, citing concerns about the Maine senator missing an imminent floor vote.

Although the U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year in Bostock v. Clayton County determined anti-LGBTQ discrimination is illegal under existing law in the workplace, which has application to any law banning discrimination, the Equality Act would take things further to prohibit anti-LGBTQ discrimination in public accommodations and federally funded programs.

Additionally, it would expand the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit using the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act as a defense in cases of discrimination, including protections on the basis of sex in public accommodations and federal programs and expand the definition of public accommodations to include retail stores, banks, transportation services and health care services for all protected categories, including race and national origin.

Biden, whose 100th day in office as president was set for Thursday, promised the LGBTQ community in multiple forums on the campaign trail in 2020 he’d sign the Equality Act within his first 100 days in office and included his commitment to that timeframe on the LGBTQ page of his campaign website.

Even in October 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic continued to rage in the United States and it was clear that would be a priority for him upon taking office, Biden said in an interview with the Philadelphia Gay News the Equality Act would be a top priority for him within his first 100 days.

“I will make enactment of the Equality Act a top legislative priority during my first 100 days — a priority that Donald Trump opposes,” Biden said.

But the Equality Act faces significant hurdles in the path toward passage in a Senate equally divided 50-50 along party lines where 60 votes would be needed to end a filibuster. Anti-transgender groups have pounced on the issue of transgender kids in sports, which has been the focus of legislation advancing through state legislatures and may be a sticking point in talks on the bill. Although the U.S. House passed the Equality Act largely along party lines in March, the Senate Judiciary Committee hasn’t yet voted to advance the legislation, let alone hold a floor vote on the bill.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) signaled through a spokesperson work continues behind the scenes on the Equality Act and important achievements have been made, including record business support announced this week.

“The Equality Act has made historic progress within the first 100 days of the Biden administration,” said Martina McLennan, a Merkley spokesperson. “In addition to passing the House with a bipartisan vote, this legislation has more Senate cosponsors than ever before, more than 400 major businesses have called for its passage, and, after the Judiciary Committee’s first-ever Senate hearing in March, the Equality Act is poised for further action soon. Sen. Merkley is continuing to have productive conversations with Senate Republicans and remains committed to achieving a bipartisan vote in the Senate and seeing this landmark legislation signed into law.”

The White House continues to insist nothing has changed in terms of Biden making the Equality Act a priority. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki in February twice told the Washington Blade Biden “stands by” his 100-day commitment, once in February and again on the 83rd day of the administration, blaming the Senate for inaction.

“And as you know, in order to sign legislation, it needs to come to his desk,” Psaki said. “And while he has certainly been a vocal advocate in his support for the Equality Act, obviously, as you know and noted, it passed the House; it needs to work its way through the Senate. It requires the Senate passing it in order for him to sign it.”

Asked what Biden is doing to advance the Equality Act, Psaki cited a Statement of Administration Policy in favor of the legislation and vaguely mentioned talks Biden is having.

“He has talked about his view that this is legislation that should pass,” Psaki said. “And he has a range of conversations about a range of topics, but also so does our legislative team who work to move forward his agenda every single day.”

However, exactly what the White House and Biden are doing, if anything, behind the scenes to advance the Equality Act remains unclear. One Democratic insider, who spoke on condition of anonymity for greater candor, said he’s “disappointed that they haven’t allocated much energy to it compared to other items on the agenda,” later adding “hopefully they’ll plug along.”

A White House official, asked by the Blade for this article if Biden is disappointed he won’t be able to sign the Equality Act within the 100-day timeframe he envisioned, reiterated the president’s support for the legislation.

“President Biden believes the Senate needs to act now to pass the Equality Act, and will continue to prioritize this legislation so that no one can be discriminated against on the basis of sex, including gender identity and sexual orientation,” the White House official said.

To be sure, Biden has acted to advance LGBTQ rights through executive action during his first 100 days in office, signing an executive order on his first day in office ordering federal agencies to fully implement the Bostock ruling across the board with regard to all laws against sex discrimination.

Biden wasn’t done: Days later he signed an executive order reversing former President Trump’s transgender military ban and a memorandum directing the State Department to make LGBTQ human rights an international foreign policy priority.

Based on Biden’s Bostock order, federal agencies have signaled that they would take up cases of anti-LGBTQ discrimination as sex discrimination, including the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Department of Housing & Urban Development. The Department of Education also issued a memo signaling anti-LGBTQ discrimination in school programs, including sports, is illegal under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.

But the cornerstone of Biden’s campaign promise to the LGBTQ community was signing the Equality Act to enact a change in law for LGBTQ protections. Although Biden signaled he’d enforce the law consistent with the Bostock decision, signing the Equality Act into law within 100 days was what he repeatedly promised in campaign forums.

Moreover, executive actions have limits. For starters, a subsequent administration hostile to LGBTQ rights could reverse them (even though those changes would likely be challenged in court). Most notably, because no law bars sex discrimination in public accommodations, a change in law is necessary to prohibit to anti-LGBTQ discrimination in that area. Under current federal law, businesses can refuse service to customers for being LGBTQ or throw them out for holding hands with a same-sex partner without fear of legal reprisal.

Harkening back to the 2020 presidential campaign, the inability of Biden to meet his campaign promise to sign the Equality Act into law within 100 days makes prophetic concerns some Biden campaign supporters quietly expressed about the campaign or transition team not having a dedicated policy staffer on LGBTQ issues, which could have gotten the ball rolling to anticipate controversial issues with the legislation and coordinate among principals.

LGBTQ advocacy groups working to advance the Equality Act have largely kept quiet on the strategy talks behind the scenes, although they expressed solidarity with Biden despite him not being able to meet his 100-day timeframe for the legislation.

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said via email she remains confident Biden will sign the Equality Act into law based on his actions in his first 100 days.

“NCTE had prioritized passing the Equality Act in this Congress,” Keisling said. “We are confident that President Biden will sign the bill when we can get it through the Senate whether that’s on Day 100 or Day 1,000. President Biden has been off to a quick start on trans policy with his early Bostock Executive Order, ending the trans military ban, and so far appointing the first two trans people in history to Senate confirmable positions. We are confident of more great work during these four years.”

Alphonso David. president of the Human Rights Campaign, listed the executive actions Biden has taken on behalf of the LGBTQ community since he took office when asked whether the impasse on the Equality Act is a disappointment.

“We are incredibly proud of the work the Biden Administration has done to protect and advance the rights of LGBTQ people here in the United States and across the world during his first 100 days in office. From issuing an executive order to implementing the Bostock decision across federal laws to reversing the ban on transgender service members, to an historic commitment to diversity in hiring — including appointing the first openly LGBTQ Cabinet member — the Biden Administration has made it clear that they celebrate and will fight for LGBTQ people at every level.”

David added much of the executive actions Biden has implemented were included in the organization’s Blueprint for Positive Change, which the LGBTQ group gave Biden officials during the transition period.

“Many of these recommendations have been met, and there have been significant actions taken on many more,” David added. “We are pleased with the progress that has been made in such a short amount of time, and we look forward to continuing our work with President Biden and his administration — as well as members of Congress who want to join millions of Americans in the fight for equality for all — to advance LGBTQ rights, particularly as the rights of LGBTQ people remain under attack in several states.”

CORRECTION: An initial version of the article stated the Human Rights Campaign didn’t respond by the Blade deadline. The Blade regrets the error.

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IDAHOBiT events to promote intersectionality, resilience, allyship

HRC president to participate in virtual panel in Canada

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(Photo courtesy of the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia committee)

 

Intersectionality, resilience and allyship are among the themes that this year’s International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia events will highlight.

Dignity Network Canada and the Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention on May 17 will hold a virtual panel that will feature Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David, Canadian Center for Gender and Sexual Diversity Executive Director Debbie Owusu-Akyeeah, Kaleidoscope Trust Executive Director Phyll Opoku-Gyimah, COC Nederland Executive Director Marie Ricardo and Rainbow Railroad Executive Director Kimahli Powell. The British High Commission and the Dutch Embassy in Canada have co-sponsored the event.

“We hope that this will be a really interesting and important conversation on intersectionality and transnational solidarity — and what it means for these leaders and their organizations during these times,” reads a description of the event.

The U.N. LGBTI Core Group on May 17 will host a virtual IDAHOBiT event that will focus on ways to develop an “inclusive and diverse post-pandemic world.” The World Bank Group, the International Monetary Fund, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the Inter-American and Asian Development Banks host a similar IDAHOBiT commemoration.

“In order to heal from the economic, social, and public health dire impact the pandemic has had and still has, every plan of recovery must take into account a human-rights based, intersectional and gender responsive approach that addresses the specific needs of LGBTI persons in order not to leave them further behind,” reads a description of the U.N. LGBTI Core Group event.

Several Russian LGBTQ rights groups on May 17 will hold a “Vaccine for Acceptance” event that seeks to bolster allyship in the country.

Retired South Africa Constitutional Court Justice Edwin Cameron on May 16 will moderate a virtual panel that will focus on religion and anti-LGBTQ violence.

Workplace Pride and the Dutch Embassy in Budapest on May 17 will host a symposium on LGBTQ-inclusive workplaces in Hungary. M.V. Lee Badgett, an economics professor at the University of Massachusetts, on the same day will participate in a webinar the U.S. Embassy in Singapore is hosting with Oogachaga, a local LGBTQ advocacy group.

Haver Srbija, a Serbian NGO, on May 15-16 will hold Falafel, a film festival that seeks to build “bridges and promotes Israeli, Jewish and LGBTQI culture and communities” and highlight “various social issues in the context of the fight against prejudice, discrimination, anti-Semitism, homophobia and xenophobia and encourages the audience to develop critical thinking on the issue of these topics.” Proud Lebanon is slated to hold a series of six webinars between May 17-22 that will focus on feminism, LGBTQ rights and other topics.

The National Center for Sexual Education in Cuba will hold a series of virtual forums and other events through the month to commemorate IDAHOBiT.

CENESEX Director Mariela Castro, whose father is former Cuban President Raúl Castro, during a May 4 press conference in Havana said the IDAHOBiT events are part of the process of amending the country’s family code to make it more equitable for LGBTQ Cubans. Mariela Castro said a bill to amend it will be introduced in the Cuban Parliament in July.

“I was able to appreciate that the majority of the population … is in favor of recognizing the rights of LGBTI+ people and especially the rights in the family sphere that include the possibility, the option, of marriage,” said Mariela Castro during the press conference, according to Tremenda Nota, the Washington Blade’s media partner in Cuba.

IDAHOBiT commemorates the World Health Organization’s 1990 decision to declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder.

This year’s events will take place against the backdrop of a pandemic that continues to exacerbate existing inequalities for LGBTQ people and other vulnerable groups around the world.

Consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized in dozens of countries. Violence based on gender identity and sexual orientation remains rampant in the U.S. and throughout the world.

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Mixed reviews from transgender Republicans on Caitlyn Jenner’s run

Remarks on kids in sport a sore point among LGBTQ advocacy groups

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Caitlyn Jenner was quickly repudiated by LGBTQ advocates after she entered California’s recall election as a gubernatorial candidate — and her fellow transgender Republicans are mixed over whether or not to back her up.

Transgender Republicans are few in number, but some are in high-profile positions and have been working with their party to change its approach and drop its attacks on transgender people, whether it be in the military, public bathrooms, or school sports.

Jordan Evans, a Charlton, Mass.-based transgender Republican who unsuccessfully last year ran to become a Massachusetts Republican State Committee Woman, told the Washington Blade she had high hopes for Jenner as a fellow transgender candidate, but they were quickly dashed after her campaign launched.

“My feelings changed quickly after Caitlyn made it clear that she was less interested in using this opportunity to present the Republican Party and conservative movements with an accessible and high-profile introduction to the trans community and simply wanted to be a trans woman who espoused the same destructive approaches that we just so happen to be seeing all over the country,” Evans said.

Evans said the high hopes she had were based on the transgender advocacy she said Jenner was doing behind the scenes and the potential for two prominent LGBTQ Republicans to run for governor in California. After all, Jenner may soon be joined in the race by Richard Grenell, who was U.S. ambassador to Germany and acting director of national intelligence before becoming the face of LGBTQ outreach for Trump’s failed re-election.

But Jenner’s approach to the gubernatorial recall in California, Evans said, is “putting trans youth at risk for a campaign that isn’t even transformative for Republicans during this volatile time.”

“Even her current messaging is superficial and does nothing to help dispel claims that she’s unqualified,” Evans said. “The only positive thing that I’ve seen come from this is conservative mainstream media using her correct pronouns, but that is not worth the damage that she’s inflicting.”

Much of the disappointment over Jenner’s campaign is the result of her essentially throwing transgender kids under the bus as part of her campaign at a time when state legislatures are advancing legislation against them, including the bills that would essentially bar transgender girls from participating in school sports.

Jenner, declining to push back on these measures and assert transgender kids have a place in sports, instead essentially endorsed the bills shortly after she announced her candidacy.

“If you’re born as a biological boy, you shouldn’t be allowed to compete in girls’ sports,” Jenner told TMZ, which asked her about the hot-button issue during a Sunday morning coffee run.

Jenner dug deeper into MAGA-world at the expense of solidarity with the transgender community. Last week, Jenner retweeted Jenna Ellis, who has a notoriously anti-LGBTQ background and was criticized just last year for refusing to use the personal pronouns of Rachel Levine, who’s now assistant secretary of health and the first openly transgender presidential appointee to win Senate confirmation.

Jennifer Williams, a New Jersey-based transgender Republican who unsuccessfully ran for a seat in the New Jersey General Assembly last year, said via email Jenner “did much good for several years by educating millions of people around the world about transgender folks,” but won’t countenance the candidate’s remarks on transgender kids in sports.

“In regard to her current run for California governor, her recent comments regarding transgender youth playing sports are confusing,” Williams said. “Just last year, she said that she supported transgender female athletes. Caitlyn should consult with tennis great Billie Jean King, soccer star Megan Rapinoe or WNBA legend Candace Parker on the subject of transgender athletes in women’s sports, as they are very well versed on the matter.”

At a time when state legislatures are pushing through legislation targeting transgender youth, restricting their access to sports and transition-related care, Jenner’s refusal to repudiate those measures has become a focal point for opposition to her candidacy from LGBTQ advocacy groups, who say she’s “out of touch” (although none were supporting her even before she made those comments).

The LGBTQ Victory Fund, which supports LGBTQ political candidates and public officials, has signaled it wants nothing to do with Jenner.

Sean Meloy, vice president of political programs for LGBTQ Victory Fund, said Jenner hasn’t applied for an endorsement from the Victory Fund “and she shouldn’t bother to.”

“Her opposition to full trans inclusion – particularly for trans kids in sports – makes her ineligible for the endorsement,” Meloy said. “There are many great trans candidates running this cycle who are champions for equality.”

To be sure, Jenner used her celebrity status as a former reality TV star and Olympic champion on behalf of transgender lobbyists, urging donations to groups like the National Center for Transgender Equality and going to Capitol Hill to lobby Republicans on transgender issues. Jenner has also given money for transgender kids to attend college, giving transgender advocate Blossom Brown a check for $20,000 on “The Ellen Show” in 2015.

Blaire White, a transgender conservative and YouTube personality, drew on these examples of Jenner helping transgender youth in a video earlier this month and said the two once had dinner together, but wasn’t yet ready to make a endorsement.

“I will say that until she lays out all of her policy positions and until she’s more on record in long form really talking about what she wants to do for the state of California, I can’t say for sure I would vote for her and would not vote for her,” White concluded in the video. “What I can say is: I’m interested. And also, being under Gavin Newson’s governorship, I would literally vote for a triple-amputee frog over Gavin Newsom, so she already has that going for her.”

Jenner’s campaign couldn’t be reached for comment for this article on the repudiation of her campaign from LGBTQ advocacy groups.

Gina Roberts, who’s the first transgender Republican elected to public office in California and a member of the San Diego GOP Central Committee, said she’s neutral for the time being as an elected Republican Party leader, but nonetheless had good things to say about Jenner’s candidacy.

“I think it’s awesome,” Roberts said. “It’s kind of indicative of how cool the Republican Party in California is because nobody really cares or it makes any difference. I mean, I was the first elected GOP transgender person in California and I think we’re ready for No. 2.”

Asked whether Jenner’s comments about allowing transgender kids in sports was troubling, Roberts said that wasn’t the case because she has her own reservations.

“I have pretty much the same opinion because … there’s so many nuances in that,” Roberts said. “If somebody transitions after they’ve gone through puberty, there is a big difference, especially in high school. If they transition beforehand, it’s not a big deal.”

A gun enthusiast and supporter of gun owner’s rights, Roberts said she competes in women’s events in shooting sports, but there’s a difference because she doesn’t “really have any advantages all those young, small ladies can pull a lot faster than I do and shoot faster than I do.”

Roberts concluded she’ll personally make a decision about whom she’ll support in the California recall election after Grenell announces whether or not he’ll enter the race, but can’t say anything until the San Diego GOP Central Committee issues an endorsement.

“He’s a good friend of mine, too,” Roberts said. “I know both of them. I think they’d both be certainly better than Gavin Newsom, I have to stay neutral until the county party decides who they’re going to endorse. I will support somebody or another in the endorsement process, but I can’t publicly announce it.”

Although LGBTQ groups want nothing to do with her campaign, Jenner’s approach has garnered the attention of prominent conservatives, who are taking her seriously as a candidate. One of Jenner’s first interviews was on Fox News’ Sean Hannity, a Trump ally with considerable sway among his viewers. Hannity was able to find common ground with Jenner, including agreement on seeing California wildfires as a problem with forest management as opposed to climate change.

Kayleigh McEnany, who served as White House press secretary in Trump’s final year in the White House and defended in the media his efforts to challenge his 2020 election loss in court, signaled her openness to Jenner’s candidacy after the Hannity interview.

“I really enjoyed watching @Caitlyn_Jenner’s interview with @seanhannity,” McEnany tweeted. “I found Caitlyn to be well-informed, sincere, and laser-focused on undoing the socialist, radical, a-scientific policies of Biden & the left. Very good.”

In theory, that support combined with Jenner’s visibility might be enough to propel Jenner to victory. In the recall election, California will answer two questions, whether California Gov. Gavin Newsom should be recalled, and if so, which candidate should replace him. The contender with the plurality of votes would win the election, even if that’s less than a majority vote, and become the next governor. There isn’t a run-off if no candidate fails to obtain a majority.

With Jenner’s name recognition as a celebrity, that achievement could be in her reach. After all, Arnold Schwarzenegger won the 2004 recall election in California as a Republican based on his celebrity status, and ended up becoming a popular governor.

But the modest inroads Jenner has made with the acceptance of conservatives and potential to win isn’t enough for other transgender Republicans.

Evans, for example, said Jenner’s candidacy is not only a disappointment, but threatening the potential candidacies of transgender hopefuls in the future.

“It’s difficult to be in electoral politics, and that’s even more true when you’re a member of a marginalized community,” Evans said. “Caitlyn’s behavior is making it even more challenging for the trans community to be visible in a field where we desperately need to be seen. She’s casting a tall shadow on our ability to have a voice and is giving credibility to lawmakers and local leaders simply unwilling to view us with decency and respect.”

Williams said Jenner should avoid talking about transgender issues over the course of her gubernatorial run “and instead focus on the hard, critical policy issues facing California.”

“It is a state in crisis and she has to run a very serious campaign and not rely on her celebrity or LGBTQ status to win over voters’ hearts and minds — just like all other LGBTQ candidates around the country need to do when they run for public office,” Williams said.

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100th anniversary celebration of Dupont Circle fountain set for May 17

GWU student creates tribute video

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Dupont Circle Fountain, Russian news agency, gay news, Washington Blade
The iconic Dupont Circle fountain turns 100 this month. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

LGBTQ residents and longtime visitors to D.C.’s Dupont Circle neighborhood are expected to be among the participants in the 100th anniversary celebration of the installation of the Dupont Circle fountain scheduled to be held at the circle on Monday, May 17.

Aaron DeNu, president of Dupont Festival, a nonprofit arts and cultural programming group that’s organizing the celebration, says it will take place from noon to at least sunset inside Dupont Circle.

The celebration will take place one week after the May 10 release of a YouTube video, “How Dupont Circle Evolved as a Hub for LGBTQ+ Life in the District,” produced by George Washington University student Dante Schulz. Schulz is the video editor for the G.W. student newspaper The Hatchet.

Among those appearing in the documentary video are veteran LGBTQ rights activists Deacon Maccubbin and his husband Jim Bennett, who owned and operated the Dupont Circle LGBTQ bookstore Lambda Rising beginning in the 1970s, which is credited with contributing to Dupont Circle’s reputation as the epicenter of D.C.’s LGBTQ community for many years.

Also appearing in the video is longtime D.C. gay activist and Dupont Circle area resident Craig Howell, a former president of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance.

“At this point in time due to COVID restrictions we’re not going to be doing any particular formal gathering of folks,” DeNu told the Washington Blade in describing the May 17 celebration. “But we’ll have a soundtrack that’s playing throughout the day from that original ceremony – the same songs they used in the original dedication a hundred years ago,” he said.

DeNu said the event will also feature “historic imagery” related to Dupont Circle and the people who have gathered there over the years.

“So, we’re really just inviting people to come and have lunch, stop by the park after work, and just stop and reflect on 100 years of Dupont Circle fountain, take a look at the imagery and see some old friends and hopefully stop by and see the Dupont businesses that are around the area,” DeNu said.

The LGBTQ video produced by Dante Schultz can be accessed here.

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