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Liquor board refers Nellie’s case to D.C. attorney general

Report says fights began before Black woman was dragged down stairs



A screenshot of Keisha Young being dragged down the stairs by her hair at Nellie’s on June 13.

The D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Board on Wednesday asked the Office of the D.C. Attorney General to continue an investigation into allegations that a security officer at Nellie’s Sport Bar dragged a Black woman down a flight of stairs during a fight between security officers and other customers during the early morning hours of June 13.

The ABC Board made its referral to the office headed by D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine after it received a lengthy report about the Nellie’s incident from the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA), which conducted its own investigation into the incident.

The 24-page ABRA report, which includes 19 pages of addendums, including D.C. police reports and summaries of witness interviews, accuses Nellie’s of being in violation of the D.C. Code pertaining to its liquor license by failing to follow proper procedures during an outbreak of violence on its premises.

ABRA spokesperson Aaron King told the Washington Blade the Office of the Attorney General will make the final determination on whether Nellie’s and its staff violated D.C. law or regulations pertaining to the Nellie’s incident. King said that if the OAG finds that violations did occur the ABC Board could then hold a Show Cause Hearing to determine whether to impose a monetary fine and/or suspend or revoke Nellie’s liquor license.

The public version of the report released on June 30 by ABRA includes dozens of blacked out names of witnesses and the names of one or more investigators who interviewed them.

The report and the investigation that prompted it came about after the release of a video by a Nellie’s patron on Instagram that captured the Nellie’s security guard dragging customer Keisha Young, 22, by her hair down a flight of stairs. The video, which went viral on social media, prompted expressions of outrage by LGBTQ activists and local LGBTQ and racial justice organizations, several of which joined forces to hold protests outside Nellie’s over the following two weeks.

Nellie’s released a statement Thursday night pointing out that the ABRA report also found the altercation began when “Nellie’s staff” were assaulted after they asked a group of patrons who reportedly brought in their own bottle of liquor to leave the establishment.

“Consumption of outside alcohol is against Nellie’s longstanding policy,” the statement says. “We don’t condone what followed and we terminated the security company responsible, closed the establishment for a period to further investigate and move forward with additional training and a new security company,” according to the statement, which adds, “We fully cooperated with ABRA on its investigation.”

Some of the groups participating in the protests outside Nellie’s in the weeks since the June 13 incident are calling for Nellie’s to close permanently regardless of what, if any, action ABRA or the ABC Board takes against Nellie’s, which has long been considered one of D.C.’s popular LGBTQ bars.

And some of the groups, including Harriet’s Wildest Dreams, a Black-led community defense group headed by Makia Green, who describes themself as a “queer trans non-binary Black liberation organizer,” have alleged that Nellie’s has a history of bias against people of color despite the fact that many of Nellie’s customers have been African-American men and women, LGBTQ and straight.

Preston Mitchum, a D.C. attorney and co-chair of the board of the local group Collective Action for Safe Spaces (CASS), said that as a former Nellie’s patron he observed practices by the Nellie’s staff and management that he believes were racially biased against Black customers long before the incident involving Keisha Young.

On the day following the incident, Nellie’s issued a statement saying it had immediately dismissed the private security company whose employee was shown on the video dragging Young down the stairs. Nellie’s also apologized for the incident, but did not specifically apologize to Young, prompting further expressions of concern by activists and Young herself, who said she was injured during the incident.

An attorney representing Young said he expected to file a lawsuit on her behalf against Nellie’s seeking damages for the injuries and emotional distress to which she allegedly was subjected during the incident.

The ABRA report states that an ABRA investigator, whose name is blacked out in the public version of the report, “determined that on Sunday, June 13, 2021, Nellie’s Restaurant & Bar, located at 900 U Street, N.W., Washington, D.C., was in violation of D.C. Official Code 25-823(a)(2).” The report adds, “Specifically, multiple assaults occurred inside the establishment while the licensee was engaged in a method of operation conducive to unlawful conduct. This determination was based on a review of Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) PD-251 reports, staff interviews, and surveillance from the establishment.”

The report also includes detailed accounts of statements made to ABRA investigators by Nellie’s customers, employees and the Nellie’s owner, who is not identified in the report but is widely known to be Douglas Schantz, a D.C. resident who lives within walking distance of Nellie’s.

In addition, the report includes a detailed description of video surveillance footage taken from Nellie’s own security cameras. It says the Nellie’s video shows that Young, who is not identified by name, had been involved in a fight with at least one other Nellie’s customer before she was dragged down the stairs by the security guard.

“The complainant of assault identified as [redacted name] wearing a blue outfit and long blond braids is seen at 1:29:32 a.m. at the bottom righthand corner of the frame,” the report says. “[Redacted named] is observed having words with another patron and then pushing [redacted name] and then punching him multiple times in the back of the head.”

Brandon Burrell, an attorney representing Young, has told media outlets that the security officers and Nellie’s employees appear to have mistook Young for another woman who reportedly brought into the bar a bottle of liquor, which prompted security to demand that those involved in drinking the outside liquor leave Nellie’s.

Burrell has also said that prior to her being pulled down the stairs Young got into an altercation with another security guard in an attempt to stop the guard from assaulting her cousin.  

The ABRA report says the action by the security officers and a Nellie’s bartender to eject the patrons who reportedly brought in a bottle of Bacardi Limon and who were “consuming shots blatantly in front of the bar” from that bottle triggered the altercation that led to Young being dragged down the stairs.

Included in the ABRA report is a copy of a June 16 letter that D.C. Police Chief Robert J. Contee III sent to ABRA Director Fred Moosally expressing concern about Nellie’s handling of the altercation and calling on Moosally to open an ABRA investigation. Contee told Moosally in his letter that he learned details about the incident from patrons and others who filed police reports about the altercation, including a police report filed by Young on June 14 at the department’s Third District Station.

“Most concerning about this incident is that at no time did Nellie’s Sports Bar staff, management or ownership make any effort to contact the MPD to report the incident or to self-report the ABRA-related incident,” Contee states in his letter. “Instead, Nellie’s Sports Bar carried on with business as usual,” his letter says.

“Later that day, the incident apparently prompted an unscheduled First Amendment assembly in front of the establishment, which drew over a hundred protesters,” Contee wrote in his letter. “During this demonstration, Nellie’s Sports Bar ejected all patrons, locked their doors and closed for business.”

Later that day, Nellie’s announced it was temporarily closing while continuing to pay its employees and while contemplating how best to respond to the incident involving Young and the protests. The establishment has remained closed since that time.

The statement released by Nellie’s through its attorney Andrew Kline on Thursday night disputes Contee’s claim that Nellie’s didn’t call the police during the June 13 altercation.

“According to the ABRA report and contrary to published reports, and even MPD, Nellie’s personnel DID immediately notify MPD as this incident was occurring,” the statement says. “We will continue to work to identify and address all factors which may have given rise to this incident so that Nellie’s will be a safe and welcoming atmosphere for all,” says the statement.

It concludes by saying, “We plan to meet privately with several groups who have expressed concern about our operation so we might best understand all of the issues involved.”

The police report filed by Young lists the incident in which she was dragged down the stairs at Nellie’s as an “assault with significant bodily injury.”

 Gay nightlife advocate Mark Lee said the action by ABRA and the ABC Board in response to the Nellie’s incident is standard practice seen when altercations surface at other establishments. 

“ABC Board referral to the Office of the Attorney General is a commonly standard procedure in cases of this type and does not represent a finding or judgement in the matter,” Lee told the Blade. “As unfortunate as on-premise patron altercations are, they do sometimes occur at local establishments and are subject to review by both the ABC Board and OAG,” Lee said.

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McAuliffe: School boards should make ‘own decisions’ on trans students policy

Former Va. governor debated Republican challenger on Thursday



Terry McAuliffe, gay news, Washington Blade
(Washington Blade photo by Lee Whitman)

Terry McAuliffe on Thursday hotly debated Republican challenger Glenn Youngkin at the Appalachian School of Law in southwestern Virginia on a variety of issues that include vaccine mandates, economic development, abortion access and policing. The former Virginia governor’s support for a law that protects transgender students, however, seemed less clear.

When the moderator asked if local school boards should be allowed to reject Virginia Department of Education “model policies” developed as part of a state law passed last year to protect trans and non-binary students from discrimination, McAuliffe said school boards “should be making their own decisions.”

This soft support for the law that Gov. Ralph Northam signed is in contrast to the Human Rights Campaign’s endorsement this week for his work as governor that includes signing an executive order prohibiting discrimination against LGBTQ state employees and vetoing anti-LGBTQ bills.  

HRC called out Youngkin, a former business executive and vocal Trump supporter, for “anti-LGBTQ and transphobic language” during his campaign. (HRC in 2019 named the Carlyle Group, the private equity company that Youngkin previously ran, as a “Best Place to Work for LGBTQ Equality” in its annual Corporate Equality Index.)

Younkin has supported Tanner Cross, a Loudoun County elementary school teacher who was suspended in June after he spoke against the Virginia Department of Education policy known as Policy 8040. The Virginia Supreme Court last month supported Cross’ reinstatement on First Amendment grounds.

“As governor, I will stand up for teachers like Tanner Cross,” the Republican candidate tweeted.

Youngkin also told Fox News the school board was trying to “cancel” Cross “simply for expressing his views that are in the best interests of the children and expressing his faith.”

But state Del. Danica Roem (D-Prince William County), one of the bill’s co-sponsors, told the Washington Blade in an earlier interview that the 2020 law passed with bipartisan support and most school boards are acting in accordance with the nondiscrimination law.

“Loudoun is catching headlines, but look at all of the other school districts who have adopted this without controversy,” said Roem, who in 2018 became the first openly trans person seated in a state legislature in the U.S. “They are acting in compliance with Department of Education best practices for how to humanely treat transgender kids in schools.”

McAuliffe, after stating that decisions regarding implementing trans student protections should be left to local school boards, said he hated seeing all of the “divisiveness” and “children being demonized.” He then pivoted to his talking points about increasing both teacher pay and broadband access for students.

Early in-person voting in Virginia is underway and lasts until Oct. 30. Election day is Nov. 2.

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Black gay man hopes to ‘shatter lavender ceiling’ in Annapolis

Keanuú Smith-Brown is running to unseat Ward 3 incumbent



Keanuú Smith-Brown (Photo by David Hartcorn)

Keanuú Smith-Brown, who is affectionately called KSB by his friends, is running to unseat incumbent Annapolis Alderwoman Rhonda Pindell Charles (D-Ward 3) and become the first out LGBTQ elected official in the city.

“Keanuú is on-track to shatter a lavender ceiling in Annapolis, becoming the first out LGBTQ person ever elected in the city,” Victory Fund Vice President of Communications Elliot Imse told the Washington Blade.

Smith-Brown, a 26-year-old substitute teacher, announced in February that he was challenging Pindell Charles, who has represented his ward since 2013. They will face off in a Democratic primary on Sept. 21, then the winner advances to the general election on Nov. 2.

The Annapolis native is the eldest of six siblings, raised by a single mother and a first-generation college graduate who describes himself as a proud Black gay man. His opponent, also a Democrat, stated on an Annapolis Pride survey that she supports the LGBTQ community, just “not overtly.”

“But his candidacy is about more than just making history,” Imse said. “When in office, Keanuú will ensure the interests of the LGBTQ community are considered in every policy discussion and every piece of legislation that comes before the council.”

Smith-Brown told the Blade he is running to represent “those who have been left out,” emphasizing that “there is an urgent need for change in our ward.”

The Annapolis native first came out as gay while still a senior in high school, the same year Pindell Charles was first elected as his Ward 3 representative.

“I grew up surrounded by drug addiction and witnessed domestic violence both in my family and in my community,” he told the Blade, sharing he was raised by a single mom while his father was incarcerated during most of his life.

He still lives in the home in which he grew up, and within five minutes of his partner’s house “if you’re driving fast.”

After graduating from the University of Baltimore in 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in government and public policy, Smith-Brown began working with legislators and advocating for LGBTQ bills in Maryland.

As president of the District 30 Democratic Club, Smith-Brown advocated for House Bill 1147 and its companion Senate Bill 401, which were both similar to neighboring D.C.’s requirement for single-occupancy bathrooms to be marked gender-neutral.

Both bills died in committee during the General Assembly’s pandemic-shortened session in 2020, but Smith-Brown’s advocacy continued.

He marched during the Black Lives Matter protests following the murder of George Floyd by then-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, and he continued to be a public advocate for LGBTQ rights and visibility as a member of Annapolis Pride.

“I have led and joined LGBTQ+ marches, rallies and events, even hosting a campaign ‘Love with Pride and Unity’ Drag Brunch,” Smith-Brown wrote in response to Annapolis Pride’s first LGBTQ-issues survey. “I helped organize for Maryland’s Health Care Decisions Act which would extend the rights of partners when making medical or funeral decisions.”

Pindell Charles, by contrast, in her survey response stated she did not consider her advocacy for the LGBTQ community to be “overt.”

“My support for the LGBTQ+ community, and even other communities, usually revolves around me working with persons individually, which I prefer,” she wrote. “One-on-one, rather than as a group, or public displays.”

FreeState Justice, Maryland’s statewide LGBTQ rights organization supports public advocacy.

“It’s extremely important for LGBTQ community members to participate in civic engagement — especially as elected officials,” Executive Director Jeremy LaMaster told the Blade in an email.

FreeState Justice has encouraged LGBTQ Marylanders to speak out at public hearings in support of legislation such as the state’s “panic defense” ban, waiving the publication of name change petitions and the establishment of a state commission on LGBTQ affairs. All of these measures passed during the 2021 legislative session.

“There is such immense power for our community that can be built at the grassroots level. From leading neighborhood associations to sitting on city councils, or representing the community in the General Assembly,” said Smith-Brown. “As the world changes, so do the ways in which issues disproportionately or uniquely impact the LGBTQ community, especially for our youth, elders, trans and Black siblings.”

Pindell Charles, who did not respond to the Blade’s requests for comment prior to publication, is a retired Baltimore City prosecutor and chairs the Annapolis City Council’s Public Safety Standing Committee.

During her time in public service, her advocacy included a variety of “groups and communities considered to be ‘underrepresented,’” according to her Annapolis Pride survey response.

Smith-Brown said Ward 3 deserves better.

“She is saying this is in a position of power, that she’s not willing to get out of her comfort zone,” he told the Blade. “You may not be okay with seeing two men or two women together, but when you don’t allow yourself in your position to be inclusive of all people you are now failing in your position.”

“If someone said that about the Black community, it would not be taken in the same way,” he added. “Admit that you don’t need to be here in this way. We can all do our best to do better.”

The Capital Gazette in February reported Pindell Charles intends to run for a third term and welcomes Smith-Brown’s challenge.

“We need to win this,” Smith-Brown said, encouraging LGBTQ and all voters to get out and vote. “My being at that seat at the table means that we are all in that seat. What is it they say? If I eat, we eat. That is the impact on our future, and I’m in it to win it.”

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LGBTQ Democrats briefed on D.C. ranked choice voting bill

Council may already have enough votes to pass it



Stein Club, gay news, Washington Blade
Jatarius Frazier of the Capital Stonewall Democrats was among officials briefed on the ranked choice voting bill. (Photo courtesy D.C. Government)

Members of D.C.’s Capital Stonewall Democrats, the city’s largest local LGBTQ political group, received a briefing Monday night from the chief of staff for D.C. Council member Christina Henderson (I-At Large) on a bill she introduced in July calling for a “ranked choice” voting system for D.C. elections.

The bill, called the Voter Ownership, Integrity, Choice, and Equity (VOICE) Amendment Act of 2021, calls for D.C. to join about 50 other jurisdictions across the country, including New York City and San Francisco, in giving voters the option of ranking up to five candidates for a particular office in the order of their preference.

Under the ranked choice voting system, if a candidate receives more than 50 percent of the “first choice” votes, the candidate is declared the winner. But if no candidate receives greater than 50 percent of the first-choice votes in a race where there are three or more candidates, the system provides an instant runoff.

“The candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated, and voters who picked that candidate will have their votes count for their next choice,” according to a statement released by Henderson at the time she introduced the legislation. “This process continues in rounds until there’s a majority winner,” the statement says.

T.J. Maloney, Henderson’s chief of staff, told Capital Stonewall Democrats members during a virtual Zoom meeting that studies of the ranked choice voting system in jurisdictions where it has been adopted show that overall voter turnout has increased and, following a voter education process, voters appear to adjust and support the system.

Six other D.C. Council members joined Henderson in co-introducing the VOICE ranked choice voting bill, indicating it may already have a seven-vote majority in its favor on the 13-member Council. However, Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large) does not support the current version of the bill, according to spokesperson Lindsay Walton.

Councilmember Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), the chair of the Council’s Judiciary Committee where the bill was sent and one of the bill’s co-introducers, has scheduled a public hearing on the bill for on Nov. 18. The hearing, which will be virtual, will be broadcast live on the Council’s website.

Last week, the D.C. Democratic State Committee, which is the governing body of the D.C. Democratic Party and of which the Capital Stonewall Democrats is an affiliated member, voted to oppose the VOICE Act legislation. Some of its members said they believe a ranked choice voting system would be beneficial to the city’s smaller political party candidates, including Republicans and Statehood Green Party candidates, and would place Democratic Party candidates at a disadvantage.

Gay Democratic activist John Fanning, who was an unsuccessful candidate for the Ward 2 D.C. Council seat in the 2020 D.C. Democratic primary, said he favors a simple runoff election system over a ranked choice voting system in cases where multiple candidates run, and none receive at least 50 percent of the vote.

Among the ranked choice bill’s supporters is gay Democratic activist Austin Naughton, who serves as chair of the Ward 2 Democratic Committee. Naughton told the Washington Blade he is not an expert on the ranked choice voting system but his initial research into the system leads him to believe the system has the potential for providing a greater electoral voice for minority communities, including possibly the LGBTQ community and LGBTQ candidates who run for public office.

Capital Stonewall Democrats President Jatarious Frazier said the group was in the process of learning more about the ranked file voting system. No one raised the issue of the group taking a position on the legislation at Monday night’s meeting.

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