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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.



Flight attendants union endorses Sarah McBride

Del. lawmaker would be first transgender member of Congress



Delaware state Sen. Sarah McBride speaks at the LGBTQ+ Victory Fund National Champagne Brunch in D.C. on April 10, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Delaware congressional candidate Sarah McBride has earned the support of the Association of Flight Attendants, the nation’s most prominent flight attendant union.

It’s the second big labor endorsement for McBride after the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 27’s endorsement. The Association of Flight Attendants praised her for spearheading efforts to bring paid family and medical leave to Delaware, which will take effect in 2026. 

“Sarah’s record in the Delaware Senate shows that she understands how to work collaboratively, build power and make big things happen,” the union’s president, Sara Nelson, wrote in a press release shared exclusively with the Washington Blade. “That’s the kind of leader we need in Congress, and we’re proud to endorse her candidacy.”

McBride also announced her support for creating a list of abusive passengers and banning them from flying. Each airline has a list of passengers banned from flying, but airlines don’t share the lists with each other, though Delta Air Lines has asked them, because of “legal and operational challenges,” as a representative for the airline industry trade group Airlines of America told a House committee in September 2021.

“Right now, someone can be violent towards a flight attendant or another passenger and walk directly off of that flight and onto one with a different airline to endanger more people,” an Association of Flight Attendants spokesperson wrote in a statement. 

The Protection from Abusive Passengers Act would put the Transportation Security Administration in charge of building the database of passengers fined or convicted of abuse and has bipartisan support but has sat idly in committee since March. It failed to pass last year, and civil rights groups including the American Civil Liberties Union have charged that the list would disproportionately target people of color and strip and a better step to reducing hostility would be making flights more comfortable. Reports of defiant and unruly passengers have more than doubled between 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic, and 2022.

“I thank the Association of Flight Attendants for endorsing our campaign,” McBride wrote in the press release. “It’s important that we recognize and celebrate the symbiotic relationship between strong, unionized workforces and the continued growth of employers here in our state.”

The union representing 50,000 flight attendants across 19 airlines is putting pressure on airlines to grant union demands in contract negotiations. At American Airlines, unionized flight attendants voted to authorize a strike — putting pressure on the airline to accede to its demands. Flight attendants at Alaska Airlines say they are ready to strike but have not voted to authorize one yet. United Airlines flight attendants picketed at 19 airports around the country in August, ratcheting up the pressure. 

The union’s endorsement adds to a growing list of McBride endorsements, including 21 Delaware legislators, the United Food and Commercial Workers, the Human Rights Campaign, EMILY’s List, and Delaware Stonewall PAC. McBride, who would be the first openly transgender politician in Congress, has powerful connections in Washington — including with the White House — and is favored to win Delaware’s lone House seat. 

A poll commissioned by HRC shows her leading the pack of three candidates vying for the seat — 44 percent of “likely Democratic voters” told pollster company Change Research, which works with liberal organizations. The poll of 531 likely Delaware Democratic primary voters, though, was conducted only online — meaning those with less familiarity or access to the internet may not have been counted — and Change Research’s methodology for screening likely voters is unclear. The company also did not provide a breakdown of respondents by age, gender, and race, but says it uses an algorithm to make the results representative.  

Nelson said McBride’s time in Delaware’s state Senate shows her prowess in building power and working collaboratively.  

“That’s the kind of leader we need in Congress, and we’re proud to endorse her candidacy,” she wrote.

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Lawsuit seeks to force Virginia Beach schools to implement state guidelines for trans, nonbinary students

Va. Department of Education released new regulations in July



(Bigstock photo)

Two parents in Virginia Beach have filed a lawsuit that seeks to force the city’s school district to implement the state’s new guidelines for transgender and nonbinary students.

NBC Washington on Friday reported Cooper and Kirk, a D.C.-based law firm, filed the lawsuit in Virginia Beach Circuit Court.

The Virginia Department of Education in July announced the new guidelines for which Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin asked. Arlington County Public Schools, Fairfax County Public Schools and Prince William County Schools are among the school districts that have refused to implement them. 

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HME Consulting and Advocacy stands on frontline of LGBTQ policy

Heidi Ellis is a consultant who doesn’t take clients ‘not aligned with my mission’



‘Even though I am a private consultant … my work is very much mission driven,’ says Heidi Ellis. (Photo courtesy of Ellis)

September is here, which means Congress and the D.C. Council return from their August recess and life for consultant Heidi Ellis quickly gets busy. 

Her days are filled with negotiating with Council members, phone calls with clients, and policy planning for advocacy groups. The organizations she represents are looking to her to help them push policy and she hopes to guide them to victory. 

Ellis’s company, HME Consulting and Advocacy, came after years of working in the public and private sectors as a consultant. In 2019, Ellis decided to shift her focus to work that stood at the center of the intersections in which she lives. She sought to figure out how she could better serve her community as a Black queer Latino woman. Ellis recognized that there was a niche for mission-driven consulting in the District. 

“I was sought out and recruited by a lot of organizations that wanted me and I took a beat, because I was like ‘Do I want to go back into a machine where even if I do effect change, I have to answer to someone?’”she said, in reference to consulting agencies that were in pursuit of her talent. Ultimately, she decided against continuing her work under another company. “By doing what I do, I have much more flexibility for one to say ‘Yes’ but also to say ‘No’.”

Although Ellis has considered going back to working in the corporate space, she still loves the flexibility of being able to be nimble as a private consultant. 

Although Ellis doesn’t work entirely in the advocacy space, her consulting clients still align with her personal values. She joked that she differs strongly from the stereotypical money-driven D.C. consultant who sports Brooks Brothers suits on K Street. 

“Even though I am a private consultant … my work is very much mission driven,” she said. “I don’t take any clients that are not aligned with my mission.”

Her mission is simple, Ellis is “committed to elevating issues that sit at the nexus of education, mental health, LGBTQ+ individuals, and people of color.”

“The more marginalized you are, the more you suffer from the failures of policy and the gaps of service,” she said. 

As a consultant in the advocacy space, Ellis does the behind-the-scenes work for organizations to help correct these policy failures and close the gaps. Whether she is facilitating training for companies to better understand how to serve their LGBTQ communities, or she is on the frontline of education policy changes –– Ellis aims to only do work that she is passionate about.

She said that the balance of her combined passion and level-headedness help her to build trusting relationships with her clients and in the end, “Get stuff  done.”

Since starting her organization, some of her proudest work has been done with the DC LGBTQ+ Budget Coalition. The coalition is made up of more than 30 organizations that aim to advocate for investments and policy changes that affect LGBTQ lives. As a leader of this coalition, her services include policy support, facilitation, training, initiative development and organizational redesign. Since she began leading the coalition, they have raised more than $5 million of investments in LGBTQ programs.

Later this fall, she will work with the DC LGBTQ+ Budget Coalition along with the ANC Rainbow Caucus to convene the first LGBTQ+ Housing Summit from Nov. 29-30.

“The one thing we all recognize is that housing is the common denominator of every other social affliction facing LGBTQ communities,” she said.  

At the summit they will focus on the barriers within the current housing system and explore revitalized approaches to dealing with the current housing market. To pre-register for the event, visit the LGBTQ+ Housing Summit website.

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