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Nellie’s hires Ruby Corado as community engagement director

Embroiled in controversy, D.C. gay bar apologizes to woman dragged down stairs

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Ruby Corado in front of Nellie's Sports Bar. (Washington Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

In a development likely to surprise LGBTQ activists, Nellie’s Sports Bar announced in a statement released on Friday that it has hired longtime D.C. transgender rights advocate Ruby Corado to serve as a manager at the bar in a newly created position of Director of Community Engagement.

In the same statement, posted on the Nellie’s website by owner Doug Schantz, Nellie’s issued a formal apology to Keisha Young, a 22-year-old Black woman who was dragged down a flight of stairs at the bar by a security guard during a June 13 incident that was captured on video and went viral on social media.

The incident, which started during a fight between Nellie’s customers and security guards, has triggered a month-long series of protests against the bar by LGBTQ and racial justice activists.

Corado is the founder and executive director of Casa Ruby, the D.C.-based LGBTQ community services center that offers bilingual programs for the LGBTQ Latino/Latina community and has a special outreach to the transgender community.

“To be clear, we are very sorry that this horrible incident occurred, and we are sorry for what happened to Ms. Young, and we apologize to her for how she was treated,” the Nellie’s statement says.

The statement reiterated an announcement in an earlier statement that Nellie’s released shortly after the June 13 Pride weekend incident that it had terminated its arrangement with a private security company for which the guard who pulled Young by her hair down the stairs had been employed.

The latest statement released on Friday says Corado will “assist in ensuring that all of Nellie’s staff receive ongoing diversity and sensitivity and inclusion training – with a focus on the concerns of LGBTQ+ people of color.”

Corado, who showed up at Nellie’s on Friday night, found herself in the midst of yet another protest outside the bar and the subject of criticism by some of the protesters who told her she should be joining them in the street rather than working for Nellie’s.

“What I feel today is that after my conversations with the owner, that he is willing to listen to the community, to act to make this space a place where everybody feels welcome,” Corado told the Washington Blade while standing on the sidewalk outside Nellie’s 9th Street entrance.

 “And that’s why he brought me on board,” Corado said in referring to Nellie’s owner Schantz. “And that’s why I came on board, because I do feel that, once again, I can talk to the community, engage them and listen,” said Corado. “And he did say that he is acting on the concerns of the community.”

Schantz has not responded to repeated requests by the Blade for comment.

The Friday, July 16, statement issued by Nellie’s notes that in addition to firing the security company at the time of the incident with Young, Nellie’s temporarily closed “to allow for a thorough review of the incident.”

The statement does not mention that Nellie’s reopening on Tuesday of this week, after being closed for over a month, was greeted by about 50 protesters, some of whom formed a human chain across the bar’s entrance door, blocking people from entering the bar. The action prompted the bar to close earlier in the evening than its normal closing time.

When Nellie’s reopened again on Friday, protesters returned to stage another demonstration on the sidewalk outside the bar and in the streets at the bustling intersection of 9th and U Streets, N.W., where Nellie’s is located.

D.C. police, who were monitoring the protest, immediately closed off vehicle access to the streets surrounding Nellie’s while about 40 or 50 protesters called for Nellie’s to agree to a series of demands that they have issued.

Among the demands is that Nellie’s participate in a “public community listening session” in which members of the community, including former Nellie’s customers, would present details about what protesters have said are alleged racially biased practices by Nellie’s staff against Black customers.

Corado told the Blade she agreed to Nellie’s invitation to serve as its community engagement director in her role as head of a private consulting firm focusing on diversity related issues that she started five years ago that’s separate from her job as Casa Ruby’s executive director. She said she will remain in her position as Casa Ruby executive director.

She said that among other things, she will make recommendations to Schantz on how best to address community concerns raised by the protesters and others in the community.

Nellie’s statement on Friday comes at a time when Nellie’s is under investigation by the Office of the D.C. Attorney General following a report two weeks ago by the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) that it violated the terms of its liquor license under D.C. law in its handling of the fight that broke out at the time Young was pulled down the stairs by the security guard.

The ABRA report says the fight occurred after a Nellie’s staff member and one or more security guards ordered customers believed to have brought in their own bottle of liquor, which is not allowed by Nellie’s, to leave the bar. Young has said she was mistakenly identified as one of the customers who brought in their own liquor bottle.

 Among those leading Friday’s protest outside Nellie’s were Makia Green, co-conductor of the community activist group Harriet’s Wildest Dreams, and Bethelehem Yirga, co-founder of the racial justice advocacy group Palm Collective. Both said they respect Corado for her many years of advocacy on behalf of the LGBTQ community but were disappointed that she was working for Nellie’s.

“She should be in solidarity with the people in the streets because Ruby Corado used to be one of those people,” Green told the Blade. “And she should have been in solidarity with us.”

When Nellie’s reopened on Friday, protesters returned to stage another demonstration on the sidewalk outside the bar and in the streets at the bustling intersection of 9th and U Streets, N.W. (Washington Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

Minutes later, Green attempted to intervene when a verbal confrontation broke out between a man believed to be a Nellie’s customer and several of the protesters. The man, who is Black, shouted repeatedly, “You are boycotting the wrong fucking bar.” About a half dozen protesters shouted back, demanding that he leave the area.

“Nellie’s staff is racially, ethnically and gender-identity diverse,” the Nellie’s statement released on Friday says. “It always has and always will,” it says. “As we reopen to serve the community and ensure continued employment of our team of 50 employees – all of us at Nellie’s renew our mission to be an inclusive, welcoming and safe space for women, for all people of color, for the entire LGBTQ+ community and for all our neighbors and friends.”

The statement concludes, “We also recognize that being an inclusive business is an ongoing process, and we pledge to continue to investigate ways to do better. We promise to see you, to listen to you, to embrace you and to welcome you each night.”

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Va. senator introduces anti-transgender student athlete bill

Democrats have vowed to thwart anti-LGBTQ measures in state Senate

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transgender, Gender Conference East, trans, transgender flag, gay news, Washington Blade
(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A Virginia lawmaker has introduced a bill that would ban transgender students from joining school sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity.

Senate Bill 766, which state Sen. Jennifer Kiggans (R-Virginia Beach) introduced on Friday, would require “each elementary or secondary school or a private school that competes in sponsored athletic events against such public schools to designate athletic teams, whether a school athletic team or an intramural team sponsored by such school, based on biological sex as follows: (i) ‘males,’ ‘men,’ or ‘boys’; (ii) ‘females,’ ‘women,’ or ‘girls’; or (iii) ‘coed’ or ‘mixed.'”

“Under the bill, male students are not permitted to participate on any school athletic team or squad designated for ‘females,’ ‘women,’ or ‘girls’; however, this provision does not apply to physical education classes at schools,” adds the bill. “The bill provides civil penalties for students and schools that suffer harm as a result of a violation of the bill. Such civil actions are required to be initiated within two years after the harm occurred.”

Kiggans introduced her bill less than a week after Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin took office.

Youngkin during his campaign said he does not support allowing trans children to play on sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity. Elizabeth Schultz, an anti-LGBTQ former member of the Fairfax County School Board, has been named the Virginia Department of Education’s Assistant Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The General Assembly’s 2022 legislative session began on Jan. 12 with Republicans in control of the state House of Delegates. Democrats still control the state Senate, and they have pledged to thwart any anti-LGBTQ bills.

“Let’s be clear: This is part of an ongoing, nationwide effort to exclude trans people from enjoying the benefits of sports like their cisgender peers,” tweeted the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia on Friday after Kiggans introduced SB 766. “We won’t tolerate this.”

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Comings & Goings

Hazen inducted into Cooperative Hall of Fame

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Paul Hazen

The Comings & Goings column is about sharing the professional successes of our community. We want to recognize those landing new jobs, new clients for their business, joining boards of organizations and other achievements. Please share your successes with us at: [email protected] 

The Comings & Goings column also invites LGBTQ+ college students to share their successes with us. If you have been elected to a student government position, gotten an exciting internship, or are graduating and beginning your career with a great job, let us know so we can share your success. 

Congratulations to Paul Hazen on his being inducted into the 2022 Cooperative Hall of Fame.  On receiving the honor, he said, “I am very lucky to be given the opportunity to combine my work in international development with my volunteer cooperative development work in Washington DC.”

Hazen is executive director, U.S. Overseas Cooperative Development Council (OCDC) and has devoted his career to elevating the cooperative voice domestically and internationally. U.S. co-ops include Ace Hardware, Land O’Lakes, Inc., Sunkist, REI and the Associated Press. Hazen helped establish federal legislation promoting rural co-op development.  

Prior to joining OCDC, he was CEO of Washington, D.C.-based National Cooperative Business Association CLUSA International. During his 25-year tenure with the organization, he held key positions, including chief operating officer, vice president of public policy, vice president of member services and director of consumer cooperatives.

He worked for Rep. Al Baldus (Wisc.). He was executive director of Rural Housing Inc. in Madison, Wisc., where he developed co-ops and affordable housing projects in rural communities. 

As a volunteer, Hazen formed the Community Purchasing Alliance (CPA) with 12 congregations in D.C.  In 2020, CPA secured more than $18.7 million in contracts resulting in an investment of $13 million in D.C.-based small businesses owned by people of color.

Ben Finzel

Congratulations also to Ben Finzel, who was inducted into the National Capital Public Relations Hall of Fame. Upon receiving the honor, he said “To be recognized by your peers is wonderful; to be honored by them is amazing. I still can’t quite believe I have done enough to be worthy of this recognition, but I know enough to be thankful and appreciative of this high honor. Thank you PRSA National Capital Chapter for including me in such inspiring company; I will be forever grateful.”

Finzel is president of RENEWPR, a D.C.-based public affairs, communications consulting firm. In 2004, he helped launch FH Out Front, the first global LGBTQ communications practice at an international firm, Fleishman Hillard, and served as its first global chair. He started DC Family Communicators, a professional networking group for LGBTQ communications professionals. Finzel served on the Victory Campaign Board of the LGBTQ Victory Fund from 2007 to 2017.

His firm is currently celebrating its seventh year in business. To recognize that accomplishment, Finzel is launching an endowed scholarship at his alma mater, Texas Tech University. His business is certified as an LGBT Business Enterprise by the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce.

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Maryland

Judge rules trans teacher’s lawsuit against P.G. County can go to trial

Gay man files separate case charging discrimination

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Jennifer Eller, gay news, Washington Blade
Jennifer Eller alleges the P.G. County school system subjected her to discrimination and harassment. (Photo courtesy of Lambda Legal)

A federal judge in Maryland issued a ruling on Tuesday, Jan. 18, clearing the way for a lawsuit filed by transgender former English teacher Jennifer Eller in 2018 charging the Prince George’s County, Md., Public Schools with discrimination and harassment based on her gender identity to proceed to a trial.

In the ruling, Judge Theodore D. Chuang of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland denied key parts of several motions filed by attorneys representing the P.G. County Public Schools that in effect called for the dismissal of the lawsuit. The motions, among other things, claimed the lawsuit failed to provide sufficient evidence that Eller was subjected to discrimination and harassment, which forced her to resign due to a hostile work environment.

Chuang also ruled against a separate motion introduced by Eller’s attorneys calling for him to issue a summary judgement decision affirming all the lawsuit’s allegations that would have ended the litigation in Eller’s favor without the need to go to trial.

Eller’s lawsuit charges that school officials acted illegally by failing to intervene when she was subjected to a hostile work environment for five years that included abuse and harassment by students, parents, fellow teachers, and supervisors and retaliation by school administrators.

The lawsuit alleges that the school system and its administrators in its actions against Eller violated Title VII of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX of the federal Education Amendments Act of 1972, the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution, the Maryland Fair Employment Practices Act, and the nondiscrimination provision of the Prince George’s County Code.

“We think the judge did as best he could,” said Omar Gonzales-Pagan, an attorney with the LGBTQ litigation group Lambda Legal, which, along with the D.C. law firm Arnold & Porter, are representing Eller in her lawsuit.

“The takeaway is that the case is now in a posture to proceed to trial,” Gonzales-Pagan told the Washington Blade. “The court found that the alleged facts and the information as discovered throughout the case in the discovery process is sufficient to allow a jury to find whether Jennifer Eller was subjected to a hostile work environment and constructive discharge and retaliation unlawfully by the defendants,” he said.

By the term constructive discharge, Gonzales-Pagan was referring to the lawsuit’s charge that Eller was forced to resign from her teaching job in 2017 after being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder due to the alleged abuse she faced on the job.

P.G. County Public Schools officials have declined to comment on the lawsuit on grounds that the school system has a longstanding policy of not discussing pending litigation. However, in its response to the lawsuit in court filings, school system officials have denied Eller’s allegations of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation.

“For years, I was aggressively misgendered, attacked and harassed in the hallways and even in my own classroom by students, peers and supervisors,” Eller said in a statement released by her attorneys.

“My pleas for help and for sensitivity training on LGBTQ issues for students and staff, were ignored,” Eller said in her statement. “The relentless harassment stripped me of the joy of teaching and forced me to resign,” she said. “It is time for Prince George’s County Public Schools to be held accountable.”

The lawsuit says the harassment and discriminatory action against her began in 2011 when she began presenting as female during the school year. It says school officials initially responded to her complaints about the harassment by demanding that she stop dressing as a woman and return to wearing men’s clothes, which she refused to do.

In a separate action, gay former Spanish teacher Jared Hester filed on his own without an attorney a lawsuit in the Maryland federal court charging the P.G. County Public Schools with failing to take action to prevent him from being subjected to discrimination and harassment similar to some of the allegations made in Eller’s lawsuit.

Hester told the Blade that he was subjected to harassment by students who repeatedly called him “faggot,” but school officials, including the principal of the middle school where he taught, refused to take action to stop the harassment.

He provided the Blade with copies of earlier complaints he filed against school system officials with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights, and the P.G County Public Schools’ internal Office of Equity Assurance. Each of the three agencies issued rulings against Hester’s complaints, with two of them saying sufficient evidence could not be found to support his allegations.

The EEOC, in a Nov. 3, 2021 “dismissal” notice, told Hester the EEOC “will not proceed further with its investigation, and makes no determination about whether further investigation would establish violations of the statute.” The notice added, “This does not mean the claims have no merit” or that the respondent, meaning the P.G. County Public Schools, “is in compliance with the statutes.”

The notice did not give a reason for why it chose to end its investigation into Hester’s complaint, but it said his filing with the EEOC cleared the way for him to file a lawsuit to further his case against the school system. 

Hester told the Blade he reached out to Lambda Legal to represent him in his lawsuit, but the LGBTQ litigation group declined to take on his case without giving a reason. Gonzalez-Pagan, the Lambda attorney working on the Eller case, said he was unfamiliar with Hester’s request for representation. Another Lambda official couldn’t immediately be reached to determine the reason for its decision not to represent Hester.

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