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LGBTQ activists join D.C. marches for voting rights, statehood

Gay congressman calls on Biden to push for end to filibuster

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Thousands turned out on Aug. 28 for two separate marches and several rallies in support of voting rights and D.C. statehood. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

LGBTQ activists were among the thousands who turned out in the nation’s capital on Aug. 28 for two separate marches and several rallies in support of voting rights and D.C. statehood.

Organizers of the two marches and rallies, which took place at the Lincoln Memorial and the National Mall among other places, timed the events to coincide with the 58th anniversary of the historic 1963 March on Washington organized by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“D.C.’s LGBTQIA activists and leaders were seen everywhere Saturday during the March for Voting Rights, handing out statehood signs, canvassing march participants to sign a Statehood petition, and marching to the Mall,” said lesbian activist Barbara Helmick, who serves as a program director for the D.C. statehood advocacy group D.C. Vote.

“D.C. for Democracy’s Kesh Ludduwahetty, D.C. Vote’s volunteer Dennis Jaffe, Capital Stonewall Democrats’ Jatarious Frazier are just a few of the queer activists who organized turnout and worked to make sure that the fight for the freedom includes the 700,000 D.C. residents,” Helmick said.

Helmick was referring to efforts by organizers of the Aug. 28 events to urge Congress to pass a D.C. statehood bill that the House of Representative passed earlier this year, but that is stalled in the Senate.

LGBTQ activists have joined D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, who spoke at two of the march rallies on Aug. 28, and D.C. Congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), who point out that D.C.’s 700,000 plus residents do not have voting representatives in the U.S. Congress unlike residents of the 50 states.

Also stalled in the Senate are two voting rights bills passed by the House this year that supporters say are aimed at countering as many as 30 laws approved by Republican-controlled legislatures in at least a dozen states that restrict voting by making it harder for minorities to turn out to the polls.

One of the bills, the John Lewis Voting Rights Amendment Act, is named after the late civil rights leader and U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.). 

“After almost 60 years after John Lewis almost died on the Edmund Pettis Bridge for voting rights, we’re here one more time fighting for voting rights” said Randi Weingarten, the out lesbian president of the American Federation of Teachers, in remarks on the National Mall at the rally for the March On For Washington and Voting Rights.

Weingarten was referring to the Sunday protest march in 1965 that Lewis organized in Alabama for voting rights in which he and other marchers were beaten by Alabama State Troopers as he led the march across the Edmund Pettis Bridge in an incident that became known as Bloody Sunday.

At the same Aug. 28 rally on the National Mall this past Saturday, U.S. Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.), who this year became the nation’s first openly gay African-American member of Congress, gave an impassioned speech calling on his fellow Democrats, including President Joe Biden, to push for an end to the Senate filibuster, which Jones said will otherwise be used to kill the voting rights bills.

“We have reached what may well be our last chance to rescue this nation from racist minority rule,” Jones told those attending the rally. “This nation and this world can ill afford to allow white supremacists, misogynists, homophobes and those who deny the effectiveness of vaccines and don’t even want to certify presidential elections to take back control of the United States government,” he said to loud cheers.

“Now there are some who suggest that we do nothing—that we accept the status quo that has led us to this moment of crisis,” Jones continued. “But those of us here today understand that in the Senate and the White House we must act. Yes—the White House,” he said.

“Catch that? The White House, because during the civil rights movement, we had a president of the United States who didn’t just throw up their hands and say, ‘Alright, that’s the Senate’s responsibility to pass voting rights legislation.’”

Jones added, “We need the White House to get involved to end this Jim Crow filibuster…And I’m here to tell you that’s why we’re here today – to demand that President Biden calls on the Senate to abolish the filibuster and pass the For the People [voting rights] Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.”

Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.) speaks at the March On for Voting Rights. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Following is a transcript of most of Rep. Jones’ speech at the March On For Washington and Voting Rights rally on Aug. 28:

“We have reached what may well be our last chance to rescue this nation from racist minority rule. This nation and this world can ill afford to allow white supremacists, misogynists, homophobes and those who deny the effectiveness of vaccines and don’t even want to certify presidential elections to take back control of the United States government.

“Now there are some who suggest that we do nothing: that we accept the status quo that has led us to this moment of crisis. But those of us here today understand that in the Senate and the White House, we must act. Yes: The White House . . . Catch that? The White House, because during the civil rights movement, we had a President of the United States who didn’t just throw up their hands and say, ‘Alright, that’s the Senate’s responsibility to pass voting rights legislation.’

“We need the White House to get involved to end this Jim Crow filibuster. [Applause]

“If we fail to act in this moment, we are on a path by which democracy dies in darkness.” 

“Allow me to paint a picture of that dark future for you, if you will.

“Thanks to partisan Gerrymandering, first the party of Donald Trump will take back control of the House next year, even as Democrats continue to win more votes nationwide.

[Member of the audience yells “Hell no!”]

“Hell no, indeed. Let us make sure that doesn’t happen.

“The party of Donald Trump will also take back the United States Senate with voter suppression in states like Georgia. We gotta make sure that Raphael Warnock comes back to the United States Senate. [Applause]

“The party of Donald Trump under the status quo will win back the presidency in the year 2024 whether because of voter suppression, the anti-democratic Electoral College or because red states have had success in overturning the results of free and fair elections.

“The Supreme Court, which is already under radical right-wing control, will do nothing to stop any of this. The GOP’s two stolen seats will ensure that happens.

“We will all feel the consequences of far-right minority rule. Power will continue to concentrate in the hands of a few. Corporations will continue to deny science and pillage our planet as we will hurtle full speed towards final catastrophe.

“Wealth inequality will widen while the tax bills of the super-rich continue to shrink. They will spend billions to send themselves into space while people on earth starve.

“The cost of housing, healthcare, education will grow even further out of reach for everyday Americans. Civil rights and civil liberties will continue to erode, and our government will have learned nothing from the murder of George Floyd last year.

[Audience: “Shame! Shame!]

“Shame, indeed. Shame . . . shame.

“The next pandemic under the status quo of voter suppression, where people who believe in science are denied the opportunity to serve in government, will rage uncontrolled: causing massive, preventable suffering. And our government, the federal government, captured by powerful special interests and insulated from the will of the American people: the will of all of you, will remain indifferent to that suffering.

“My friends, that road is dark. I don’t want to go down that road. I know that none of you want to go down that road. Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be this way, does it? We are not powerless to stop it. We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to achieve a long-held promise of a permanent, multi-racial democracy. A democracy where your vote, and everyone’s vote, matters because we’ve ended the scourge of partisan gerrymandering. Where you never have to worry about whether yourself or your friends and family are registered to vote because they are registered automatically. Where you don’t need to justify exercising your right to vote by mail. Amen?

“Where teachers and bartenders who aspire to run for office can mount competitive campaigns even if they don’t come from money or from a political family. Where candidates for office make their cases to, We the People where they deserve our support rather than being anointed by billionaires and corporations. Where elections are won by uplifting voters rather than suppressing their votes.

“That is a democracy where the American people are in charge, not a select powerful few. Where every voice and every vote matters. It is a promise that is every bit as worth fighting for as it was when heroes like Dr. King, Byard Rustin, Marsha P. Johnson and John Lewis and so many others fought for our right to vote and for dignity. And in several instances took to these steps in the year 1963. And it is an opportunity that we have never been closer to grasping.

“The senate, as you know, could bring about this vision tomorrow, couldn’t it? But a small handful of senators are standing in our way. These senators cling to the dangerous delusion that ten Republican senators of good conscience are somehow going to join in the fight for democracy when we couldn’t even get a Republican to vote for the John Lewis Voting Rights Act a few days ago.

“Even as we fall further into crisis, these senators have found comfort in a White House that has failed to call for an end to the Jim Crow filibuster. So, I’m here to tell you that power concedes nothing without a demand. And I’m here to tell you that’s why we’re here today: to demand that President Biden calls on the Senate to abolish the filibuster and pass the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.

“We know the future that we want for ourselves, for our families, for our country. And we aren’t going to wait until that future is won.

“Thank you so much.”

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Maryland

Montgomery County police chief discusses arrest of trans student charged with planned school shooting

County executive tells news conference student’s trans identity is irrelevant to criminal charge

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(Photo by jiawangkun/Bigstock)

Montgomery County, Md., Police Chief Marcus Jones joined other county and law enforcement officials at a news conference on Friday, April 19, to provide details of the police investigation and arrest of an 18-year-old high school student charged two days earlier with threats of mass violence based on information that he allegedly planed a mass shooting at the high school and elementary school he attended in Rockville, Md.

In charging documents and in a press released issued on April 18, Montgomery County Police identified the arrested student as “Andrea Ye, of Rockville, whose preferred name is Alex Ye.”

One of the charging documents states that a friend of Ye, who police say came forward as a witness who played a crucial role in alerting authorities to Ye’s threats of a school shooting, noted that Ye told the witness that Ye identified as the transgender student he wrote about as character in a 129-page manifesto outlining plans for a school shooting. Police have said Ye told them the manifesto was a fictional story he planned to publish.  

At the news conference on Friday, Police Chief Jones and other law enforcement officials, including an FBI official and Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich, referred to the student as Alex Ye and Mr. Ye. None of the officials raised the issue of whether Ye identified as a transgender man, seven though one of the police documents identifies Ye as a “biological female.”

County Executive Elrich appeared to express the views of the public officials at the news conference when one of the media reporters, during a question-and-answer period, asked Elrich why he and the others who spoke at the news conferment failed to “admit that this individual was transgender.”

“Because it’s not a lead,” Elrich replied, asking if the press and law enforcement authorities should disclose that someone arrested for murder is “a white Christian male who’s heterosexual.” Elrich stated, “No, you don’t – You never publish somebody’s sexual orientation when we talk about this. Why you are focusing on this being a transgender is beyond me. It’s not a news story. It is not a crime to  be transgender.”

The reporter attempted to respond but was cut off by the press conference moderator, who called on someone else to ask the next question.

In his remarks at the press conference Chief Jones praised the so far unidentified witness who was the first to alert authorities about Ye’s manifesto appearing to make threats of a mass school shooting.

“Now, this is a situation that highlights  the critical importance of vigilance and community involvement in preventing potential tragedies,” Jones said. “I commend the collaborative efforts of the Montgomery County Police Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigation,  the Rockville City Police Department, and the Montgomery County Public Schools, as well as Montgomery County Health and Human Services,” he told the gathering.

“Thanks to their swift action and cooperation a potentially catastrophic event was prevented,” Jones said.

Jones pointed out that during the current school year, police have received reports of 140 threats to the public schools in Montgomery County. He said after a thorough investigation, none of them rose to the level where an arrest was made. Instead, police and school officials took steps to arrange for the student making the threats and their parents to take remedial action, including providing  mental health services.

“But this case is different,” Jones said. “This case is entirely different that takes it to a different level. It was a concerned witness who brought this matter to light by rereporting the suspect’s manifesto to the authorities. This underscores the value of community engagement and the ‘see something say something’ approach,” he said.

Jones mentioned at the press conference that Ye was  being held without bond since the time of his arrest but was scheduled to appear in court for a bond hearing on Friday shortly after the press conference took place to determine whether he should be released while awaiting trial or continue to be held.

In his manifesto obtained by police, Ye writes about committing a school shooting, and strategizes how to carry out the act. Ye also contemplates targeting an elementary school and says that he wants to be famous.

In charging documents reported on by WJLA 7 and WBAL 11, the 129-page document, which Ye has referred to as a book of fiction, included writings that said, in part:

“I want to shoot up a school. I’ve been preparing for months. The gun is an AR-15. This gun is going to change lives tomorrow … As I walk through the hallways, I cherry pick the classrooms that are the easiest targets. I need to figure out how to sneak the gun in. I have contemplated making bombs. The instructions to make them are surprisingly available online. I have also considered shooting up my former elementary school because little kids make easier targets. High school’s the best target; I’m the most familiar with the layout. I pace around my room like an evil mastermind. I’ve put so much effort into this. My ultimate goal would be to set the world record for the most amount of kills in a shooting. If I have time, I’ll try to decapitate my victims with a knife to turn the injuries into deaths.”

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Maryland

Rockville teen charged with plotting school shooting after FBI finds ‘manifesto’

Alex Ye charged with threats of mass violence

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Alex Ye (Photo courtesy of the Montgomery County Police Department)

BY BRETT BARROUQUERE | A Montgomery County high school student is charged with what police describe as plans to commit a school shooting.

Andrea Ye, 18, of Rockville, whose preferred name is Alex Ye, is charged with threats of mass violence. Montgomery County Police and the FBI arrested Ye Wednesday.

The rest of this article can be found on the Baltimore Banner’s website.

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District of Columbia

New D.C. LGBTQ+ bar Crush set to open April 19

An ‘all-inclusive entertainment haven,’ with dance floor, roof deck

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Crush (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

D.C.’s newest LGBTQ+ bar called Crush is scheduled to open for business at 4 p.m. on Friday, April 19, in a spacious, two-story building with a dance floor and roof deck at 2007 14th St., N.W. in one of the city’s bustling nightlife areas.

A statement released by co-owners Stephen Rutgers and Mark Rutstein earlier this year says the new bar will provide an atmosphere that blends “nostalgia with contemporary nightlife” in a building that was home to a popular music store and radio supply shop.

Rutgers said the opening comes one day after Crush received final approval of its liquor license that was transferred from the Owl Room, a bar that operated in the same building before closing Dec. 31 of last year. The official opening also comes three days after Crush hosted a pre-opening reception for family, friends, and community members on Tuesday, April 16.

Among those attending, Rutgers said, were officials with several prominent local LGBTQ organizations, including officials with the DC Center for the LGBTQ Community, which is located across the street from Crush in the city’s Reeves Center municipal building. Also attending were Japer Bowles, director of the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs, and Salah Czapary, director of the Mayor’s Office of Nightlife and Culture.  

Rutgers said Crush plans to hold a grand opening event in a few weeks after he, Rutstein and the bar’s employees become settled into their newly opened operations.

“Step into a venue where inclusivity isn’t just a promise but a vibrant reality,” a statement posted on the Crush website says. “Imagine an all-inclusive entertainment haven where diversity isn’t just celebrated, it’s embraced as the very heartbeat of our venue,” the statement says. “Welcome to a place where love knows no bounds, and the only color or preference that matters is the vibrant tapestry of humanity itself. Welcome to Crush.”

The website says Crush will be open Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 4 p.m. to 12 a.m., Thursdays from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m., Fridays from 4 p.m. to 3 a.m., Saturdays from 2 p.m. to 3 a.m., and Sundays from 2 p.m. to 12 a.m. It will be closed on Mondays.

Crush is located less than two blocks from the U Street Metro station.

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