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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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Virginia

Va. Senate subcommittee tables anti-transgender student athlete bill

Virginia Beach Republican introduced SB 766

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

A Virginia Senate subcommittee on Thursday tabled a bill that would have banned 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 earlier this month, would have required “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.’”

“SB 766 (trans sports ban) was passed by indefinitely (it died!) after a long line of speakers testified against it, affirming trans students’ rights to participate in sports just like their cisgender peers,” tweeted the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia after the vote. “Trans students belong in sports. Period.”

Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin during his campaign said he does not support allowing trans children to play on sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity.

The General Assembly’s 2022 legislative session began on Jan. 12 with Republicans in control of the House of Delegates. Democrats still control the Senate by a 21-19 margin.

A bill that would have eliminated the requirement that school districts implement the Virginia Department of Education’s trans and non-binary student guidelines died in a Senate subcommittee on Thursday. The Senate General Laws and Technology on Thursday also tabled a religious freedom measure that would have undermined Virginia’s LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination law.

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Maryland

Hyattsville mayor dies by suicide

Kevin Ward and husband adopted son in D.C. in 2012

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Hyattsville Mayor Kevin Ward (Photo courtesy of the city of Hyattsville)

The city of Hyattsville released a statement on Wednesday afternoon announcing that their city’s openly gay Mayor Kevin Ward had died one day earlier by an apparent suicide.

“The city of Hyattsville reports with great sadness that our beloved Mayor Kevin Ward passed away yesterday, Jan. 25, from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound,” the statement says.

“Mayor Ward was a valued and trusted leader and a fierce advocate for all the people of Hyattsville,” the statement continues. “We are heartbroken at this loss and extend our deepest sympathy to the mayor’s family,” it says.

“No further information is available at this time,” the statement adds. “Details about services and remembrances will be shared when they are available.”

The Washington Post reported that U.S. Park Police disclosed that Ward was found deceased in Fort Marcy Park in McLean, Va., with a “self-inflicted gunshot wound.”

Ward, 44, became acting mayor of Hyattsville on Jan. 1, 2021, following the resignation of former Mayor Candace Hollingsworth. He was next in line to become mayor under the city’s political system in his then-position as president of the Hyattsville City Council.

He won election to complete the remainder of Hollingsworth’s term through 2023 in a May 11, 2021, special election, receiving 57.8 percent of the vote in a three candidate race, according to the Hyattsville election board. His closest opponent, Joseph Solomon, received 31.7 percent of the vote.

Nearby fellow gay mayors — Patrick Wojahn of College Park and Jeffrey Slavin of Somerset — said they got to know Ward through Maryland political circles and thought very highly of him.

“He was insightful, smart and dedicated,” Wojahn said. “He always seemed very confident and together as a person. And he had a great sense of humor.”

Slavin said he shared that remembrance of Ward, adding that he found Ward to be a “very nice person” dedicated to the people he served both as mayor and during his two terms on the Hyattsville City Council.

“There was noting in his public life that would have predicted this,” said Slavin in referring to Ward’s sudden passing.

The Washington Blade first reported on Ward in 2012 in a feature story on Ward and his then-domestic partner Chad Copeland when the two attended a ceremony at the D.C. Superior Court to complete the process of adopting their then-5-year-old son Norman. Ward and Copeland were among several gay couples who had their adoption papers signed by a judge at the ceremony.

On the website for his mayoral election campaign last year Ward said he and his family made Hyattsville their home in 2014 after he and his husband adopted their two sons.

“I am a pretty straightforward person,” he said in message to voters on his campaign website. “I believe in listening more than talking. But when I talk, I am not one to mince words or tell people what they want to hear,” he said. “I believe in doing the work. I believe that if I can help someone, then I can change her or his life,” he continued.

“This is why I dedicated my career to providing the best technology to education and to human services, to help as many people as I can,” he said.  

Ward was referring to his career in the field of educational and human services technology.

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District of Columbia

ANC supports license for Capitol Hill LGBTQ bar

Lesbian owners back ‘settlement agreement’ with restrictions on hours

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AYA, gay news, Washington Blade
Rachel Pike and Jo McDaniel are the bar industry veterans behind As You Are Bar. (Photo courtesy Pike and McDaniel)

The Capitol Hill Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6B voted unanimously on Tuesday night to support a liquor license for the LGBTQ-owned As You Are Bar, which plans to open in a two-story building at 500 8th St., S.E. in a commercial section of Capitol Hill known as Barracks Row.

The ANC’s decision to support the license took place at a virtual meeting attended by nearby residents and supporters of the bar after its owners, lesbian activists Jo McDaniel and Rachel Pike, agreed to the terms of an ANC settlement agreement that calls for restrictions in the hours the bar can offer dancing, entertainment, and music from a DJ.

The agreement means the ANC will not file a protest against the license before the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, a development that would have delayed a decision on the license by the ABC Board by as much as seven months. A protest by the ANC could have cost the bar thousands of dollars in legal fees to contest the protest by providing legal arguments seeking the approval of the license.

The ABC Board makes the final decision on whether to approve all liquor licenses in the city.

McDaniel and Pike have said they plan to operate an upstairs dance bar during evening hours and a café on the first floor during the day as well as in the evenings that will be an inclusive space that “welcomes anyone of any walk of life that will support, love, and celebrate the mission of queer culture.”

The two, who are business and life partners, say As You Are Bar will welcome people of all ages, genders, sexual orientations and gender identities as well as drinkers and non-drinkers as customers.

They have also told the ANC and nearby residents they have taken steps to soundproof the building, which they are renting, to ensure their plans to operate a dance bar with music from a DJ on the second floor will not disturb nearby residents.

Under terms of the settlement agreement, which was posted on the ANC’s website prior to the start of the meeting, the bar’s operating hours will be from 12 p.m. to 12 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and 12 p.m. to 3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. Under D.C. law, bars are allowed to remain open for the sale of alcoholic beverages until 2 a.m. during weekdays and 3 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

The Settlement Agreement further calls for As You Are Bar to restrict the hours of consumption of alcohol from 12 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 12 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. It calls for allowing live entertainment and dancing (indoors only) from 12 p.m. to 12 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and from 12 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. on Friday and Saturday.

However, the agreement says DJ and amplified music will not be permitted after 8 p.m. on weekdays.

 McDaniel told the Blade that at the request of As You Are Bar’s attorney Richard Bianco, the ANC agreed to modify that restriction at the Tuesday night meeting to allow the bar to play “conversational” background music after 8 p.m. until closing time on weekdays.

 Among other things, the agreement requires the bar comply with a noise mitigation provision to “ensure that sound, noise, and vibrations are not audible or felt beyond the curb or any other premises at any time.” It also calls on the bar to provide an “appropriate number of staff” to monitor patrons as they leave the bar through the 8th Street entrance to “prevent loud voices and littering.”

Under rules established by the ABC Board and the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration or ABRA, if a settlement agreement is reached between an applicant for a liquor license and the ANC, a protest against the license by groups of five or more citizens is not allowed. Protests could still be filed by community-based civic groups and residents of an “abutting” house or residential facility.

In the case of As You Are Bar, no citizens group has emerged to oppose the license. There is just one abutting townhouse on E Street whose owner has expressed general support for the settlement agreement, according to McDaniel. But the resident has indicated she will not rule out a possible protest until Feb. 7, which is the deadline for filing a protest under ABRA’s rules.

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