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Activists end Nellie’s protests, but continue boycott

Concerns over ‘anti-Black’ practices of bars voiced at community listening session

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Activists have ended their weekly protests at Nellie’s, but not their boycott. (Blade file photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

LGBTQ activists who have organized weekly Friday night protests outside D.C.’s Nellie’s Sports Bar since June announced at an Aug. 26 Community Listening Session that they would discontinue the protests after 11 consecutive weeks, but they are continuing to ask the community to boycott Nellie’s.

Nellie’s, a gay bar located at 9th and U Streets, N.W., became embroiled in controversy when one of its security guards pulled a Black woman by her hair down a flight of stairs during a June 13 brawl between customers and security officers that broke out during the night of the city’s LGBTQ Pride celebration.

The action by the security guard, which was captured on video taken by one of the customers on their phone, went viral on social media, prompting LGBTQ activists and others to demand that Nellie’s take appropriate action to review its security procedures

Nellie’s issued an apology for the incident the following day and announced it had fired the private security company whose employee, who is Black, dragged Keisha Young, 22, down the stairs. Nellie’s also announced it would temporarily close for business to assess what had happened and develop plans for reopening as a safe space for all members of the community.

It has since reopened and has been operating despite the weekly Friday night protests, although protest organizers say fewer customers have been showing up at the bar than prior to the start of the protests.

The activists that organized the protests said they have learned from longtime customers of the bar that Nellie’s staff and management allegedly have a long history of racial bias toward the bar’s Black customers.

Andrew Kline, an attorney representing Nellie’s, told the Washington Blade on Tuesday that he and Nellie’s owner Doug Schantz would have no comment on the Community Listening Session or the allegations by the protesters at this time. In July, following requests by the protesters, Schantz issued an apology to Young, which he had not done earlier, and said he had arranged for his employees to undergo training aimed at addressing the concerns raised by protesters.

He has since hired Ruby Corado, founder and CEO of D.C.’s LGBTQ community services center Casa Ruby, to arrange for the staff training and advise him on community outreach efforts.

But several of the protesters, including Makia Green, who serves as co-conductor of the Black-led community defense group Harriet’s Wildest Dreams, said Schantz last week appeared to display a disrespect for the protesters and for Young by declining to show up in person for the Aug. 26 Community Listening event to which he was invited. The official name of the event released by organizers was the Boycott Nellie’s Community Listening Session.

The session was held at D.C.’s Eaton Hotel at 1201 K St., N.W. and was live-streamed on Facebook. Schantz informed the organizers that he was attending the event online. But under the Facebook Live format, he and others viewing the event online could only submit written messages and could not speak or be seen on video like other online meeting platforms such as Zoom.

Organizers of the Listening Session, in which about 35 people showed up in person at one of the Eaton Hotel’s meeting rooms, said Schantz did not submit any comments other than to say he was watching the event live on Facebook.

The Listening Session, which lasted a little over two hours, included a panel of speakers including moderator Iris Jacob, a trained facilitator with the local group Social Justice Synergy; Preston Mitchum, an attorney and board co-chair of the local group Collective Action for Safe Spaces (CASS); and Makia Green and NeeNee Taylor, local activists who are both affiliated with Harriet’s Wildest Dreams.

Green recounted at the Listening Session what activists and others who witnessed the June 13 incident in which Young was dragged down a flight of stairs at Nellie’s that security guards appeared to have incorrectly believed Young was among a group of customers that brought their own bottle of liquor into the bar in violation of the bar’s longstanding policy. Green said Young, a college student, was not part of the group that brought in the liquor bottle and had arrived at Nellie’s minutes before the incident began.

Witnesses have said the altercation broke out after a Nellie’s employee arranged for security guards to order those believed to have brought in the liquor to leave the bar. Minutes before the security guard is seen on the video dragging Young down the stairs, Young is seen on the video punching one or more men at the top of the stairs.

Green told the Listening Session that Young was attempting to help her male cousin, who Green said was being attacked and beaten by others during the fight that broke out.

Green and the other panelists who spoke at the Listening Session noted that organizers arranged for the weekly Friday night protests outside Nellie’s to be carried out as block parties, with DJ’s playing music and some participants dancing in the street in front of the bar. They said their aim was to create a “safe space” for Black LGBTQ people to celebrate who they are that they have not been able to do in Nellie’s and other D.C. gay bars, which the panelists said have displayed a bias toward “Black queer” customers.

The city’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration, which issues liquor licenses to bars and restaurants announced shortly after the Nellie’s incident that it had opened an investigation into the incident and found Nellie’s may have violated the D.C. liquor law in its handling of the fight. The city’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board referred the case to the Office of the D.C. Attorney General to further investigate whether Nellie’s violated city laws in its response to the fight on its premises.

Spokespersons for the liquor board and the Attorney General’s office didn’t immediately respond to a Blade inquiry about whether the investigations were completed and reached a determination on who was at fault in the Nellie’s incident.

Mitchum, one of the panelists at the Listening Session last week, said organizers have decided not to schedule another such session at this time.

“Overall, the event went well,” Mitchum told the Blade in a statement. “It was a safe space curated by Black queer and nonbinary organizers and activists to speak about the history of anti-Black racism at Nellie’s and other queer bars in D.C. and across the country,” he said.

“Attendees also shared their personal experiences navigating majority-white queer spaces, namely bars and clubs,” he said, adding, “Though I am disappointed that Doug did not show up in-person to meet the activists, organizers, and attendees, we hope he listens to us clearly and takes action to crate safe spaces for all, not just the acceptable few.”

The Community Listening Session can be viewed here.

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Comings & Goings

Movahedi opens virtual law firm

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Babak Movahedi

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 Babak Movahedi on the opening of his virtual law firm. “I started a virtual immigration law firm concentrating on family immigration and business immigration,” he said. “I have had the pleasure of representing a number of LGBTQ+ clients. I can apply for permanent residency of the spouse or other family members of a permanent resident, or U.S. citizen. I am licensed to represent clients in all 50 states.”

In 2018, Movahedi opened a boutique law firm with an international client base. It focused on real estate law, with an emphasis on condominium conversion. Prior to that he served as a Special Master/Magistrate in Miami Beach. In that position he ruled on a variety of matters relating to Miami Beach code, served as a fact finder, and issued rulings. He worked closely with the Chief Special Master. Many will know Movahedi from his work as owner/CEO of a chain of cocktail lounges in both D.C. and Miami. He owned MOVA in both places. 

Over the years, he has worked as a solo practitioner managing the law offices of Babak Movahedi PLLC in D.C. and was CEO of Dupont Title and Settlements. He was a partner in Austin & Movahedi in D.C. He served as chief of party in the United States Agency for International Development and was president, Properties International. He currently is a Visiting Professor, International Law and Business, ESERP School of Business and Social Sciences, Barcelona, Spain. 

Movahedi earned his bachelor’s degree in International Politics, State University of New York, Stony Brook, N.Y.; MBA in International Business, Georgetown University; and Juris Doctor, Georgetown University, and Master of Law in International & Comparative Law, Georgetown University.

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District of Columbia

Drag performers join Gays Against Guns to decry nationwide attacks

‘We’re tired and we’re angry and we’re scared’

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Gays Against Guns held a news conference and gathering at As You Are bar on Dec. 7. (Washington Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

Three D.C.-area drag performers joined members of the New York City-based group Gays Against Guns at a news conference and gathering at As You Are bar on Dec. 7 to speak out against what they say has been an escalating and alarming number of threats against the LGBTQ community and against drag shows in particular across the country.

The Gays Against Guns members along with local supporters came to D.C. to attend the 10th Annual National Vigil for All Victims of Gun Violence, which took placed that evening at nearby St. Mark’s Episcopal Church. President Joe Biden attended and spoke at the vigil.

Among those present at the press conference and who attended the vigil were Gays Against Guns members wearing white robes and hoods and carrying photos of people who died from gun violence, including victims of the Pulse LGBTQ nightclub mass shooting in Orlando, Fla. in 2016.

Fresh on their minds, they said, was the shooting at the Club Q LGBTQ bar on Nov. 19 that took the lives of five people and injured at least another 17 before the lone gunman was wrestled to the floor by one of the customers and held until police arrived.

“We will represent members of the LGBTQI+ community with these human beings,” said Gays Against Guns organizer Ti Cersely at the press conference, referring to the group members wearing white robes and hoods “They are silent protesters donned in white, holding space for a person that has been killed by gun violence,” he said. “And we’re here to ensure the nation sees these lives and honors and respects them as we do.”

Another speaker at the news conference was D.C.-based drag performer Vagenesis.

“I perform all over the country. And it’s been a privilege to be able to be an artist on this platform as I have been over the past five years,” Vagenesis said, acknowledging two other drag performers standing behind them.

“And we’re tired and we’re angry and we’re scared,” Vagenesis told the gathering. “And I have to be scared walking out of my apartment building. I had to put on a hoodie and sweatpants to get to this event because I was afraid someone would hurt me or bash me for looking like me.”

Added Vagenesis, “As a queer person, as a Black person, as a drag artist, my body has a big target on it. And I can’t feel safe walking anywhere when all I want to do is bring happiness to people.”

The other two drag performers appearing at the press conference and gathering identify as Citrine and Rico Pico, who won the 2021 title of Best Drag King in the Washington Blade’s Best of LGBTQ contest.

“I’m very tired of our community just continuing to be sad in mourning,” Pico Rico told the Blade. “It’s not just our effort but a collective effort from our allies as well,” he said. “Everyone needs to be on the same page to fight what led people to get killed.”

Jay Walker, one of the founding members of Gays Against Guns, said the attacks on drag shows appear to be orchestrated by the same far-right groups and individuals that have long targeted LGBTQ people.

“And there has been, if my estimates are not mistaken, at least 300 separate verbal, physical, intimidation attacks on drag performances, and drag story-telling over the course of the last year,” Walker said.

“Our LGBTQIA2s+ communities are under siege,” he said. “And our federal government and our law enforcement have been ignoring us,” he told the gathering, adding that the sometimes inaction by law enforcement officials “emboldens” groups such as the Proud Boys, Patriot Hunters, and Three Percenters that have been harassing drag shows.  

Walker expressed concern that people not directly impacted by the attacks against drag shows or shootings like those at Pulse nightclub or Club Q in Colorado Springs appear to have the mistaken impression that these anti-LGBTQ attacks won’t put them in danger.

“They need to know that these weak-minded angry small men who commit these atrocities across our country are only going to expand their attacks, believe me,” he said. “It is not going to remain with sexual minorities or performers who wear makeup. It is always going to end up attacking the general public,” he said. “and our law enforcement and our government know that.”

Walker was among those who joined the Gays Against Guns contingent, including the members in white robes, who walked from the As You Are to St. Mark’s Episcopal Church to attend the National Vigil for All Victims of Gun Violence, which began at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 7.

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District of Columbia

DC Center, Capital Pride sign joint lease for new offices

LGBTQ groups to operate in historic Shaw neighborhood building

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The Adora is located at 1827 Wiltberger St., N.W. (Washington Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

The DC Center for the LGBT Community and the Capital Pride Alliance, which organizes D.C.’s annual LGBTQ Pride events, announced on Wednesday that they have signed a joint lease to move their operations into a renovated warehouse building in the city’s Shaw neighborhood.

In a Dec. 7 statement, the two organizations said the lease is for a 6,671-square-foot space on the entire first floor of a five-story building at 1827 Wiltberger St., N.W. called The Adora. The building is located steps away from the Howard Theatre and a little over a block from the Shaw-Howard University Metro station.

The new space is more than double the 2,400-square-foot offices the D.C. Center and Capital Pride currently occupy in the city’s Reeves Center municipal building at 2000 14th St., N.W. The Reeves building is slated to be demolished as part of a new development project that will require all its tenants, including the D.C. Center, to move.

The sprawling building, which takes up about half of the narrow, one-block long Wiltberger Street, was built in 1891 as the home of the Holzbeierlein Bakery, according to the online publication Commercial Observer. 

Online real estate listings show it was redeveloped about two years ago with an extension and now includes commercial condominium space on the second and third floors and nine luxury residential condominium units on the fourth and fifth floors.

The statement released by the D.C. Center and Capital Pride Alliance says the first-floor space in the building that the two groups leased currently is un-renovated warehouse space. The statement says the space is being designed for a build out renovation by an architectural firm “with the D.C. Center’s specific needs in mind.” It will include 10 offices and multiple workstations, the statement says.

According to the statement, the renovation is being funded in part by a $1 million grant approved by D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser through the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development and the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs.

Rehana Mohammed, who serves as vice chair of the D.C. Center’s Board of Directors, told the Washington Blade the renovation work was scheduled to be completed by mid-2023. She said D.C. Center officials were hopeful that the Center and Capital Pride would be able to move into the new space in June or early July.

The statement says the new, larger space will enable the D.C. Center to expand its services to include “dedicated therapy rooms, a larger food pantry for the community food distribution program, and dedicated wellness spaces for meditation, yoga, and counseling.”

It says there will also be an expanded state-of-the-art cyber lounge, a larger Community Closet program, which provides free apparel, and that will incorporate a designated dressing area, and individual lockers providing temporary storage for “unhoused/displaced community members.”

“This is an extraordinary opportunity for the D.C. Center to more fully expand our support offerings and provide vital and integral wraparound care to and for our LGBTQIA2s+ siblings,” D.C. Center Executive Director Kimberley Bush said in the statement.

“When community members come to this new space, they’ll see a broader range of support being offered and an enhanced experience for increasing their health, wellness, and personal security,” Bush said.

“We are very excited to support this opportunity and come together in a new space with fellow nonprofits,” said Ryan Bos, the Capital Pride Alliance executive director. “Collectively and collaboratively, we will better serve the LGBTQ+ community and combine resources to provide a much-needed safe space to gather,” Bos said in the statement.

The statement by the two groups says the new larger space will also allow the D.C. Center to sublease office and desk space to other LGBTQ+ nonprofit organizations. As of this week, the Wanda Alston Foundation, Rainbow Families and G3 Associates, an organization operated by local gay activist George Kerr, have confirmed arrangements to sublease space in the new building, the statement says.

“We are proud to reaffirm our support for D.C.’s LGBTQ+ community,” said Mayor Bowser in a statement referring to her office’s awarding a $1 million grant to help fund the D.C. Center’s build out in the new space. “This investment is a reflection of our D.C. values,” the mayor said.

“We know that when we foster community, and when we support organizations that invest in the community, D.C. is stronger and our residents have more and better opportunities to reach their full potential and live happy, healthy lives,” the mayor said. 

‘This is an extraordinary opportunity for the D.C. Center to more fully expand our support offerings,’ said D.C. Center Executive Director Kimberley Bush. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)
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