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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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Virginia

Va. lieutenant governor misgenders Danica Roem

Manassas Democrat is first trans person elected to state Senate

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Virginia Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears speaks at CPAC in 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Virginia Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears on Monday misgendered state Sen. Danica Roem (D-Manassas) on the Virginia Senate floor.

WVTF Richmond Bureau Chief Brad Kutner in an X post said Earle-Sears, who is a Republican, referred to Roem, who is a transgender woman, as “sir” during a debate on House Bill 964, which would allow attorneys to serve as the executive director of the Virginia Board of Medicine. 

Kutner said the Senate went “recess twice after reportedly ‘Sears refused to apologize.'”

“I’m not here to upset anyone, I’m here to do the job the people of Virginia have called me to do,” Earle-Sears later said, according to Kutner.

Roem in 2018 became the first trans person seated in a state legislature in the country when she assumed her seat in the Virginia House of Delegates.

Voters in the 30th Senate District last November elected her to the Senate. Roem is the first trans person seated in the chamber.

The Washington Blade on Monday reached out to Roem, but she declined comment.

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District of Columbia

GW transgender, nonbinary student group criticizes Utah governor’s on campus comments 

Spencer Cox decried ‘genital-mutilation surgeries’

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Republican Utah Gov. Spencer Cox (Photo courtesy of Cox's office)

A George Washington University transgender and nonbinary student group has criticized Republican Utah Gov. Spencer Cox’s comments about gender-affirming health care that he made last week during an on-campus.

The GW Hatchet reported Cox on Feb. 21 described gender-affirming health care as “genital-mutilation surgeries” during a “Disagree Better” event the university’s School of Media and Public Affairs hosted. Jonah Goldberg, a conservative writer and commentator, and NPR “Morning Edition” host Michel Martin also participated in the event that Frank Sesno, a GWU School of Media and Public Affairs professor who was previously CNN’s Washington Bureau chief, moderated.

The Transgender and Nonbinary Students of GW in a post to its Instagram page said it is “hurt, ashamed and frustrated that such harmful language was allowed to be given a platform on our campus.”

“Fear mongering claims that young trans people are ‘mutilating our bodies’ are factually incorrect and damaging to our community,” said the group in its post that notes the event took place days after Nex Benedict, a nonbinary student in Oklahoma, died after a fight in their high school’s bathroom. “Gender-affirming care for minors saves lives, and is approved by reputable institutions, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and American Psychiatric Association.”

The GW Hatchet notes Cox told Sesno that he invited trans youth and their families to the Governor’s Mansion in Salt Lake City “to discuss state measures that pertain to transgender people, a conversation that he said led to legislative change.” 

Cox in 2022 vetoed a bill that banned trans students from playing on sports teams that correspond with their gender identity. The Utah Legislature later overrode his veto.

The governor last year signed a bill that bans gender-affirming health care for minors in his state. Cox last month signed a bill that prevents trans and nonbinary people from using restrooms and locker rooms in public schools and government buildings that correspond to their gender identity.

The GW Hatchet reported Cox in response to a student’s question said “no one” in Utah has died by suicide because they were unable to access gender-affirming care.

“I care deeply about these kids. I love these kids. I want these kids to thrive. I want these kids to be successful,” Cox said, according to the GW Hatchet. “I think there’s a better way to do that than by having genital-mutilation surgeries before they’re 18 and old enough to have a rational decision, to actually make a decision for themselves. And so we can disagree with that.”

“As the only trans student org at GW, we refuse to let our community have their right to exist be put up for debate and threatened by disinformation,” said the Transgender and Nonbinary Students of GW in their statement. “We call on GW administration to consider ways in which they can repair the harm caused by Gov. Cox’s statements on campus, and make the safety of their trans students, faculty and staff a priority in a sociopolitical climate that is fixated on our eradication.”

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District of Columbia

Nex Benedict honored at D.C. candlelight vigil

Upwards of 100 people paid tribute to nonbinary Okla. student at As You Are

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A candlelight vigil is held outside of the LGBTQ café and bar As You Are on Feb. 22, 2024, for 16-year-old nonbinary student Nex Benedict. (Washington Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

Nearly 100 people turned out on Feb. 22 for a candlelight vigil hosted by the D.C. LGBTQ café and bar As You Are to pay tribute to 16-year-old nonbinary student Nex Benedict.

Benedict died Feb. 8 at a hospital in Owasso, Okla., one day after family members say Benedict was beaten up by three older female students in an Owasso High School bathroom after a fight broke out. Owasso police have said they are investigating the circumstances surrounding Benedict’s death but said preliminary autopsy findings do not show the death was caused by physical injuries.

Family members, including Benedict’s mother, told news media outlets that Benedict suffered severe bruises to their face and head and the family believes the injuries from an assault caused their child’s death. Family members have also said Benedict had been targeted for bullying at school because of their status as a nonbinary person.

People who spoke at the As You Are candlelight vigil said they considered the death an anti-LGBTQ hate crime.

“Today we are brought together to mourn the loss of Nex Benedict,” As You Are co-owner Rachel “Coach” Pike told the gathering, which was held on the As You Are outdoor patio and surrounding sidewalk. “Nex Benedict, your life matters. It will always matter, and more than that your life was precious,” Pike said.

“You had the right to live as you were and all parts of your identity were beautiful and should have been celebrated, supported, and safe,” Pike added.

Pike and other speakers, some of whom identified as nonbinary and transgender, pointed out that Benedict’s family are members of the Choctaw Nation, a Native American community. A speaker at the vigil who identified himself as Bo and said he identified as a two-spirit individual called on the gathering to pay tribute to Benedict’s role as one of the Choctaw people.

“When I first heard the news of Nex Benedict’s murder I was shocked,” Bo said. “I thought of how young. I thought about how much life was taken from this child.”

Another speaker, native American advocate Shiala King, whose family are members of the Sicangu Lakota Nation in South Dakota, arranged for her father, Frank John King, a faith leader and medicine man, to speak to the gathering by phone hookup from his residence in South Dakota. After greeting the gathering and expressing his condolences over the death of Benedict, Frank King further honored Benedict by singing a spiritual song in the Lakota language as part of a tradition of uplifting the spirit of beloved people who pass away.

Jo McDaniel, the other co-owner of As You Are whose also Pike’s spouse, said they were pleased with the response to their announcement of the vigil on social media. 

“To see this child taken from us this way, it’s chilling and it’s horrible and it’s not right and it’s not fair,” McDaniel told the Washington Blade after the vigil ended. “And so, we knew that the only thing we could do to help our community heal was to gather. And we wanted to do that in as honorable and wonderful a way as possible as that kid deserves,” she said.

Sue Benedict, Nex Benedict’s mother, told the British newspaper The Independent that Nex was a “courageous, smart teenager who had simply been living their true identity.” The Independent reports that Sue Benedict said Nex had been subjected to taunts, insults and bullying due to their gender fluid identity for over a year. 

Owasso police officials have said detectives were interviewing school officials and students to obtain more details on how the fight started and whether charges will be brought against those who allegedly assaulted Benedict. A police spokesperson told The Independent police were awaiting the findings of toxicology and autopsy reports from the Oklahoma Medical Examiner’s Office to determine whether anyone will be charged with a criminal offense.

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