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‘Lesbian Bar Project’ film shown at Library of Congress

Sen. Baldwin, Rep. Davids join LGBTQ activists for viewing

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Left to right: Rep. Sharice Davids (D-Kan.), filmmakers Erica Rose and Elina Street, and U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.). (Washington Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) and U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids (D-Kan.), both of whom are out lesbians, joined about 100 LGBTQ activists and supporters at the Library of Congress’s main auditorium on Thursday night, Oct. 28, for the premiere showing in the nation’s capital of the film “Lesbian Bar Project.”

The film is named after a project founded last year by New York-based lesbian filmmakers Erica Rose and Elina Street who are listed as the film’s directors. The two women told the Washington Blade earlier this year that they started the Lesbian Bar Project to help the nation’s 21 remaining lesbian bars that were struggling to survive during the COVID pandemic.

The project has raised more than $250,000 since its founding, which it has provided in the form of grants to lesbian bars in financial need during the pandemic. Among the bars receiving support from the project was D.C.’s only remaining lesbian bar, A League of Her Own, in the city’s Adams Morgan neighborhood.

“In the late 1980s, there were an estimated 200 lesbian bars across the country,” a statement posted on the Lesbian Bar Project website says. “These bars are disappearing at a staggering rate, and we cannot afford to lose more of these vital establishments to the fallout of COVID-19,” the statement says.

Street and Rose said they arranged for the production of the 20-minute documentary film, Lesbian Bar Project, with financial support from the Jagermeister liquor company’s Save the Night campaign, which the company launched to provide financial support for nightlife businesses such as bars and restaurants during the pandemic. A Jagermeister spokesperson said the company has also provided financial support for the Lesbian Bar Project’s website in an effort to promote the project’s awareness of the role lesbian bars play in the greater LGBTQ community.

In remarks before the film was shown at the Library of Congress’s Coolidge Auditorium, Baldwin and Davids praised the work of the Lesbian Bar Project, calling the nation’s 21 remaining lesbian bars across the country safe spaces for lesbians to meet and socialize.

“While so much has changed for the LGBTQ community, Sharice Davids and I stand here before you as elected members of the House and Senate. We’re proof of that,” Baldwin told the audience. “But we also know that for too many people in too many places we still have a long, long way to go,” she said. “We still need places to feel safe that are supportive and a part of the community, places where we can be unequivocally and unreservedly ourselves.”

Baldwin became the nation’s first out lesbian member of the U.S. House of Representatives following her election to the House in 1998. She became the nation’s first out LGBTQ U.S. senator following her election to the Senate in 2012.

Davids became the nation’s first out LGBTQ Native American member of Congress in 2018, when she won election to her House seat.

Following the showing of the film, Rose, Street and owners or representatives of four of the lesbian bars that were portrayed in the film, including Ally Spaulding, general manager of D.C.’s A League of Her Own, appeared for a panel discussion on the stage in front of the screen where the film was shown.

Also appearing on the panel were D.C. lesbian activists Jo McDaniel and Rachel Pike, who appear in the film, and who talked about their plans to open an LGBTQ welcoming bar in D.C. called As You Are.

Other speakers included Lisa Meninchino, owner of the New York City lesbian bar Cubbyhole; Lisa Cannistraci, owner of the lesbian bar Henrietta Hudson, also located in New York City; and Rachel and Sheila Smallman, co-owners of the Mobile, Ala. lesbian bar Herz.

The event was sponsored by the LGBT Congressional Staff Association; Library of Congress GLOBE, which represents LGBTQ staff members at the Library of Congress; and the U.S. House Equality Caucus, which is co-chaired by the nine out LGBTQ House members.  

Laura Munoz Lopez, an official with the House Democratic Caucus and the LGBT Congressional Staff Association, was the lead organizer of the event and served as moderator for the panel discussion.

Prior to the showing of the film, officials at the Library of Congress set up an exhibit for attendees to view that included some the library’s collections of lesbian-related artifacts, including lesbian publications going back to the early 1960s.

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Virginia

Man who killed one in 2000 Roanoke gay bar shooting dies in prison

One of the worst bias attacks targeting LGBTQ community

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Ronald Edward Gay died while serving life sentences for attacking a Virginia gay bar. (Washington Blade clipping from Sept. 29, 2000)

A man sentenced to four consecutive life terms in prison for the September 2000 shooting at a gay bar in Roanoke, Va., in which one man lost his life and six others were wounded, died of natural causes on Jan. 15, according to the Virginia Department of Corrections.

A spokesperson for the Department of Corrections told WSLA 10 TV News that Ronald Edward Gay died while being treated at a hospital near the Deerfield Correctional Center, a state prison where he had been living as an inmate. He was 75. 

Witnesses and law enforcement officials reported at the time of the shooting that a middle-aged man later identified as Gay arrived alone at Roanoke’s Backstreet Café, a popular gay bar, on the night of Sept. 22, 2000.

According to an account by an eyewitness to the incident who spoke last week with the Roanoke Times newspaper, after ordering a beer and standing next to the bar for a short time, Gay reached into the long trench coat he was wearing, pulled out a 9mm pistol, and fired a round “straight into the chest of 43-year-old Danny Overstreet, before opening fire on the rest of the bar.”

Overstreet, a beloved regular patron at the Backstreet Café, died at the scene of the shooting. Six others, who were wounded by bullets fired by Gay, later recovered, but they and many others who were present and witnessed the shooting were left emotionally scarred, the Roanoke Times reported.

In the weeks following the shooting, news media outlets, including the Washington Blade and the Washington Post, reported findings of an investigation by local police that Gay told police he went to Backstreet specifically to target gay people because he became bitter after years of being taunted and teased for his last name of “Gay.”

The Roanoke Times reported that, among other things, Gay told police “God told him to do it” and that he once wrote that there was an evil inside of him telling him “to shoot or have no rest.”

Gay later pleaded guilty to multiple charges against him, including murder. On July 23, 2001, he was sentenced to four consecutive life sentences in prison for the shooting incident and the murder of Overstreet.

The Backstreet incident in Roanoke was considered by LGBTQ rights advocates and others to be one of the worst incidents in which LGBTQ people were targeted for a shooting until the June 2016 shooting at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., in which 49 people died and 53 more were wounded in a mass shooting by 29-year-old Omar Mateen.

Mateen, who was shot and killed by Orlando police after a three-hour standoff, told police in a phone call from inside the nightclub after the shooting began that he swore allegiance to the leader of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and his attack against the gay nightclub was motivated by the U.S. military intervention in Iraq and Syria. The FBI later classified the incident as a terrorist attack.

The Roanoke Times reported that the shooting incident at Backstreet Café prompted LGBTQ residents and allies to gather in the days and weeks after the incident for vigils and marches. About 1,000 people walked through the streets of downtown Roanoke to honor the life of Overstreet and to urge Congress to pass federal hate crimes legislation, the newspaper reported.

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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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