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District of Columbia

Too soon to decide on candidate for D.C. mayor: activists

Bowser, two Council challengers considered strong LGBTQ supporters

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Mayor Muriel Bowser announced her intent to run for re-election last week. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Several D.C. LGBTQ activists this week said they believe it is too soon for the city’s LGBTQ community to make a decision on whom to support for mayor in the 2022 mayoral election, especially since the three well-known Democratic candidates for mayor are longtime LGBTQ allies.

Most but not all the local activists contacted by the Washington Blade in an informal survey who called for holding off on deciding on whom to back for mayor expressed those views one week after Mayor Muriel Bowser announced she filed papers to run for a third term in office in the city’s June 21, 2022, Democratic primary.

The mayor’s announcement came about a month after D.C. Council member Robert White (D-At-Large) and Council member Trayon White (D-Ward 8) announced they would run for mayor in the Democratic primary.

With the overwhelming majority of D.C. voters registered as Democrats, the winner of the Democratic primary for mayor has always won the November general election since the city’s home rule elected government took effect in the 1970s.

Robert White, like Bowser, filed papers to run under the city’s Fair Election program that offers public financing for candidates who must accept campaign contributions no greater than $100 from individual donors in a citywide election.

Trayon White had yet to officially file papers for his mayoral bid as of early this week, but his supporters have said he, too, was expected to run under the Fair Election public financing program.

“I think it’s much too early,” said gay Democratic activist Earl Fowlkes, when asked if he was currently backing one of the mayoral candidates.

Fowlkes was elected last week as vice president of legislative affairs for the Capital Stonewall Democrats, D.C.’s largest local LGBTQ political group. He also serves as executive director of the D.C.-based national LGBTQ group Center for Black Equity.

“People are going to have to listen to the candidates and look at their records and make a decision accordingly,” Fowlkes said. “I think the mayor has a good record and Robert White is certainly a friend of our community,” he said. “And Trayon White has also made great strides in understanding our issues.”

Like other local activists, Fowlkes said D.C.’s longstanding status as an LGBTQ supportive local city government with far reaching LGBTQ rights legislation in place means that LGBTQ voters will turn to other issues on which to base their support for a mayoral candidate.

“It’s no longer that you can silo just on LGBTQ issues,” said Fowlkes. “We have to worry about homelessness for all citizens, not just queer citizens, but everyone. Access to healthcare – those are important to everyone whether you’re LGBTQ or not,” he said. “And I think that our rights as LGBTQ Washingtonians are pretty enshrined in legislation. And I don’t think that’s an issue.”

Similar to past election cycles, Fowlkes said Capital Stonewall Democrats will hold a series of candidate forums in the spring of 2022, including a mayoral candidate forum, in which candidates will be invited to discuss issues of concern to the LGBTQ community. The forums are part of the organization’s process for endorsing candidates for mayor, D.C. Council, and other elective offices, which the LGBTQ Democratic group will make prior to the June 21` Democratic primary.

Lesbian activist Barbara Helmick, who serves as director of programs for the D.C. statehood advocacy group called D.C. Vote, said she agrees it’s too soon for D.C. residents to decide on a mayoral candidate. But Helmick said D.C. statehood should be at the top of the list of issues of concern for the LGBTQ community in the mayoral election.

“We as a vulnerable community will be particularly vulnerable to conservative movements that have a lot of power in this country right now,” Helmick said. “And our best protection against that is having self-government, to be able to elect representatives who will speak for us in Congress,” she said. “We need senators. We need a voting member of the House for whatever conservatives may be coming up with.”

Helmick was referring to past instances where Congress used its authority to overturn or block D.C. laws, which she said could happen again if conservative Republicans regain control of Congress in the 2022 midterm elections. She said the city’s LGBTQ rights protections could be in jeopardy by a hostile Congress.

While noting that Bowser and Robert and Trayon White have been advocates for D.C. statehood, Helmick said the mere expression of support is not enough. “What are each of them going to do?” she said.

June Crenshaw, executive director of the Wanda Alston Foundation, the D.C. group that provides housing services for homeless LGBTQ youth, said that while her organization does not endorse candidates for public office it will be closely monitoring the candidates’ positions on issues that impact LGBTQ youth.

“We’ll be involved in the process because our next mayor or our existing mayor really has to make sure that they are caring for queer and LGBTQ folks in their budget process and in their programming process,” Crenshaw said.

Ron Moten, one of the founders and lead adviser for Check It Enterprises, an Anacostia-based LGBTQ community services center and small business, said the organization has not endorsed candidates in the past but it would consider the possibility of doing so. However, he said choosing between the three main Democratic mayoral candidates would be difficult.

“All of them have supported Check It,” he said. “Robert White introduced legislation to help us get our building,” Moten said. “The mayor has helped us get grants to do the things we are doing. And Trayon White has always supported everything that we’ve done.”

Gay Democratic activist John Klenert, who is among those calling for waiting a few months before deciding on which mayoral candidate to support, said LGBTQ voters along with all voters would benefit by taking time to reflect on the candidates.

“Let’s catch our breath and take a look,” said Klenert, who agrees that the three main Democratic mayoral candidates have good records on LGBTQ issues. “Let’s see,” he said. “The past is one thing. What are they promising for the future, not only for our community but for the city in general?”

The Blade could find just two prominent D.C. LGBTQ activists who have come out in support for a D.C. mayoral candidate at this time.

Rick Rosendall, former president of the D.C. Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, announced on Facebook that he’s supporting Robert White.

“Robert White is thoughtful, decent, progressive and experienced, and has shown a willingness to take on controversial issues, as when he co-sponsored sex work decriminalization favored by at-risk members of our community and those of us who support them,” Rosendall told the Blade in a statement. Rosendall noted that Robert White received a +10 GLAA candidate rating, the highest possible rating, when he ran for reelection to his Council seat in 2020.

Gay Democratic activist John Fanning, an elected member of the Logan Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commission, said he is backing Mayor Bowser’s reelection campaign on grounds that she has served the city “exceptionally well” during her first two terms in office.

“I believe the mayor and her administration’s response to the pandemic was exceptional, because if the mayor and her administration didn’t do what they did when they needed to do it, there would have been more deaths,” Fanning told the Blade.

“And I also think that carving out a space regarding racial justice and social justice with Black Lives Matter Plaza” is also one of the mayor’s important accomplishments, Fanning said. “And she took on Donald Trump when we needed somebody to speak up for the residents of the District of Columbia,” he said.

Citing other actions by the mayor that Fanning said he believes has benefited the city, including an affordable housing program, Fanning added, “I’m not sure we need to make a change right now.”

Mark Lee, coordinator of the D.C. Nightlife Council, a nonprofit trade association that advocates for restaurants, bars and nightclubs, said the group does not officially endorse political candidates. But Lee said individual members of the DCNC, including representatives of LGBT bars and other LGBT venues, are “overwhelmingly supportive” of the reelection of Mayor Bowser and D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large).

“Both Mayor Bowser and Phil Mendelson appreciate the massive economic contribution that nightlife provides to the District’s economy and understand the challenges local establishments face as we emerge from the pandemic period,” Lee said. “Both Bowser and Mendelson continue to support our city’s largest hometown independent small business sector and nightlife operators are eager to return that support,” he said. 

Records from the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance show that two lesser-known candidates have also filed papers to run in the D.C. Democratic primary for mayor in June – James Butler, a former Ward 5 ANC commissioner and unsuccessful 2018 mayoral candidate; and community activist Michael Campbell.

Another three lesser known candidates have filed papers to run for mayor as non-Democrats—community activist Rodney “Red” Grant is running as an independent; community activist Barbara Summers is also running as an independent; and Corren Brown is running as a Statehood Green Party candidate.

Their positions on LGBTQ issues couldn’t immediately be determined. 

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District of Columbia

Gay ANC commissioner nominated for director of D.C. Office of ANCs

Confirmation hearing set for Oct. 12

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Ward 1 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Kent Boese (Photo courtesy of Boese)

D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large) on Sept. 19 introduced a resolution nominating gay law librarian and Ward 1 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Kent Boese to become executive director of the D.C. Office of Advisory Neighborhood Commissions.

The ANC Office director, who is nominated and confirmed by the Council, oversees the operations of the city’s 40 ANCs, which consist of nearly 300 commissioners representing single member ANC districts located in neighborhoods throughout each of the city’s eight wards.

Boese currently represents ANC Single Member District 1A08 in Ward 1.

Shawn Hilgendorf, staff director of the D.C. Council Committee on Government Operations and Facilities, which has jurisdiction over the Office of ANCs, said Mendelson nominated Boese for the Executive Director’s position after the committee earlier this year accepted applications for the position and “interviewed a number of candidates.”

The Council’s Committee of the Whole, which is chaired by Mendelson, is scheduled to hold a confirmation hearing for Boese on Oct. 12, Hilgendorf said. The committee consists of all 13 members of the Council. If it approves Boese’s nomination, as expected, the full Council is expected to then take a final vote on the resolution calling for Boese’s appointment.

Boese is a former president of the D.C. Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city’s largest local LGBTQ political group, which has since changed its name to the Capital Stonewall Democrats. In 2018, Boese ran unsuccessfully as a candidate for the Ward 1 D.C. Council seat in the Democratic primary.

A resumé for Boese submitted to the Council at the time of his nomination says he has worked since August 2008 as a law librarian, manager of technical services, and manager of library services for the D.C. law firm Wiley Rein.

“I’m honored & humbled by the confidence & support I’ve received from Chairman Mendelson during the selection process for a new Director of OANC,” Boese wrote in a Twitter posting. “I’m excited to leverage my ANC experience & relationships to build stronger supports & new services for ANCs across DC.”

Created under the city’s Home Rule Charter in the 1970s, ANCs serve as non-partisan, unpaid bodies that advise city government agencies on a variety of issues impacting neighborhoods, including zoning, trash collection, liquor license approval, and public safety. Although D.C. government agencies make the final decisions on these issues, they are required to give “great weight” to the recommendations of the ANCs.   

ANC commissioners are elected to two-year terms by the approximately 2,000 people who live in their Single Member Districts.

The director of the ANC Office oversees the administrative affairs, including the budgets, for all of the ANCs. The position became vacant last year when its longtime director Gottlieb Simon resigned. The Council appointed Schannette Grant as interim executive director while it conducted its search for a permanent director.

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District of Columbia

Judge postpones ruling on whether Casa Ruby should be dissolved

Request by Corado for gag order to stop ‘one sided’ information denied

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A judge denied Ruby Corado’s request for a gag order in the ongoing case. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

A D.C. Superior Court judge on Thursday said she was not ready to issue a ruling on whether the LGBTQ community services center Casa Ruby should be dissolved as recommended two and a half weeks earlier by a court-appointed receiver that took control of Casa Ruby’s operations.

Judge Danya A. Dayson stated at a Sept. 29 court status hearing that the Office of the D.C. Attorney General, which filed civil charges against Casa Ruby and its founder and former executive director Ruby Corado in July, needed more time to complete its investigation into Casa Ruby’s operations.

“We think it may be premature to immediately commence proceedings for dissolution while our investigation is still pending,” Cara Spencer, an official with the Office of the Attorney General, told the judge. “We’re still gathering information. We still intend to shortly serve discovery so we can bring it to a resolution promptly,” she said.

The AG’s office filed a civil complaint against Casa Ruby and Corado on July 29 alleging that the LGBTQ group had violated the city’s Nonprofit Corporations Act for the past several years. The complaint says improper actions by Corado, including the unaccounted-for expenditure of funds and a failure by the Casa Ruby Board of Directors to provide oversight led to a financial crisis.

The complaint notes that Casa Ruby employees were not getting paid and over $1 million was owed to landlords in back rent for at least three buildings Casa Ruby used for its offices and to provide emergency housing for homeless LGBTQ youth.

With Corado spending most of the past year in El Salvador, according to Casa Ruby employees, the employees and managers struggling to keep its operations going said they were forced to shut down all operations in late July.

Corado, who attended the Sept. 29 status hearing through a phone hookup, said she had yet to retain a lawyer due to a “shortage of funds.” She told Dayson she expects to finally retain an attorney but said she had not received a copy of the receiver’s report that recommended Casa Ruby be dissolved. One of the attorneys with the AG’s office told Dayson the office sent a copy of the report to four email addresses it had for Corado and Casa Ruby.

At the judge’s request, one of the AG office officials sent another copy of the report to Corado during the hearing to an email address that the judge asked Corado to provide.

Dayson on Aug. 12, at the recommendation of the AG’s office, appointed the Wanda Alston Foundation, a D.C. organization that provides housing for homeless LGBTQ youth, as the Casa Ruby receiver. One day earlier, Dayson approved the AG office’s request that Casa Ruby be placed under receivership.

On Aug. 3, also at the request of the AG’s office, the judge issued an order that all of Casa Ruby’s bank accounts and financial assets, which had been under the sole control of Corado, be frozen. Dayson lifted that freeze after the Alston Foundation assumed control of Casa Ruby under the receivership.

As she had at the Aug. 11 court hearing, Corado stated in the Sept. 29 hearing that Casa Ruby’s financial problems were caused by the D.C. government withholding as much as $600,000 in grant funds for services Casa Ruby had provided.

Officials with the D.C. Department of Human Services, which initially approved the grants, have said some of the grant funds were withdrawn or cancelled because Casa Ruby failed to comply with the terms of the grants. In some cases, the officials said, required financial reports were not filed to substantiate how the funds were spent.

Corado also asked Dayson at the Sept. 29 hearing to order the receiver and officials with the AG’s office stop releasing “one-sided” information that she said was falsely placing her and Casa Ruby in a negative light through reports in the press.

“The story that has been painted is that Casa Ruby left the clients in the cold,” Corado said. “That is not accurate.”

When asked by Dayson what she wanted the court to do, Corado said, among other things, she did not want the receiver to be allowed to disclose information about what happened in the court proceedings that Corado said was being reported by the press inaccurately.

She said highly negative publicity resulting from the release of information from the previous court hearing resulted in her receiving death threats and damage to the engine of her vehicle in an act of vandalism that cost $1,700 to repair.  

Dayson said Corado appeared to be seeking a gag order to prohibit the receiver or the AG’s office from discussing or releasing information that was part of the public record. Saying there were insufficient grounds for such an order, Dayson announced she was denying a request to seal court records or issue a gag order against the receiver.

The judge ruled in favor of a request by the AG office attorney to file an amended complaint for the case, directing them to file the amended complaint by Nov. 28. Court records show that Dayson directed the parties to return to court for scheduling hearings on Oct. 28 and Jan. 6. 

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District of Columbia

Whitman-Walker wins $280,000 grant to support LGBTQ immigrants

Providing legal resources for migrants facing persecution

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‘Having a lawyer can make the difference between having legal status and living in the shadows,’ said D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Whitman-Walker Health, which provides medical as well as legal services for the D.C.-area LGBTQ community, was among 25 community-based organizations to receive a grant from the D.C. government earlier this month to provide legal support for immigrants.

Amy Nelson, director of Whitman-Walker’s legal department, said the $280,000 grant it received from the city for 2023 marked the fifth year in a row that the city has supported its work in providing legal support for LGBTQ immigrants arriving in D.C. from countries in Latin America as well as Asia, Africa, and Europe.

“We help people file for U.S. asylum on grounds of HIV, sexual orientation, and gender identity,” Nelson said. “Most of our cases now are trans women from Central America,” Nelson told the Blade. “But we also have people from Cameroon, Russia, and Jamaica.”

She said Whitman-Walker currently has about 150 open cases, including cases handled by outside attorneys working on a pro bono basis.

Nelson said Whitman-Walker’s legal team has provided legal advice to some of the migrants arriving by bus to D.C. that the governors of Texas and Arizona have sent in recent months. But she said most of those arriving by bus from the two states plan to leave D.C. for other parts of the country.

A Sept. 16 statement released by the office of D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser says the mayor’s fiscal year 2023 budget allocated a total of $3.5 million for grants from the city’s Immigrant Justice Legal Service (IJLS) grant program to 25 local organizations, including Whitman-Walker.

“Over the years, the IJLS program has not only benefited DC’s immigrant residents, it has also helped us advance our DC values and strengthened the capacity of legal services providers and pro bono attorneys,” Bowser said in the statement.

“Having a lawyer can make the difference between having legal status and living in the shadows, and I am incredibly grateful for the community organizations who have worked with us to make the IJLS program a success,” she said.

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