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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



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. 


District of Columbia

Activists, policy makers mark Celebrate Bisexual Day in D.C.

BiPlus Organizing US hosted event at HRC



Adrian Shanker, senior advisor for LGBTQI+ health equity in the U.S.Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health, speaks at a Bisexual Awareness Day event at the Human Rights Campaign on Sept. 23, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Cal Benn)

BiPlus Organizing US on Saturday hosted a Celebrate Bisexual Day event at the Human Rights Campaign.

Fiona Dawson, co-founder of BiPlus Organizing US, and Mélanie Snail, committee member of the organization, emceed the event. HRC Senior Vice President of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Rebecca Hershey welcomed attendees. 

Heyshey discussed her journey as a bisexual, mixed race, Jewish woman. Hershey paraphrased Adrienne Maree Brown, stating “change is coming, we are creating change.” 

PFLAG Learning and Inclusion Manager Mackenzie Harte gave a presentation on the history of bisexual identities, defined terms surrounding gender and sexuality and went over statistics of discrimination and health disparities that bisexual individuals face.

Harte’s presentation noted 48 percent of bisexual individuals reported an annual income of less than $30,000, compared to 30 percent of gay men, 39 percent of lesbians and 28 percent of all adults in the U.S. 

Harte went on to say 28 percent of bisexual students report having attempted suicide; and bisexual people have a higher risk of mood disorders, substance abuse and mental illness than their lesbian, gay, or straight cohorts. Bisexual people of all genders face higher rates of sexual assault than those same peers. One reason for these statistics is isolation: 39 percent of bisexual men and 33 percent of bisexual women report not being out to any health care provider, and only 44 percent of bisexual youth report having an adult they could turn to if they were sad. 

Harte also spoke about the Bisexual Manifesto, which the Bay Area Bisexual Network wrote in 1990. 

“The bisexual manifesto very intentionally was not binary,” Harte said.

They said the text works against the stigma and stereotypes that claim bisexuality is confined to “male, female.” 

Tania Israel, a bisexual advocate and psychology professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, shared some of her bisexual haikus, which she calls, “bikus.”

Dawson moderated the next panel.

Panelists included Nicole Holmes, a bisexual advocate and public health professional, National Center for Transgender Equality Communications Director Leroy Thomas and NCTE Policy Counsel Kris Tassone. 

The panel talked about how shame and stigma drive the statistics that negatively impact the bisexual community. Another word that came up as a driving force was “intersectionality.” 

Holmes said that when it comes to intersectionality, it’s important to not just “list identities,” but to look deep into “the purpose behind why we are talking about intersectional identities” in the first place.

Adrian Shanker, senior advisor on LGBTQ+ Health Equity for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, spoke about health equity for the bisexual community. 

“Striving for health equity remains a core priority. It also remains an unmet dream,” said Shanker. “Queer people have always had to be our own health advocates.” While health equity may not be here yet, Shanker says there is much in the works for the LGBTQ community, bisexuals specifically. 

Shanker cited a National Cancer Institute funding opportunity that invites research proposals to cancer care for sexual and gender minorities, stating bisexual specific proposals are welcome. The impending potential government shutdown may postpone it. 

The Biden-Harris administration is also working to ban so-called conversion therapy at the federal level. Additionally, 988, the national suicide prevention hotline, began a program to offer specialized support for LGBTQ youth and young adults last year. 

Shanker said bisexual people should prioritize preventative screenings for skin cancer, oral cancer, lung cancer, regular cervical and anal pap tests, mammograms, prostate exams and colonoscopies. 

“If you have a body part, get it screened,” said Shanker. 

Megan Townsend, senior director of entertainment research and analysis for the GLAAD Media Institute, did a presentation on bisexual representation in the media and opportunities for advancement. 

 “I want to see bi+/pan colors displayed on the White House,” said Dawson. “I want every national LGBTQIA+ organization to be talking about us, to put our concerns front and center.”

The data presented can be found here.

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District of Columbia

Whitman-Walker celebrates opening of new Max Robinson Center

Mayor, city officials call facility major benefit for Southeast D.C.



D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser cut a ceremonial ribbon on Monday to mark the official opening of Whitman-Walker’s new Max Robinson Center. (Washington Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, joined by city officials and leaders of Whitman-Walker Health, cut a ceremonial ribbon on Monday to mark the official opening of Whitman-Walker’s new Max Robinson Center at the city’s St. Elizabeth’s East campus in Southeast D.C.

The six-story healthcare and research facility will enable Whitman-Walker to expand its wide range of services to the community, with a focus on Ward 7 and Ward 8 residents, officials said. Those services, which began when the facility opened its doors on Aug. 14, include primary, dental, and HIV care, behavioral health services, substance use counseling, and a pharmacy, according to a Whitman-Walker statement.

“Today, we’re opening a bigger Max Robinson Center, and in two years we’ll be opening a new hospital on this same campus – and together, these two facilities are going to change the way we deliver healthcare in D.C.,” Bowser told the crowd of about 200 that turned out for the event held in a courtyard next to the newly opened building.

“We’re incredibly grateful that Whitman-Walker is part of the legacy that we’re building on the St. Elizabeths East campus,” the mayor said. “This campus represents our commitment to Ward 8 and our community to a stronger, healthier, and equitable D.C.”

Whitman-Walker and city officials noted that the new building replaces the longtime LGBTQ supportive health care organization’s original Max Robinson Center that opened in 1993 on Martin Luther King Boulevard in Anacostia about a mile away from the new facility. The center was named in honor of award-winning TV news journalist Max Robinson who became the first African American to serve as co-anchor of a network news program at ABC News in 1978. Robinson died of complications associated with HIV/AIDS in 1988.

Bowser and others who spoke at the event praised Whitman-Walker for providing high quality healthcare through its Max Robinson center for underserved communities in city neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River.

The opening of the new Max Robinson Center comes on Whitman-Walker’s 50th year since its founding in 1973 as an LGBTQ community health clinic in a church basement in Georgetown, Whitman-Walker CEO Naseema Shafi noted at the ribbon cutting event.

“We are thrilled to unveil this once-in-a-lifetime healthcare and research expansion during our 50th anniversary year,” Shafi said. “Our new healthcare home will significantly improve access to excellent healthcare for all residents,” she said.

Among other things, the new facility will allow Whitman-Walker to serve an additional 10,000 patients per year more than it was able to serve at the original Max Robinson Center, a statement released by Whitman-Walker says. An important part of its services will include mental health and behavioral services, officials said.

There are more than 40 exam rooms, eight dental suites, six group therapy rooms and a psychotherapy suite in the new facility, the officials said in the statement.

The statement says the new building will also serve as headquarters for the Whitman-Walker Institute, an arm of the healthcare organization that for many years has conducted HIV related research. It says the new facility will allow Whitman-Walker to expand its research “from 19 to over 60 clinical trials, including innovations in cancer research and continued progress toward finding a cure for HIV.”

Others who attended or spoke at the event included D.C. Council members Christina Henderson (I-At-Large), Trayon White (D-Ward 8), and Vincent Gray (D-Ward 7); Japer Bowles, director of the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs; Latrena Owens, executive director of St. Elizabeths East Development; and Debrah Wells, a Whitman-Walker patient who said the substance use treatment and counseling she received at the Max Robinson Center “saved my life.”

Also speaking were Louis Dubin, managing partner of Redbrick development company, which led the development of the building project; and Jim Davis, president of Davis Construction, the company that built the new facility. Both pointed out that they worked with banks and other lenders along with financial support from the city that made the financing of the new Max Robinson Center possible.

Whitman-Walker CEO Shafi told the Washington Blade after the ribbon cutting event that while Whitman-Walker has expanded its services to include the wider community in the years since its founding as an LGBTQ clinic, its commitment to serving the healthcare needs of the LGBTQ community continues in all its facilities, including the new Max Robinson Center.

“What’s interesting about Whitman-Walker of today — when we started in 1973, we were started by community for community, and we were responding to the needs at that time particularly of the LGBTQ community,” she said. “So, now we’ve continued to take care of people, we will continue to do so,” she added.

“And this new site in Congress Heights gives us the opportunity to take care of even more community members, parts of the LGBTQ community and the greater Washington region,” she said, noting that Whitman-Walker currently has about 2,500 transgender or gender expansive people in care, and 3,500 people with HIV in care.

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District of Columbia

Man charged in 2019 D.C. gay murder sentenced to 16 years

Distraught family members urged judge to hand down longer prison term



Vongell Lugo was stabbed to death on Jan. 6, 2019. (Courtesy photo)

Former U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman Collin J. Potter, 31, who earlier this year pleaded guilty to second-degree murder while armed for the Jan. 6, 2019, stabbing death of gay D.C. resident Vongell Lugo, was sentenced Sept. 15 by a D.C. Superior Court judge to 16 years in prison and five years of supervised probation upon his release.  

The sentencing took place at a hearing in which Assistant United States Attorney Peter V. Roman, the lead prosecutor in the case, described in gruesome detail how Potter stabbed Lugo 42 times inside Lugo’s Northwest D.C. apartment shortly after the two met at a D.C. bar and Potter accepted Lugo’s invitation to come to the apartment.

Superior Court Judge Marisa Demeo handed down her sentence after listening to testimony by Lugo’s mother, brother, and sister, and seven of Lugo’s friends, who presented highly emotional victim impact statements describing Lugo as a beloved figure whose brutal murder had a devastating impact on their lives.

Nearly all of the 10 who spoke – eight in the courtroom and two through a live video hookup – urged the judge to hand down a far greater prison term than the 14 to 16-year sentence that prosecutors with the Office of the U.S. Attorney for D.C. offered and Potter accepted in exchange for pleading guilty as part of a plea bargain deal. The plea arrangement made it clear that the judge would make the final decision on what the sentence should be.

Under D.C. criminal law, judges have the discretion to hand down a sentence of up to life in prison for a second-degree murder conviction.

Many of the family members and friends wept as they described Lugo, 36, as a loving, caring person who enriched their lives and who was taken from them by Potter in an unimaginable act of violence.

The sentencing took place a little over seven months after Potter, who was 26 at the time of the murder, pleaded guilty to the charge of second-degree murder while armed and prosecutors dropped their original charge of first-degree murder while armed and other related charges as part of the plea bargain deal.

Court records show that at the request of prosecutors, a D.C. Superior Court grand jury on Aug. 20, 2019, indicted Potter on five counts related to the murder, including two counts of first-degree felony murder while armed, felony murder while armed with aggravating circumstance, and kidnapping.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office has declined to disclose why prosecutors offered the plea deal that included dropping those charges and allowing Potter to plead guilty to second-degree murder rather than bringing Potter to trial on the first-degree murder and other charges.  

Attorneys familiar with this type of case have said prosecutors usually offer a plea deal when they are uncertain whether they can convince a jury to find someone guilty beyond a reasonable doubt at a trial.

At the Sept. 15 sentencing hearing, Potter’s defense attorney, Matthew Davies of the D.C. Public Defender Service, told the judge one reason why the plea offer made sense was it avoided a trial in which Potter would likely have used the defense of insanity or severe mental health problems, that Davies said his client is currently grappling with.

Davies pointed to information submitted by the defense that Potter has a history of trauma brought about by being sexually abused as a child. He said Potter also has an alcohol abuse problem and related mental health issues, and those factors led to the stabbing incident that took the life of Lugo.

He asked the judge to hand down a sentence of 14 years of incarceration, saying that would adequately serve the cause of justice for this case.

The subject of Potter’s mental health also surfaced in a 10-page sentencing memorandum that Roman filed in court two days before the sentencing, and which Roman summarized at the hearing, including the recommendation of a sentence of 16 years of incarceration.

The sentencing memo begins by describing Lugo as an “openly gay man who was born and raised in Trinidad & Tobago before emigrating to the United States with his family several years ago.” One of Lugo’s friends told the Washington Blade that Lugo had been working as an associate manager for a company that provides language translation services.

The sentencing memo says police arrived at Lugo’s apartment about 4 a.m. on Jan 6, 2019, when two neighbors called 911 after hearing Lugo screaming for help through the walls of their adjoining apartments.

It says police arrived shortly after Potter, who was fully nude and covered in Lugo’s blood, had dragged Lugo’s nude body outside the apartment door into the apartment building hallway.

“After the police arrived, the defendant made several statements,” the sentencing memo says. “He repeatedly referred to Mr. Lugo as his girlfriend and as a female and stated that Mr. Lugo’s injuries were self-inflicted,” the memo continues. “The defendant then banged his own head against the wall and started screaming obscenities and that he did not want to live,” it says.

Several of the close to 20 friends and family members of Lugo who were sitting in the courtroom as prosecutor Roman presented these details were crying.

Defense attorney Davies told the judge that he informed Potter that he had a strong defense based on mental health issues if the case went to trial. But Davies said Potter expressed strong opposition to going to trial and subjecting Lugo’s family to additional trauma.

Court documents show Potter was arrested at the scene and has been held in jail since that time as the case dragged on for more than four years since the January 2019 murder.  

Court records also show that Lugo and Potter met at the Black Whiskey, a bar on 14th Street, N.W.  where Lugo was a regular customer. Although some of Lugo’s family members and friends who spoke at the sentencing hearing said they considered the murder a hate crime, court records show police and prosecutors did not list the case as a hate crime.

“He was a beautiful gay man, and everyone loved him,” Hannah Donnelly, one of Lugo’s friends and co-workers said in presenting her victim’s impact presentation in the courtroom.

Another friend said in her impact statement that Lugo invited her to join him to watch D.C.’s Capital Pride parade. She and nearly all the others who presented their impact statements at the hearing were not gay or lesbian themselves but said Lugo was beloved because he always did all he could to help them and support them in their everyday lives.

“He was like a brother to me,” said Gregory Porter, one of Lugo’s friends who, along with his wife, presented their victim impact statements in the courtroom. “There was never a thought that he would no longer be a part of our life,” Porter told the judge. “We ask for equal justice. We ask the court to invoke the maximum possible sentence,” he said.

Victoria Lugo, Lugo’s mother, was the first of the family members and friends to deliver her victim’s impact statement. Looking directly at Potter, she told him there was nothing her son could have done to him to justify what Potter did.

“You have taken my child from me, Mr. Potter,” she said while crying. “My heart hurts,” she continued. “No mother should have to go through this.”

Potter, who was dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit, accepted Judge Demeo’s invitation to speak before she handed down her sentence.

“I’d like to say I am truly very sorry,” Potter told the judge. “I accept the consequences of my action,” he said. “I feel I will spend the rest of my life having a positive impact on other people’s lives to make up for what I have done,” he said.

After listening to Potter, the presentations by Lugo’s family members and friends and hearing remarks from prosecutor Roman and defense attorney Davies, Judge Demeo said she would accept the plea agreement. She said the circumstances surrounding the case, including what she called the “brutal nature of the crime,” warranted that she issue a sentence representing the upper end of the plea agreement of 16 years’ incarceration and five years of supervised release.

She said she would order that the facility where Potter is incarcerated will provide him with mental health treatment.  

“There is no doubt that this was a horrific crime,” she said. “Vongell Lugo was shown by witnesses to be a wonderful soul,” she added.

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