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District of Columbia

Lawsuit reveals gay ANC commissioner placed on D.C. police ‘watch list’

Critics claim ‘flagrant constitutional violations’

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Anthony Lorenzo Green, gay news, Washington Blade
Anthony Lorenzo Green is on a D.C. Police ‘watch list.’ (Photo courtesy of Green for Ward 7)

A lawsuit filed in federal court by a local defense attorney accusing D.C. police of illegally placing her name and the names of journalists and community activists on a “watch list” to identify police critics discloses that Ward 7 gay Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Anthony Lorenzo Green was among those placed on the list.

“The Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia (MPD) maintains a list of people whose requests for information under the D.C. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) are set aside for special review by high-ranking officials, including the Chief of Police,” said Public Defender Service attorney Amy Phillips in the lawsuit, which she filed on Feb. 2 in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

“People are put on this list when they publicly criticize MPD or when they request information that has the potential to embarrass MPD or its officers,” the lawsuit says. “Once on the list, the requesters face hurdles that the general public avoids: They may be charged money for public information that others get for free, they may have their requests delayed, or they may have their requests denied outright,” it says.

The lawsuit says Philips obtained much of the information about the police watch list from a 21-year MPD veteran named Vendette Parker who retired in 2020 and who is acting as a “whistleblower” to help correct what she believes were improper practices by MPD officials in creating the watch list.

According to the lawsuit, the watch list was created by former D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham and continued under the tenure of current MPD Chief Robert Contee. Newsham, who currently serves as police chief in Prince William County, Va., has declined to comment on the lawsuit, saying he does not discuss pending litigation.

Green, whose ANC district represents the city’s Deanwood neighborhood, expressed his concern about the watch list and his placement on it to D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser at a Feb. 3 visit by the mayor to a Deanwood daycare center where Green was present.

“Why are my First Amendment rights being violated here in the District of Columbia?” Green asked Bowser as reported by the Washington Post. “I am a native. I am from this community. And I am very offended that anybody would put me on a watch list just because I asked questions about my community,” the Post quoted Green as saying.

When asked by reporters for her reaction to the lawsuit at the daycare center visit, Bowser said she had yet to read it and would not immediately comment on its allegation, the Post reported. “All FOIA requests should be handled as expeditiously as possible,” the Post quoted her as saying. “I’ll be looking into that.”

WRC Channel 4 News reported that D.C. Police Chief Contee told the news station in a Feb. 3 interview, “There is no watch list” at this time. “I want to make sure that this hasn’t happened,” he told WRC News reporter Mark Segraves. “So, we will look at our processes and see what it is we’re doing here in the Metropolitan Police Department to make sure those policies and those practices are consistent with the best practices for FOIA.”

The lawsuit, among other things, calls on the court to order MPD to stop the practices surrounding the watch list, which it calls “flagrant constitutional violations.”

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District of Columbia

46 out commissioners join ANC Rainbow Caucus

Raising the profile of issues unique to D.C.’s LGBTQ residents

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(Washington Blade file photo by Aram Vartian)

At least 46 out members of the city’s Advisory Neighborhood Commissions who were elected in November have joined the ANC Rainbow Caucus, according to caucus co-chair Vincent Slatt, who won election to the Dupont Circle ANC Single Member District 2B03.

Slatt said he and ANC Rainbow Caucus co-chair Ryan Cudemas-Brunoli of ANC 3F01 plan to continue the caucus’ activities since its founding in 2018 of raising the profile of problems and issues unique to LGBTQ residents throughout the city and to use caucus members’ positions to push for a D.C. government response to those issues.

At least 34 straight-identified commissioners have signed up as allies to work with the Rainbow Caucus, Slatt said.

The city currently has a total of 46 ANCs representing neighborhoods throughout the city that have between two and as many as 10 single member districts (SMDs) each with an elected commissioner, with a total of 345 commissioners. Under the city’s Home Rule Charter, ANC seats are nonpartisan, unpaid positions whose elected members are charged with advising the D.C. government on local neighborhood issues.

Among the caucus’ past accomplishments, Slatt said, was the active role it played in lobbying the D.C. Council to amend the city’s hate crimes law to ban the so-called LGBTQ “panic defense.” Defense attorneys have used that defense to argue that a client charged with physically assaulting or murdering an LGBTQ person did so after they panicked upon learning the victim was gay or LGBTQ.

Slatt noted that the caucus, among other actions related to crime targeting LGBTQ people, submitted a community impact statement to a D.C. Superior Court judge at the time of sentencing for a man charged with a violent hate crime assault targeting a gay Asian man and his elderly parents. The judge denied a request by the defendant’s attorney to issue a suspended jail term with probation and instead sentenced the man to seven months in jail.

Slatt said the ANC Rainbow Caucus is currently closely monitoring the police investigation into the January 2023 murder of D.C. transgender woman Jasmine Star Parker.

“As in previous caucus work, we’ll have letters, resolutions, and proclamations on different matters,” Slatt said, which will be posted on a website the caucus plans to launch soon.

The caucus can currently be contacted via email at ancrainbowcaucus.org.

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District of Columbia

Newly diagnosed HIV cases increased slightly in D.C. in 2021

Report cautions fewer people were tested during COVID-19 pandemic

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Clover Barnes, Director of the D.C. Department of Health’s HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, STD and TB Administration (HAHSTA), was among those playing a lead role in preparing the newly released D.C.HIV/AIDS surveillance report. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The D.C. Department of Health’s Annual Epidemiology and Surveillance Report released on Tuesday shows there were 230 newly diagnosed HIV cases in the D.C. in 2021, the most recent year in which data have been analyzed.

The report says the 230 cases in 2021 represents an 83 percent decline in new cases from the peak number of 1,374 cases in 2007, but a slight increase from 219 cases reported in 2020. The report shows there were 273 newly reported HIV cases in 2019, 331 cases in 2018 and 386 in 2017.

In addition to HIV, the report includes data related to the number of newly reported cases of hepatitis, tuberculosis, and other sexually transmitted infections such as syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia. 

“Annual surveillance data is critical to our understanding of disease trends and our planning and programmatic efforts to control and prevent disease,” the report says. “However, the data in this year’s report must be examined in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic continues to have an immense impact on the availability, accessibility and utilization of disease screening, prevention, and care services,” according to the report.

Among other things, the report says the D.C. Department of Health, to which it refers as D.C. Health, saw a 20 percent decline in the volume of HIV, chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis and hepatitis laboratory reports received in 2020 compared to 2019, indicating fewer people were being tested and diagnosed for the diseases. 

“HIV lab volume decreased further from 2020 to 2021 with a 20 percent decline, and an overall decline from 2019 to 32 percent,” the report says. “Given disruptions to screening services, the potential for underdiagnosis and underreporting is most substantial for those with asymptomatic infections,” it says.

The Annual Epidemiology and Surveillance Report was released at a Tuesday event at the city’s Town Hall Education Arts Recreation Campus in Southeast D.C. in commemoration of Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. 

Among those who attended or spoke were Harold Phillips, director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy, and Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, deputy coordinator of the White House Mpox Response who’s on leave from his role as director of HIV/AIDS Prevention at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Also participating in the event were Rita Harcrow-Flegel, drector of the U.S. Department Housing and Urban Development’s Office of HIV/AIDS Housing; Dr. Sharon Lewis, interim director of D.C. Health; Clover Barnes, senior deputy director of D.C. Health’s HIV/AIDS, STD, and TB Administration, and Erin Whelan, executive director of the D.C. LGBTQ youth advocacy group SMYAL.

Statements at the event by the White House and D.C. officials and a statement released by the office of D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser point to stepped up efforts by D.C. to provide HIV testing and treatment services to all those at risk for HIV, including services free of charge for those unable to pay for them.

Among the services announced is the availability of Post Exposure Prophylaxis, or PEP, a medication D.C. Health is offering free of charge that is taken to prevent HIV infection if taken within 72 hours of being exposed to HIV. Also available, officials said, is the medication known as Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, or PrEP, which, when taken as a daily pill, prevents people from becoming infected with HIV. That too is available free of charges for those in need, the statement from the mayor’s office says.

“We want people in D.C. to know their status and get connected to the right care at the right time — with no shame or stigma attached,” Bowser said in the statement. “We have so many fantastic healthcare partners in D.C., and they have helped us expand access to free PEP, free PrEP, free condoms, free at-home tests, and more,” the mayor said. “Now, we need to make sure people know what’s available and how to access it.”

The statement calls on the public, especially those at risk for HIV, to access information about the city’s HIV prevention and support related services through a new website: sexualbeing.org.

It says the city continues to push for its “bold goal” of having fewer than 21 new HIV diagnoses each year by 2030. It says the city is also stepping up efforts to ensure that everyone who tests positive for HIV will quickly access the anti-retroviral medication that, if used as directed, prevents HIV related illness and suppresses a person’s HIV viral load to a point where they cannot transmit HIV to another person through sexual contact.

The newly released report includes these findings for the year 2021:

• There were 11,904 current D.C. residents, or 1.8 percent of the population, living with HIV in 2021.

• Sexual contact was the leading mode of transmission of newly diagnosed HIV cases in 2021. 

• There were 230 newly diagnosed HIV cases in 2021, a small increase over the 219 new cases reported in 2020, but a significant drop from the 1,373 cases in the peak year of 2007 and the continued decline in cases in subsequent years.

• The proportion of people living with HIV in D.C. in 2021 that are Black is 71 percent

• The proportion of Black men diagnosed with HIV in 2021 who have sex with men (MSM) was 35 percent.

• The proportion of white men diagnosed with HIV in 2021 who have sex with men (MSM} was 8 percent. 

• The proportion of Black heterosexual men diagnosed with HIV in 2021 was 8 percent.

• The proportion of Black heterosexual women diagnosed with HIV in 2021 was 15 percent.

• The report does not show the proportion of white heterosexual men who tested positive for HIV in 2021.

• The proportion of transgender persons diagnosed with HIV in 2021 was 3.5 percent. 

• In 2021, the overall gender breakdown in the proportion of newly diagnosed HIV cases was 73.9 percent male and 22.6 percent female. 

The report was expected to be posted for access on the D.C. Health website at www.dchealth.dc.gov

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District of Columbia

Scarlet’s Bake Sale to mark 50th anniversary

Feb. 12 charitable event to benefit HIPS

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Cupcakes were for sale in the 2012 Scarlet's Bake Sale. (Washington Blade archive photo by Pete Exis)

The D.C.-based Scarlet’s Foundation will celebrate its 50th annual bake sale to raise funds for local LGBTQ community nonprofit organizations on Feb. 12 when it holds its Scarlet’s Bake Sale at the Crucible nightclub at 412 V St., N.E.

Oriana Collins, a member of the Scarlet’s Foundation board of directors, said this year will mark either the 52nd or 53rd year since the nonprofit foundation was founded in 1970 or 1971. But she said due to the cancellation of the annual Scarlet’s Bake Sale from 2020 through 2022 in response to the COVID pandemic, the organization is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the bake sale itself this year.

Like past years, dozens of cake and pastry donors will be arriving at the Crucible between 1:30 and 3 p.m. to bring their mostly home-baked cakes along with store or bakery bought cakes, according to Collins. She said a social gathering will take place at 3 p.m. to be followed by the start of the bake sale, which takes place as a live auction for each of the cakes up for sale, at 4 p.m.

Scarlet’s Bake Sale was held at the D.C. Eagle on Feb. 10, 1990. (Washington Blade archive photo by Doug Hinckle)

“The bake sale is always on the Sunday before Valentine’s Day,” Collins said. She said many of the cakes donated for the event are beautifully decorated to reflect a theme, which this year will mark the 50th Scarlet’s Bake Sale since the charitable event first began.

In past years, Collins said, cakes have sold for as much as $3,000 in an auction that participants know will benefit a charitable LGBTQ organization. She said the last one held before the pandemic hiatus in 2019 raised about $16,000.

This year’s recipient will be the local organization HIPS, which states on its website that it “promotes the health, rights, and dignity of individuals and communities impacted” by sex work and drug use through “compassionate harm reduction services, advocacy, and community engagement.”

Scarlet’s Bake Sale celebrated its 40th anniversary at the D.C. Eagle in 2010. (Washington Blade archive photo by Michael Key)

For most of its years since its founding, according to Collins, Scarlet’s Bake Sale took place at the D.C. Eagle, the iconic gay leather bar before the Eagle closed its doors, like all other bars, during the peak of the COVID pandemic. Due to the sale of its building, the Eagle announced in 2020 it would not reopen. Collins said the Crucible succeeded the Eagle in becoming the host for the bake sale.

She said many participants and cake donors are from the leather community, including several longtime motorcycle clubs.

“Our organization is small and it’s volunteer run,” said Collins about the Scarlet’s Foundation. “The proceeds of the bake sale have always been donated to an organization in the DMV area that supports LGBTQIA+ populations,” she said. Among them, she said, have been the former LGBTQ charitable group Brother Help Thyself, SMYAL, and Casa Ruby before it ceased operating.

(Washington Blade photos by Michael Key, Pete Exis and Henry Linser)

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