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Hundreds shut out of Cherry circuit party at Howard Theatre

Organizers apologize, promise refunds

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A scene from the Flawless event last weekend in which possibly hundreds of patrons were barred from entering the party at the Howard Theatre. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Cherry Fund, the D.C.-based nonprofit organization that has raised money for HIV/AIDS, mental health, and LGBTQ organizations over the past 25 years through its annual weekend circuit party events, issued an apology this week for the abrupt cancellation of one of its events and a decision by the Howard Theatre to stop admitting people to a separate Cherry event at that location on grounds of overcrowding.

The Saturday night, April 9, event at the Howard Theatre, called FLAWLESS, was considered one of the main dance party events of the Cherry 2022 weekend, with prominent DJs, entertainers and more than 1,000 people from the D.C. area and other parts of the country in attendance.

“The Cherry Fund wants to apologize for the experience to our valued patrons received over this past weekend during our 25th Anniversary Benefit Weekend,” a statement released by the Cherry Fund on Tuesday says. “Cherry is now beginning the process of issuing refunds to the patrons for the cancelled Evolution event and Flawless event to those who were not permitted to enter the venue,” the statement says.

Allen Sexton, the Cherry Fund president, told the Washington Blade Howard Theatre officials stopped admitting people into the theater after claiming the building’s legal capacity limit of 1,242 people had been reached. But Sexton said Cherry Fund’s all-volunteer staff have carefully looked through the ticket sales records and determined the total number of tickets sold for the event was 1,178. He said the numbers show that the event was not overbooked.

Sexton said theater staff members told him they never took a full count of the number of people inside the theater on the night of the event. Instead, according to Sexton, one of the theater managers told him, “I can just look at the floor and tell” how many people are present.

People waiting to get into the theater reported on social media that as many as 300 or more people were forced to wait in line outside the theater in cold outdoor temperatures with the hope of getting in. According to social media reports, including on Facebook, many of those waiting on two lines went home after D.C. police officers on duty told them the theater was filled to capacity and few if any more people would be allowed inside.

D.C. police spokesperson Brianna Burch told the Blade members of the department’s LGBTQ Liaison Unit were on duty at the Howard Theatre event. 

“To ensure the security and safety of all patrons, MPD members notified patrons that the event was at capacity,” Burch said. “It is my understanding that eventually patrons who were waiting outside were let into the event.”

Howard Theatre did not respond to a request from the Blade for comment on the question of whether they incorrectly estimated the number of people at the theater as suggested by Sexton. Sexton, however, said it was possible that some of the people waiting to get into the theater did not have tickets and were hoping to be able to purchase tickets at the door.

He said a separate event scheduled for late Friday night, April 8, through the early morning hours of Saturday, April 9, until around 9 a.m. had to be cancelled when the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration denied an application by Decades nightclub on Connecticut Avenue, N.W. near Dupont Circle to extend its operating hours through the early morning hours to serve as host for the dance party event, called EVOLUTION.

The legally required closing time for most D.C. bars and nightclubs is 3 a.m. on weekends, although Decades’ weekend closing time is 4 a.m.

An ABRA spokesperson told the Blade the application for the extended operating hours was submitted by Sexton rather than by one of the owners of Decades nightclub as required under ABRA regulations. The spokesperson, Jared Powell, said ABRA emailed the Decades manager, Joe Aguila, on March 3 to inform him the application could not be accepted unless one of the owners signed their name on the required document.

“ABRA received no response to the email notification,” Powell said. Powell noted that under ABRA rules, the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, which meets once a week on Wednesdays, must give final approval of a “substantial change” in operating hours for clubs licensed to sell alcoholic beverages.

Powell said that on Thursday, April 7, one day after the ABC Board’s last meeting before the Cherry events were scheduled to begin on April 7, the Decades’ manager came to the ABRA office to inquire about the status of the application. He said one day later, on April 8, Sexton came to the ABRA office asking about the application.

“Both parties were advised that they missed the required application window for timely ABC Board consideration,” Powell told the Blade in an email.

Sexton disputes this claim, saying he believes the Decades owner provided the required signed application in time for the ABC Board meeting on Wednesday morning, April 6, possibly through an email attachment.

According to Sexton, the negative fallout from the canceled dance party event on Friday night-Saturday early morning and the Howard Theatre’s refusal to admit patrons to the Saturday night FLAWLESS main event cast a negative light on an otherwise successful weekend, with eight other events taking place as scheduled.

“We are sorry,” says the Cherry Fund statement released on April 12. “In hindsight, we could have gone about producing this weekend in a more efficient manner. We did not and we are to blame,” it says.

“We will begin to investigate the details of failures within our own organization, as well as the shortcomings of venues,” the statement continues. “We will release additional details as they become available.”

The Cherry Fund website describes its annual Cherry weekend events as “one of the longest all volunteer non-profit LGBTQIA Dance Music Festivals” that it says has donated more than $1.3 million in “grants and support benefiting mental health and HIV/AIDS service organizations in the D.C. metropolitan region and beyond.”

In its statement released on April 12, Cherry Fund says its decision to refund the money for ticket sales for the cancelled event and the ticket holders unable to attend the Howard Theatre event “will most likely result in our inability to give money back to the HIV/AIDS and mental health community organizations in 2022.”

The statement adds, “We are in the process of working with TicketLeap to start the refund process. Please send your refund request to [email protected]. Refunds will be processed to only the individuals that purchased their tickets that were issued to them on the TicketLeap platform. All refund requests must be submitted by April 30, 2022.”  

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District of Columbia

D.C. house with rainbow Pride flag set on fire

Investigators seeking help from public in search for suspect

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A Pride flag remained displayed at the house in Shaw this past Sunday, one week after the fire in the rear of the house which fire officials have listed as arson. (Washington Blade photos by Lou Chibbaro Jr.)

The D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department has classified as arson a June 19 fire at a two-story row house on the 1800 block of 8th Street, N.W. in the city’s Shaw neighborhood that had an LGBTQ rainbow Pride flag prominently displayed on the front of the house.

A Fire & EMS Department spokesperson said the fire was ignited in a detached wooden garage in the rear of the house accessible only through an alley, and fire investigators have yet to identify a suspect or a motive for what evidence shows was an intentionally set fire.

Although the front of the brick rowhouse where the Pride flag was displayed was not damaged, the fire in the garage spread to the rear of the house, destroying a wooden outdoor deck, and caused extensive damage to the kitchen, bathroom, and second floor bedroom. Fire investigators have sealed the house, requiring its three occupants to find a temporary residence as the investigation continues.

One of the three occupants of the house, who was the only one at home when the fire started at about 2 a.m., escaped without injury, according to sources who know the occupants.

“The Pride flag on the front of the house was present at the time of the fire,” Jennifer Donelan, director of communications for the Fire & EMS Department, told the Washington Blade. “We do not have any information, at this time, that suggests the arson was related to the presence of the flag, however we are still working on the case,” she said.

“We are aggressively working to identify a suspect and a motive,” Donelan said. “Until such time, we won’t be able to make a determination as to whether or not this was a hate crime.”

She said the Fire & EMS Department is seeking help from the public in its effort to identify one or more suspects responsible for the fire. Anyone with information that could be helpful to the investigation is asked to call fire investigators at 202-673-2776.

The fire at the D.C. house with the Pride flag took place less than a week after Baltimore police said a house in that city’s Waverly neighborhood on which “Pride décor” was displayed was set on fire on June 15, causing extensive damage to the house and nearby houses.

Baltimore police and fire department officials said a Pride flag on a house across the street from the house set on fire was also ablaze when firefighters arrived on the scene. Two men were hospitalized in critical condition and a woman was listed in serious condition because of the fire ignited in the house.

Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott released a statement saying fire department officials had yet to determine a motive for the fire.

“At this point, we cannot confirm that this was a hate crime,” Scott said. “However, my agencies will bring every appropriate resource to bear to get to the bottom of this tragic event,” he said. “I continue to stand in solidarity with our LGBTQ+ community.”

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District of Columbia

D.C. officials vow to fight any GOP effort to ban abortion in nation’s capital

Without statehood, District vulnerable to congressional interference

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D.C. Congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton vowed to fight to protect abortion access in the city. (Blade file photo by Drew Brown)

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, D.C. Congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, and six members of the D.C. Council said they were united in fighting an attempt by Congress to ban abortions in the nation’s capital following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

At a press conference on the day the Supreme Court handed down its controversial decision, the D.C. officials pointed out that unlike any of the states, D.C. is vulnerable to the authority Congress has over the city under its limited Home Rule Charter, including the authority by Congress to pass a law to ban abortions in the city.

The press conference was held at the headquarters in Northeast D.C. of Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, D.C., whose leaders said they would continue to provide abortion services in the District at the present time.

At this time, “Nothing has changed in Washington, D.C.,” Bowser said at the press conference. “Abortion remains legal, and women and girls we know, however, are worried,” the mayor said. “We are worried because we know we are vulnerable as a jurisdiction because of our lack of statehood.”

Norton told news media representatives and others attending the press conference that she expects at least some congressional Republicans to introduce legislation to ban abortions in D.C. now that the Supreme Court has given them the authority to do that.

“We are subservient still to the House and Senate,” she said. “I’m calling on the Congress to immediately codify the right to an abortion in federal law,” Norton said. “That is the very least the District needs to save this city from what will surely be an attempt by Republicans in Congress to move first on the District of Columbia to make sure that abortions are not available for women in our city.”

Norton added, “We always have more work cut out for us than other jurisdictions. But I assure you I am up to the task. There is a lot to fight for here, and I’m ready for that fight.”

Norton and Bowser also pointed out that Congress over a decade ago added a permanent provision to D.C.’s annual budget that prohibits the city from using any of its funds to pay for abortions either directly or through the funding of private organizations like Planned Parenthood that provide abortion related services.

With the prospect that Republicans might regain control of the House or Senate or both in the November congressional elections, D.C. officials said they were especially concerned about an attempt to ban or greatly restrict abortions in the city.

D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson said he was hopeful that such an attempt would be blocked by a Democratic-led filibuster in the Senate as well as by a presidential veto if President Biden or another Democrat continues to occupy the White House.

Bowser, Mendelson, and D.C. Councilmember Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) also pointed out that the legal reasoning used by the justices to overturn Roe v. Wade, especially the rationale given by Justice Clarence Thomas, could be used in future cases to overturn previous court rulings establishing a constitutional right to same-sex marriage and the right to intimate sexual acts between same-sex couples.

“We are about to enter into decades of darkness with this court that we have,” Cheh said at the press conference. “And don’t be fooled. We’re told, OK, it’s just abortion,” she said. “Don’t you believe it. The very reasoning of the case – and I spend a lot of time teaching constitutional law – means that many other liberties will be in jeopardy.”

LGBTQ rights advocates have pointed to the concurring opinion handed down by Justice Thomas on the day the court overturned Roe v. Wade that specifically calls on the high court to “reconsider” the 2003 ruling of Lawrence v. Texas, which overturned state laws banning sodomy between consenting adults, both gay and straight. Thomas’s concurring opinion also called for reconsidering the high court’s 2015 Obergefell ruling, which legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.

Others speaking at the June 24 press conference included Laura Meyers, president of Planned Parenthood of the D.C. area, and D.C. Council members Elissa Silverman (I-At-Large), Christina Henderson (I-At-Large), and Brooke Pinto (D-Ward 2). 

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District of Columbia

One of two gay candidates wins primary for D.C. Council

Bowser triumphs in Democratic race for third term as mayor

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Gay D.C. Board of Education member Zachary Parker won the Democratic primary for the Ward 5 Council seat.

Gay D.C. Board of Education member Zachary Parker emerged as the clear winner in a seven-candidate race for the Ward 5 D.C. Council seat in Tuesday’s Democratic primary, placing him in a strong position to win the November general election and become the first openly gay member of the Council since 2015.

With nearly all of the votes counted shortly before midnight, Parker had 41.65 percent of the vote, with his closest rival, Faith Gibson Hubbard, receiving 23.41 percent. Former at-large and Ward 5 Councilmember Vincent Orange had 16.66 percent of the vote in his unsuccessful bid to return to the Council.

While Parker and his supporters celebrated his primary victory, gay former D.C. police officer Salah Czapary lost his bid for the Ward 1 D.C. Council seat to incumbent Councilmember Brianne Nadeau by a margin of 47.39 percent to 32.09 percent. A third candidate in the Ward 1 race, Sabel Harris, had 20.25 percent of the vote.

Parker had an advantage over Czapary, according to political observers, because he was running for an open seat after incumbent Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie ran unsuccessfully for Attorney General rather than re-election to the Council. Incumbents, such as Nadeau in Ward 1, are considered to have a better chance of winning re-election.

But some political observers, based on reports of a private poll showing Czapary running close if not slightly ahead of Nadeau, thought Czapary had a good shot at unseating Nadeau. That prompted what Czapary’s supporters said was an onslaught of negative campaign attacks against Czapary. The attacks were based in part on a Washington City Paper story disclosing his campaign chairperson was a registered Republican and was associated with a conservative think tank that supports Donald Trump.

Czapary said he immediately secured the resignation of his campaign chair, saying he did not know he was a registered Republican. He also pointed out that as a gay Arab American he was a longtime Democratic Party supporter even though, as Nadeau supporters pointed out, he was an independent and did not become a registered Democrat until earlier this year.

The political attacks against Czapary continued, with large signs accusing him of having “Republican campaign leadership” being posted on light poles in Ward 1 as well as outside the nearby Number 9 gay bar in Ward 2, which Ward 1 residents are known to patronize.

“I’m sure negative campaigning has an effect,” Czapary told the Washington Blade at his election night gathering at the Duplex Diner in Adams Morgan, which drew more than 100 supporters.

“But we made a very essential effort to focus on the issues that voters want to talk about,” he said. “And you know, the election is over, and bygones are bygones. And I look forward to working with Councilmember Nadeau on some of the issues that resonated with voters that voted for me.”

With Nadeau and all the other candidates running in the June 21 Democratic primary – including Mayor Muriel Bowser and her three Democratic rivals — expressing support for LGBTQ issues or having long records of support — LGBTQ voters are believed to have based their vote on other issues such as public safety and affordable housing among other issues.

As of just before midnight on election day, Bowser had 49.86 percent of the vote, with rival mayoral candidates D.C. Councilmember Robert White (D-At-Large) receiving 38.51 percent and Councilmember Trayon White (D-Ward 8) receiving 9.8 percent. The fourth candidate in the mayoral race, James Butler, had 1.47 percent of the vote. The Associated Press earlier in the evening projected Bowser as the winner.

D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large) had 54.82 percent of the vote compared to challenger Erin Palmer, who had 44.72 percent. In the four-candidate At-Large D.C. Council race, incumbent Anita Bonds was ahead with 38.33 percent of the vote, with rival Democrats Lisa Gore with 26.96 percent, Nate Fleming 26.45 percent, and Dexter Williams with 7.54 percent.

In the hotly contested Ward 3 D.C. Council race, in which nine candidates were on the ballot, Matthew Frumin was ahead with 38 percent of the vote. Eric Goulet was in second place with 31.01 percent. The remaining candidates, including three who dropped out and threw their support to Frumin after it was too late to have their names removed from the ballot, received less than 7 percent of the vote.

D.C. Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) was the clear winner in her bid for re-election, with 86.55 percent of the vote. Her two opponents in the primary, Wendy Hamilton and Kelly Mikel Williams received 6.15 percent and 6.36 percent, respectively.

In the race for D.C. Attorney General, attorney Brian Schwalb was ahead with 45.21 percent of the vote, with rival attorneys Bruce Spiva and Ryan Jones receiving 35.65 percent and 18.32 percent of the vote, respectively.

In the race for U.S. Representative, which is known as D.C.’s shadow representative to the U.S. House of Representatives, with no voting powers, incumbent Oye Owolewa was trailing challenger Linda Gray by a vote of 49.78 percent to 48.64 percent. Owolewa was the only Democratic incumbent on the primary ballot who was not substantially ahead of their opponent.

In a development that surprised some observers, the Capital Stonewall Democrats, the city’s largest local LGBTQ political group, endorsed Robert White over Bowser and backed challenger Erin Palmer over Council Chair Phil Mendelson. The group also endorsed Nadeau over gay challenger Czapary. In the Ward 5 race, Capital Stonewall Democrats endorsed Parker.

With the overwhelming majority of the city’s voters being registered Democrats, winners in the D.C. Democratic primary almost always win in the November general election. In the D.C. Republican primary on Tuesday, GOP candidates ran unopposed for the office of congressional delegate, mayor, Council chair, at-large Council member, and Council member for Wards 3 and 5.

Most political observers say that with Republicans having little or no chance of winning, Democrats running against each other in the primaries tend to divide along the lines of moderate Democrat versus progressive-left Democrat.

In Tuesday’s primary, Bowser, Mendelson, Bonds, and Czapary were considered representatives of the party’s moderates. Their opponents, including Ward 1 incumbent Nadeau, are considered representatives of the party’s progressive-left faction. Parker is also considered part of the progressive-left faction.

Parker won election in 2018 as the Ward 5 representative on the D.C. Board of Education. His fellow board members last year elected him as president of the board. He drew media attention earlier this year when he came out publicly as gay in a video message he posted on his Twitter page.

“I am very proud and confident in who I am and who I’ve been,” he said in his video message. “Many already know – my family, my friends, many community leaders,” he continued. “But I recognize that many may not know, and this may come as a surprise. So, I thought it was important for me to share my full self,” he said.

Lesbian activists Sheila Alexander-Reid and Courtney Snowden, who each held high-level positions in the Bowser administration in the recent past, were among the large number of LGBTQ activists who turned out for Bowser’s election night party at the Franklin Hall restaurant and nightclub. Alexander-Reid served as director of the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs and Snowden served as Deputy Mayor for Greater Economic Opportunity, the highest-level position an LGBTQ person has held in the D.C. mayor’s office.

Both told the Washington Blade they believe Bowser will continue her commitment to addressing the needs and concerns of all factions of the LGBTQ community, including those who did not vote for her on Tuesday.

“I think we need to come together and work with her,” said Alexander-Reid in referring to LGBTQ voters who supported Robert White. “And if they have some issues and concerns, bring them to her attention,” she said. “I can tell you firsthand when you bring issues to her attention, she takes care of it, and she addresses it.”

Snowden said the diversity reflected in the several hundred people attending the mayor’s election night event symbolized her ability to bring people together to solve problems.

“I am so happy to see the mayor get exactly what she deserves, four more years to make good on her promises she made to our city, to the LGBTQ community, for the District’s long-time residents, to African Americans, and to everyone,” Snowden said. “She is doing incredible work and the city has resoundingly said that she gets to do this for four more years to bring prosperity for all in every single ward of our city.”

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