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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

Matthew Shepard portrait dedicated at National Cathedral

Gay Wyoming student killed in 1998 hate crime honored in daylong ceremony

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Judy and Dennis Shepard stand in front of a portrait of their son, Matthew. Matthew Shepard was honored at a ceremony on Dec. 1, at Washington National Cathedral. (Washington Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

Matthew Shepard, the gay University of Wyoming student who was murdered in a 1998 anti-gay hate crime while tied to a fence outside Laramie, Wyo., was honored at a ceremony on Thursday, Dec. 1, at Washington National Cathedral dedicating a newly commissioned portrait of Shepard.

Officials at the cathedral said the portrait by artist Kelly Latimore and commissioned by LGBTQ members of the Cathedral staff, is the only artistic image of Matthew Shepard created in collaboration with Shepard’s parents, Dennis and Judy Shepard, who were present during the ceremony.

Matthew Shepard’s ashes were interred at the Washington National Cathedral in 2018, 20 years after his death. The Cathedral announced in a statement this week that the Dec. 1 dedication of the Shepard portrait would also take place on what would have been Shepard’s 46th birthday.

A Thanksgiving and Celebration of Matthew Shepard service was held on October 26, 2018 at the Washington National Cathedral. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

“The horrific murders at Club Q in Colorado Springs are a tragic reminder that our LGBTQ friends and family continue to be targeted for who they love, and Matthew Shepard’s legacy reminds us of the urgency to confront bigotry and embrace people of all backgrounds, gender identities and sexual orientations,” said The Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith, dean of Washington National Cathedral, in a statement.

Events surrounding the portrait dedication began with a 7 a.m. online prayer service “to celebrate and recall Matthew Shepard’s life,” the statement released by the Cathedral says. The service was led by Right Rev. V. Gene Robinson, the first openly gay priest to be consecrated as a bishop in the Episcopal Church.

The Cathedral next hosted a preview of the portrait for the news media at 10:30 a.m., where Dennis and Judy Shepard talked about the portrait and their son’s life and the impact his death had on the nation’s understanding of hate crimes.

“It’s amazing how similar and what a great job that Kelly [Latimore] has done to make it look like Matt and showing the essence of Matt,” Dennis Shepard told the Washington Blade while viewing the portrait in the Cathedral’s St. Joseph’s Chapel, where the portrait was on display.

Artist Latimore, who also spoke to reporters during the morning briefing at the chapel, said he was moved in his discussions with Judy and Dennis Shepard while getting ready to begin work on the painting by copies of dozens of letters they sent him that had been sent to the Shepards by people across the country after their son’s death.

Latimore included written excerpts from dozens of those letters as the background to his portrait of Matthew Shepard, which can be seen and read when standing close to the portrait.

Artist Kelly Latimore (Washington Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

“Matthew will not be forgotten,” an excerpt from one of the letters on the portrait says.
Dennis and Judy Shepard created the Matthew Shepard Foundation shortly after Matthew’s death, which has been credited with playing a lead role in advocating for the passage by Congress in 2009 of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. The measure was the first federal hate crime statute that expanded the coverage of the federal hate crimes law to include a victim’s sexual orientation and gender identity as a protected class.

President Barack Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act on Oct. 22, 2009. (Washington Blade archive photo by Michael Key)

The Cathedral was to open its St. Joseph’s Chapel from 2-5 p.m. on Thursday to visitors where the Matthew Shepard portrait was on display. Dennis and Judy Shepard were scheduled to be present to greet visitors.

According to the statement released by the Cathedral, later in the evening at 7 p.m., the portrait was to be officially dedicated in a private service in the Cathedral’s crypt near the site where Shepard’s ashes were interred.

“A longtime supporter of the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the life of the church, the Cathedral considers LGBTQ equality one of the great civil rights issues of the 21st century,” the statement released by the Cathedral says.

One of the two men charged with Matthew Shepard’s murder, Russell Henderson, pleaded guilty to a murder charge in exchange for an agreement by prosecutors not to seek a death sentence. He was sentenced to life in prison.

The other man charged in the murder, Aaron McKinney, pleaded not guilty and went to trial, where he was convicted of murder by a jury. In a dramatic statement before the judge at the conclusion of the trial, Dennis Shepard announced he and his wife had asked prosecutors and the judge to spare McKinney from being sentenced to death, something he said McKinney did not do while fatally striking his son in the head multiple times with the barrel of a gun after the two men tied him to a fence post in a remote field outside Laramie.

The judge sentenced McKinney to two consecutive life terms in prison without the possibility of parole.

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District of Columbia

Three more LGBTQ ANC candidates declared winners

At least 38 LGBTQ hopefuls elected; outcome for two more uncertain

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There will be a special election to fill the seat of Kent Boese, who withdrew his candidacy but received the most votes.

The number of known LGBTQ candidates who won election to Advisory Neighborhood Commission seats rose from 35 to 38 as the D.C. Board of Elections this week released its final, certified vote count for the Nov. 8 D.C. election.

The 38 winners were among 44 known LGBTQ candidates who ran for ANC seats this year. One of the candidates who emerged as a winner, incumbent James Tandaric of ANC 3F05 in the city’s Van Ness neighborhood, was trailing opponent Andrew Koval by just eight votes when the early vote count was released in the days following the election.

The final vote count that emerged this week shows Tandaric beat Koval by a vote of 258 to 250.

When the early vote count was released in the week after the election, the outcome of four LGBTQ ANC write-in candidates along with all write-in candidates could not be determined until the Board of Elections received a required affidavit of candidacy from the write-in candidates, which was due by Nov. 15.

When the final write-in candidate results were released earlier this week along with the names of the write-in candidates, two of the four LGBTQ write-in candidates emerged as winners, both from the Logan Circle ANC. The two are Christopher Dyer of ANC 2F05 and Matt Fouracre of ANC 2F06.

Another one of the LGBTQ write-in candidates, Charles Panfil of ANC 6E02 in the Mount Vernon Square neighborhood, finished in a tie with another write-in candidate. A spokesperson for the Board of Elections said tie votes in ANC elections are resolved by the drawing of lots. The spokesperson, Nicholas Jacobs, said he couldn’t immediately say when a drawing of the lot would take place.

The race for the fourth LGBTQ write-in candidate, Bradley Gallagher of ANC 1E01 in the city’s Park View neighborhood, could not be determined and a special election for that seat will have to be held, according to the Board of Election. The reason, the elections board said, is longtime gay ANC member Kent Boese, who withdrew his candidacy after it was too late to remove his name from the ballot, received the most votes. “As such, there is no winner for this contest” under the city’s election law, the Board of Elections said.

Elections board spokesperson Jacobs said a special election for that ANC seat will be called, with Gallagher and others who obtain the required number of ballot petition signatures will be allowed to run in the special election.

Boese withdrew his candidacy after he was nominated and subsequently approved by the D.C. Council to become director of the D.C. Office of Advisory Neighborhood Commissions.

If Gallagher were to win in the special election and should Panfil win the drawing of the lot following the tie vote in his race, the total number of known LGBTQ candidates elected to ANC seats would rise to 40, a record number compared to past ANC elections.

There were 33 known LGBTQ ANC candidates who won election in 2020, which was the first year the Washington Blade kept track of the known LGBTQ ANC candidates who ran and won.

A list of the 35 winning LGBTQ ANC candidates known during the week following the Nov. 8 election can be seen here.

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District of Columbia

Ruby Corado withdrew $400,000 of Casa Ruby funds: D.C. att’y gen’l

Complaint says she transferred money to banks in El Salvador

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Ruby Corado faces new allegations after her organization collapsed earlier this year. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The Office of the D.C. Attorney General on Monday filed an amended civil complaint in D.C. Superior Court against Casa Ruby and its founder and former executive director Ruby Corado that includes new allegations, including claims that Corado withdrew more than $400,000 of Casa Ruby funds for unauthorized use in El Salvador. 

The 25-page amended complaint adds multiple new allegations to the Attorney General office’s original complaint against Casa Ruby filed on July 29. That complaint, among other things, charged the nonprofit LGBTQ community services organization and Corado with violating the D.C. Nonprofit Corporations Act in connection with its financial dealings.

The amended complaint also follows the approval by D.C. Superior Court Judge Danya Dayson of a request in August by the Attorney General’s office to place Casa Ruby under receivership and to appoint the Wanda Alston Foundation as the receiver. The D.C.-based Alston Foundation provides housing services for homeless LGBTQ youth.

On Oct. 28, the Alston Foundation released its Receiver’s Second Interim Report on its findings related to Casa Ruby’s finances. The report points to some of the same unexplained and unauthorized expenditures and transfers of Casa Ruby’s funds by Corado that are included in the AG office’s amended complaint.

The Alston Foundation had been scheduled to release its Receiver’s Third Interim Report also on Monday, Nov. 28. But Alston Foundation Executive Director June Crenshaw told the Washington Blade the foundation requested an extension of that deadline to give it a chance to review the new allegations in the AG office’s amended complaint.

Among other things, the AG office’s amended complaint adds three new defendants to what legal observers say is the equivalent of a lawsuit by the D.C. government against Corado and Casa Ruby. The new defendants named in the complaint are limited liability companies created and controlled by Corado to purportedly perform services in support of Casa Ruby.

They include a new version of Casa Ruby called Casa Ruby LLC doing business as Moxie Health; Pneuma Behavioral Health LLC; and Tigloballogistics LLC doing business as Casa Ruby Pharmacy.

The amended complaint notes that Corado, who claimed the new companies, especially the pharmacy, were part of Casa Ruby’s mission, never received approval to create the companies from the Casa Ruby board of directors, which the AG’s office has said rarely met and failed to provide any oversight of Corado’s actions.

According to the amended complaint, Corado transferred large sums of money from the original Casa Ruby to these companies and at some point, transferred funds from the new companies to her own personal bank account.

Both the earlier complaint filed in July and the amended complaint allege that Corado transferred as much as $500,000 of Casa Ruby’s funds to create what she said was a new Casa Ruby in El Salvador approved by the Casa Ruby board. But the earlier and amended complaints allege that the board never authorized the El Salvador operation.

Between April 2021 and September 2022, the amended complaint says, Corado transferred over $400,000 from two Casa Ruby related accounts “to accounts she held under her birth name in two El Salvador banks.” It says the Casa Ruby board “never authorized any of these transfers.”

In addition to the financial related allegations, the amended complaint charges Casa Ruby and Corado with violating D.C.’s Wage Payment and Collection Law and the D.C. Minimum Wage Revision Act by failing to pay Casa Ruby employees all the wages they earned for their work several months before Casa Ruby closed its operations in July 2022.

“At various times between July 2021 and July 2022, while Corado was freely supplementing her $260,000 salary with additional funds drawn from Casa Ruby’s bank accounts, many of Casa Ruby’s employees were paid only $15.00 per hour, less than the minimum wage in the District of Columbia as of July 1, 2021,” the amended complaint says. “None of these employees received the full wages they earned,” it says.

One of the former employees told the Washington Blade most of the remaining employees during Casa Ruby’s final months before its shutdown were paid late or not paid at all. Under the two labor related laws the amended complaint has charged Casa Ruby and Corado with violating, an employer could be required to pay the employees any lost or missing wages.

But the Receiver’s Second Interim Report filed in October by the Alston Foundation says among other improper financial dealings, Casa Ruby failed to pay the U.S. Internal Revenue Service payroll taxes withheld from its employees. The AG office’s amended complaint says that as of June of this year, Casa Ruby owed the IRS $127,435 in employment taxes, not including interest and penalties.

The receiver’s report points out that under federal law, employers that owe back taxes to the IRS must pay those claims first. “Thus, after all outstanding payroll taxes have been paid off, there is little chance that there will be anything left for any other debts or obligations like past rent or wages,” the report says.

The amended complaint filed by the AG’s office says a copy of the amended complaint was sent to Corado through an email address, which has been the only known way of reaching Corado. Former Casa Ruby employees have said she had been spending most of her time over the past year or longer in El Salvador. The complaint says that as of October, Corado still had not retained an attorney to represent her and was representing herself in a process known as pro se representation.

The Blade couldn’t immediately reach Corado for comment on the amended complaint through the same email address.

During a virtual court hearing in September, Corado denied any improper or illegal financial practices and blamed the D.C. government for Casa Ruby’s collapse, saying city agencies cut off funding for Casa Ruby without a legitimate reason. However, the D.C. Department of Human Services, which provided much of Casa Ruby’s funding through grants, has said the funding was stopped after Casa Ruby failed to submit financial reports required for all grant recipients that account for how the grant money is spent.

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