Connect with us

District of Columbia

Ward 3 candidates express support for LGBTQ issues at Stonewall Dems forum

Eight of nine in hotly contested race participate in virtual debate



Capital Stonewall Democrats President Jatarious Frazier, center, participated in this week’s forum. (Blade file photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

Eight of the nine candidates running in the city’s June 21 Democratic primary for the Ward 3 D.C. Council seat being vacated by longtime LGBTQ supportive incumbent Mary Cheh expressed strong support on a wide range of LGBTQ issues at an April 25 virtual candidates’ forum organized by the Capital Stonewall Democrats, the city’s largest local LGBTQ political group.

The 90-minute forum, which was co-sponsored by the D.C. Democratic State Committee, touched on topics ranging from anti-LGBTQ violence, especially hate crimes targeting transgender women of color; efforts to address homelessness faced by LGBTQ youth and seniors; the overall impact of D.C.’s high cost of living on the LGBTQ community; and whether LGBTQ-related curricula should be put in place in the city’s public schools.

Kurt Vorndran, a longtime D.C. gay Democratic activist and one of the Capital Stonewall Democrats’ former presidents, and Elizabeth Callanan Mitchel, a member of the D.C. Democratic State Committee, served as co-moderators of the forum.

The candidates participating in the forum, all of whom have been Ward 3 civic activists, included:

• Eric Goulet, longtime D.C. Council staff official and city budget director under former Mayor Vincent Gray;

• Ben Bergmann, former teacher, attorney, and ANC commissioner in the Palisades and Spring Valley neighborhoods; 

• Matt Frumin, attorney, former Cheh campaign official, and ANC commissioner;

• Deirdre Brown, Realtor, small business owner, and former ANC commissioner; 

• Henry Cohen, 18-year-old high school senior and longtime youth political activist who would become the Council’s youngest ever member if elected

• Tricia Duncan, former chemical industry researcher turned real estate company official and president of the Palisades Community Association

• Beau Finley, attorney, union leader, ANC commissioner, and Democratic campaign consultant who worked on the campaigns to help elect gay College Park Mayor Patrick Wojahn and transgender Virginia House of Delegates member Danica Roem;

• Phil Thomas, Ward 3 community activist, chair of the Ward 3 Democratic Committee, and former director of the D.C. Office of Clean City under Mayor Muriel Bowser.  

Monte Monash, CEO of the D.C. public affairs and communications consulting firm Monash Advisory Group and longtime Ward 3 community activist, was the only one of the Ward 3 D.C. Council Candidates who did not attend the LGBTQ candidates’ forum.

In keeping with D.C.’s long history of having mostly LGBTQ supportive candidates who run for public office, each of the eight Ward 3 candidates participating in the form appeared to agree with each other on their proposals for policies in support of the city’s LGBTQ community. None of them criticized or disagreed with each other during the discussions and several praised their fellow candidates for being knowledgeable and enthusiastic in their advocacy for LGBTQ rights.

At the conclusion of the forum, when Capital Stonewall Democrats President Jatarious Frazier asked each of the candidates if LGBTQ people were working on their respective campaigns as volunteers or paid staffers, each of them raised their hands to give a “yes” answer to that question.

Frazier said the April 25 forum was the first of five candidate forums the LGBTQ group would be holding between April 25 and May 11. The next forum, scheduled for Thursday, April 28, was to be for D.C.’s U.S. Congressional Delegate seat and for the so-called shadow U.S. Representative seat.

On May 2, Capital Stonewall Democrats is scheduled to hold its forum for Democratic candidates running for D.C. Mayor and D.C. Attorney General. On May 4, the group will hold its forum for Democrats running for D.C. Council in Ward 1 and Ward 5, where an openly gay candidate is running in each of those two races.The last of the series of forums, scheduled for May 11, will be for Democrats running for D.C. Council Chair and the At-Large D.C. Council seat.

Frazier said that due to concerns over the COVID pandemic, the group decided to hold each of the forums virtually.

He said the organization’s voting members will receive an electronic ballot to cast their votes on which candidates Capital Stonewall Democrats should endorse beginning on May 1 and will have until May 15 to cast their ballots electronically. He said the group would announce its endorsements on May 17.

Similar to its practice in past elections for many years, a 60 percent majority vote will be needed in order for a candidate to win the organization’s endorsement, Frazier said. He said that if no candidate receives a 60 percent majority vote after two rounds of voting, no endorsement will be made for that particular race in the June 21 primary. Frazier said under club rules, an endorsement for a race where no endorsement was made in the primary can be made later for the November general election.

The April 25 forum, which was recorded on video in its Zoom broadcast, can accessed for viewing here:

A Washington Blade transcript of the closing statements delivered by the eight candidates participating in the April 25 forum can be read below:

Deirdre Brown

Thank you so much. I just want to thank you all for having us here. On my website you can read about my LGBTQ+ policy positions. I will mainly in my work on the Council make sure we reduce the number of LGBTQ+ homeless youth by providing temporary housing and wrap around services. I will advocate for support policies to protect and empower transgender sex workers. We didn’t get a chance to talk about that tonight. And of course, I support the Equality Act and an end to workplace discrimination. I view LGBTQ+ rights as similar to the other rights that are for other marginalized communities, including undocumented immigrants as well as of course people of color. And we all need to work together to make sure that our community is safe for everyone. Thank you.

Matthew ‘Matt’ Frumin

So, I work on a whole lot of issues and honestly LGBTQ issues have not been at the top of the list of the things that I work on. I get educated on these issues in part from my children, in part from watching the world and in part from things like this. And this has been educational to me. I’ve been stunned by a number of the different things that have been raised here. And I would really want to be a partner to work on these issues with this group and with others in the community. I want to learn. I want to work with you, and I want to address these critical things that are out there. And all I can say is I offer myself as a partner to do and learn with you going forward. So, thank you very much.

Beau Finley

Thank you, Capital Stonewall Democrats, for hosting and thank you to my fellow candidates for a great discussion. You know, I got into this campaign because I care about one thing. And that is dignity. We need to treat each other with dignity and respect. And we need to make sure our policies take into account the dignity of each person. And so, I’m not perfect. I don’t know everything. I’ve got a lot of proposals, a lot of ideas. But I’m not going to be right all the time and I appreciate partnering with you and learning and moving forward together. I think together, we can make a much stronger, much more just District. And I look forward to working with you as a Council member. My website is And it has a number of my policies up. I believe at least as of about a week and a half or two weeks ago I was still the only candidate with an LGBTQ platform. So, thank you all for a wonderful evening.

Phil Thomas

Thank you, Capital Stonewall, and thank you Elizabeth and Kurt as Ward 3 Dems came strong today as both of you are on the Executive Committee. And as someone who has worked with the LGBTQ community as director at the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ as well as Check It Enterprises. I would say I will continue to be a partner as the next Ward 3 Council member, as a bridge builder and as someone who continues in working in the neighborhood…I know nothing can be accomplished alone so I ask you to go to my website at, and I thank you for having me today.

Ben Bergmann

Thank you, Elizabeth. Thank you, Kurt. Thank you, Stonewall Democrats, for hosting. I think the thing that this whole forum focused on is how can we make a city that is inclusive, that is just, that is fair, that is beautiful, that is a loving place? And that means making the city affordable. That means making sure the city government works properly. One of the reasons why I’m running and one of the reasons I jumped in this race is that I think that we have a true crisis of epic proportions along one of the policy fronts. But one of the big problems is because we have a Council that is afraid to hold people accountable…They don’t want to ask hard questions. And that is on so many issues. And we need independent people to hold people accountable. That’s why I’m running. Please go to You can read my policy plans. Go at the end of the week – we’re planning a relaunch of some stuff. But go now and go a few days from now as well. Thank you so much.

Eric Goulet

Well, I thank you. It’s just been a fantastic forum. We have all eight of us here. We’re strong Democrats who have been Democrats who have fought against the Trump administration and the hate that’s been there. And anyone of us would be a great advocate for the LGBTQ population here in the District and would fight hard against any hate that tried to get into this city. So, I think it’s great to sit on a panel with so many great people that we have today.

The one issue I just want to conclude with at this moment that we didn’t have time to speak about at the forum. So, in lieu of a traditional closing statement I’d like to just quickly mention employment. Because I think that is one of the biggest issues a Council member can tackle. For we see a gap, particularly with our transgender community still, even after efforts to try to close that gap. So, I’d like to work very closely with the Department of Employment Services to set up a training program where we make sure we connect residents – our transgender community, the LGBTQ community to jobs here in the city. And that involves having training programs that are culturally appropriate. And then making sure we have a list of available residents who want jobs. And then when employers come in — to help educate employers who may not understand the community. And to connect those employers to the residents who need jobs here in the District. Because the unemployment gap for our LGBTQ+ community, particularly the transgender community is still large here in the city and we need to do more about it. And I think that’s something a Council member can really get done here in the District.

Tricia Duncan

Thank you for a great forum tonight. I feel like this is one of our best ones that we’ve had with the unique issues that the LGBTQ community faces. As your Council member, I would be a willing partner. I was very impressed with the advocacy that you have done on behalf of your community. I’ve been a lifelong Democrat. And a lot of my heart with the Democratic Party when I joined was that the government had a role in helping the marginalized. And that is my philosophy of government. So, you hear all these stories and specifics, and we need to get to work. We need to do better. And as your Council member I’ll do that. Thank you very much.

Henry Cohen

So, I’d like to make a closing statement to tell you about somebody very close to me. In preparation for this I’ve been speaking with LGBTQ students at my school because I know that myself specifically had the opportunity to speak with those students. One person who is a very close friend of mine is a trans woman. Her name is Eliana and she asked me to talk about her [inaudible]. So, I’m going to tell you a little about Eliana’s experience living in D.C. She loves having the opportunity to live in this city more than anything in the world. If you talk to her about it, her eyes light up the second anybody asks her what she thinks of D.C. But she’s scared because there is a lot going on.

There is a lot of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric going on. And nationally, there are a lot of anti-LGBTQ laws being passed. And for her to have to see that growing up – she’s only a year younger than me. Somebody growing up at almost 18, it’s a terrifying thing. And we should make sure that as a city that we’re stopping that from happening. That we’re making sure that we are an accepting place for anybody, no matter who they are, no matter what their gender, race, sexuality – any of that. We need to make sure that people like Eliana can stay in the city that they love and feel safe in the city that they love. To do that we have to radically reform our systems in order to better represent LGBTQ people.


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.

Continue Reading

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.

Continue Reading

District of Columbia

Brent Minor steps down as head of Team DC

LGBTQ sports organization grew under his leadership



Brent Minor (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Brent Minor, executive director of the D.C. area LGBTQ sports organization Team DC, announced in a Facebook posting on Thursday that he is stepping down from his position.

“After more than 20 years of leading Team DC, first as its board president and then as the executive director, I have decided it is time to move on and retire from this part of my life,” Minor said in his announcement. 

“It has been a joy and a privilege to establish and grow this organization over the years and help make sports a more welcoming place for all participants,” he said.

Minor has been credited with helping Team DC become one of the nation’s largest LGBTQ sports organizations, which currently includes more than 40 LGBTQ or LGBTQ-supportive sports teams or sports leagues as affiliated members.

Under Minor’s direction, Team DC has also established annual Pride Night Out LGBTQ game day events held in the arenas or stadiums for at least a dozen D.C. professional sports teams, including the Washington Nationals baseball team, the Washington Wizards basketball team and the Washington Commanders football team.

As many as 10,000 LGBTQ sports fans and their supporters have attended the Night Out at the Nationals games in recent years.

“I am grateful beyond words to all of my friends and colleagues like you who have helped me in this effort,” Minor said in his Facebook posting.

“Team DC is poised to take on the next phase of its journey and so am I,” he wrote. “Stay tuned for what is next!”

Minor told the Washington Blade he will leave his position at Team DC next week at a time of the year when there are not as many events and activities that the organization becomes involved with.

Miguel Ayala, the current president of the Team DC board of directors, said the organization would be putting out a statement on Sept. 18 announcing plans for the organization going forward. 

The executive director’s position has been Team DC’s only full-time paid staff possible for the nonprofit, mostly volunteer organization.

“It’s something I’ve been toying with for quite a while,” Minor told the Blade. “And it just seemed like a good time in the life of the organization,” he said.

Minor added that that Team DC officials will have sufficient time to plan the 2025 World Pride Sports Festival scheduled to be held in D.C. as part of the international LGBTQ World Pride celebration.

“So, this will allow enough time for whoever is going to be doing that to have time to get in and make sure it’s kind of their thing,” Minor said. “So, I think the timing was just right.”

Continue Reading

Sign Up for Weekly E-Blast

Follow Us @washblade