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Capital Stonewall Democrats holds D.C. Council chair, at-large Council candidates forum

Mendelson, Bonds join opponents in discussing LGBTQ forum

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D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson is among those who participated in the Capital Stonewall Democrats forum for candidates for D.C. Council chair and at-large Council seats. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The Capital Stonewall Democrats, D.C.’s largest local LGBTQ political group, hosted the fifth and last of its series of LGBTQ candidate forums on May 11 by hosting candidates running for D.C. Council Chair and At-Large D.C. Council in the city’s June 21 Democratic primary.

Similar to the earlier forums, each of the candidates, including incumbent Council Chair Phil Mendelson and incumbent at-large Councilmember Anita Bonds, expressed strong support for LGBTQ rights and cited their records in office or their work in the community on various issues related to LGBTQ programs or projects.

Among those participating in the virtual forum broadcast via Zoom was ethics attorney and Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Erin Palmer, who is challenging Mendelson for the Council Chair position.

The candidates challenging Bonds for the at-large Council seat included Lisa Gore, Ward 3 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner and former housing fraud investigator for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development; Nate Fleming, former D.C. shadow U.S. House member and former D.C. Council staffer; and Dexter Williams, former Howard University government relations official, former D.C. Council staffer, and current election systems consultant.  

Local community activists and small business owners Heidi Ellis and George Kerr, who served as co-moderators of the forum, asked the candidates questions on a wide range of topics, including the city’s efforts to curtail anti-LGBTQ hate crimes, city funding for local LGBTQ organizations that provide services for LGBTQ people in need and problems faced by LGBTQ elders.

Other questions touched on the topics of racial and economic justice, whether the candidates or incumbents have LGBTQ people on their Council or campaign staff; whether term limits should be put in place for members of the Council, and whether D.C. police and the Office of the federally controlled U.S. Attorney for D.C. were doing enough to address anti-LGBTQ violence.

Capital Stonewall Democrats President Jatarious Frazier stated at the forum that electronic voting had begun for members of the organization to decide on which candidates to endorse and that an announcement of the winners of the group’s endorsements would be made on or shortly before May 17. Frazier said that under the organization’s rules, a 60 percent majority vote for a candidate was needed for an endorsement to be given.

A full video recording of the May 11 forum can be accessed here:

https://www.facebook.com/StonewallDems51/

A Washington Blade transcript of the candidates’ opening statements at the May 11 forum can be viewed below.

D.C. COUNCIL CHAIR RACE

Opening Statements

Phil Mendelson

Thank you, Capital Stonewall Democrats for doing this once again. Although I have to say this is the first time in my many years that this has been virtual. So, it’s a different experience. But I very much welcome this opportunity. For those of you who don’t know me, I was an ANC commissioner for 20 years before I was elected to the Council. I have been chair of the Council for the past 10 years.

I have an adopted daughter who graduated from the D.C. public schools with a major in art, which she is pursuing as her career. As an incumbent, I have a record, not just promises. And I am proud of my record. And my record has been very strong in the area with regard to issues that are important to the LGBTQ community.

Although it was a few years ago, when I chaired the Committee on the Judiciary, I got through the Council our legislation to make the District the sixth jurisdiction in the country to recognize marriage equality. And I got it through with a strategy that ensured that Congress wasn’t going to override what we did. As you know, they tried to do it many other times.

I have a very strong progressive record when it comes to these issues. When I chaired the Judiciary, I had hearings frequently with regard to hate crimes and enforcement against hate crimes. Most recently I introduced legislation to prohibit the gay panic defense in the District so that would not be used or misused with regard to hate crimes. As I said it’s not enough to just say one has progressive values or to put forth campaign promises but actually to see how I delivered over and over again on issues, like universal paid leave, where I not only rewrote the law but got it through the Council over the opposition of the mayor. And other issues as well. I guess my time is up. But I look forward to the questions and ask for your support.

Erin Palmer

Thank you so much. Thank you to the Capital Stonewall Democrats. My name is Erin Palmer. I use she/her pronouns. And I’m running for D.C. Council chairwoman. And a little bit about myself–I’m a mom to three children who are 11, nine and seven. They are very much a part of my civic and political life. And if you know me, you’ll get to know them as well. I fondly refer to them as the monsters because they’re chaotic.

My profession—I’m in ethics … most recently having worked on judicial ethics and institutional accountability for the federal judiciary. And I’m also an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner in Ward 4, where I have worked across commissions with commissioners citywide on systemic issues, including being an ally to the ANC Rainbow Caucus on some of the issues that they have worked on.

I’m running to bring energy, vision and compassion to D.C.’s challenges. And I think it is particularly important in light of the current national context. As we’ve seen, there was a recent release of a draft Supreme Court decision overturning Row v. Wade. And this is a reminder that we have to be constantly vigilant. We have to not take our rights and protections for granted. And we need to be dedicated at the local level to working very intentionally to support our communities with the most aid.

I bring a dedication to ethics in government and accountability. I’m the only Fair Elections candidate in this race, which means that I am rejecting corporate donations. And I’m accountable to and engaged with D.C. residents. I’m also the only candidate in this race with a D.C. Council accountability plan for a more modern ethical and accountable D.C. Council that ties specifically to the role of the chair in setting the procedures and governance structure for the Council.

I believe strongly in meeting basic needs as rights as a values-driven proposition. Things like housing, education and healthcare that lead with those values impacts how we budget, how we legislate, how we do oversight. And that doing those things keeps our community safe and strong. And I will lead with those values every day. Thank you so much.

AT-LARGE D.C. COUNCIL RACES

Anita Bonds

Well good evening, everyone. My name, of course, is Anita Bonds. And I am your at-large Council member on the D.C. Council. It is a pleasure to join with you this evening and to talk about our city that I have built my career on making sure that we, all of us, have an opportunity to continue to live here. It is vital that we hold ourselves and one another accountable for ensuring that we are allies, not only visibly but materialistically each and every day.

As an ally to the LGBTQ community, I have maintained a legislative agenda that consists of priorities demonstrated in my votes on legislation and in the budget that ensures the rights, protections and the livelihood of members of the LGBTQ community. While we work to achieve true equality and make sure that voices of the LGBTQ community are heard, especially considering the history of the violence that this community has endured for a number of years.

I made it a priority to include members of the LGBTQ community when making my appointments to the Police Reform Commission as an example. And I also have representation from the LGBTQ community on my staff, in fact, from the day when taking my seat on the Council. The senior LGBTQ community that has been historically neglected by society is one that always is dear to my heart. And I have spent a lot of energy trying to make things right. And I have also co-introduced and voted for care for LGBTQ seniors and—I ran out of time. Thank you.

Lisa Gore

Good evening, everyone, and thank you Capital Stonewall Democrats for hosting this important forum. I’m glad to be here tonight to discuss a little bit about myself and my campaign. And my name is Lisa Gore. I’m a D.C. public school mom. I am a current sitting ANC commissioner In ANC 34G serving both Ward 3 and Ward 4. And I recently retired as a federal investigator from the IG’s office from HUD, where I spent over 25 years investigating housing fraud and conducting oversight of a national housing program.

My campaign is basically centered around marginalized communities. And our campaign is centered around making D.C. a more just D.C. That’s everything from education, housing, environmental justice, aging and health, senior platform issues, and especially issues that are common in the LGBTQ community. I’m proud that I recently got the highest at-large rating with the GLAA endorsement of 8.5. And I think that really demonstrates the strength of our policy platform in this area.

There’s several members of my campaign team paid and unpaid that are members of the LGBTQ community. And you might know me as a candidate that has rainbow signs out there, all across D.C. So, this community has been in my heart from day one and the day I started this campaign designing my yard signs. I wanted to make sure that D.C. knows that I’m representative of this community. So, thank you. I’m looking forward to hearing the issues and talking to you tonight about my platform.

Nate Fleming

Good evening, everyone. My name is Nate Fleming. I’m running for D.C. Council at-large. And I’m not here to pander to you. I’m here to speak to you about the issues impacting the LGBT community. I’m a member of this club. I’ve been a longtime member of this club since 2010. A little bit about me—I grew up in this city. Single mother household in the middle of the crack epidemic.

But education is what took me to Morehouse College. I was able to become a lawyer. I studied at Berkeley Law. I got a full scholarship to Harvard Kennedy School. And I believe that when you get opportunities like that coming from my background, you have a responsibility to try to create opportunities for others. And that’s really what I worked to do. First, coming back to D.C. serving as D.C. shadow representative.

The first political endorsement I ever received was from the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the former name of the Capital Stonewall Democrats. I’ve been endorsed in every campaign that I’ve run. And in this race in 2014 I received more votes than any other candidate from the Capital Stonewall Democrats. That’s because this club has done so much work in the fight for equal rights, justice and fairness, particularly the fight in 2010 for marriage equality, where I stood directly with members of this club to fight for those rights with the Council.

And I believe these issues, these values that this club represents needs to extend and permeate throughout the city. Because the pandemic has exacerbated the issues that are important to the LGBT community, whether that’s housing, whether that’s job and employment, whether that’s healthcare. And we need more than ever bold, creative and thoughtful leadership that’s going to help us build back better and reverse these systems so they can work for everyday people.

So, that’s what I’m looking forward to doing. There’s some great programs that are out there like the transgender and gender nonconforming workforce program. Thirty percent of LGBT youth identify as homeless. We have to expand LGBTQ centered health care, mental health care specifically in this city. And I’m looking forward to implementing the HIV long term bill of rights. Those are the type of issues I’m going to work on as your next at-large Council member.

Dexter Williams

Thank you and good evening. My name is Dexter Williams. I’m running for at-large Council member. And I want to thank the Capital Stonewall Democrats for sponsoring tonight’s forum. As a candidate, I am very committed to the LGBTQ community, just as I am for all marginalized people across the city. What I want you to know is that this forum is no different for me because I am very sensitive to the inequities and struggles that are faced by many in the LGBTQ community, whether it is discrimination, crime and even murder impacting the trans community, double marginalization of race unemployment faced by the Black, Latino [inaudible] communities or the possible threats to marriage equality depending on just how far the Supreme Court and states will go in the future.

As a candidate, I am running on a theme of change. While D.C. is viewed as gay friendly, I know that housing discrimination, ageism, employment barriers and even in the [inaudible] issues still persist. Whether subtle discrimination such as the recent statement by Vincent Orange referring to Zach Parker as a candidate for Ward 5 Council member, who recently came out as gay, followed by Vincent Orange’s equally weak apology for his egregious—for his weak apology or the more egregious trans murders that took place last year.

No one should be made to feel less for being their true selves. I know we are [inaudible] in the city, but we can and should do better in housing, places of employment. We should do better and I’m going to make sure that we do. Thank you.

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District of Columbia

AIDS Healthcare Foundation celebrates opening of new D.C. healthcare center

Ribbon-cutting marks launch of state-of-the-art facility on Capitol Hill

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AHF’s new healthcare center is located at 650 Pennsylvania Ave., S.E. (Washington Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation, the world’s largest HIV/AIDS healthcare organization with its headquarters in Los Angeles, held a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Sept. 27 to mark the official opening of its Capitol Hill Healthcare Center.

The new center, which AHF describes as a state-of-the-art facility for the holistic care and treatment of people with HIV as well as a site for HIV prevention and primary care services, is located at 650 Pennsylvania Ave., S.E.  a half block away from the Eastern Market Metro station.

A statement released by AHF says the Capitol Hill Healthcare Center will continue AHF’s ongoing delivery of “cutting-edge medical care and services to patients regardless of insurance status or ability to pay.” The statement adds, “The site also features a full-service AHF Pharmacy and will host Wellness Center services on Saturdays to offer STI testing and treatment.”

The statement was referring to the testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections. The D.C. Department of Health has said the highest number of STIs in the city have been reported for men who have sex with men.

Mike McVicker, AHF’s Regional Director for its D.C., Maryland, and Virginia facilities, said the Capitol Hill center began taking patients in October of 2021 as AHF transferred its operations from its facility on Benning Road, N.E. about two miles from the Capitol Hill site. McVicker said the Benning Road site has now been closed.

AHF’s second D.C. medical center is located downtown at 2141 K St., N.W. AHF operates three other extended D.C.-area health care centers in Falls Church, Va., Temple Hills, Md. and Baltimore.

“Our Capitol Hill Healthcare Center has no waiting room, so patients immediately are escorted to treatment rooms and serviced from a centrally located provider workstation,” McVicker said. “The goal is to maximize efficiency using this patient-centered model to improve health outcomes and increase retention in care.”

McVicker told the Blade the AHF Capitol Hill center is currently serving 585 patients and has a staff of 10, including Dr. Conor Grey, who serves as medical director. He said a separate team of five staffers operates the Saturday walk-in center that provides STI services as well as services related to the HIV prevention medication known as PrEP.

“I’m very excited to be a part of this team,” Dr. Grey said at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, which was held in a courtyard outside the Capitol Hill office building where the AHF center is located. About 50 people, including D.C. government officials, attended the event.

“This is a beautiful thing to celebrate,” Grey said. “So, I’m very happy to enjoy the day with all of you, and looking forward to a bright, productive future working together and fighting a common enemy that has unfortunately been with us.”

Others who spoke at the event included Tom Myers, AHF’s Chief of Public Affairs and General Counsel; Toni Flemming, Supervisory Public Health Analyst and Field Operations Manager for the D.C. Department of Health’s HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, STD, and Tuberculosis Administration (HAHSTA), and Dr. Christie Olejeme, Public Health Analyst for HAHSTA’s Care and Treatment Division.

Also speaking at the event was Japer Bowles, director of D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs.

Bowles called the AHF Capitol Hill center “another pivotal resource” for the LGBTQ community as well as for the city.

“We know, as has been previously stated, a low-barrier HIV prevention support is pivotal to the mayor’s mission of eliminating HIV infections in the District of Columbia and the region,” Bowles told the gathering.

“So, I’m very excited to see more services specifically provided to those in the Southeast and Northeast quadrants of our District,” he said, referring to the AHF Capitol Hill center. “This is a great moment for our community, but also for D.C. as a whole.”

In its statement released this week announcing the official opening of the Capitol Hill Center AHF notes that currently, 11,904 D.C. residents, or 1.8 percent of the population, are living with HIV. It points out that HIV disproportionately impacts Black residents, who make up about 44 percent of the population but comprise nearly three-quarters of the city’s HIV cases.

AHF official Myers said the Capitol Hill center will join its other D.C.-area facilities in addressing the issue of racial disparities related to HIV.

“Our treatment model helps eliminate barriers for those already in care, those who may not know their HIV status, and those living with HIV who may not currently be in care,” he said.

AHF says in its statement that it currently operates more than 900 healthcare centers around the world in 45 countries including 17 U.S. states. It has more than 1.7 million people in care, according to the statement. Founded in 1987, the organization has also taken on the role of public advocacy for federal and local government programs in the U.S. to address the HIV/AIDS epidemic, including efforts to lower the costs of HIV drugs.

During its work in the late 1980s and early 1990s AHF emerged as a strong advocate for addressing the special needs of gay and bisexual men who were hit hardest by HIV/AIDS at the start of the epidemic.

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District of Columbia

Georgetown University hosts panel on transgender, nonbinary issues

Lawmakers from Mont., Okla. among panelists

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Oklahoma state Rep. Mauree Turner speaks at Georgetown University on Sept. 26, 2023. (Photo by Sydney Carroll)

A panel on transgender and nonbinary issues took place at Georgetown University on Tuesday.

The panel included Montana state Rep. Zooey Zephyr and her fiancée, journalist Erin Reed, who are both trans, and nonbinary Oklahoma state Rep. Mauree Turner. Charlotte Clymer was also on the panel that Amanda Phillips, a nonbinary Georgetown professor, moderated. 

The panel began with a discussion about anti-trans laws that have been enacted across the country.

Reed said the Alliance Defending Freedom and the American Principles Project developed a strategy in response to North Carolina’s now repealed law that banned trans people from using public restrooms consistent with their gender identity. 

They focused on states that are more “business-friendly and therefore harder to boycott, and started with sports. Reed said bans on gender-segregated sports put an “asterisk on [trans] identity” that made further attacks possible.

Clymer spoke on attitudes towards trans policies. 

She referenced a survey that asked Americans if they supported nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ individuals. Around 75 percent of respondents, including almost half of Republicans, said yes. Clymer said the next question that asked if such protections exist concerns her.

Roughly half of respondents said yes. 

While there are two U.S. Supreme Court rulings — Obergefell and Bostock — that extended marriage rights to same-sex couples and employment protections to LGBTQ people respectively, Clymer noted there are no federal protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Turner and Zephyr spoke about being censured for defending trans rights. 

Oklahoma lawmakers in March censured Turner after they refused to turn into the authorities a trans person who had allegedly assaulted a state trooper. 

Turner said in Oklahoma, where there is no public debate, and politicians are openly anti-trans, residents are fighting against an “apathetic” and “heinous” legislature. On the topic of activism, they said being a “truth teller,” and saying “absolutely not” is “what got [them] censured.”

Zephyr’s censure was in April after she criticized a bill to restrict gender-affirming health care in Montana. The protests that followed stemmed from trans issues, but Zepher said they were about much more. 

“The protests […] were about recognizing that when you silence a legislator, you take away representation from their constituents,” she said. “That fight became a larger fight about democracy.” 

From left: Erin Reed and her fiancée, Montana state Rep. Zooey Zephyr, speak at Georgetown University on Sept. 26, 2023. (Photo by Sydney Carroll)

The panelists talked about mental health and addressing it.

Turner said that being the representation they needed keeps them going. 

“I didn’t think I was going to make it through middle school,” they said. “Representation matters for so many people […] if you can aid in being that representation, being that force that helps somebody else keep going, that is one of the most powerful experiences.” 

The panel agreed that finding community is important to mental health. 

“Sometimes our best activism is finding our community,” Reed said. 

The panel also spoke about queer joy and strength. 

“Queer joy is the thing they can’t take away,” Zephyr said. 

Reed talked about photos of activists who were organizing before the Stonewall riots in 1969; they were smiling and enjoying their community. 

“The queer story is a story of not just surviving in the margins but thriving in the margins,” Reed said.

Turner added “trans lives aren’t just lives worth fighting for, they are lives worth living.”

A self-described “journalist” who didn’t identify himself or his outlet asked the panel, “What is a woman?” Clymer turned the question back to him, and he said it “comes down to genetics.”

Clymer began to explain that chromosomes don’t always define sex. The audience member began to argue and ignored an event organizer who was asking him to leave. Security promptly escorted him out. 

Reed continued Clymer’s point that even biological sex is difficult to define. 

“Last year, 15 different state legislators tried to define sex, did you know that none of them managed to do so in a way that was scientifically correct?”

The panelists also offered advice to allies. 

Clymer said treading about trans issues and being informed about them is a great start. 

“You’ve got to step up,” she said.

Turner said allyship goes beyond relationships, and into the realm of being uncomfortable. 

“Allyship is synonymous with action and moving forward,” they said.

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District of Columbia

29 local LGBTQ supportive groups awarded gov’t grants

Bowser says recipients ‘tirelessly advance D.C. values’

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Mayor Muriel Bowser has awarded community grants to 29 D.C. organizations that provide direct services to the LGBTQ community. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Mayor Muriel Bowser has awarded community grants to 29 D.C. organizations that provide direct services to the LGBTQ community, according to a Sept. 22 announcement by the mayor’s office. Nine of the 29 groups identify as LGBTQ specific organizations.

Information released in the announcement says the 29 LGBTQ supportive organizations receiving the grants for Fiscal Year 2024 are among a total of 137 D.C.-based community organizations that will receive a total of more than $2.2 million in funding through these grants.

“With these awards, recipient organizations will continue to offer programs that provide direct resources to communities across Washington, D.C., in areas including health and human services, education, public safety, civic engagement, the arts, and more,” a statement released by the mayor’s office says.  

The statement announcing the grants says the 29 organizations receiving the grants to provide LGBTQ-related services were selected by the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs.

Japer Bowles, the longtime LGBTQ rights advocate who serves as director of the Mayor’s LGBTQ Affairs Office, said the grants awarded to the nine LGBTQ specific groups and the remaining 20 LGBTQ supportive groups are earmarked for LGBTQ specific programs or projects dedicated to LGBTQ people.

A spokesperson for the D.C. Department of Human Services, which oversees the community grants program, said the office was in the process of preparing a list of the dollar amount for each of the 137 grant recipients, which the office hopes to release soon.

Abby Fenton, an official with Whitman-Walker Health, which is one of the 29 grant recipients, said its grant was $20,000 for continued work on addressing the Monkeypox outbreak impacting LGBTQ people.  

The nine LGBTQ specific groups named as grant recipients include:

• Capital Pride Alliance

• Equality Chamber Foundation

• Equality Chamber of Commerce

• Supporting and Mentoring Youth Advocates and Leaders (SMYAL)

• The DC Center for the LGBT Community

• Us Helping Us-People Into Living, Inc.

• Whitman-Walker Health

• Baltimore Safe Haven doing business as DC Safe Haven

• Washington Blade Foundation

The 20 LGBTQ supportive groups named as grant recipients include:

• Asylum Works

• Black Leaves Project dance company

• Casa for Children of DC

• Foster and Adoptive Parent Advocacy [FAPAC]

• Greater Hispanic Chamber of Commerce

• Harm Reduction at Westminster DC

• Hepatitis B Initiative of Washington, DC

• Joseph’s House

• Latin American Youth Center

• MOSAIC Theater Company

• Project Briggs

• Sasha Bruce Youthwork

• Seabury Resources for Aging

• The Dance Institute of Washington

• The Giveland Foundation

• The Nicholson Project

• Totally Family Coalition

• Unity Health Care

• Washington Improvisational Theater

• Young Playwrights Theater, Inc.

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