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Thousands attend March for Our Lives rally in D.C.

Sunday marks six years since the Pulse nightclub massacre

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Thousands attended the March for Our Lives rally in D.C. on June 11, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Josh Alburtus)

On the night of June 12, 2016, 49 people were killed and 53 were injured in a mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla. The shooting has since remained one of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history.

Six years later, efforts to curb gun violence in America and halt the country’s epidemic of mass shootings have reignited in the wake of more recent mass shootings.

Just before noon on Saturday thousands of people carrying signs and clad in anti-gun-violence clothing flooded the north lawn of the Washington Monument.

March for Our Lives Rally attendees walk along 15th Street NW, Washington D.C. on June 11, 2022
(Washington Blade photo by Josh Alburtus)

One of those in the crowd was Jessica Mahoney, a young activist with ties to a national past littered with gun violence.

“My close family is from Sandy Hook and, as the sign references, I used this sign four years ago,” Mahoney said. “This has been a very personal issue for me since 2012 when I had to spend over an hour wondering if my cousins were alive or not. I just feel like it’s so important that people are out here that haven’t been personally touched by the issue because I just think that shows that there’s a real movement behind what’s going on.”

Mahoney and her fellow protesters in the crowd were some of the hundreds of thousands more protestors who marched in different cities across the country on that day calling on state and federal lawmakers to pass legislation reforming the nation’s gun laws.

The marches, organized in large part by the youth-led gun violence prevention organization March for Our Lives, were triggered by a sustained national outcry for action following the latest mass shootings at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, and a Tops Friendly Market in Buffalo, N.Y, both in late May. The organization held similar nationwide rallies in 2018 following the Parkland school shooting that led to the group’s inception.

Mahoney described her feelings about having to return to another rally four years later in an effort to address the same issue.

“It’s frustrating and a bit maddening at times to be honest that we still have to do this,” Mahoney said. “But it just seems like there’s more energy every time and so I think that I’m also hopeful about it.”

Anti-gun violence protestors (Washington Blade photo by Josh Alburtus)

The issue has been one plaguing Americans in various settings and from various walks of life and has affected those across a spectrum of identities, including the LGBTQ community.

Marking the sixth anniversary of the Pulse shooting in Orlando, the Human Rights Campaign released a statement the day before the March for Our Lives rally.

“Gun violence remains an LGBTQ+ issue, with three-fourths of homicides against transgender people — including nearly eight in 10 homicides of Black trans women — involving a gun,” Interim HRC President Joni Madison said in the statement. “Compounding this tragedy is the fact that in the six years since Pulse, we have been unable to advance meaningful federal gun reform legislation.”

But in an effort to prevent future mass killings like those in Parkland, Uvalde, Buffalo and Orlando, prominent activists have since brought a spotlight to the issue of gun violence in America. Many such activists descended on the grounds of the Washington Monument on Saturday to speak to those gathered and amplify their message.

David Hogg, a survivor of the mass shooting on February 14, 2018, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., and a founder and board member of March for Our Lives, spoke to the crowd.

“We need to stop these shooters before they get on campus and stop endangering the lives of our first responders, our students, our teachers because people on Capitol Hill don’t want to do their job and protect us,” Hogg said.

March For Our Lives Co-Founder David Hogg speaking to the crowd.
(Washington Blade photo by Josh Alburtus)

Alongside Hogg were a number of other activists and politicians who shared the goal of reducing gun violence in America, including D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and U.S. Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.).

Bush described her own proximity to gun violence in calling for action, sharing with the crowd her past escape from such as she ran from an abusive partner who kept firearms in their home.

“When I turned back for a moment, because, ‘Why isn’t he chasing me?’” Bush said. “I turned back, and I saw him standing still, ‘Why is he standing still?’ Next thing I knew, I heard shots.”

Bush believed the near-death experience to be “completely preventable.”

“Closing the boyfriend loophole could’ve saved me from a near-lethal encounter with gun violence,” Bush said. “A red flag law could’ve saved me from a nearly lethal encounter with gun violence.”

Hogg and others took aim at counterarguments from pro-gun entities that have advocated for mental health support rather than gun reform to solve the problem.

“We also must address the fact that mental health does have a role to play in stopping gun violence, but that racism is not a mental illness,” Hogg said. “Hatred, racism, radicalization, xenophobia are not mental illnesses.”

But even at an event meant to highlight what gatherers felt was a need to curb the nation’s scourge of gun violence, the specter of fear and violence remained ubiquitous.

During a moment of silence for the victims of America’s gun violence, a man toward the front of the crowd began to shout and attempted to breach the event’s main stage. A source close to the stage told the Washington Blade that the man threw a megaphone into the crowd while shouting, “I am God.”

Those assembled feared the worst. Due to the size of the crowd that had assembled, rallygoers across the lawn perceived the disturbance to be an active gun threat. Hundreds dropped flat to the ground while others ran from the stage in an attempt to escape the potential violence.

U.S. Park Police Officers (Washington Blade photo by Josh Alburtus)

After organizers and police were able to apprehend the disruptor, rally organizers attempted to reconvene the frightened crowd and push forward.

“Do not run, freeze, do not run,” an organizer said over the sounds of emerging police sirens. “There is no issue here, do not run.”

But the moment of fear clung to many who were present.

Rallygoer Kirsten Hiera witnessed the moment of mass confusion but was unable to flee the scene despite her own fear.

“I was scared but I didn’t want to run away because I’m with someone who’s elderly and I didn’t want to have her be abandoned,” Hiera said. “I felt scared and confused but I didn’t want to abandon my friend.”

As those gathered began to tepidly rise and return to the stage, the organizer proceeded to draw attention back to the focus of the rally, leading a chant exclaiming peace to be a lifestyle.

(Photo by Josh Alburtus/The Washington Blade)

Exiting the stage toward the end of the rally after the crowd had reconvened, the organizer left them with advice that touched to the core of the movement’s mission — one that, in the wake of tens of thousands of gun deaths in shootings like Orlando, organizers like Hogg have described as not pro-gun or anti-gun, but pro-peace.

“The other thing that I want to say is let’s not give into the hate,” she said. “Let’s not give into the hate. There’s more people who are about love than there is that is about hate.”

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District of Columbia

Hearing postponed for gay D.C. gym owner charged with distributing child porn

Prosecutors call for Everts to be held in jail until trial

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Michael Everts will likely remain in jail until a Jan. 10 hearing in his case. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

A detention hearing scheduled for Monday, Dec. 4, in which a judge would decide whether gay D.C. gym owner Michael Everts should remain in jail or be released while he awaits a trial on a charge of distribution of child pornography was postponed with no immediate date set to reschedule it.

However, records with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, before which the case is being held, show that Everts’s defense attorney later in the day on Dec. 4 filed a motion in which Everts waived his right to a detention hearing and requested that a preliminary hearing be scheduled on Jan. 10, 2024.

In his motion, defense attorney David Benowitz says the lead prosecutor with the Office of the U.S. Attorney for D.C. does not oppose this request. As of Tuesday morning, the magistrate judge presiding over the case had not ruled on Benowitz’s motion.

But an entry in the court record on  Wednesday, Dec. 5, states that Magistrate Judge G. Michael Harvey approved the motion and agreed to set the date for the preliminary hearing on Jan. 10 at 4 p.m. The court record shows that Magistrate Judge Robin M. Meriweather will preside over the preliminary hearing, in which prosecutors must present evidence, sometimes through testimony by witnesses, that probable cause or sufficient evidence exists to proceed to a trial. Meriweather will issue a ruling on whether probable cause exists.

Everts has been held without bond since the time of his arrest on Nov. 29 on a single charge of distribution of child pornography following a joint D.C. police-FBI investigation that led to his arrest.

He has owned and operated the FIT Personal Training gym located at 1633 Q St., N.W., near Dupont Circle since its opening in 2002.

Court records show that Benowitz filed a motion on Dec. 3 seeking a one-day postponement of the detention hearing to give him time to review the evidence presented by prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s office. But Benowitz’s second motion waiving Everts’s right to a detention hearing and calling for a preliminary hearing on Jan. 10 appears to have voided his first motion and will result in Everts being held in jail until at least the time of the preliminary hearing in January.  

“Mr. Everts has been advised of his rights under the Speedy Trial Act (“STA”) and agrees to toll the time under the STA until the next hearing in this matter,” Benowitz’s second motion states. 

On Dec. 1, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jocelyn Bond, the lead prosecutor in the case, filed a 20-page Memorandum In Support of Pretrial Detention that describes the government’s evidence against Everts and argues strongly in favor of having Everts held in custody at least until the time of his trial.

“Distribution of Child Pornography is a crime of violence and there is no condition or combination of conditions that will reasonably assure the safety of children in the community – both in the physical world and online – if Mr. Everts is released,” the memorandum states.

The memorandum notes that Everts’s arrest came about after an employee at the gay and bi hookup site Sniffies alerted the FBI that a Sniffies user was exchanging messages with other users expressing an interest in images of underage boys for sexual gratification. A joint FBI and D.C. police investigation traced the messages to Everts, according to an arrest affidavit and the U.S. Attorney’s memo.

The affidavit and memo point out that an undercover D.C. police detective working with the FBI and posing as someone interested in underage boys contacted Everts through the Sniffies site and a social media messaging address of @ethaneffex. The undercover detective, who is identified in charging documents as the “online covert employee” or “OCE,” engaged in messaging with Everts that prompted Everts to send the OCE video and photo images of child pornography, the arrest affidavit and memo state.

The memo seeking pretrial detention for Everts says Everts went beyond just expressing interest in viewing or sending the OCE child porn videos or photos but also described his interest in interacting with and possibly having sex with underage boys he knew.

“On multiple occasions he discussed his sexual interest in actual children that he encountered in his life, particularly emphasizing his desire to sexually abuse Minor 1 and noting that he had surreptitiously recorded Minor 1 at the playground in the past,” the memorandum says.

“Not only did he send photos of these children to someone whom he had reason to believe also had a sexual interest in children,” the memo states, “but he sent multiple voice messages to the OCE reiterating his sexual interest in Minor 1 – as well as in Minor 2 and other unknown minors — and describing the specific sexual acts he wanted to engage in with these minors.”

The memo adds, “Only amplifying his danger to children, Everts then bragged about having previously engaged in sex with a minor and his willingness to sexually abuse a child as young as 10 years old.”

Benowitz, Everts’s attorney, didn’t immediately respond to a request by the Washington Blade for comment on the case and whether he or his client dispute any of the allegations against Everts brought by prosecutors.

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District of Columbia

‘Behind-the-scenes’ activist Paul Kuntzler marks 62 years in D.C.

Inspired by Kennedy, Michigan native played key role in early LGBTQ movement

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Paul Kuntzler is the last surviving member of the original 17 members of the D.C. Mattachine Society. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

In reflecting on his many years of involvement in U.S. politics and the LGBTQ rights movement, Paul Kuntzler points out that Dec. 28 of this year will mark his 62nd year as a resident of Washington, D.C. And he also points out that two days before that, on Dec. 26, he will celebrate his 82nd birthday.

Those who have known Paul Kuntzler over the years say that while his is not a household name in politics and the LGBTQ rights movement, he has played a critical role as an everyday hero and behind-the-scenes organizer for the Democratic Party and the local and national LGBTQ rights movement.

Among other things, Kuntzler served as campaign manager for D.C. gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny’s 1971 role as the first openly gay candidate for the U.S. Congress when Kameny ran for the newly created position of non-voting Delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives for D.C.

In his role as campaign manager, Kuntzler is also credited with arranging for more than a dozen volunteers from the then-Gay Activists Alliance and Gay Youth group of New York City to come to D.C. on a bus that the Kameny campaign paid for to help gather the needed 5,000 signatures to get Kameny’s name on the ballot.

“I knew how difficult that was going to be,” Kuntzler said. “And I recognized we were not going to do this all on our own,” adding that the gay volunteers from New York, who joined forces with local D.C. volunteers, obtained a total of 7,800 signatures of registered D.C. voters to get Kameny’s name on the ballot.

Although Kameny finished in fourth place in a six-candidate race, his run as the first openly gay candidate for the U.S. Congress drew national publicity, including support from actor Paul Newman and his wife Joanne Woodward, who made a $500 contribution to the Kameny campaign while they were performing at the time at D.C.’s National Theater.

Observers of the LGBTQ rights movement at that time considered Kameny’s candidacy an important development in the effort to advance LGBTQ rights both in D.C. and nationwide. 

“Looking back, that probably was one of the most significant things I did in my life,” Kuntzler said in recalling his role as Kameny’s campaign manager.

He says his involvement in politics began in the summer of 1960 in his hometown of Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich., a Detroit suburb, when he co-founded the Grosse Pointe Young Democrats and served as a volunteer on the presidential campaign of John F. Kennedy.

“I met JFK at the Detroit airport and shook his hand,” Kuntzler recalls while he joined a crowd of supporters welcoming Kennedy on his arrival for a campaign tour in Michigan. “It was Labor Day weekend – Sunday, Sept. 4, 1960,” Kuntzler said in demonstrating an amazing recall of dates and events.

Kuntzler, who traveled to D.C. to attend the Kennedy inauguration on Jan. 20, 1961, said the idealism of the Kennedy administration prompted him to move to D.C. one year later to become involved in politics and the fledgling gay rights movement.

“I met Frank Kameny at Lafayette Chicken Hut on Sunday, Feb. 25, 1962,” Kuntzler says in referring to the then-popular D.C. gay bar. “And he was then president of the Mattachine Society of Washington,” Kuntzler noted, which was the first significant gay rights group in D.C. that Kameny co-founded.

“He invited me to attend the next Mattachine Society meeting,” Kuntzler recalls. “So, on Tuesday, March 6, 1962, at Earl Aiken’s apartment on Harvard Street, I became the 17th member of the D.C. Mattachine Society.,” Kuntzler continued. “And at the age of 20, I was the only minor involved in the gay rights movement consisting of about 150 people in five American cities,” he said. “I’m the only one still living of the original 17.”

His membership in the Mattachine Society of D.C. was the start of Kuntzler’s 50-plus years of involvement in the local and national LGBTQ rights movement. He recalls that he helped make history when he joined Kameny and other members of the Mattachine Society in April of 1965 for the nation’s first gay rights protest in front of the White House.

Kuntzler said he brought with him a large poster-size sign he made reading, “15 Million Homosexuals Protest Federal Treatment.” He said Mattachine Society of D.C. co-founder Jack Nichols asked permission to carry that sign on the picket line in front of the White House. Kuntzler gave him permission to do so.

To this day, Kuntzler says, he has a large United Press International photo of Nichols carrying the sign with Kameny, lesbian activist Lilli Vincenz, and Kuntzler standing beside him with the White House as a backdrop.

In the following three decades or more, Kuntzler served as an organizer and founder of several LGBTQ organizations and projects while pursuing a work career as a manager for several organizations. He served from 1973 to 2007 as assistant executive director for advertising, exhibits and workshop sales for the D.C.-based National Science Teachers Association.

His many behind-the-scenes involvements included serving in 1975 as the first treasurer for the Gay Rights National Lobby, one of the first national LGBTQ rights organizations based in D.C. that later evolved into the Human Rights Campaign in 1980, for which he also served for a short time as treasurer. In 1979, Kuntzler became a co-founder of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, D.C.’s first LGBTQ Democratic organization.

Also in 1979, Kuntzler helped found the National Convention Project, an effort to elect openly gay delegates and secure a “gay rights” plank in the platform at the 1980 Democratic National Convention. The effort resulted in the election of about 100 openly LGBT delegates to the 1980 convention from states across the country, including D.C. and the adoption of an LGBT supportive plank in the Democratic Party’s platform at that time.

Kuntzler said he and the others working on the project, which he called a success, were deeply disappointed when then-Democratic President Jimmy Carter lost the November 1980 presidential election to Republican Ronald Reagan. But he said he was inspired to continue his work on behalf of the Democratic Party and LGBTQ rights issues over the next several decades.

The person most important in his life, Kuntzler said, was his domestic partner Stephen Brent Miller of 42 years who died in July 2004.

“Stephen and I met on Friday, March 30, 1962, at Lafayette Chicken Hut,” Kuntzler said. “I was sitting on the side and Stephen was sitting in the middle, and I think he sent me a beer and then came over and sat down and we talked,” Kuntzler recalls. “We had our first date on the second Sunday in April of 1962.”

The two went to brunch before going to see a movie and then took a bus to get to Frank Kameny’s house. It was a housewarming party of the house that Kameny had just secured a lease to rent for his residence and his gay rights endeavors. Miller, a professional stenographer who later started his own court reporting business, Miller Reporting, quickly took on the role of being the loving spouse to a committed activist, people who knew the couple have said.

Kuntzler said his attendance at the Human Right Campaign’s annual Washington dinner last month, which is one of the nation’s largest LGBTQ events, in which President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden spoke, was a further sign of progress for the LGBTQ rights movement as he sees it.

Asked if he has any advice for the LGBTQ community at this time, Kuntzler said, “I think we need to continue to be vigilant … We need to continue to be vigilant.”

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District of Columbia

Close to 200 turn out for D.C. LGBTQ+ Housing Summit

Speakers say LGBTQ residents impacted by housing ‘crisis’

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Japer Bowles, director of the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs, was among those who gave presentations at the summit’s opening session. Bowles is pictured here at a Pride event earlier this year. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Close to 200 people turned out on Nov. 29 for the first day of a two-day D.C. LGBTQ+ Housing Summit held at the Martin Luther King Jr. Public Library’s upper floor conference center.

Officials with the D.C. LGBTQ+ Budget Coalition and the D.C. Advisory Neighborhood Commission Rainbow Caucus, the two lead organizers of the summit, said participants, among other things, would be discussing ways to address what organizers say is the disproportionate impact of the city’s shortage of affordable housing on members of the LGBTQ community.

Among those who helped organize and who participated in the event were Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs and D.C. Council member Robert White (D-At-Large), who chairs the Council’s Committee on Housing.

White and Japer Bowles, director of the Office of LGBTQ Affairs, were among those who gave presentations at the summit’s opening session on Nov. 29. Also speaking at the summit and pledging support for LGBTQ housing issues was D.C. Council member Zachary Parker (D-Ward 5), the Council’s only gay member.

“Please come to testify at our Council budget hearings for more funds for housing, “ Parker told summit participants at the opening plenary session. He was among several speakers who called on the city to increase funding for affordable housing programs.

“Finding secure and affordable housing is an increasingly challenging task for many individuals in the District of Columbia,” a statement released by summit organizers says. “However, for members of D.C.’s LGBTQ+ community, this challenge often reaches near impossible levels,” the statement says.

“Alarming statistics in the District indicate that up to 40 percent of D.C.’s homeless youth identify as LGBTQ,” the statement continues. “Furthermore, the absence of LGBTQ+ affirming senior housing in the District is an urgent concern,” it says. “Participants will delve into strengthening LGBTQ+ participation in existing housing programs, identifying LGBTQ+ specific barriers to program participation, and leveraging federal resources to transform DC into a national leader in LGBTQ+ housing policy,” the statement adds.

Heidi Ellis, director of the D.C. LGBTQ Budget Coalition, which consists of more than a dozen local LGBTQ and LGBTQ supportive organizations, pointed out that the two-day summit also included a resource fair in which as many as 20 LGBTQ and LGBTQ supportive organizations would be setting up information tables staffed with people who would provide important housing related resources to conference participants.

Among the organizations that set up information tables at the summit were the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community and the LGBTQ youth support and advocacy group SMYAL.

Ellis said summit organizers plan to release a report summarizing the main issues of concern raised at the summit and proposed solutions.

“I think the summit is going really well today,” Vincent Slatt, chair of the ANC Rainbow Caucus, told the Blade during the summit’s first day lunch break. “This is the start of a larger conversation,” Slatt said. “The summit does not finish. Our talking about housing and coming out of this with policy recommendations, demands for budget changes, getting people involved” will continue after the two-day event, he said.

Organizers said the summit was open to the public and free of charge, and they would welcome community members to stop by on the second and closing day on Thursday, Nov. 30. The MLK Public Library, where the summit is being held, is located at 901 G St., N.W.

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