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District of Columbia

‘Casa Ruby should be dissolved’: report

Court filing by Wanda Alston Foundation paints grim picture

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June Crenshaw is executive director of the Alston Foundation, which determined that Casa Ruby should be dissolved. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The Wanda Alston Foundation, which a D.C. Superior Court judge named last month as the city’s receiver for the LGBTQ community services center Casa Ruby, issued a preliminary finding in an interim report filed in court on Tuesday, Sept. 13, declaring that “Casa Ruby should be dissolved in an orderly manner pursuant to D.C. Code.”

The seven-page Receiver’s First Interim Report says an ongoing examination of Casa Ruby’s financial records, which it says were in disarray, indicates outstanding liabilities exceeding $2 million.

“Other than an assortment of donated furnishings at the two leased properties, there are no other meaningful assets,” the report says.

It says the Alston Foundation took immediate steps to secure financial records and sensitive documents pertaining to Casa Ruby’s clients and employees that were abandoned in two leased offices in the Dupont Circle area.

“Casa Ruby’s landlords and employees had gone unpaid for some time and both sites were abandoned and appeared to have been ransacked,” the report says. “The documents which remained were in complete disarray and would require time to collect, organize, and analyze,” it says.

“Eighty percent of the critical records and files at 1635 Connecticut Avenue [N.W.] have been secured and removed,” the report says, enabling the receiver to vacate the property prior to an eviction underway by the landlord.

“However, additional time may be required to go through the records and files at 2033 Connecticut Avenue,” according to the report, which says may require the court to order a temporary stop on the pending eviction at that property.

Superior Court Judge Danya A. Dayson issued an order on Aug. 12 naming the Alston Foundation as the Casa Ruby receiver at the recommendation of the Office of the D.C. Attorney General. The AG’s office stated in court filings that Casa Ruby and its founder and longtime executive director, Ruby Corado, had violated the city’s Nonprofit Corporations Act by failing to account for the expenditure funds provided by D.C. government grants and private donors.  

The judge’s order came one day after she approved the AG office’s request that Casa Ruby be placed under receivership and two weeks after the judge approved the AG’s request that all of Casa Ruby’s bank and credit card accounts be frozen.

D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine said his office’s action put forward in a civil lawsuit against Casa Ruby came after he opened an investigation that found the LGBTQ community services center had failed to pay landlords more than $1 million in back rent and could no longer pay the salaries of its employees, forcing the organization to cease most of its operations before a full shutdown in late July.   

The receiver’s report filed in court on Monday says in its capacity as receiver, the Alston Foundation attempted to contact Ruby Corado for any additional documents or information related to Casa Ruby’s finances, but Corado did not respond to an email message requesting the information.

“The Receiver did reach out to the D.C. Attorney General’s Office to advise them of potential criminal misconduct that it had uncovered and to make arrangements for the transfer of items deemed to have a significant potential evidentiary value,” the report says. “The details of those discussions and arrangements are omitted from this report in the interest of protecting anticipated ongoing criminal investigations,” it says.

The Alston Foundation, a longstanding LGBTQ organization, has provided housing and support services for D.C. homeless and at-risk LGBTQ youth since its founding in 2008. 

In her Aug. 12 order naming the Alston Foundation as the Casa Ruby receiver, Judge Dayson directed the Alston Foundation to submit a preliminary status report by Sept. 13 on its findings on whether Casa Ruby had or could obtain the financial resources to resume operating as an organization supporting LGBTQ people in need, such as emergency housing and immigrant related services, or whether it should be dissolved in an orderly manner.

The judge also asked that the report assess whether the Casa Ruby board of directors “should be reconstituted” following allegations by the D.C. Attorney General’s office that the board for years failed to provide legally required oversight of Casa Ruby’s finances and actions by Ruby Corado. 

“Casa Ruby’s Board of Directors failed to provide any meaningful oversight and Casa Ruby should be dissolved in an orderly manner pursuant to D.C. Code 29-412.23,” the Alston Foundation interim report states.

Alston Foundation Executive Director June Crenshaw and its Board of Directors chairperson, Darrin Glymph, couldn’t immediately be reached to determine whether they might reconsider the recommendation of dissolving Casa Ruby as an organization if new members could be recruited to serve on the Casa Ruby board.

The judge, who is expected to make the final decision on the fate of Casa Ruby, called all parties in the case, including Ruby Corado, to appear in court or appear virtually through a phone or video hookup on Sept. 29 for a status hearing.

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District of Columbia

Community rallies behind As You Are bar’s fundraising appeal 

D.C. LGBTQ café and bar raised more than $170k to prevent closure

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As You Are bar in March 2022 (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Less than a week after the D.C. LGBTQ café and bar As You Are located in the Barracks Row section of Capitol Hill issued a GoFundMe appeal on Feb. 5 seeking emergency financial support to prevent it from closing, the popular business reached its goal of $150,000 to get out of debt.

And as of Sunday night, the fundraising appeal had pulled in $171,471 from more than 3,000 individual donations, according to As You Are’s GoFundMe site.

In comments posted on the GoFundMe site, many of the donors said they were motivated to contribute to As You Are because they view it as a special, safe space that offers a welcoming, accepting place for them and their LGBTQ friends or family members.

In their GoFundMe message, As You Are co-owners Jo McDaniel and Rachel “Coach” Pike describe how they view their business as offering community center type programming beyond just a bar and café.

“AYA is a café, bar and dance floor that hosts diverse programming nearly every night of the week, including social sport leagues, Queer youth socials, weekly karaoke, book clubs, open mics, Queer author events, dance parties and much more,” the two said in their message.

“We have faced some particularly tall and costly hurdles that have set us back significantly since the beginning,” the two said in their GoFundMe message. “As we are tapping every resource we can imagine with creativity and open minds we need urgent assistance,” they said. 

“Rach and Jo are truly loved, and AYA is so important to so many people and everyone knew that,” said gay D.C. civic activist Mike Silverstein, who is one of the GoFundMe donors. “The response was absolutely amazing,” Silverstein said. “From every part of our community. People put everything aside, worked together and focused on saving a space that means so much.”

As You Are opened for business in March 2022. McDaniel and Pike have said the financial problems were caused, in part, by a delay in their planned opening due to complications associated with getting their required occupancy permit from the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. The two said negotiations with the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission, which demanded certain soundproofing structures be installed for the interior walls of their building, also added to the delay and increased costs.

Like other bars and restaurants across the city, McDaniel and Pike said their rent became a financial burden during a slow period for business last summer. They told the Washington Blade their landlord declined a request to renegotiate the lease to make an allowance based on sales. The two told the Washington Post that their rent is $27,000 per month, which they had to begin paying before they were able to open for business, and they spent $40,000 on soundproofing the walls, all of which contributed to a debt of about $150,000.

McDaniel and Pike, who spoke to the Blade at the time they launched their GoFundMe appeal, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment on the success of their fundraising and their future plans for As You Are. They told the Post now that they are no longer in debt, they plan to take up several offers of financial advice and they’re looking into possibly buying a property rather than renting. They said they also plan to apply for D.C. government business grants now that they have caught up on back tax payments.

Among those who posted comments on the As You Are GoFundMe site after making a contribution was Megan Mowery, who wrote, “AYA gives us a place to feel community, it is so rare to find a queer space where I can have fun and feel safe.” Mowrey added, “The programming AYA puts on absolutely has something for everyone. I love you AYA!!!”

Helena Chaves, another donor, stated in a GoFundMe post, “As You Are has been a monumental addition to the LGBTQIA+ community in Washington, D.C. They hold so many events and fundraisers, provide beautiful accommodations for us disabled folk, and have protocols in place to diminish harassment in the space.” 

Among the larger donors shown on the As You Are GoFundMe site is the Capital Pride Alliance, the group that organizes D.C.’s annual LGBTQ Pride festival and parade, which donated $2,500. 

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District of Columbia

No Pride in Genocide marches from Dupont Circle to HRC

Marchers ‘demand an end to the genocide and occupation of Palestine’

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Activists march in a No Pride in Genocide march from Dupont Circle to the Human Rights Campaign on Feb. 14, 2024. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Upwards of 200 people on Wednesday marched from Dupont Circle to the Human Rights Campaign and called upon it and other LGBTQ rights groups to “demand an end to the genocide and occupation of Palestine.”

No Pride in Genocide, which describes itself in a press release as a “recently launched coalition of queer and trans Palestinians, Arab and SWANA (Southwest Asian and North African) people, Jews and allies,” organized the march. A press release that No Pride in Genocide released included a list of demands for HRC and other advocacy organizations, LGBTQ elected officials and celebrities.

  • Publicly denounce the use of pink washing to justify the occupation and genocide of Palestinians
  • Immediately boycott, divest and sanction the systems and entities that enable the genocide, including severing ties with weapon manufacturers and donors profiteering off genocide
  • Call for an immediate and permanent ceasefire, to lift the siege and for all food, clean water, supplies and medical support be allowed into Gaza 
  • Publicly denounce the increased surveillance the Israeli Occupation Forces use against Palestinian queers
  • Call for the release of all political prisoners being held by the Israeli occupation
  • Use their platforms to call for an end to all imperialism and occupation, from the river to the sea, from Turtle Island to Palestine 

March participants who gathered in Dupont Circle before the march chanted slogans that include “Israel lies using queer lives. We say no to genocide” and “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” Many of them held signs that, among other things, read “HRC = harmful racist complicit” and “Full ceasefire in Gaza now!”

(washington blade video by michael k. lavers)

A person who No Pride in Genocide described as “a Palestinian organizer who wishes to remain anonymous” spoke in Dupont Circle before the march. She read a message from a “queer Palestinian” in the Gaza Strip who said a man he had kissed died in an Israeli airstrike two days later. 

“I am here as a queer Palestinian, while Israel uses my life and all of our lives to justify the murder of more than 30,000 Palestinians over the past five months,” said the organizer. “We will not let them continue to use our name for this genocide.”

Hamas, which the U.S. has designated a terrorist organization, launched a surprise attack against communities in southern Israel from Gaza on Oct. 7, 2023.

The Israeli government has said roughly 1,200 people have been killed, including at least 260 people who Hamas militants murdered at an all-night music festival in a kibbutz near the border between Israel and Gaza. The Israeli government also says more than 10,000 people have been injured in the country since the war began and Hamas militants kidnapped more than 200 others.

The Hamas-controlled Gaza Health Ministry says nearly 30,000 people have died in the enclave since the war began. Israel after Oct. 7 cut electricity and water to Gaza and stopped most food and fuel shipments.

The International Court of Justice last month heard legal arguments in South Africa’s case that accuses Israel of committing genocide against Palestinians in Gaza. Israel has strongly denied the accusations.

“Israel continues to use queer and trans lives as a justification of their genocidal campaigns,” said the No Pride in Genocide organizer who spoke before the march. “After spending hundreds of millions of dollars in ads to paint itself as a safe place for queer people in the Middle East, it uses that same narrative to justify and legitimize its eradication of queer and trans Palestinians.” 

“When you hear Zionists argue and say why don’t you go to Palestine, you’ll be murdered there. You know what? I would be murdered there because of the 1,008 bombs dropped a day by Israel and the U.S. on Gaza,” she added. “All of this is happening while the institutions that claim to represent queer and trans people and claim to defend our rights have remained completely silent while a genocide is being carried out in our name. We refuse to let that happen.”

(washington blade video by michael k. lavers)

The National LGBTQ Task Force last month called for a ceasefire in Gaza.

An HRC spokesperson on Thursday did not specifically respond to the Washington Blade’s request for comment about the No Pride in Genocide protest and their demands. The spokesperson did, however, highlight HRC President Kelley Robinson’s statements about Oct. 7.

“The loss of life unfolding in the Middle East is heartbreaking and the human rights violations are appalling,” said Robinson in a series of posts to her X account on Oct. 9, 2023. “Hamas killed hundreds of Israeli civilians over the weekend in a terrorist attack. And now countless more Palestinian and Israeli people are dying as the violence escalates while Jewish, Arab and Muslim people in the U.S. and around the world fear backlash and hate-motivated crimes. LGBTQ+ people are everywhere and violence against civilians, anywhere, is wrong. Our thoughts are with the people in the Middle East living through this horror.” 

Robinson in a statement that HRC released on Oct. 13, 2023, reiterated her previous thoughts and added “the toll on both Israeli and Palestinian civilians lives rises daily.” 

“Many in the United States who are Jewish and Muslim recognize that hate-motivated bias and violence will rise here,” she said. “Antisemitism is wrong. Islamophobia is wrong. Full stop.”

Robinson in a message sent to HRC supporters on Nov. 10, 2023, said “each day of this conflict brings a new weight of grief, shock and disbelief at the unrelenting toll of war. In times like these, it’s important to note there are no easy answers or quick solutions.

  •          No statement will ever be enough in times of war, but what’s not hard, nor complex, is knowing right from wrong.
  •          The Hamas terrorist attack was wrong.
  •          The killing of 11,000 Palestinians and counting is wrong.
  •          The bombing of hospitals and the killing of children is wrong.
  •          The denial of safe food, water, telecommunications and safe passage is wrong.
  •          The antisemitism and Islamophobia escalating in the United States is wrong.”

Robinson has also publicly condemned attacks on Palestinians and Muslims in the U.S. that have taken place since Oct. 7. These include Wadea Al-Fayoume, a 6-year-old Muslim boy who was stabbed to death in Plainfield Township, Ill., on Oct. 14, 2023.

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District of Columbia

Meet Tagg magazine’s new editor and owner

Sondra Rose Marie takes over from founder Eboné Bell

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Sondra Rose Marie

Sondra Rose Marie was chatting with friends after attending Portland’s LGBTQ Film Festival when her friend suggested that she take some of her ideas from the table to the media.

Since then, she has written for Tagg magazine and in December was named editor in chief and new owner. 

Marie has a background in creative writing, so she had to learn the fundamentals of journalism as she went along. 

“‘Ask to record, ask pronouns, ask names,’ that was all stuff that I was learning as I was going,” she said.

Founder and former editor Eboné Bell was a big help teaching her everything she needed to know about the profession, Marie said. 

After two years as a freelance writer, she moved up to senior content writer and spent nearly five years in that role before she became editor in chief of Tagg.

“I noticed right away with Tagg that they were speaking to everyone in the community, and so I really wanted to be a part of that,” said Marie.

When Bell approached Marie about the position, she said she was shocked and didn’t see it coming.

“I thought about it for a while and I decided it was an awesome opportunity,” she said. “I love Tagg, I know I am willing to work hard for Tagg, and I know it’s got a lot of potential.”

Late last year, Tagg stopped printing its magazine and went fully digital. Marie said that in her new position, she hopes Tagg can continue to spread its wings and reach more rural audiences. 

“Just because it isn’t as out and loud as New York, LA, or Atlanta, doesn’t mean that people don’t want it or have a need for it,” she said. “If anything it makes connections online even more important.”

As Marie looks to the future, she said she wants to continue to build on Bell’s legacy — one that includes everyone in the queer community. 

“As a Black lesbian woman, I know how hard it is when you’re shouting and no one’s willing to listen,” she said. “Tagg’s the place where women, non-binary and trans folks can go to be heard, that’s really the point.”

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