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IRS revokes tax-exempt status for Cherry Fund

Agency says org failed to file 990 form for three years

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The Cherry 'Flawless' event at the Howard Theatre last April. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

In a little-noticed development, the IRS announced on its website on Aug. 8 that it had revoked the tax-exempt status three months earlier on May 15, 2022 for the Cherry Fund, the D.C.-based LGBTQ nonprofit organization.

For the past 25 years, the Cherry Fund has raised large sums of money for HIV/AIDS and LGBTQ organizations through its annual weekend circuit party events usually held in April.

In an announcement posted on its website, the IRS included the Cherry Fund in a list of organizations for which it said their 501(c)(3) tax exempt status was “automatically” revoked on grounds that they failed to submit a required annual IRS 990 finance statement for three consecutive years.  

The IRS included this statement as part of its announcement: “Just because an organization appears on this list, it does not mean the organization is currently revoked, as they may have been reinstated.”

An IRS spokesperson told the Washington Blade that as of two weeks ago, the Cherry Fund’s tax-exempt status had not been reinstated.

Allen Sexton, the Cherry Fund president, or another Cherry Fund spokesperson have not responded to a Washington Blade request for comment.

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District of Columbia

Capital Stonewall Democrats host forum on proposed ranked choice voting, open primaries

Initiative 83 supporters, opponents attended event at Shakers

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Vote No On Initiative 83 leader Deirdre Brown, front left, joins pro-Initiative 83 leader Phil Pannell, front right, in a friendly toast following their sometimes-heated debate over the proposed D.C. ballot measure hosted by the LGBTQ group Capital Stonewall Democrats and held at the gay bar Shakers. Standing behind Brown and Pannell are Capital Stonewall Dems President Mike Haresign, at left, the group’s vice president, Monica Nemeth, and secretary, Howard Garrett Jr. (Washington Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

The Capital Stonewall Democrats, one of D.C.’s oldest LGBTQ political organizations, hosted a forum on on Monday night, Feb. 19, on the proposed D.C. ballot measure known as Initiative 83, which calls for the city to put in place a ranked choice voting system and for party primaries to be open to all registered voters regardless of their party affiliation, including independent voters.

The forum included presentations by one of the leading supporters and a leading opponent of the controversial initiative. Longtime D.C. LGBTQ rights and Ward 8 community activist Phil Pannell, who serves as treasurer of Make All Votes Count DC, the lead organization advocating for Initiative 83, spoke on behalf of the initiative.

Deirdre Brown, who identified herself as a longtime Ward 3 Democratic Party member and LGBTQ community ally, spoke on behalf of Vote No on Initiative 83, the lead group opposing the initiative. 

Brown pointed out that her organization was separate and distinct from the D.C. Democratic Party, which also opposes Initiative 83 and has filed a lawsuit in D.C. Superior Court to prevent the measure from being placed on the ballot. A judge was expected to hand down a ruling on whether the lawsuit should be dismissed or continue at a Feb. 23 hearing. 

Capital Stonewall Democrats President Michael Haresign, who introduced both speakers, told the Washington Blade after the event, which was held at the D.C. gay bar Shakers, that the LGBTQ Democratic group may not take an official position on Initiative 83. He said that if it does take a position, it would not do so until later this year if the initiative is approved for placement on the ballot in the city’s November election. 

An informal survey of local LGBTQ activists conducted by the Blade shows the LGBTQ community appears divided over Initiative 83, with prominent activists emerging as both supporters and opponents of the measure.

In his presentation in support of Initiative 83, Pannell called ranked choice voting an important electoral reform that has worked successfully in many states and cities across the country. He noted that ranked choice voting serves as an instant, automatic runoff election if no candidate receives at least 50 percent of the vote in a primary or general election. 

As proposed, Initiative 83 would allow voters to rank candidates running for office in order of their preference. Under this system, if no candidate receives at least 50 percent of the vote during the initial ballot counting process, the candidate with the lowest number of votes is eliminated. 

The votes cast by voters who picked that candidate as their top choice would then go to their second-choice candidate. This process would continue, under the ranked choice system, until at least one candidate emerges with at least 50 percent of the votes and is declared the winner.

The second part of Initiative 83 would allow more than 80,000 D.C. residents who currently choose not to register as a member of one of the local political parties and who are not allowed to vote in a primary, to vote in the city’s primary elections, including the Democratic primary. Political observers point out that the Democratic primary usually decides who will win the general election in D.C, where registered voters overwhelmingly elect Democratic candidates to public office. 

“In terms of ranked choice voting, it’s very basic,” Pannell told the gathering. “You have to start with , do you believe people who are elected should have a simple majority of the vote? If you don’t believe that, I’m not going to be able to convince you,” he said. 

Pannell pointed out that in recent D.C. elections, under the city’s public campaign finance law, as many as 20 candidates have run for both at-large and ward seats on the DC Council, with some of them winning with just 30 percent or even a little over 20 percent of the vote. 

Calling himself a lifelong, loyal member of the Democratic Party, Pannell criticized party leaders for opposing what he calls broadening the democratic process by allowing all residents to vote in primaries, especially independents, and for opposing a ranked choice voting system that Pannell said also broadens the electoral consensus by requiring that a candidate receive at least 50 percent of the vote to win an election.

“Initiative 83 will make politics more inclusive, less divisive,” he told the forum. “Let’s embrace it. Closed primaries are the result of closed hearts and closed minds,” he said. “Let’s open the windows and the doors … Let’s change our party for the better and vote for Initiative 83.”

Brown, who also described herself as a loyal Democratic Party member from Ward 3 and a native Washingtonian, disputed arguments by Pannell and his colleagues in support of Initiative 83, saying the democratic process is alive and well under the current D.C. electoral system and backers of Initiative 83 are waging a “propaganda campaign” to confuse voters.

Among other things, she said it’s not an infringement of democracy by requiring people to register for a party to vote in a party primary. All they need to do is register under D.C.’s rapid registration system, vote in a primary, and then withdraw their registration at any time. She also said independent voters, who Initiative 83 supporters say have a right to vote in primaries, often do not agree with the principles of the Democratic Party.

“And normally independents will tell you I’m independent because I don’t believe in Democratic Party values. I don’t believe in Republican Party values. I don’t believe in statehood values,” she told the gathering. “So, the question becomes, is it okay for people who don’t share your values to pick your leaders? There is no other club or organization that allows people who are not members to pick their leaders. It’s just that simple,” she said.

“That’s not disenfranchising you,” Brown added. “You just have to choose whether you want to work within a party to promote their values and issues or not. And if you don’t, that’s okay, that’s your choice. But you just then don’t get to vote until we get to the general election.”

Regarding ranked choice voting, Brown cited studies conducted by independent research organizations, including universities, that she said show it “marginalizes black and brown voters,” voters in low-income neighborhoods, and voters whose native language is not English, many of whom, she said, become confused by the ranked choice voting system. 

She also disputed claims by ranked choice voting supporters that citizens already participate in a ranked choice system in everyday life, including D.C.’s ranked choice public school lottery system, and public housing system and a ranked choice voting system will be similarly easy to understand.

Brown pointed out that unlike the school lottery or public housing system, where making a mistake will not result in serious consequences, ranked choice voting usually doesn’t accommodate people who fill out the ballot incorrectly.

“If you make a mistake if you undervote, overvote, your ballot is thrown out,” she said.

Brown concluded by pointing out that financial reports filed by supporters of Initiative 83 filed with the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance shows large sums of money backing the initiative are coming from out of state Political Action Committees or PACS as well as large corporations. 

During a rebuttal period, Pannell pointed to other studies he said show that minority voters, especially African American voters, do not have a problem with ranked choice voting, calling it an insult to say Black people and other minorities who would not adopt to ranked choice voting. 

He said Brown’s suggestion that there was something wrong with out of state organizations contributing money to a political cause was unfair and baseless.

“I’m the treasurer of this campaign,” he said. “And anyone who knows me knows that  I will not play tricks and trash with any political cash,” he told the forum. “And this is in the same way that we in the LGBTQ community had to get donations from outside the city when we were fighting for our rights,” Pannell said. “There is nothing wrong with getting donations from outside of D.C. Candidates do it all the time.”

Pannell drew objections from Brown and other Initiative 83 supporters at the Capital Stonewall Democrats forum when he added, “If we’re going to talk about donations, check out the donations going to the Vote No On 83 committee. And you will see that two of the most virulent opponents of marriage equality are contributors to that committee.”

Brown replied that she and others involved in the No On 83 campaign are not aware of all the political views of the hundreds of mostly small donors who contribute to their committee. She said an examination of the donors for the Make All Votes Count DC committee might also find some who at one time expressed opposition to LGBTQ rights. 

One person who attended the forum, who spoke on condition of not being identified, said they believed the two individuals Pannell was referring to, who Pannell said were officials with the D.C. Democratic State Committee, supported holding a voter referendum to decide on whether same-sex marriage should be legalized in D.C. The source said the two did not specifically oppose same-sex marriage but wanted the voters to decide the issue rather than the D.C. Council. 

As it turned out, the DC Board of Elections rejected the matter as a voter referendum on grounds that the D.C. Home Rule Charter bans voter initiatives or referendums that could lead to discrimination against minority groups, including LGBTQ people. Opponents of same-sex marriage appealed the election board’s decision to the courts and lost in a final ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld a lower D.C. court ruling agreeing with the election board’s decision. 

After Pannell and Brown concluded their remarks, Haresign opened the forum to questions from those attending the meeting in person as well as those watching on the organization’s Facebook page. The questioners who expressed their own views on Initiative 83 appeared to be divided evenly among the measure’s supporters and opponents. 

“I think the forum went well,” Haresign told the Blade. “We were able to get a high level of information,” he said. 

“If we were to take a position it would be after everything is certified and we have a full membership vote,” Haresign said, referring to Initiative 83 being certified by the Board of Elections to be on the ballot in November. 

Under D.C. election rules, the board’s certification would come after the lawsuit is dismissed or settled and after Initiative 83 supporters obtain the required number of petition signatures to place the measure on the ballot.  

Pannell urged Capital Stonewall Democrats members and others in the LGBTQ community to sign the petition to get the measure on the ballot, even if they don’t support it, saying voters should be given the right to decide the issue.

Brown disagreed, saying “I’m asking you if you believe in I-83, then go ahead and sign the petition. But if you do not, I’m asking you not to sign the petition.”

The video recording of the Capital Stonewall Democrats forum can be accessed here:

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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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