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District of Columbia

Trial set for D.C. gay murder case four years after arrest of suspect

Police say victim stabbed 47 times by man he invited to his apartment

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Vongell Lugo was stabbed to death in 2019.

A then 26-year-old U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman charged in the Jan. 6, 2019, murder of gay retail manager Vongell Lugo inside Lugo’s D.C. apartment is scheduled to go on trial for first-degree murder and other charges on April 18, 2023, according to D.C. Superior Court records.

A spokesperson for the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, which is prosecuting the case, has confirmed the trial date but declined to say why or whether it is unusual that it has taken more than four years to schedule a trial for a suspect arrested at the scene of the murder and on the day it took place.

Court records and a D.C. police arrest affidavit filed in court state that then U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Collin J. Potter allegedly stabbed Lugo at least 47 times in the upper body and genital area shortly after Lugo, 36, invited him into his apartment at 2844 Wisconsin Ave., N.W. near the Washington National Cathedral.

The arrest affidavit says police arrived at the apartment building when a neighbor called 911 after hearing screams coming from Lugo’s apartment. Upon their arrival, the affidavit says, officers saw Potter fully nude standing over Lugo’s nude body, which was lying on the floor in the hall outside Lugo’s apartment door.

“Defendant Potter had blood visible on various areas of his body, to include his arms and feet, however he did not have any apparent injuries,” the arrest affidavit says.

During an April 26, 2019 preliminary hearing in D.C. Superior Court, D.C. Police Homicide Det. Tony Covington testified that police believe Potter dragged Lugo outside the apartment door after allegedly fatally stabbing him inside the apartment.

Covington in his testimony reiterated the arrest affidavit’s assertion that Potter referred to Lugo as his “girlfriend” and as “she” when officers first approached him outside the apartment. NBC News reported that police sources said Potter told police his “girlfriend” had died by suicide and he asked police to kill him.

The detective also testified that a police investigation found that Potter and Lugo met on the night of the murder at the Black Whisky bar at 1410 14th St., N.W. in D.C. Covington said the investigation at that time had not determined whether Potter and Lugo knew each other prior to the time they met up at the Black Whiskey on the night of the murder.

A friend of Lugo’s told the Washington Blade that Lugo, who was openly gay, liked to hang out at straight bars and the Black Whiskey was one of the bars he patronized.

In his court testimony, Det. Covington said police had no known motive for why Potter allegedly stabbed Lugo to death in the apartment.

Court records show police initially charged Potter with second-degree murder and prosecutors extended a plea bargain offer calling for him to plead guilty to second-degree murder in exchange for prosecutors not seeking a first-degree murder charge before a grand jury. The court records show Potter through a court-appointed attorney rejected the offer.

The records show a D.C. Superior Court Grand Jury on Aug. 20, 2019, handed down a five-count indictment against Potter, charging him with two counts of First-Degree Felony Murder While Armed, Felony Murder While Armed Aggravating Circumstances, First-Degree Sexual Abuse While Armed, and Kidnapping.

Potter has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Under D.C.’s criminal code, First Degree Sexual Abuse replaced what used to be the charge of rape under D.C. law.

“On or about January 6, within the District of Columbia, Collin Potter, while armed with and having readily available a dangerous weapon, that is a knife or other sharp object, engaged in a sexual act with Vongell Lugo, that is, the penetration of Vongell Lugo’s anus by Collin Potter’s penis, by using force against Vongell Lugo (First Degree Sexual Abuse While Armed),” the indictment states.

The indictment states that on the same day and location, while armed with a knife, Potter “seized, confined, kidnapped, abducted, physically assaulted and carried away Vongell Lugo, with the intent to hold and detain Vongell Lugo, for the purpose of sexually assaulting him (Kidnapping While Armed).”

During the April 2019 preliminary hearing, in which Judge Juliet McKenna found probable cause that Potter committed the offense, defense attorney Matthew Davies argued that police and prosecutors provided insufficient evidence that Potter committed the murder. He said the evidence cannot rule out the assertion by the defense that the murder was committed by someone else who had access to Lugo’s apartment.

“We don’t know who else was in that apartment and who else was in there and left,” he said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Nebiyu Feleke, one of the prosecutors in the case, argued that prosecutors presented “ample evidence” to show Potter and Lugo were the only two in the apartment at the time of the murder. He noted that Potter himself told police at the time they arrived on the scene that he and Lugo were the only two in the apartment that night.

Court observers have said the COVID-19 pandemic has caused delays in many cases, especially civil cases, pending before the D.C. Superior Court, and that could have played a role in the delay in scheduling the trial for Potter.

Court records show that Davies, Potter’s attorney, introduced an emergency motion in March 2020 requesting that Potter be released into a halfway house while awaiting trial because of the high risk of contracting and dying from COVID in the D.C. Jail. The records show that, at the request of prosecutors, the judge denied the motion on grounds that Potter would pose a risk to the community if released.

Potter has been held without bond since the time of his arrest. The next court hearing, prior to the start of the April 18 trial, is a trial readiness hearing scheduled for Feb. 18 before Judge Marisa J. Demeo.

More than 80 friends, co-workers, and family members turned out for a candlelight vigil to honor the life of Lugo, which was held Jan. 11, 2019 in a small park across the street from where Lugo lived. Among those participating were employees of TransPerfect, an international company that provides foreign language translation, interpretation and business services where Lugo worked as an associate manager.

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District of Columbia

Capital Stonewall Dems endorse Biden, 2 incumbent Council members

LGBTQ political group doesn’t back Del. Norton or Brooke Pinto

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D.C. Council member Robert White speaks with a Capital Stonewall Democrats member at a post endorsement party. (Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro Jr.)

The Capital Stonewall Democrats, D.C.’s largest local LGBTQ political organization, announced on May 21 that it has endorsed President Joe Biden, incumbent D.C. Council members Robert White (D-At-Large) and Janeese Lewis George (D-Ward 4), and incumbent U.S. Shadow Rep. Oye Owolewa (D) in the city’s June 4 primary election.

But the LGBTQ Democratic group did not make endorsements in five other races to be decided in the primary, including the re-election bid of D.C. Congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), a longtime LGBTQ rights supporter on Capitol Hill; and D.C. Council member Brooke Pinto (D-Ward 2), an outspoken LGBTQ rights supporter who is running unopposed for re-election.

Capital Stonewall Democrats President Michael Haresign said the no endorsement decisions happened at least in part because of a longstanding requirement that candidates must receive at least a 60 percent threshold vote by the organization’s members to secure an endorsement. He said members also had the option of voting for “no endorsement” under the organization’s voting system.

“Very few candidates met the 60 percent threshold,” he told the Washington Blade. Haresign said the organization would soon release the numerical vote count and percentage of the vote each candidate received from Capital Stonewall members through an online ranked choice voting process.

In a press release issued on May 21, Capital Stonewall Democrats announced the percentage of the vote the four endorsed candidates received from its members who voted: Biden, 82.2%, Lewis George, 79.07%, Robert White, 78.6%, and Owolewa, 67.5%. Haresign said the organization was not ready to release the vote percentage for the candidates that were not endorsed, but he said those figures would be released soon.

He told the Blade that Capital Stonewall Democrats currently has 91 members who are eligible to vote for endorsements and that 47 of those members participated in the voting.

 “I’m honored by this endorsement,” Robert White told the Blade at a party for its endorsed candidates that Capital Stonewall Democrats held beginning at 7 p.m. on May 21 at The Brig restaurant and bar in the Barracks Row section of Capitol Hill.

“The Stonewall Democrats have stood with me in every election, and it’s meant a lot to me,” White said. Most LGBTQ activists have said White is among the Council’s strongest LGBTQ supporters.

The other endorsed Council candidate, Lewis George, and Shadow D.C. Representative Owolewa were invited to the party but had other conflicting events to attend, according to Haresign, who said Owolewa texted him to say he might show up shortly before the event was to end at 9 p.m.

The races in which no endorsement was made include the Ward 7 D.C. Council race in which 10 Democratic candidates are competing for the Council seat held by incumbent Council member and former D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray (D), who is not running for re-election. With 10 candidates running, the fact that none received a 60 percent vote threshold did not come as a surprise.

Haresign said Ward 7 candidate Eboni-Rose Thompson made a strong showing by capturing 51 percent of the vote. Thompson attended the endorsement party as a “runner up,” one of her supporters said.

A no endorsement decision  by the group was also made in the Ward 8 D.C. Council race in which incumbent Council member Trayon White (D) is being challenged by Democrats Rahman Branch and Salim Adofo. Trayon White has been an LGBTQ rights supporter during his tenure as a Council member. Adolfo expressed support for LGBTQ rights during his appearance at a virtual candidates forum held by Capital Stonewall Democrats earlier this month. Trayon White and Branch did not appear at the forum.

Capital Stonewall’s decision not to endorse Pinto came as a surprise to some local LGBTQ activists. Pinto has been an outspoken supporter of LGBTQ rights. She is running unopposed in the Democratic primary on June 4, and no one is running for the Ward 2 Council seat in the primary for D.C.’s two other registered political parties – the Republican and Statehood Green parties. That means Pinto will also run unopposed in the November general election, although a write-in candidate could emerge.

Also coming as a surprise was the group’s decision not to endorse Eleanor Holmes Norton in her re-election bid as D.C.’s non-voting delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives. Norton has been an outspoken supporter of LGBTQ rights and a vocal opponent of anti-LGBTQ legislation introduced in the House by anti-LGBTQ Republicans in her 34 years in office.

Haresign said neither Norton nor Pinto attended the group’s candidate forum and the two also did not submit a statement or video as did other candidates who were unable to attend the forums. That could have played a role in the members’ decision not to endorse them, according to Haresign.

However, Haresign said it is possible that due to a glitch in the group’s online invitation process that Pinto may not have received the invitation for the candidate forum. The Blade has contacted Pinto’s office to confirm whether the invite was received, but the office did not immediately respond.

 The other race in which Capital Stonewall Democrats did not make an endorsement is the race for U.S. Shadow senator in which incumbent Michael D. Brown is not seeking re-election. Local political activists Eugene Kinlow and Ankit Jain, both Democrats, are competing for the seat. Kinlow and Jain attended one of the two virtual candidate forums held by Capital Stonewall Democrats and each expressed support for LGBTQ rights.

The second of the two Shadow D.C. U.S. Senate seats is held by incumbent Democrat Paul Straus who’s not up for re-election this year. Like the D.C. Shadow U.S. Representative seat, the Shadow Senate positions have no voting rights or authority in Congress and are unpaid positions created to advocate for D.C. statehood and support for D.C. in Congress.

As has been the case in D.C. elections for many years, the lesser-known candidates running against Robert White, Lewis George, and Owolewa have also expressed support for LGBTQ rights. Robert White’s sole Democratic opponent, Rodney Red Grant, expressed strong support for LGBTQ equality at one of  the virtual candidate forums held by Capital Stonewall Democrats.

One of Lewis George’s two opponents in the Ward 4 Democratic primary, Paul Johnson, expressed support for LGBTQ rights during one of the two forums. The second opponent, Lisa Gore, did not show up for the forum and her position on LGBTQ issues could not immediately be determined.

Linda L. Gray, Owolewa’s sole opponent in the Democratic primary for the Shadow Representative seat, also expressed strong support for LGBTQ issues at one of the two Capital Stonewall candidate forums.

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District of Columbia

Meet Jay Jones: Howard’s first trans student body president

‘Be the advocate that the child in you needed most’

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Jay Jones (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Jay Jones was born to a conservative Christian family where she said being gay was not socially acceptable. This year, she was named Howard University Student Association’s first transgender president. 

When Jones was younger, she enjoyed activities that are traditionally “feminine.” She said she has always had a higher-pitched voice, talked with her hands and preferred playing inside with Barbie dolls. 

Jones came out as gay in eighth grade to her sister who said, “Girl, I been knew.” 

“I think that was very much a turning point year for me because it was a year where I kind of knew how I was feeling,” Jones explained. “There were emotions I felt ever since I was younger, but I never could put verbiage or language to it,” she said.  

That same year, Jones was elected as the first student body president of her middle school. She said that is where her leadership journey began and that year was pivotal in her life. 

When Jones won her first campaign as HUSA vice president, she was feeling unsure about her gender identity after she was asked which pronouns she wanted to use. 

“I said ‘I don’t really know because I don’t feel comfortable using he/him pronouns because I don’t think that expresses who I am as a person,’ but at that time, I don’t think I was to the point where ‘she/her’ was necessary,” she said. 

Outside of student government, she was part of a traditionally all-male organization at Howard, Men of George Washington Carver Incorporated. There, she said she always felt like the sister to all of her brothers. 

“I remember I would cringe sometimes when they would call me brother,” she said. 

Even though she felt like she aligned with she/her pronouns she said she was “scared” of what it could mean for her moving forward. 

She knew that her given pronouns were not a reflection of who she was but wasn’t sure what to do about it. She was talking with Eshe Ukweli, a trans journalism student who asked Jones a simple question that clarified everything. 

“‘If you were to have kids or if your brother or your sister or someone around you was to have kids, what do you imagine them calling you?’ and I realized, it was always ‘mom,’ it was always ‘sister,’ and it was always ‘aunt,’” she said.  

Jones still looks to Ukweli as a mentor who provides her with wisdom and guidance regularly.

“She knows what it’s like to do hormones, she understands what it’s like to be in a place of leadership and to be in a place of transition,” she said. “There is no amount of research, no amount of information, no amount of anything that you can take in, that could ever equate to that.”

In 2023, Jones’s junior year, Howard University was named the No. 1 most inclusive Historically Black College or University for LGBTQ-identifying students by BestColleges. 

Howard has a storied past with the queer community. In the 1970s, Howard hosted the first National Third World Lesbian and Gay Conference, according to a 1979 Hilltop archive. However, multiple articles in the ‘90s highlighted homophobia on Howard’s campus.  

“’There is the feeling … that by coming out there will be a stigma on you,” said bisexual Howard student, Zeal Harris in a 1997 Hilltop interview. 

As a result, multiple LGBTQ advocacy organizations were created on Howard’s campus to combat those stigmas. 

Clubs like The Bisexual, Lesbian, and Gay Organization of Students At Howard (BLAGOSAH) and the Coalition of Activist Students Celebrating The Acceptance of Diversity and Equality (CASCADE) were formed by Howard University students looking to create a safer campus for queer students. 

However, Jones didn’t know much about this community when she was entering Howard. She recognized Howard as the HBCU that produced leaders in the Black community, like Thurgood Marshall, Toni Morrison, and Andrew Young. 

“This university has something about turning people into trailblazers, turning people into award-winning attorneys, turning people into change makers,” she said. “I think that was one of my main reasons why I wanted to come here, I wanted to be a part of a group of people who were going to change the world.”

So, as she entered her junior year at Howard, she set out to begin her journey to changing the world by changing her school.

This school year she ran for HUSA president, the highest governing position on Howard’s campus. She said that this was the hardest campaign she has ever run at Howard and that she warned her team the night before election result announcements that she would start weeping if their names were called. 

“During the midst of that campaign season, I was in an internal kind of battle with members of my family not accepting me, not embracing me, calling me things like ‘embarrassment’ and not understanding the full height of what I was trying to do and who I was becoming,” she said. 

Jones said the experience was mentally draining and a grueling process but that she leaned on her religion to help her see the light at the end of the tunnel. 

“I’m a very devout Christian and for me, I was like, ‘It was nothing but God that got me through, it was nothing but God that got me through this,’” she said. “If people knew what I went through you would be falling on your knees and weeping too.”

Jones said that in high school she had to really work through her relationship with God because she was raised in a church that said gay people were going to hell. So, when she came out as a trans woman she had to re-evaluate the relationship she worked so hard to create with God, again.

She reflected and realized that God didn’t use the perfect people in the Bible but that he works through everyone. 

“So if God can use all of those people, what is there to say that God can’t use the queer? What is it to say that God can’t use trans people,” she said.

After she graduates next year, Jones hopes to work in campaign strategy. She said the ‘lesser of two evils’ conversation isn’t working anymore for Gen-Zers and wants to pioneer new ways for young voters to engage with politics. 

“Really working on engaging and mobilizing young voters on how to understand and utilize their power, especially as it relates to Black and Brown people,” she said. 

When she became vice president of HUSA last year she said she did it for for all the little Black queer children down South who haven’t gotten their chance to dance in the sun yet.

“If there was anyone ever coming in who’s trans, the No. 1 piece of advice that I can give you is, be the role model that the inner child in you needed most, be the advocate that the child in you needed most,” she said “And most importantly, be the woman that the child saw in you but was too scared to be.

Jay Jones (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)
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District of Columbia

GLAA announces ratings for D.C. Council candidates

Janeese Lewis George, Robert White, Nate Fleming receive highest marks

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There are 10 candidates running to replace Vincent Gray who is not seeking re-election to the D.C. Council. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

GLAA D.C., formerly known as the Gay & Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington, announced on May 13 that it has awarded its highest ratings for D.C. Council candidates running in the city’s June 4 primary election to incumbent Council members Janeese Lewis George (D-Ward 4) and Robert White (D-At-Large) and to Ward 7 Democratic candidate Nate Fleming.

On a rating scale of +10, the highest possible rating, to -10, the lowest rating, GLAA awarded ratings of +9.5 to Lewis George, + 9 to Robert White, and +8.5 to Fleming.

Fleming is one of 10 candidates running in the Democratic primary for the Ward 7 Council seat, which is being vacated by incumbent Council member and former D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, who is not running for re-election. In addition to Fleming, GLAA issued ratings for seven other Ward 7 Democratic contenders who, like Fleming, returned a required GLAA candidate questionnaire.

The remaining two Ward 7 candidates were not rated under a GLAA policy adopted this year of not rating candidates that did not return the questionnaire, the responses to which GLAA uses to determine its ratings, according to GLAA President Tyrone Hanley. A statement accompanying the GLAA ratings shows that it rated 13 D.C. Council candidates – all Democrats —  out of a total of 18 Council candidates on the June 4 primary ballot.

Ballot information released by the D.C. Board of Elections shows that only one Republican candidate and one Statehood Green Party candidate is running this year for a  D.C. Council seat.  GOP activist Nate Derenge is running for the Ward 8 seat held by incumbent Democrat Trayon White and Statehood Green Party candidate Darryl Moch is running for the At-Large Council seat held by Robert White.

GLAA shows in its ratings statement that neither Trayon White nor Derenge nor Moch returned the questionnaire, preventing them from being rated. However, one of two Democratic candidates running against Tryon White in the primary — Salim Aldofo — did return the questionnaire and received a rating of +5.5. The other Democratic candidate, Rahman Branch, did not return the questionnaire and was not rated. Trayon White has been a supporter on LGBTQ issues while serving on the Council.

GLAA President Hanley said GLAA this year decided to limit its ratings to candidates of all political parties running for D.C. Council seats. In addition to candidates running for an At-Large Council seat and Council seats in Wards 4, 7, and 8, the June 4 primary ballot includes candidates running for the D.C. Congressional Delegate seat, the Shadow U.S. House seat, and the Shadow U.S. Senate seat. GLAA chose not to issue ratings for those races, according to Hanley. He said during mayoral election years, GLAA rates all candidates for mayor.

The Capital Stonewall Democrats, D.C’s largest local LGBTQ political organization,  was scheduled to release its endorsements of D.C. Council candidates and candidates for all other local D.C. races, including Congressional Delegate and Senate and House “shadow” races, at a May 21 endorsement event. The Blade will report on those endorsements in an upcoming story.

Like in all past years beginning in the early 1970s when GLAA began rating candidates in local D.C elections, the group has not rated federal candidates, including those running for U.S. president. Thus, it issued no rating this year for President Joe Biden and two lesser-known Democratic challengers appearing on the D.C. presidential primary ballot on June 4 – Marianne Williamson and Armando Perez-Serrato.

In the At-Large Council race, GLAA gave Robert White’s sole Democratic challenger, Rodney Red Grant, who returned the questionnaire, a rating of +3.5.

“The ratings are based solely on the issues and may not be interpreted as endorsements,” GLAA says in its statement accompanying the ratings. The statement says the ratings are based on the candidates’ response to the questionnaire, the questions for which GLAA says reflect the group’s positions on a wide range of issues as stated in a document it calls “A Loving Community: GLAA Policy Brief 2024.” It sends a link to that document to all candidates to whom it sends them the questionnaire and urges the candidate to seek out the brief “for guidance and clarification” in responding to the questions. GLAA says the ratings are also based on the candidates’ record on the issues GLAA deems of importance, including LGBTQ issues.

Like its questionnaire in recent years, this year’s nine-question questionnaire asks the candidates whether they would support mostly non-LGBTQ specific issues supported by GLAA, some of which are controversial. One of the questions asks the candidates, “Do you support enacting legislation to decriminalize sex work for adults, including the selling and purchasing of sex and third-party involvement not involving fraud, violence, and coercion?”

Another question asks if the candidates would support decriminalizing illegal drug use by supporting “removing the criminal penalties for drug possession for personal use and increasing investments in health services.” Other questions ask whether candidates would address “concentrated wealth in the District by raising revenue through taxing the most wealthy residents,” would they support funding for “harm reduction and overdose prevention services to save lives,” and would they support a Green New Deal for Housing bill pending before the D.C. Council that would “Socialize Our Housing” to address putting in place city subsidized housing for those in need.

One of the questions that might be considered LGBTQ specific asks whether candidates would support sufficient funding for the D.C. Office of Human Rights to ensure the office has enough staff members to adequately enforce the city’s nondiscrimination laws and to end a discrimination case backlog that the office sometimes encounters.

Some activists have criticized GLAA for not including more LGBTQ-specific questions in its questionnaire. Others have defended the questionnaire on grounds that D.C. long ago has passed a full range of LGBTQ supportive laws and most if not, all serious candidates running in D.C. for public office for the past 20 years or more have expressed strong support for LGBTQ equality. They argue that LGBTQ voters, while weighing the depth of support candidates have on LGBTQ issues, most of the time base their vote on a candidate’s record and position on non-LGBTQ issues when all candidates in a specific race are LGBTQ supportive.

Hanley told the Washington Blade GLAA believes the current questionnaire addresses the issues of importance to the largest number of LGBTQ D.C. residents.

“My response is that we care about whatever issues are impacting queer and trans people,” Hanley said. “We can’t isolate the challenges we are experiencing as queer and trans people to things that are specifically related to our identity as queer and trans people because they are all interconnected,” he said.

“So, how will I tell a Black trans woman we care about her not being discriminated against at her job for being trans, for being Black, or for being a woman, but we don’t care that she doesn’t have housing? Hanley asked. “To me, that seems like a very inhumane way of thinking about human beings because we are whole human beings,” he said, some of whom, he added, face a wide range of issues such as homelessness,  drug issues, and “struggling to make ends meet.”

The GLAA statement that accompanies its ratings, which is posted on its website, includes links to each of the candidates’ questionnaire responses as well as an explanation of why it gave its specific rating to each of the candidates. In its explanation section GLAA says all the candidates expressed overall support for the LGBTQ community and expressed support for the concerns  related to the issues raised by the questions even if they were not at this time ready to back some of the issues like decriminalization of sex work.  

Following are the GLAA ratings given to 12 Democratic D.C. Council candidates and one “unknown” candidate that Hanley says submitted their questionnaire but did not reveal their identity on the questionnaire:

DC Council At-Large

Robert White: +9

Rodney Red Grant: +3.5

DC Council Ward 4

Janeese Lewis George: +9.5

DC Council Ward 7

Ebony-Rose Thompson: +4.5

Ebony Payne: +5

Kelvin Brown: +2.5

Nate Fleming: +8.5

Roscoe Grant Jr.: +3.5

Veda Rasheed: +5

Villareal VJ Johnson II: +4

Wendell Felder: +2

DC Council Ward 8

Salim Aldofo: +5.5

Unknown: +2

The full GLAA ratings, a breakdown of the ratings based on a GLAA rating criteria, the candidate questionnaire response, and GLAA’s explanation for each of its candidate ratings can be accessed at the GLAA website.

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