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District of Columbia

Hundreds of thousands turn out for D.C. Pride parade and festival

Jubilant crowds celebrate weekend events as air quality index improved

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The weekend’s festivities included the annual Pride parade and festival and the fourth annual fireworks display at the Wharf. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

As many as 600,000 or more people turned out for D.C.’s Capital Pride parade and festival along with dozens of other Pride related events over the weekend of June 10-11, according to officials with the Capital Pride Alliance, the group that organized the parade, festival, and many of the other events.

“We are about to celebrate Capital Pride 2023, with one of the largest Pride parades in Washington, D.C.’s history,” said Capital Pride Alliance Executive Director Ryan Bos at a news media briefing on June 10, minutes before the parade began at its starting point at 14th and T Streets, N.W.

Also drawing a large crowd was the fourth annual Pride on the Pier event that took place on June 10 at the city’s Southwest waterfront Wharf, and which was sponsored by the Washington Blade, the local event organizing company LURe, and the Wharf. The event included a drag show, dance party, and the annual Pride fireworks display.

The prediction by weather forecasters of a possible harmful air quality index due to the Canadian wildfire smoke that had engulfed the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions of the U.S. several days earlier did not appear to deter the huge turnout at the Capital Pride events over the weekend. By Saturday and Sunday, weather officials said the air quality index dropped to the far less harmful Code Yellow status.

Among those who spoke at the Capital Pride media briefing was Dr. Rachel Levine, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of Health and admiral in the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, who became the first openly transgender person to be appointed to both positions. Levine was among several prominent LGBTQ people selected by the Capital Pride Alliance to be grand marshals for the Pride parade.

“Pride is a time of hope and change and love and joy,” she told the gathering at the start of the parade. “But it needs to catalyze us to go forth across the country to catalyze more change and to fight against these regressive laws that are being passed, which damage and attack our vulnerable community – attack vulnerable trans youth and their families and attack our LGBTQI+ families,” Levine said. 

She was referring to the more than 500 anti-LGBTQ bills introduced, with many of them passed, in state legislatures across the country over the past year. 

Also speaking at the media briefing was Dame Karen Pierce, the British Ambassador to the U.S., who led a British Embassy contingent in the parade.

“Thank you to Washington Pride,” she told the gathering. “We have the honor to have been with the Washington Pride for over 11 years as the first embassy to take part, and we’re delighted to see how much it’s grown.”

Levine joined Bos and other Capital Pride Alliance officials as well as Ambassador Pierce who said this year’s Pride events would serve as both a celebration and an act of defiance against the anti-LGBTQ sentiment rising dramatically across the country.

Activists who have observed D.C.’s Pride parade over the years have said this year’s parade appeared to have attracted more spectators watching the parade along the streets compared to recent past D.C. Pride parades, with crowds five to 10 people deep lining the sidewalks and cheering as parade contingents, including marching bands, passed by.

The parade followed a route from 14th and T Streets, N.W., where it traveled south to Rhode Island Avenue, turned onto Massachusetts Avenue, and turned onto 17th Street, where it reached the Capital Pride block party located on 17th Street between P and Q Streets.

From 17th Street, the parade turned onto P Street and traveled to Dupont Circle, with its contingents traveling halfway around the circle and back onto P Street, where it ended at 21st and P.

Among the parade contingents that drew cheers and excitement from the crowds on the sidelines were floats for D.C.’s professional sports teams including the Washington Nationals baseball team, the D.C. United hockey team, the Washington Commanders football team, the Washington Wizards men’s basketball team, and Washington Mystics women’s basketball team.

Also marching in the parade were D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, who led the parade with a contingent of more than 100 LGBTQ community supporters, and 11 members of the 13-member D.C. Council.

The Council members marching in the parade with their own LGBTQ supporters included D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large), Anita Bonds (D-At-Large), Kenyan McDuffie (I-At Large), Robert White (D-At Large), Christina Henderson (I-At Large), Brianne Nadeau (D-Ward 1), Brooke Pinto (D-Ward 2), Matthew Frumin (D-Ward 3), Janeese Lewis George (D-Ward 4), Zachary Parker (D-Ward 5), who is the Council’s only openly gay member, and Charles Allen (D-Ward 6).

Among the marching bands in the parade that drew cheers from the crowds was D.C.’s Eastern High School Marching Band.

Similar to past years, contingents in this year’s parade as well as in the June 11 festival, which took place on Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., between 3rd and 7th Streets, included many prominent local and national LGBTQ advocacy organizations, including the Human Rights Campaign and the National LGBTQ Task Force.

Also, like past years, many U.S. government and local D.C. government agencies set up booths at the Pride festival. Among them were the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the CIA, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The booths set up by those and other government agencies were staffed by LGBTQ employees of the agencies, including the CIA. 

Like past years, the festival this year included the annual Pride concert and entertainment performances, including drag performances. Among the drag performers was acclaimed D.C. drag performer Donnell Robinson aka Ella Fitzgerald.

The concert included many prominent performers, including Broadway actress Idina Menzel and ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ winner Monet X Change.

In addition to the official events organized by Capital Pride Alliance, including the parade and festival, a dozen or more Pride related parties took place over the weekend at local LGBTQ bars and nightclubs. Most of D.C.’s gay bars had long lines of people waiting to get in on Saturday night after the parade, as the packed bars hosted various Pride related events.

Longtime D.C. transgender activist Earline Budd, who was among the Capital Pride honorees and parade grand marshals who spoke at the Saturday media briefing along with Rachel Levine, appeared to capture the spirit of celebration reflected in this year’s D.C. Pride events.

“I am so honored to be here today,” Budd said. “This is a historical point in our history. We must stand up. We must fight. We must never give up,” she said. “Peace, Love Revolution. Remember that. Peace, Love, Revolution.”

Budd was referring to the official theme of this year’s Capital Pride events chosen by the Capital Pride Alliance board – Peace, Love, Revolution.

Capital Pride officials prior to the start of the weekend Pride events said the festival was expected to include more than 300 booths with local vendors, businesses, and organizations.   

In a statement released to the Blade on Monday, Capital Pride Alliance says the organization estimates the parade attendance was about 220,000, which it says was similar to the 2022 parade. However, the statement says there were 295 parade contingents this year, “which is the largest number that we’ve ever had, with approximately 23,000 Parade participants,” according to the statement.

“Similarly, the Festival had almost 300 organizations join us, another increase, which we were able to fit into roughly the same footprint that we have used during past celebrations,” the statement continues. “The attendance on Sunday was about 475,000, also the largest that we have seen,” it says.

“We are extremely pleased with how the Capital Pride Parade, Festival, and Concert came off without a hitch on Saturday and Sunday,” the statement adds.

“We were grateful that speakers on both days, including artists who performed at Sunday’s Concert, emphasized that the LGBTQ+ community is facing challenges around the country and the globe, and that we will meet this moment together by opposing any attempts to roll back our hard-fought rights and any incursions into the lives of the most vulnerable,” the statement concludes.

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District of Columbia

Accused drug dealer charged with fentanyl distribution leading to deaths of two D.C. gay men

June 13 indictment links previously arrested suspect to deaths

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(Bigstock photo)

The Office of the U.S. Attorney for D.C. has announced that federal prosecutors on June 13 obtained an indictment against one of two D.C. brothers previously charged with multiple counts of illegal drug distribution that now charges him with “distributing cocaine and fentanyl” on Dec. 26, 2023, that resulted in the deaths of D.C. gay men Brandon Roman and Robert “Robbie” Barletta.

In a June 13 press release, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said Jevaughn ‘Ledo’ Mark, 32, is charged in a new “secondary superseding indictment” linked to the Roman and Barletta deaths. It says he and his brother, Angelo Mark, 30, “previously were charged on April 9 in a 17-count superseding indictment for participating in a conspiracy that distributed large amounts of fentanyl and cocaine in the metropolitan area.”

The press release says Jevaughn Mark is currently being held without bond on charges that include eight counts of unlawful distribution of fentanyl, cocaine, and heroin and distributing 40 grams or more of fentanyl between Jan. 10, 2024, and March 13, 2024. According to the press release, the charges were based on six illegal drug purchases from Jevaughn Mark by undercover U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and undercover D.C. police officers.

Court records show that Angelo Mark was charged in a criminal complaint on March 22 with multiple counts of conspiracy to distribute narcotics and is also being held without bond.

D.C. police and Fire and Emergency Medical Services reports show that Roman, 38, a prominent D.C. attorney and LGBTQ rights advocate, and Barletta, 28, a historic preservation expert and home renovation business owner, were found unconscious when police and emergency medical personnel responded to a 911 call and arrived at Barletta’s home on Dec. 27. The reports show that Roman was declared deceased at the scene and Barletta was taken to Washington Hospital Center where he died on Dec. 29.

A police spokesperson told the Washington  Blade in February that police were investigating the Roman and Barletta deaths, but investigators had to wait for the D.C. Medical Examiner’s official determination of the cause and manner of death before the investigation could fully proceed.

Both men were patrons at D.C. gay bars and their passing prompted many in the LGBTQ community to call for stepped up prevention services related to drug overdose cases, even though the cause and manner of death for the two men was not officially determined until early April.

In April, the D.C. Office of the Chief Medical Examiner disclosed that the cause of death for both men was an accidental consumption of several drugs that created a fatal “toxic” effect. The Medical Examiner’s office said Barletta’s death was linked to the consumption of at least four different drugs and Roman’s death was caused by the “combined toxic effect” of six drugs. The Medical Examiner’s office disclosed that cocaine and fentanyl were among the drugs found in the bodies of both men. And for both men, the manner of death was listed as “Accident/Intoxication.”

When the cause and manner of death were disclosed by the Medical Examiner, D.C. police spokesperson Tom Lynch said the police investigation into the deaths remained open but said, “There are no updates on the investigation that we are ready to release to the public.”

But the Medical Examiner’s findings prompted Johnny Bailey, the community outreach coordinator for HIPS D.C., an LGBTQ supportive organization that provides services and support for those who use recreational drugs, to say he strongly believed that Barletta and Roman did not intentionally consume some of the drugs found in their system.

“I’m going to say I do believe this was a poisoning,” Bailey told the Blade. “I think it is unfair to call some things an overdose because an overdose is when you do too much of a drug and you die from that drug,” he said. “This is like if you have a few glasses of wine every night and someone puts arsenic in your wine, no one would be like, ‘oh, they drank themselves to death.’ They were poisoned. And that’s what I think is happening here,” he said in referring to Barletta and Roman.

In announcing the new charges against Jevaughn Mark that link him to Barletta and Roman’s deaths, the U.S. Attorney’s press release discloses that he supplied fentanyl in the drugs he sold unknowingly to the undercover DEA and D.C. police officers when one of the officers, posing as a drug buyer, did not ask for fentanyl.

“In each instance, the DEA/MPD agents requested to buy ‘Special K’ or Ketamine from Jevaughn Mark,” the press release says. “In every instance, Jevaughn Mark supplied a mixture of fentanyl and other substances, including heroin, but not ketamine,” it says.

The release says that after the earlier indictment against Jevaughn Mark was issued, law enforcement agents conducted a search of his Southeast D.C. home and “recovered two firearms, cocaine, fentanyl, about $38,000 in cash, body armor vests, and drug trafficking paraphernalia.” It says on that same day authorities executed another search for a second residence linked to Jevaughn Mark, where they located a bedroom used by his brother Angelo Mark.

“From Angelo Mark’s bedroom, law enforcement recovered seven firearms, 900 rounds of ammunition, dozens of pills, cocaine, fentanyl, drug trafficking paraphernalia, and about $50,000 in cash,” the press release says, adding, “Based on the evidence, both brothers were indicted in the first superseding indictment.” 

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District of Columbia

D.C. police chief, officers marched in Pride parade in uniform

Capital Pride cautious about whether MPD violated ‘no uniform’ policy

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D.C. Police Chief Pamela Smith marches in the Capital Pride Parade on Saturday, June 8. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

(Editor’s note: This story was updated Friday morning with a new statement from Police Chief Pamela Smith sent to the Blade late Thursday evening.)

D.C. Police Chief Pamela Smith led a contingent of D.C. police officers, including members of the department’s LGBT Liaison Unit, in the June 8 Capital Pride Parade with the chief and all the officers in uniform in what appeared to be a violation of a Capital Pride policy of not allowing law enforcement officers to participate in the parade in uniform.

The Capital Pride Alliance, the group that organizes most D.C. Pride events, including the parade, posted a statement on its website in June of 2020 announcing that a policy it adopted in 2018 that does not allow uniformed police officers to march in the parade remained in effect. The group told the Washington Blade this week in a statement that the no uniform policy remained in place for this year’s Pride parade.

In her own statement released on the day of the parade Chief Smith appeared to take exception to the no uniform policy without saying so directly.

“I am proud to march in today’s Capital Pride Parade in full uniform to support our LGBTQ+ colleagues and to further our commitment to creating inclusive and supportive environments,” the chief said. “MPD will continue to support, and ensure security, at Pride events and different community focused events year-round,” she said.

The chief’s statement, which was sent to the news media in a press release, added, “Having been selected as the department’s first Chief Equity Officer, and now as the Chief of Police, I’m committed to celebrating diverse identities. I will always stand up for diversity, equity and inclusion for our members and our community.”

In response to an inquiry from the Blade asking for confirmation of whether the “no uniform” policy was still in effect for the 2024 Pride parade, Capital Pride Alliance responded with a statement. 

“The Capital Pride Alliance policy concerning MPD remains in place,” the statement says. “If the group officially registers for the march, they must participate out of official uniform,” it says. 

“This year, the police did not register and as such were not an official parade contingent,” the statement continues. “The police chief walked the route with on-duty police officers, and being on-duty, officers are required to be in uniform.”

The statement adds, “We continue to have conversations with MPD, including the Chief of Police, about how we build a collaborative relationship with our community.”

D.C. police didn’t immediately respond to a Blade request for comment by Chief Smith or a spokesperson on the claim by Capital Pride officials that the police were not in an official contingent in this year’s parade.

But late Thursday evening on June 13, the day after the Blade reached out to the police for comment, police spokesperson Paris Lewbel sent a statement from Chief Smith expressing concern over the no uniform policy.

“I was not provided a policy from Capital Pride that informed me of the Metropolitan Police Department’s ban on marching in the Capital Pride parade in uniform,” the chief says. “As Chief of Police and the Department’s first Chief Equity Officer, I will always remain focused on ensuring that we, MPD, are inclusive of all members, partners, and stakeholders,” her statement says. 

“Now that I have been ‘told’ that there is a ban on the MPD from marching in the Capital Pride parade, in uniform, I believe there needs to be more conversations around inclusivity and equality,” the statement continues. “We have MPD members who are allies as well as members of the LGBTQ community who support Capital Pride and safeguard the participants and attendees of the parade,” the chief said. “We need to break down the silos that are excluding others and find a way to be more inclusive.”

The statement concludes by saying, “I am willing to work with Capital Pride to discuss ways where we (MPD) can be engaged in Capital Pride as participants in the parade, in uniform, as opposed to being excluded.”

Capital Pride officials did not respond to the Blade’s additional request this week for an explanation of why the no uniform policy was adopted and whether the policy is still needed.

In earlier statements posted on its website in past years, Capital Pride officials cited the Black Lives Matter movement and the police killing of Black Minneapolis resident George Floyd that triggered anti-police protests across the country as an issue that made some in the LGBTQ community and others participating in the Pride parade uncomfortable in the presence of uniformed police officers.

“Pride this year comes on the heels of a global pandemic and a nation confronting the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers,” the group said in a June 3, 2020, statement. The Floyd case and the 2020 police shooting deaths of a Black woman in Louisville, Ky., and a Black transgender man in Tallahassee, Fla. “have created a nationwide uprising crying out for racial justice and the protection of Black life,” the statement said.

“As members of the Black and Brown communities have stood with the LGBTQ+ community, the Capital Pride Alliance stands in complete solidarity to unite against these disparities that impact communities of color,” the 2020 statement said. “We pledge that we will work together to find solutions and make positive changes that are so desperately needed to end inequity, injustice, and violence against people of color.”

Activists have acknowledged that the LGBTQ community nationwide has been divided over decisions to ban uniformed police participation in Pride parades in cities across the country, including New York and San Francisco.

A June 2019 nationwide poll of 801 LGBTQ people in the U.S. conducted by the polling firm Whitman Insight Strategies and BuzzFeed News found that 79 percent of LGBTQ adults said, “police should be welcome to join pride events,” with just 8 percent expressing opposition to police presence, according to BuzzFeed.

“People of color, who made up 21 percent of all survey respondents, support cops in pride events by 77 percent to 8 percent (15 percent say it makes no difference either way),” BuzzFeed reported in a June 24, 2019, article.

Earl Fowlkes, the founder and former CEO of the D.C.-based Center For Black Equity, which organizes D.C.’s annual Black Pride events, told the Blade that Black Pride has not adopted a policy of restricting uniformed police officers from participating in any of its events.

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District of Columbia

Cherry Fund files lawsuit  against Republiq Hall

LGBTQ nonprofit says breach of contract led to $137,000 in lost revenue

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Cherry Fund claims Republiq Hall canceled a contract for one of its popular events. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Cherry Fund, the D.C.-based nonprofit organization that has raised money for HIV/AIDS, mental health, and LGBTQ organizations for the past 27 years, filed a lawsuit in D.C. Superior Court on May 31 charging Republiq Hall, a large entertainment venue in Northeast D.C, with abruptly and improperly cancelling Cherry Fund’s reservation to rent the hall for an April 6 event expected to draw 2,000 paid guests.

The event was to be one of several circuit dance parties that Cherry Fund produces as part of its annual Cherry weekend in April, which has raised several million dollars for LGBTQ related organizations since the Cherry weekend  events began in 1996.  

The lawsuit, which charges Republiq Hall with breach of contract, says the contract signed by the two parties in January called for Cherry Fund to pay Republiq Hall an initial deposit of $3,500 on Jan. 10, 2024, to be applied to a nonrefundable rental fee totaling $7,000 for the one-time use of the space on April 6.

Republiq Hall is located in a large former warehouse building at 2122 24th Place, N.E., near the intersection of Bladensburg Road and New York Avenue. 

According to the lawsuit, under the contract, Cherry Fund “was responsible for promoting the event, booking talent, and managing ticket sales,” with Cherry Fund to “retain all door fee revenues and a percentage of the net bar sales.”

The lawsuit states, “On February 28, after Plaintiff had already begun promoting the event and booking talent, the Defendant unilaterally and without just cause demanded an additional $9,000 from the Plaintiff. When the Plaintiff refused to pay the additional amount, the Defendant cancelled the reservation.”

 As a result of Republiq Hall’s action, the lawsuit states, Cherry Fund was “forced to book an alternative venue with significantly less capacity, resulting in substantial financial losses.” 

It says as a direct result of the alleged breach of contract, Cherry Fund “suffered financial damages in the amount of $130,000 in lost door fees and $7,000 in a lost percentage of the net bar sales that were estimated to be collected on the date of the event.”

A spokesperson for Republiq Hall did not respond to a phone message from the Washington Blade requesting a comment and a response to the lawsuit’s allegations.

Court records show that Superior Court Judge Juliet J. McKenna, who is presiding over the case, scheduled an initial hearing for the case on Sept. 6. McKenna issued an order providing guidance for how a civil litigation case should proceed that includes a requirement that Republiq Hall must file a response to the lawsuit within 21 days of being officially served a copy of the lawsuit complaint.

Sean Morris, the Cherry Fund president, issued a statement expressing disappointment over the developments leading to the lawsuit.

“Our organization, powered by volunteer efforts, relies on our annual event to fundraise for local non-profits,” he said. “This abrupt and unforeseen demand, and subsequent cancellation, has severely affected our ability to support vital community programs focused on HIV/AIDS, mental health, and LGBTQ+ advocacy,” Morris says in his statement.

The lawsuit concludes by stating, “The Plaintiff, the Cherry Fund, respectfully requests the following relief: Direct compensatory damages for the lost benefits it was entitled to under the terms of the contract; Restitution for the benefits retained by the Defendant in unjust enrichment; Reasonable attorney fees and costs of this action; and Any other relief this court deems just and proper.”

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