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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

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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