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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. White, who also attended the forum, reiterated his longstanding, strong support for LGBTQ issues. 

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

D.C. Council budget bill includes $8.5 million in LGBTQ provisions

Measure also changes Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs

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Mayor Muriel Bowser’s budget proposal calls for $5.25 million in funding for World Pride 2025. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The D.C. Council on June 12 gave final approval for a $21 billion fiscal year 2025 budget for the District of Columbia that includes more than $8.5 million in funding for LGBTQ-related programs, including $5.25 million in support of the June 2025 World Pride celebration that D.C. will be hosting.

Also included in the budget is $1.7 million in funds for the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs, which includes an increase of $132,000 over the office’s funding for the current fiscal year, and a one-time funding of $1 million for the completion of the renovation of the D.C. Center for the LGBTQ Community’s new building in the city’s Shaw neighborhood.

The D.C. LGBTQ+ Budget Coalition earlier this year asked both the D.C. Council and Mayor Muriel Bowser to approve $1.5 million for the D.C. Center’s building renovation and an additional $300,000 in “recurring” funding for the LGBTQ Center in subsequent years “to support ongoing operational costs and programmatic initiatives.” In its final budget measure, the Council approved $1 million for the renovation work and did not approve the proposed $600,000 in annual operational funding for the center.

The mayor’s budget proposal, which called for the $5.25 million in funding for World Pride 2025, did not include funding for the D.C. LGBTQ Center or for several other funding requests by the LGBTQ+ Budget Coalition.

At the request of D.C. Council member Zachary Parker (D-Ward 5), the Council’s only gay member, the Council approved at least two other funding requests by the LGBTQ+ Budget Coalition in addition to the funding for the LGBTQ Center. One is $595,000 for 20 additional dedicated housing vouchers for LGBTQ residents who face housing insecurity or homelessness. The LGBTQ housing vouchers are administered by the Office of LGBTQ Affairs.

The other funding allocation pushed by Parker is $250,000 in funds to support a Black LGBTQ+ History Commission and Black LGBTQIA+ history program that Parker proposed that will also be administered by the LGBTQ Affairs office.

Also at Parker’s request, the Council included in its budget bill a proposal by Parker to change the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs to become a “stand-alone entity” outside the Executive Office of the Mayor. Parker told the Washington Blade this change would “allow for greater transparency and accountability that reflects its evolution over the years.”

He said the change would also give the person serving as the office’s director, who is currently LGBTQ rights advocate Japer Bowles, “greater flexibility to advocate for the interest of LGBTQ residents” and give the Council greater oversight of the office. Parker noted that other community constituent offices under the mayor’s office, including the Office of Latino Affairs and the Office of Veterans Affairs, are stand-alone offices.

The budget bill includes another LGBTQ funding provision introduced by D.C. Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) that allocates $100,000 in grants to support LGBTQ supportive businesses in Ward 6 that would be awarded and administered by the Office of LGBTQ Affairs. Allen spokesperson Eric Salmi said Allen had in mind two potential businesses on 8th Street, S.E. in the Barracks Row section of Capitol Hill as potential applicants for the grants.

One is the LGBTQ café and bar As You Are, which had to close temporarily earlier this year due to structural problems in the building it rents. The other potential applicant, Salmi said, is Little District Books, D.C.’s only LGBTQ bookstore that’s located on 8th Street across the street from the U.S. Marine Barracks.

“It’s kind of recognizing Barrack’s Row has a long history of creating spaces that are intended for and safe for the LGBTQ community and wanting to continue that history,” Salmi said  “So, that was his kind of intent behind the language in that funding.”

The mayor’s budget proposal also called for continuing an annual funding of $600,000 to provide workforce development services for transgender and gender non-conforming city residents experiencing homelessness and housing instability.

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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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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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