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D.C. marches for voting rights, statehood joined by LGBTQ activists

“We have reached what may well be our last chance to rescue this nation from racist minority rule- We know the future that we want […]”

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Thousands turned out on Aug. 28 for two separate marches in support of voting rights & D.C. statehood. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON – LGBTQ activists were among the thousands who turned out in the nation’s capital on Aug. 28 for two separate marches and several rallies in support of voting rights and D.C. statehood.

Organizers of the two marches and rallies, which took place at the Lincoln Memorial and the National Mall among other places, timed the events to coincide with the 58th anniversary of the historic 1968 March on Washington organized by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“D.C.’s LGBTQIA activists and leaders were seen everywhere Saturday during the March for Voting Rights, handing out statehood signs, canvassing march participants to sign a Statehood petition, and marching to the Mall,” said lesbian activist Barbara Helmick, who serves as a program director for the D.C. statehood advocacy group D.C. Vote.

“D.C. for Democracy’s Kesh Ludduwahetty, D.C. Vote’s volunteer Dennis Jaffe, Capital Stonewall Democrats’ Jatarious Frazier are just a few of the queer activists who organized turnout and worked to make sure that the fight for the freedom includes the 700,000 D.C. residents,” Helmick said.

Helmick was referring to efforts by organizers of the Aug. 28 events to urge Congress to pass a D.C. statehood bill that the House of Representative passed earlier this year, but that is stalled in the Senate.

LGBTQ activists have joined D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, who spoke at two of the march rallies on Aug. 28, and D.C. Congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), who point out that D.C.’s 700,000 plus residents do not have voting representatives in the U.S. Congress unlike residents of the 50 states.

Also stalled in the Senate are two voting rights bills passed by the House this year that supporters say are aimed at countering as many as 30 laws approved by Republican-controlled legislatures in at least a dozen states that restrict voting by making it harder for minorities to turn out to the polls.

One of the bills, the John Lewis Voting Rights Amendment Act, is named after the late civil rights leader and U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.). 

“After almost 60 years after John Lewis almost died on the Edmund Pettis Bridge for voting rights, we’re here one more time fighting for voting rights” said Randi Weingarten, the out lesbian president of the American Federation of Teachers, in remarks on the National Mall at the rally for the March On For Washington and Voting Rights.

Weingarten was referring to the Sunday protest march in the early 1960s that Lewis organized in Georgia for voting rights in which he and other marchers were beaten by Georgia State Troopers as he led the march across the Edmund Pettis Bridge in an incident that became known as Bloody Sunday.

At the same Aug. 28 rally on the National Mall this past Saturday, U.S. Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.), who this year became the nation’s first openly gay African-American member of Congress, gave an impassioned speech calling on his fellow Democrats, including President Joe Biden, to push for an end to the Senate filibuster, which Jones said will otherwise be used to kill the voting rights bills.

“We have reached what may well be our last chance to rescue this nation from racist minority rule,” Jones told those attending the rally. “This nation and this world can ill afford to allow white supremacists, misogynists, homophobes and those who deny the effectiveness of vaccines and don’t even want to certify presidential elections to take back control of the United States government,” he said to loud cheers.

“Now there are some who suggest that we do nothing—that we accept the status quo that has led us to this moment of crisis,” Jones continued. “But those of us here today understand that in the Senate and the White House we must act. Yes—the White House,” he said.

“Catch that? The White House, because during the civil rights movement, we had a president of the United States who didn’t just throw up their hands and say, ‘Alright, that’s the Senate’s responsibility to pass voting rights legislation.’”

Jones added, “We need the White House to get involved to end this Jim Crow filibuster…And I’m here to tell you that’s why we’re here today – to demand that President Biden calls on the Senate to abolish the filibuster and pass the For the People [voting rights] Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.”

Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.) speaks at the March On for Voting Rights. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Following is a transcript of most of Rep. Jones’ speech at the March On For Washington and Voting Rights rally on Aug. 28:

“We have reached what may well be our last chance to rescue this nation from racist minority rule. This nation and this world can ill afford to allow white supremacists, misogynists, homophobes and those who deny the effectiveness of vaccines and don’t even want to certify presidential elections to take back control of the United States government.

“Now there are some who suggest that we do nothing: that we accept the status quo that has led us to this moment of crisis. But those of us here today understand that in the Senate and the White House, we must act. Yes: The White House . . . Catch that? The White House, because during the civil rights movement, we had a President of the United States who didn’t just throw up their hands and say, ‘Alright, that’s the Senate’s responsibility to pass voting rights legislation.’

“We need the White House to get involved to end this Jim Crow filibuster. [Applause]

“If we fail to act in this moment, we are on a path by which democracy dies in darkness.” 

“Allow me to paint a picture of that dark future for you, if you will.

“Thanks to partisan Gerrymandering, first the party of Donald Trump will take back control of the House next year, even as Democrats continue to win more votes nationwide.

[Member of the audience yells “Hell no!”]

“Hell no, indeed. Let us make sure that doesn’t happen.

“The party of Donald Trump will also take back the United States Senate with voter suppression in states like Georgia. We gotta make sure that Raphael Warnock comes back to the United States Senate. [Applause]

“The party of Donald Trump under the status quo will win back the presidency in the year 2024 whether because of voter suppression, the anti-democratic Electoral College or because red states have had success in overturning the results of free and fair elections.

“The Supreme Court, which is already under radical right-wing control, will do nothing to stop any of this. The GOP’s two stolen seats will ensure that happens.

“We will all feel the consequences of far-right minority rule. Power will continue to concentrate in the hands of a few. Corporations will continue to deny science and pillage our planet as we will hurtle full speed towards final catastrophe.

“Wealth inequality will widen while the tax bills of the super-rich continue to shrink. They will spend billions to send themselves into space while people on earth starve.

“The cost of housing, healthcare, education will grow even further out of reach for everyday Americans. Civil rights and civil liberties will continue to erode, and our government will have learned nothing from the murder of George Floyd last year.

[Audience: “Shame! Shame!]

“Shame, indeed. Shame . . . shame.

“The next pandemic under the status quo of voter suppression, where people who believe in science are denied the opportunity to serve in government, will rage uncontrolled: causing massive, preventable suffering. And our government, the federal government, captured by powerful special interests and insulated from the will of the American people: the will of all of you, will remain indifferent to that suffering.

“My friends, that road is dark. I don’t want to go down that road. I know that none of you want to go down that road. Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be this way, does it? We are not powerless to stop it. We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to achieve a long-held promise of a permanent, multi-racial democracy. A democracy where your vote, and everyone’s vote, matters because we’ve ended the scourge of partisan gerrymandering. Where you never have to worry about whether yourself or your friends and family are registered to vote because they are registered automatically. Where you don’t need to justify exercising your right to vote by mail. Amen?

“Where teachers and bartenders who aspire to run for office can mount competitive campaigns even if they don’t come from money or from a political family. Where candidates for office make their cases to, We the People where they deserve our support rather than being anointed by billionaires and corporations. Where elections are won by uplifting voters rather than suppressing their votes.

“That is a democracy where the American people are in charge, not a select powerful few. Where every voice and every vote matters. It is a promise that is every bit as worth fighting for as it was when heroes like Dr. King, Byard Rustin, Marsha P. Johnson and John Lewis and so many others fought for our right to vote and for dignity. And in several instances took to these steps in the year 1963. And it is an opportunity that we have never been closer to grasping.

“The senate, as you know, could bring about this vision tomorrow, couldn’t it? But a small handful of senators are standing in our way. These senators cling to the dangerous delusion that ten Republican senators of good conscience are somehow going to join in the fight for democracy when we couldn’t even get a Republican to vote for the John Lewis Voting Rights Act a few days ago.

“Even as we fall further into crisis, these senators have found comfort in a White House that has failed to call for an end to the Jim Crow filibuster. So, I’m here to tell you that power concedes nothing without a demand. And I’m here to tell you that’s why we’re here today: to demand that President Biden calls on the Senate to abolish the filibuster and pass the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.

“We know the future that we want for ourselves, for our families, for our country. And we aren’t going to wait until that future is won.

“Thank you so much.”

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District of Columbia

D.C.’s Duke Ellington arts school theater not renamed after Chappelle

The renaming was postponed after anti-transgender jokes in Chappelle’s Netflix special “The Closer” sparked controversy

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The Duke Ellington School for the Arts in Washington D.C. (Photo Credit: The Duke Ellington School for the Arts )

WASHINGTON – The Duke Ellington School for the Arts on Monday officially renamed its theater, but not after Dave Chappelle, the school’s most famous alumni, as had been expected.

The renaming was initially scheduled for Nov. 23, 2021, it was postponed after anti-transgender jokes in Chappelle’s Netflix special “The Closer” sparked controversy. Chappelle himself eventually helped choose a different name for the theater, saying that he did not want students to feel upset with his name being on it, since “the idea that my name will be turned into an instrument of someone else’s perceived oppression is untenable to me.”

The theater is now called the Theater for Artistic Freedom and Expression, and in an interview with NBC4, Chappelle said that he chose to highlight artistic freedom because “that’s what I would want for myself, and that’s what I want for every student that goes to this school.”

“And I do feel like if that’s threatened, then the society at large is threatened,” Chappelle said. “If artists feel stifled, then everyone’s stifled. And I feel like artists have a responsibility to really be true to their art right now.”

Dave Chappelle (Photo by Mathieu Bitton)

Chappelle has previously included anti-trans jokes in his comedic repertoire.

He has previously made jokes about former President Trump’s decision to ban trans service members from the military and the possibility of Caitlyn Jenner posing nude on the cover of Sports Illustrated. However, in a one-on-one interview with the Washington Blade in August 2017, Chappelle denied being transphobic. 

“I wouldn’t consider myself that because I’m not even sure what the term means,” Chappelle said. “I’m not an obstructionist of anybody’s lifestyle, as long as it doesn’t hurt me or people I love and I don’t believe that lifestyle does.” 

Chappelle also called North Carolina’s House Bill 2, which prohibited trans people from using public restrooms consistent with their gender identity as “fucking absurd” and “clearly a mean-spirited law” designed to deny trans people their basic humanity. 

While Chappelle has at times defended the LGBTQ community and has denied being transphobic, trans activists and students at the Ellington School alike have expressed discomfort with his apparent lack of understanding and empathy about the ways his jokes harm trans people. 

“I appreciate a good joke as much as anyone. But when jokes lead to dehumanization, violence and death aimed at trans people, that’s when a line has been crossed and it has to be called out,” the late-Monica Roberts, a trans activist of color from Houston, said in response to Chappelle’s comments to the Blade.

In light of this controversy, which has only gained more airtime since “The Closer” premiered in 2021, Chappelle chose to take the focus off of himself by supporting an alternate name for the Ellington School’s theater. Currently, students at Duke Ellington — many of whom are LGBTQ — have access to “listening sessions” planned by the administration in which they can air their thoughts about the theater’s renaming.

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District of Columbia

Vice-President Kamala Harris addresses Capital Pride in D.C.

“We should not have to be dealing with 300 laws in states around our country that are attacking our LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters”

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Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at the 2022 Capital Pride Festival. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON – In a surprise appearance, Vice President Kamala Harris spoke from the main stage of D.C.’s Capital Pride Festival late Sunday afternoon before a crowd of as many as a thousand people who had been watching the Capital Pride concert that had been taking place prior to Harris’ unannounced appearance.

To the delight of the crowd, Ryan Bos, executive director of the Capital Pride Alliance, the group that organizes D.C. Pride events, introduced Harris and her husband, second gentleman Doug Emhoff, on the stage, drawing thunderous applause.

“Happy Pride everyone!” Harris told the crowd. “Oh, what a glorious day. Listen, we have so much to celebrate, and we celebrate each other every day,” she said.

“We celebrate the progress we have made,” she continued. “And we celebrate the fact that we are in this to stand for what we stand for and fight for what we stand for,” she said.

Also making an unannounced appearance on the festival stage about an hour before Harris’ appearance was D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, who expressed her strong support for LGBTQ Pride.

Harris’ appearance at the Capital Pride Festival on Sunday came exactly one year after she and Emhoff joined hundreds of LGBTQ participants in D.C.’s Capital Pride Walk as it reached 13th Street, N.W., near Freedom Plaza, becoming the first U.S. vice president to participate in an LGBTQ Pride event. 

Her unannounced appearance in last year’s Pride Walk came as a surprise to the Capital Pride organizers as well as to the delighted onlookers who saw Harris and her husband join the walk, which was an abridged version of the Capital Pride Parade that had been cancelled in 2021 as it had in 2020 due to the pandemic.

In her short speech on Sunday, Harris referred to the Pulse nightclub shooting exactly six years ago in Orlando, Fla., which took the lives of 49 mostly LGBTQ people, saying, “no one should fear going to a nightclub for fear that a terrorist might try to take them down.”

She also referred to the nearly 300 anti-LGBTQ laws under consideration or that have passed in states around the country.

“We will always be fueled by knowing we have so much more in common than what separates us,” she told the cheering crowd. “We will be fueled by saying no one will be made to fight alone. We will be fueled by knowing we are all in this together,” she said. “And we will fight with pride. Happy Pride everyone!”

Observers familiar with D.C.’s Capital Pride Festival, which was held this year for the first time since 2019 due to pandemic restrictions, said it appeared to have attracted one of the largest turnouts ever, with several hundred thousand people in attendance throughout the day. Like past years, the festival took place on a four-block section of Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., between Third and Seventh Streets. 

More than 270 organizations or businesses registered to set up a booth at the festival, according to a list released by Capital Pride Alliance. Many of the organizations and businesses participating in the festival had also marched or road in vehicles or on floats in the Capital Pride Parade one day earlier.

Bos said there were about 245 contingents in the parade on Saturday, about the same number that participated in the 2019 Capital Pride Parade, the last one held since this year. But those familiar with the 2019 parade and those held in earlier years said they believed this year’s parade attracted more spectators than in past years, most likely because LGBTQ people, like so many others, wanted to join the celebration after the two-year hiatus brought about by COVID.

Vice President Kamala Harris addresses the crowd at the 2022 Capital Pride Festival.
(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Full text of Harris’s remarks:

“Happy Pride everyone! Oh, what a glorious day. Listen, we have so much to celebrate, and we celebrate each other every day. We celebrate the progress we have made. And we celebrate the fact that we are in this to stand for what we stand for and fight for what we stand for.

Because no one should fear going to a nightclub for fear that a terrorist might try to take them down. No one should fear going to a Pride celebration because of a white supremacist. No one should fear loving who they love. Our children in Texas and Florida should not fear who they are. Black and brown and women of color, transgender women cannot fear for their lives.

We should not have to be dealing with 300 laws in states around our country that are attacking our LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters. For we know what we stand for and therefore we know what we will fight for. And we will do what we have always done in this movement, in this community, which is collectively, we will continue to build unity. We will continue to build coalitions.

We will always be fueled by knowing we have so much more in common than what separates us. We will be fueled by saying no one will be made to fight alone. We will be fueled by knowing we are all in this together. And we will fight with pride. Happy Pride everyone.”

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Six years after Pulse shooting, calls for change grow around the nation

Thousands gathered on the National Mall as March For Our Lives held a rally calling for solutions to escalating gun violence

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March For Our Lives held a rally calling for solutions to escalating gun violence Saturday (Photo by Josh Alburtus/The Washington Blade)

WASHINGTON – On the night of June 12, 2016, 49 people were killed and 53 were injured in a mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. The shooting has since remained one of the deadliest mass shootings in United States history.

Six years later, efforts to curb gun violence in America and halt the country’s epidemic of mass shootings have reignited in the wake of more recent mass shootings.

Just before noon on Saturday, June 11, thousands of people carrying signs and clad in anti-gun-violence clothing flooded the north lawn of the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C. across from the White House. 

March for Our Lives Rally attendees walk along 15th Street NW, Washington D.C. on June 11, 2022
(Photo by Josh Alburtus/The Washington Blade)

One of those in the crowd was Jessica Mahoney, a young activist with ties to a national past littered with gun violence.

“My close family is from Sandy Hook and, as the sign references, I used this sign four years ago,” Mahoney said. “This has been a very personal issue for me since 2012 when I had to spend over an hour wondering if my cousins were alive or not. I just feel like it’s so important that people are out here that haven’t been personally touched by the issue because I just think that shows that there’s a real movement behind what’s going on.”

Mahoney and her fellow protesters in the crowd were some of the hundreds of thousands more protestors who marched in different cities across the country on that day calling on state and federal lawmakers to pass legislation reforming the nation’s gun laws.

The marches, organized in large part by the youth-led gun violence prevention organization March for Our Lives, were triggered by a sustained national outcry for action following the latest mass shootings at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas and a Tops Friendly Market in Buffalo, New York, both in late May. The organization held similar nationwide rallies in 2018 following the Parkland school shooting that led to the group’s inception.

Mahoney described her feelings about having to return to another rally four years later in an effort to address the same issue.

“It’s frustrating and a bit maddening at times to be honest that we still have to do this,” Mahoney said. “But it just seems like there’s more energy every time and so I think that I’m also hopeful about it.”

Anti-gun violence protestors (Photo by Josh Alburtus/The Washington Blade)

The issue has been one plaguing Americans in various settings and from various walks of life and has affected those across a spectrum of identities, including the LGBTQ community.

Marking the six-year anniversary of the Pulse shooting in Orlando, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) released a statement the day before the March for Our Lives rally.

“Gun violence remains an LGBTQ+ issue, with three-fourths of homicides against transgender people – including nearly eight in ten homicides of Black trans women – involving a gun,” HRC Interim President Joni Madison said in the statement. “Compounding this tragedy is the fact that in the six years since Pulse, we have been unable to advance meaningful federal gun reform legislation.”

But in an effort to prevent future mass killings like those in Parkland, Uvalde, Buffalo, and Orlando, prominent activists have since brought a spotlight to the issue of gun violence in America. Many such activists descended on the grounds of the Washington Monument in the nation’s capital on Saturday to speak to those gathered and amplify their message.

David Hogg, a survivor of the mass shooting on February 14, 2018 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida and a founder and board member of March for Our Lives, spoke to the crowd.

“We need to stop these shooters before they get on campus and stop endangering the lives of our first responders, our students, our teachers because people on Capitol Hill don’t want to do their job and protect us,” Hogg said.

March For Our Lives Co-Founder David Hogg speaking to the crowd.
(Photo by Josh Alburtus/The Washington Blade)

Alongside Hogg were a number of other activists and politicians who shared the goal of reducing gun violence in America, including Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and Missouri Congresswoman Cori Bush, D-MO 1st District.

Bush described her own proximity to gun violence in calling for action, sharing with the crowd her past escape from such as she ran from an abusive partner who kept firearms in their home.

“When I turned back for a moment, because, ‘Why isn’t he chasing me?’” Bush said. “I turned back, and I saw him standing still, ‘Why is he standing still?’ Next thing I knew, I heard shots.”

Bush believed the near-death experience to be “completely preventable.”

“Closing the boyfriend loophole could’ve saved me from a near-lethal encounter with gun violence,” Bush said. “A red flag law could’ve saved me from a nearly lethal encounter with gun violence.”

Hogg and others took aim at counterarguments from pro-gun entities that have advocated for mental health support rather than gun reform to solve the problem.

“We also must address the fact that mental health does have a role to play in stopping gun violence, but that racism is not a mental illness,” Hogg said. “Hatred, racism, radicalization, xenophobia are not mental illnesses.”

But even at an event meant to highlight what gatherers felt was a need to curb the nation’s scourge of gun violence, the specter of fear and violence remained ubiquitous.

During a moment of silence for the victims of America’s gun violence, a man toward the front of the crowd began to shout and attempted to breach the event’s main stage. A source close to the stage told the Blade that the man threw a megaphone into the crowd while shouting, “I am God.”

Those assembled feared the worst. Due to the size of the crowd that had assembled, rallygoers across the lawn perceived the disturbance to be an active gun threat. Hundreds dropped flat to the ground while others ran from the stage in an attempt to escape the potential violence.

U.S. Park Police Officers (Photo by Josh Alburtus/The Washington Blade)

After organizers and police were able to apprehend the disruptor, rally organizers attempted to reconvene the frightened crowd and push forward.

“Do not run, freeze, do not run,” an organizer said over the sounds of emerging police sirens. “There is no issue here, do not run.”

But the moment of fear clung to many who were present.

Rallygoer Kirsten Hiera witnessed the moment of mass confusion but was unable to flee the scene despite her own fear.

“I was scared but I didn’t want to run away because I’m with someone who’s elderly and I didn’t want to have her be abandoned,” Hiera said. “I felt scared and confused but I didn’t want to abandon my friend.”

As those gathered began to tepidly rise and return to the stage, the organizer proceeded to draw attention back to the focus of the rally, leading a chant exclaiming peace to be a lifestyle.

(Photo by Josh Alburtus/The Washington Blade)

Exiting the stage toward the end of the rally after the crowd had reconvened, the organizer left them with advice that touched to the core of the movement’s mission – one that, in the wake of tens of thousands of gun deaths in shootings like Orlando, organizers like Hogg have described as not pro-gun or anti-gun, but pro-peace.

“The other thing that I want to say is let’s not give into the hate,” she said. “Let’s not give into the hate. There’s more people who are about love than there is that is about hate.”

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