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Lawsuit alleges illegal firing of Trans building maintenance tech in D.C.

“Termination was unjustified and was an act of unlawful discrimination over race, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity”

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D.C. Court of Appeals (Los Angeles Blade file photo)

WASHINGTON – The D.C. Court of Appeals is currently deliberating over whether a 51-year-old Transgender man who was fired in June 2019 from his job as a building maintenance technician at three buildings where the D.C. Superior Court and D.C. Court of Appeals are located has legal grounds to contest the firing, which he says was based on his gender identity.

In a little-noticed development, D.C. resident Dion Carter in June 2020 filed a lawsuit in D.C. Superior Court naming the D.C. government as the main defendant in the case on grounds that it plays a role in the funding of the D.C. Courts system and was responsible in part for more than eight years of discrimination and abusive treatment to which Carter was subjected on the job.

At the request of the Office of the D.C. Attorney General, which is representing the DC Court system in the lawsuit, a D.C. Superior Court judge on Jan. 29, 2021, dismissed the lawsuit on procedural grounds without addressing any of Carter’s allegations of discrimination.

Superior Court Judge William M. Jackson stated in a three-page ruling that the D.C. Attorney General’s Office correctly stated in a motion seeking the dismissal of the case that Carter’s lawsuit failed to plead a viable cause of action on two grounds.

D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine, a longtime supporter of LGBTQ rights. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

One of the grounds, the AG’s office stated, is that the D.C. Courts’ Comprehensive Personnel Policy does not provide a remedy for employment discrimination allegations. Jackson cited the second ground for dismissal proposed by the AG’s office was that the D.C. Courts’ same personnel policy does not provide a private right of action for employees to seek monetary damages in a lawsuit related to discrimination.

In its brief calling for dismissal, the D.C. AG’s office also pointed out that Carter’s lawsuit was invalid because under court rules pertaining to the D.C. Courts’ personnel system, an internal administrative complaint alleging employment discrimination must be filed and carried out to completion before a lawsuit could be filed in court.

In a brief in support of Carter’s lawsuit, Carter’s attorney, Stephen Pershing, strongly disputes the AG office’s assertions, saying at least one Court of Appeals ruling indicated the D.C. Courts’ personnel policies legally “mirror” the provisions of the D.C. Human Rights Act, which, among other things, prohibits discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.  

Pershing also argued in his court briefs that Carter did file an internal administrative complaint to contest his firing. But he stated that a high-level D.C. Courts’ official advised Carter that under the court system’s personnel rules, a ruling in Carter’s favor could not result in monetary compensation for lost wages or other legal remedies that Carter called for in his complaint. The official advised Carter and Pershing to file the discrimination case in a lawsuit in court, the lawsuit says. This prompted Carter to withdraw his administrative complaint, a development that Pershing now says was based on false and misleading information provided by the D.C. Court’s official.

In February 2021, Pershing appealed the dismissal of the case before the D.C. Court of Appeals, requesting that the dismissal be reversed and the case be sent back to D.C. Superior Court, where the specific merits of the case could be argued and presented before a jury.

Since the filing of the appeal, Pershing and attorneys with the Office of the D.C. Attorney General have filed briefs under consideration by the Court of Appeals supporting and opposing the contention that the D.C. Courts’ personnel rules allow a remedy for Carter’s discrimination claims.

Like the original lawsuit filed in Superior Court, Carter’s appeal briefs filed by Pershing state that the alleged discrimination against Carter started shortly after Carter first began working in the court system’s building maintenance department in January 2010 as an out lesbian prior to his transition as a male.

At that time Carter already had 15 years of experience in the field of building maintenance technology and became the first woman to hold such as position at the D.C. Courts, the lawsuit says.

According to the lawsuit, the abusive and discriminatory treatment toward Carter increased dramatically in 2015 when Carter informed his then-supervisor Emanuel Allen that he would be taking a short period of leave to undergo gender reassignment surgery. Upon his return to work after the first of five gender reassignment surgical procedures that he has now completed, Carter presented for the first time at work as a male, the lawsuit says.

“For the six months between Carter’s Family Medical Leave Act notice and his surgery, Mr. Allen cut Mr. Carter out of all overtime duty, overtime that was mandatory for all building maintenance workers and that they considered desirable,” the lawsuit says. It says that when Carter asked why Allen did this Allen refused to provide an answer and threatened to issue a poor work performance evaluation against Carter if he continued to question the overtime denial decision.

When Carter returned from his surgery and presented as male, the lawsuit charges, Allen repeatedly referred to Carter as “he-she” in the presence of fellow employees as well as high-level officials involved in the operation of the court system buildings. Carter viewed his treatment by Allen as a form of bullying and disrespect, the lawsuit states.

Over the next three years, according to the lawsuit, Carter was subjected to a hostile work environment by supervisors who, among other things, made false claims that Carter was not doing his job properly, was absent from work without permission, and was acting “aggressively” toward his supervisors or fellow employees. One supervisor blamed Carter’s alleged hostile behavior on the testosterone treatment that Carter was undergoing as a routine part of his gender transition process, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit alleges that Carter was ultimately fired “on a false pretext” allegedly fabricated by James Vaughn, the Chief Building Engineer and Acting Building Operations Manager of the D.C. Courts. The lawsuit and appeals court briefs say Vaughn accused Carter of consuming an alcoholic beverage at one of the court buildings where Carter was assigned to work on April 6, 2019.

Vaughn recommended to the court system’s acting director of capital projects and facilities management that Carter be terminated from his job on grounds of violating Personnel Policy No. 800, which prohibits consuming illegal drugs or alcohol on court property while on duty.

“That allegation is factually untrue,” the lawsuit states. “Mr. Carter neither consumed nor was under the influence of alcohol while on site,” it says.

“Mr. Carter’s termination was unjustified on any legitimate ground and was an act of unlawful discrimination on account of Mr. Carter’s race, sex, sexual orientation and/or gender identity and expression, and in retaliation for his complaining to his superiors about his illicit mistreatment on these grounds,” the lawsuit and the current appeals court briefs charge.

“These acts and omissions caused Mr. Carter loss of employment, loss of pay and other benefits of employment, as well as anguish, intense hurt, humiliation, anger, sense of loss, disappointment, and emotional conflict between his desire for professional excellence and the torment inflicted on him merely for showing up every day, working, and working well, as an African American, as a lesbian, and as a Transgender male,” the lawsuit says. 

“The acts of one or more of Mr. Carter’s superiors alleged in this complaint were motivated by actual malice and/or evil intent and were done with the intention to cause Mr. Carter pain, humiliation, anguish and torment, and as such warrant the imposition of punitive damages,” the lawsuit concludes.

Dion Carter (Photo courtesy of India Rogers)

A spokesperson for the Office of the D.C. Attorney General said the office is preparing a statement in response to an inquiry from the Blade on Carter’s discrimination allegations. (We will update this story when we receive the statement.) Among the names appearing on the AG office’s court briefs in the Carter lawsuit is D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine, who has expressed strong support for LGBTQ rights in the past.

Douglas Buchanan, a spokesperson for the D.C. Courts, said he would try to determine whether the court system’s building maintenance department would respond to a Blade request for comment on the Carter lawsuit and its allegations that high-level court officials in the maintenance department engaged in anti-transgender discrimination.

Pershing said he plans to file a separate lawsuit on Carter’s behalf in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia claiming the discrimination Carter faced violated his constitutional rights. He said he is hopeful that the D.C. Court of Appeals will rule in Carter’s favor, but a backlog in cases will likely mean a ruling would not take place before June of this year.

Under federal court rules, Carter must file his federal discrimination lawsuit in the U.S. District Court within three years from the time he was fired from his job in June of 2019.

Congress created the D.C. court system as a federal entity in 1970 at the time it created D.C.’s home rule government. The U.S. president appoints all judges. The D.C. Council and mayor have no control over the court system, although the D.C. government along with Congress funds the court system. The system is run by a Joint Committee on Judicial Administration consisting of five judges and a secretary who serves as the executive officer.

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District of Columbia

After queer safe space pled for help, community rallied to rescue

“AYA gives us a place to feel community, it is so rare to find a queer space where I can have fun and feel safe”

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As You Are bar in March 2022 (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON – Less than a week after the D.C. LGBTQ café and bar As You Are located in the Barracks Row section of Capitol Hill issued a GoFundMe appeal on Feb. 5 seeking emergency financial support to prevent it from closing, the popular business reached its goal of $150,000 to get out of debt.

And as of Sunday night, the fundraising appeal had pulled in $171,471 from more than 3,000 individual donations, according to As You Are’s GoFundMe site.

In comments posted on the GoFundMe site, many of the donors said they were motivated to contribute to As You Are because they view it as a special, safe space that offers a welcoming, accepting place for them and their LGBTQ friends or family members.

In their GoFundMe message, As You Are co-owners Jo McDaniel and Rachel “Coach” Pike describe how they view their business as offering community center type programming beyond just a bar and café.

“AYA is a café, bar and dance floor that hosts diverse programming nearly every night of the week, including social sport leagues, Queer youth socials, weekly karaoke, book clubs, open mics, Queer author events, dance parties and much more,” the two said in their message.

“We have faced some particularly tall and costly hurdles that have set us back significantly since the beginning,” the two said in their GoFundMe message. “As we are tapping every resource we can imagine with creativity and open minds we need urgent assistance,” they said. 

“Rach and Jo are truly loved, and AYA is so important to so many people and everyone knew that,” said gay D.C. civic activist Mike Silverstein, who is one of the GoFundMe donors. “The response was absolutely amazing,” Silverstein said. “From every part of our community. People put everything aside, worked together and focused on saving a space that means so much.”

As You Are opened for business in March 2022. McDaniel and Pike have said the financial problems were caused, in part, by a delay in their planned opening due to complications associated with getting their required occupancy permit from the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. The two said negotiations with the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission, which demanded certain soundproofing structures be installed for the interior walls of their building, also added to the delay and increased costs.

Like other bars and restaurants across the city, McDaniel and Pike said their rent became a financial burden during a slow period for business last summer. They told the Washington Blade their landlord declined a request to renegotiate the lease to make an allowance based on sales. The two told the Washington Post that their rent is $27,000 per month, which they had to begin paying before they were able to open for business, and they spent $40,000 on soundproofing the walls, all of which contributed to a debt of about $150,000.

McDaniel and Pike, who spoke to the Blade at the time they launched their GoFundMe appeal, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment on the success of their fundraising and their future plans for As You Are. They told the Post now that they are no longer in debt, they plan to take up several offers of financial advice and they’re looking into possibly buying a property rather than renting. They said they also plan to apply for D.C. government business grants now that they have caught up on back tax payments.

Among those who posted comments on the As You Are GoFundMe site after making a contribution was Megan Mowery, who wrote, “AYA gives us a place to feel community, it is so rare to find a queer space where I can have fun and feel safe.” Mowrey added, “The programming AYA puts on absolutely has something for everyone. I love you AYA!!!”

Helena Chaves, another donor, stated in a GoFundMe post, “As You Are has been a monumental addition to the LGBTQIA+ community in Washington, D.C. They hold so many events and fundraisers, provide beautiful accommodations for us disabled folk, and have protocols in place to diminish harassment in the space.” 

Among the larger donors shown on the As You Are GoFundMe site is the Capital Pride Alliance, the group that organizes D.C.’s annual LGBTQ Pride festival and parade, which donated $2,500. 

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No Pride in Genocide marches from Dupont Circle to HRC

The Hamas-controlled Gaza Health Ministry says nearly 30,000 people have died in the enclave since the war began

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Activists march in a No Pride in Genocide march from Dupont Circle to the Human Rights Campaign headquarters on Feb. 14, 2024. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON – Upwards of 200 people on Wednesday marched from Dupont Circle to the Human Rights Campaign headquarters and called upon it and other LGBTQ rights groups to “demand an end to the genocide and occupation of Palestine.”

No Pride in Genocide, which describes itself in a press release as a “recently launched coalition of queer and trans Palestinians, Arab and SWANA (Southwest Asian and North African) people, Jews and allies,” organized the march. A press release that No Pride in Genocide released included a list of demands for HRC and other advocacy organizations, LGBTQ elected officials and celebrities.

  • Publicly denounce the use of pink washing to justify the occupation and genocide of Palestinians
  • Immediately boycott, divest and sanction the systems and entities that enable the genocide, including severing ties with weapon manufacturers and donors profiteering off genocide
  • Call for an immediate and permanent ceasefire, to lift the siege and for all food, clean water, supplies and medical support be allowed into Gaza 
  • Publicly denounce the increased surveillance the Israeli Occupation Forces use against Palestinian queers
  • Call for the release of all political prisoners being held by the Israeli occupation
  • Use their platforms to call for an end to all imperialism and occupation, from the river to the sea, from Turtle Island to Palestine 

March participants who gathered in Dupont Circle before the march chanted slogans that include “Israel lies using queer lives. We say no to genocide” and “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” Many of them held signs that, among other things, read “HRC = harmful racist complicit” and “Full ceasefire in Gaza now!”

(WASHINGTON BLADE VIDEO BY MICHAEL K. LAVERS)

A person who No Pride in Genocide described as “a Palestinian organizer who wishes to remain anonymous” spoke in Dupont Circle before the march. She read a message from a “queer Palestinian” in the Gaza Strip who said a man he had kissed died in an Israeli airstrike two days later. 

“I am here as a queer Palestinian, while Israel uses my life and all of our lives to justify the murder of more than 30,000 Palestinians over the past five months,” said the organizer. “We will not let them continue to use our name for this genocide.”

Hamas, which the U.S. has designated a terrorist organization, launched a surprise attack against communities in southern Israel from Gaza on Oct. 7, 2023.

The Israeli government has said roughly 1,200 people have been killed, including at least 260 people who Hamas militants murdered at an all-night music festival in a kibbutz near the border between Israel and Gaza. The Israeli government also says more than 10,000 people have been injured in the country since the war began and Hamas militants kidnapped more than 200 others.

The Hamas-controlled Gaza Health Ministry says nearly 30,000 people have died in the enclave since the war began. Israel after Oct. 7 cut electricity and water to Gaza and stopped most food and fuel shipments.

The International Court of Justice last month heard legal arguments in South Africa’s case that accuses Israel of committing genocide against Palestinians in Gaza. Israel has strongly denied the accusations.

“Israel continues to use queer and trans lives as a justification of their genocidal campaigns,” said the No Pride in Genocide organizer who spoke before the march. “After spending hundreds of millions of dollars in ads to paint itself as a safe place for queer people in the Middle East, it uses that same narrative to justify and legitimize its eradication of queer and trans Palestinians.” 

“When you hear Zionists argue and say why don’t you go to Palestine, you’ll be murdered there. You know what? I would be murdered there because of the 1,008 bombs dropped a day by Israel and the U.S. on Gaza,” she added. “All of this is happening while the institutions that claim to represent queer and trans people and claim to defend our rights have remained completely silent while a genocide is being carried out in our name. We refuse to let that happen.”

(WASHINGTON BLADE VIDEO BY MICHAEL K. LAVERS)

The National LGBTQ Task Force last month called for a ceasefire in Gaza.

An HRC spokesperson on Thursday did not specifically respond to the Washington Blade’s request for comment about the No Pride in Genocide protest and their demands. The spokesperson did, however, highlight HRC President Kelley Robinson’s statements about Oct. 7.

“The loss of life unfolding in the Middle East is heartbreaking and the human rights violations are appalling,” said Robinson in a series of posts to her X account on Oct. 9, 2023. “Hamas killed hundreds of Israeli civilians over the weekend in a terrorist attack. And now countless more Palestinian and Israeli people are dying as the violence escalates while Jewish, Arab and Muslim people in the U.S. and around the world fear backlash and hate-motivated crimes. LGBTQ+ people are everywhere and violence against civilians, anywhere, is wrong. Our thoughts are with the people in the Middle East living through this horror.” 

Robinson in a statement that HRC released on Oct. 13, 2023, reiterated her previous thoughts and added “the toll on both Israeli and Palestinian civilians lives rises daily.” 

“Many in the United States who are Jewish and Muslim recognize that hate-motivated bias and violence will rise here,” she said. “Antisemitism is wrong. Islamophobia is wrong. Full stop.”

Robinson in a message sent to HRC supporters on Nov. 10, 2023, said “each day of this conflict brings a new weight of grief, shock and disbelief at the unrelenting toll of war. In times like these, it’s important to note there are no easy answers or quick solutions.

  •          No statement will ever be enough in times of war, but what’s not hard, nor complex, is knowing right from wrong.
  •          The Hamas terrorist attack was wrong.
  •          The killing of 11,000 Palestinians and counting is wrong.
  •          The bombing of hospitals and the killing of children is wrong.
  •          The denial of safe food, water, telecommunications and safe passage is wrong.
  •          The antisemitism and Islamophobia escalating in the United States is wrong.”

Robinson has also publicly condemned attacks on Palestinians and Muslims in the U.S. that have taken place since Oct. 7. These include Wadea Al-Fayoume, a 6-year-old Muslim boy who was stabbed to death in Plainfield Township, Ill., on Oct. 14, 2023.

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Washington D.C. city official shovels snow for ailing trans activist

Budd continues to recuperate from a respiratory infection that landed her in the hospital for close to three weeks last month

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Councilmember Zachary Parker shovels snow in front of the home of Earline Budd, longtime D.C. transactivist. (Photo courtesy of Budd)

WASHINGTON – Longtime local transgender rights advocate Earline Budd said she was surprised and “greatly appreciative” when D.C. Council member Zachary Parker (D-Ward 5) came to her house in the city’s Trinidad neighborhood and shoveled the snow from her sidewalk on Tuesday, Jan. 16.

Budd, 56, continues to recuperate from a respiratory infection that landed her in the hospital for close to three weeks last month and required follow-up treatment at a rehab center in Maryland.

Budd, who lives in Ward 5, said she and Parker have spoken regularly about LGBTQ issues since Parker won election to his Council seat in 2022. She said Parker called her earlier this week to ask how things were going and she told him she had recently returned home after her stay at Georgetown Hospital and physical therapy treatment at the Clinton Healthcare Center in Clinton, Md.

“He said oh, my God, I wish I had known. I would have come to visit you. What is your immediate need now,” Budd recounted in a telephone interview with the Blade. She said she informed Parker it’s difficult for her to walk and she was unable to shovel the snow in front of her house, which could make it difficult for her to leave the house to be taken to her next kidney dialysis treatment session. Budd has and continues to be treated for kidney failure for the past several years.

“And he said, well, I can come. I’m close to you and I and a staffer can come before I go in for a Council hearing,” Budd recalls Parker saying. “I can come in and shovel the snow for you,” she recalls Parker as saying.

“And I said that’s a lot to ask, Council member,” Budd told the Blade. “He said Miss Budd, you’ve done enough for this city that the city should be doing something for you. Now I’m on my way.”

According to Budd, a short time later, “They were out there shoveling the front sidewalk and my neighbor took a picture of them doing it,” she said, referring to Parker and one of his staff members. “And they got everything done in less than 15 minutes.”

Budd has been involved in local LGBTQ rights and trans rights activities for 35 years, according to information released in December 2022, when she was honored at a ceremony officially unveiling a large mural depicting Budd as the first transgender person to be included in D.C.’s citywide wall mural program.

A mural depicting Earline Budd is in an alley next to the Atlas Performing Arts Center at 1333 H St., N.E.
(Washington Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

The Budd mural is located on the side of a building on the 1300 block of H Street, N.E., near the offices of the LGBTQ supportive service organization HIPS, where Budd currently works as a case manager. 

“Earline Budd is more than a neighbor,” Council member Parker said in a statement to the Blade. “She’s a trailblazer who unrelentingly gives of herself for our community. I want her to know that she is seen and loved and appreciated. Shoveling snow was a small gesture simply to say thank you.”

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D.C., Trans woman shot & another had legs run over by car

“Both cases remain under investigation & detectives are following up on leads, collecting evidence, and interviewing potential witnesses”

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Metropolitan Police Department/Los Angeles Blade graphic

WASHINGTON – Police in the nation’s capital say they are investigating a Nov. 1 incident in which a transgender woman was knocked down on a street by a man who backed his car into her and then drove over both of her legs after he was shot in the arm in an unrelated dispute with another person outside an apartment building at 5920 Foote St., N.E.

The woman, Latisa Moorman, said she spent a month at Washington Hospital Center recovering from her injuries before being transferred to a rehabilitation center for continued treatment of her injured legs.

Police are also investigating a second incident in which another transgender woman was shot in her “pelvic region” by an unidentified male suspect causing a nonfatal injury on Nov. 29 inside the same apartment building. The shooting followed an “argument about a sexual act that was performed and payment of money,” according to a D.C. police report.

The victim of the second incident couldn’t immediately be reached to determine if she would like her name to be disclosed.

Moorman, the victim in the first incident, told the Washington Blade a police detective informed her that the man who hit her with his car and drove away has been arrested. She said the detective gave her the name of the arrested man. But the man’s name could not be found in court records and police have not responded to a Blade request to confirm the arrest.

A police report says police were investigating what they listed as separate cases of the shooting that injured the man who drove over Moorman’s legs as well as the incident in which the man who was shot hit Moorman with his car and drove away.

“Both cases remain under investigation and detectives are actively following up on leads, collecting evidence, and interviewing potential witnesses,” D.C. police spokesperson Paris Lewbel told the Blade in an email. “Due to the ongoing nature of the investigation, we cannot discuss specific investigative steps that have been taken by detectives,” Lewbel said.

The case of the Nov. 29 shooting of the trans woman inside 5920 Foote St., N.E. and the incident in which Moorman was hit by the car outside that same building took place in a location that trans and LGBTQ activists say is known as an area where female trans sex workers as well as trans women who are not engaged in sex work congregate along Eastern Avenue and nearby side streets.

The Foote Street apartment building where the two incidents took place is located at the intersection of Foote Street, 60th Street, and Eastern Avenue.

Less than a mile away one block off the Prince George’s County side of Eastern Avenue transgender woman Ashanti Carmon, 27, was shot to death on March 30, 2019. That case remains unsolved, with no arrest made. About 100 people led by transgender activist Earline Budd held a candlelight vigil one month later in honor of Carmon at the site of where the shooting took place.

Gay D.C. Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Anthony Lorenzo Green, whose district is located near the Eastern Avenue area where trans women hang out, expressed concern that D.C. officials are not adequately addressing the issues related to why trans women are engaging in sex work in that area.

“The angle we come from is the city needs to provide services for Black trans women along this corridor as opposed to constantly trying to arrest them and hoping that will keep them away from Eastern Avenue or away from where they work out of desperation, out of necessity,” Green told the Blade.

“But that has never worked. And we tell them that over and over,” Green said. “These ladies have not been given an opportunity to advance in this city. They’ve been forced to the edges of this city,” he said, adding that the D.C. government “should be bringing social services to that corridor.”

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Hundreds of thousands attend pro-Israel rally in Washington

A Wider Bridge members among participants

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Hundreds of thousands of people attended the March for Israel on the National Mall in D.C. on Nov. 14, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

WASHINGTON — Organizers of a pro-Israel rally that took place on the National Mall on Tuesday said upwards of 290,000 people attended.

House Majority Leader Mike Johnson (R-La.); Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.); House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.); U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa); U.S. Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.), Deborah Lipstadt, the special U.S. envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism, actress Debra Messing, CNN’s Van Jones, Israeli singer Omer Adam and relatives of some of the Israelis who militants from Hamas and other Muslim extremist groups kidnapped on Oct. 7 are among those who spoke at the March for Israel.

“Oct. 7 was a crime against the Jewish state, indeed against humanity, so barbaric that it cannot be ignored,” said Torres. “It cannot go unpunished. Hamas must be brought to justice.”

U.S. Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.), center, speaks with March on Israel attendees on Nov. 14, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Israeli President Isaac Herzog spoke virtually from Jerusalem.

U.S. Sens. John Fetterman (D-Pa.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and U.S. Reps. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.), Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), Eric Sorensen (D-Ill.), Steny Hoyer, Norma Torres (D-Calif.), Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), Jim Hines (D-Conn.), Maryland state Rep. Joe Vogel (D-Montgomery County), former Arizona state Rep. Daniel Hernández, Rabbi Jake Singer-Beilin of Congregation Bet Mishpachah in D.C. and A Wider Bridge Executive Director Ethan Felson also attended the march that the Jewish Federations of North America organized.

“Today, the LGBTQ community marched with Israel in Washington, D.C.,” said A Wider Bridge on its Facebook page.

U.S. Sen. John Fetterman (D- Pa.) at the March on Israel in D.C. on Nov. 14, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Matt Adler, a Jewish Israeli American, attended the rally with A Wider Bridge. He was holding a sign with the slogans “we are one family” and a “special thank you to our brave Israeli Druze and Arab soldiers” written in English, Hebrew and Arabic when he spoke with the Washington Blade. 

“It’s really important to show that Hamas is bad for all peoples: Palestinian and Israeli,” said Adler. “As an LGBTQ community member, I think it’s important to stand on the side of peace for all, and Israel represents that peace for me.”

(washington blade video by michael k. lavers)

The rally took place roughly five weeks after Hamas, which the U.S. and Israel have designated a terrorist organization, launched a surprise attack against communities in southern Israel from the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli government has said roughly 1,200 people have been killed, including at least 260 people who Hamas militants murdered at an all-night music festival in a kibbutz near the border between Israel and Gaza. The Israeli government also says more than 5,000 people have been injured in the country since the war began and Hamas militants kidnapped more than 200 others.

Hamas rockets have reached Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Ben Gurion Airport and other locations in central and southern Israel. Israeli Defense Forces and Hezbollah, another militant group, have exchanged fire across the Israel-Lebanon border.

The Hamas-controlled Gaza Health Ministry says more than 11,000 people have died in the enclave since the war began.

The Israeli government has cut electricity and water to Gaza and has stopped food and fuel shipments. 

The IDF on Tuesday entered Shifa Hospital in Gaza City. Israel has said it has “concrete evidence” that Hamas has operated out of the facility that is the enclave’s largest hospital.

Pictures of IDF soldiers holding Pride flags inside Gaza circulated on social media on Sunday. Helem, an LGBTQ+ rights group in Lebanon, condemned them.”Love doesn’t manifest through genocide, occupation, colonization, killing, bombing and detention,” said the organization in a post on its X account. “Not in our name!

Tens of thousands of people took part in a pro-Palestine rally in D.C. on Nov. 4.

A Free Palestine poster on 17th Street in Dupont Circle on Oct. 23, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected growing calls for a ceasefire in Gaza. The Biden-Harris administration, meanwhile, has sought to address incidents of antisemitism and Islamophobia that have increased since Oct. 7. 

“We need to hear more American voices, especially from the progressive left that I am a part of, speaking out for human rights for Jewish people in addition to all peoples in the region,” Adler told the Blade. “We all deserve safety and security.”

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Maxine Waters to deliver U.S. Conference on HIV/AIDS keynote

Annual gathering to take place this week in D.C.

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U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) (Photo via Twitter)

WASHINGTON — More than 3,000 people are expected to attend the annual U.S. Conference on HIV/AIDS this week in D.C.

California Congresswoman Maxine Waters on Wednesday will deliver the keynote address at the conference the National Minority AIDS Council organizes. This year’s conference theme is “A Love Letter to Black Women.”

“The 27th annual U.S. Conference on HIV/AIDS (USCHA) brings together community leaders and HIV advocates to learn the latest information and build skills to provide effective HIV prevention and treatment services,” reads the conference media advisory.

NMAC Executive Director Paul Kawata and B. Kaye Hayes, deputy assistant secretary for infectious disease in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health who is also the executive director of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS, is among those who are also scheduled to speak at the conference.

The conference will take place at the Marriott Marquis in D.C. through Sept. 9.

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LGBTQ groups participate in March on Washington

Thousands of activists and spectators attended the 60th Anniversary March on Washington on Saturday, Aug. 26.

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Thousands of activists and spectators attended the 60th Anniversary March on Washington beginning at the Lincoln Memorial on Saturday, Aug. 26. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON – Thousands of activists and spectators attended the 60th Anniversary March on Washington on Saturday, Aug. 26. Advocates and leaders from labor unions, faith communities, political groups, and community organizations traveled to the Lincoln Memorial at the historic site of Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech to call for a continuation in the fight for racial justice and equality.

Several speakers at the rally included a call for LGBTQ equality as an integral part of the broader fight for social justice. Leaders of LGBTQ organizations were among the speakers at the Lincoln Monument. Notable LGBTQ speakers included activists Ollie Henry and Hope Giselle representing the National Black Justice Coalition; Kierra Johnson, executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force; Stacey Stevenson, president and CEO of Family Equality; and Kelley Robinson, president of the Human Rights Campaign.

Several speakers remarked upon the legacy of out gay activist and leader Bayard Rustin, the architect of the original 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

“I’m honored to be here among so many leaders, but especially the legacy of Bayard Rustin,” HRC President Robinson said in her remarks. “Bayard Rustin was the lead organizer for the first March on Washington and he led proudly and loudly as an out gay Black man, y’all. And I say that because the truth is that lesbian, gay, bi, trans and queer people: We are here today and we have always been here.”

“I have a simple request,” Robinson continued. “If you have a queer or trans child: love them and love them completely. If you have a Pride flag: fly it, waive it, and waive it proudly. And if you’ve got a vote: by God, use it.”

Task Force Executive Director Johnson spoke about the challenges facing members of the LGBTQ community, particularly those who live in the intersections of identities that face discrimination.

“Our lives are literally under attack,” Johnson said. “Our transgender, genderqueer and non-binary children are being targeted, religion has been weaponized to deny care and rights to our loved ones. The erosion of voting rights, the dehumanization of immigrants, the policing of Black and brown bodies and attempts to erase our contributions from the history books. And yet, here we are.”

Johnson continued, “We deserve congressional leaders that will pass essential, life-saving and affirming legislation like the EACH Act, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, the Renewing Immigration Provisions Act, and the expansion of civil rights in passing the Equality Act.”

In the pre-program speeches, non-binary activist Ollie Henry remarked, “The March on Washington has always been a march towards. A march towards actualizing the dreams our ancestors laid into each marble slab placed on this stolen soil. They had a dream to be seen, accepted and celebrated just as they are. Decades ago, queer folks in the movement were kept to the outskirts of our community’s garden. But today, we stand in the sunlight.”

Hope Giselle of Get Phluid and the GSA Network addressed the crowd.

“As I stand here, where 60 years ago someone believed in a dream, as a Black trans woman, my dream is to be able to walk around amongst my people at the very cookout that so many are invited to who don’t belong and feel safe,” she said. “My dream is that when I walk into my home, when I see the faces of the people that look like me, they are not turned up in disgust because of the way that I show up and that the contributions that I and the rest of my community make toward the betterment of Blackness is accepted as valuable.”

LGBTQ speakers at the March on Washington included trans activist Hope Giselle. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

“To stand on the steps where this beautiful speech was given and be acknowledged in the fullness of who I am both being Black and being a trans woman at the same time feels amazing,” Giselle told the Blade. “But I also feel like it’s commemorative of the message that Dr. King gave, which is one, I believe, about solidarity of all people and about the coming together of everyone for the rights of folks.”

Following the speeches, activists held signs and chanted in a march beginning at Lincoln Circle proceeding south on 23rd Street, N.W. The march continued along Independence Avenue and concluded at West Potomac Park near the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial.

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Biden tackles racism & hate at Howard University commencement

Biden said that he viewed white supremacy coupled with hate as “as the most dangerous terrorist threat to our homeland”

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President Joe Biden delivered the keynote commencement speech at Howard University’s 2023 graduation ceremony Saturday in Washington D.C (Screenshot/YouTube Fox 5 Washington D.C.)

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden delivered the keynote commencement speech at Howard University’s 2023 graduation ceremony Saturday in Washington D.C.. The president stressed that he viewed hate, racism, anti-LGBTQ+ animus and white supremacy as a primary domestic threat for the country.

This year, 2,064 graduates were awarded degrees and walked across the platforms at their respective college and school ceremonies, as they took their well-earned long walk in the 155th Commencement Ceremony at the Capital One Arena.

The commencement was shifted from its usual location at William H. Greene Stadium on campus in northeast D.C. to the downtown arena due to the threat of serious inclement weather.

After receiving an honorary Doctor of Letters from Howard University president Dr. Wayne Alix Ian Frederick, Biden opened his remarks bantering with a previous speaker and then had the audience of graduates and families rise to acknowledge mother’s in advance of Mother’s Day Sunday.

“But, graduates, before we begin, as mentioned many times, tomorrow is Mother’s Day.  Stand for your mothers and grandmothers.  Stand and thank them,” the president said adding: “Where I come from, moms rule.”

The President is the seventh sitting American chief executive to give the graduation speech at Howard, a historically Black university founded in 1867, which has awarded more than 100,000 degrees in the professions, arts, sciences and humanities since its founding.

Howard ranks among the highest producers of the nation’s Black professionals in medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, engineering, nursing, architecture, religion, law, music, social work and education.

President Biden, standing with Dr. Frederick and Chairman Morse, received a Doctor of Humanities degree during Howard’s commencement.
(Photo Credit: Screenshot/Live Coverage Howard University Media & Public Relations)

In his remarks, Biden addressed the graduates stating: “We’re living through one of the most consequential moments in our history with fundamental questions at stake for our nation.  Who are we?  What do we stand for?  What do we believe?  Who will we be?  You’re going to help answer those questions.”

He told the audience that he had felt that the election of the nation’s first Black president, Barack Obama, whom he served as Vice-President, had possibly marked a turning point for the country in race relations. The president reflected that the events which led to the civil unrest in 2017, in Charlottesville, Virginia, where a young woman protesting against the racist voices of far-right extremists, who had gathered to demonstrate against the removal of an equestrian statue of confederate general Robert E. Lee, was murdered.

“Crazed neo-Nazis with angry faces came out of the fields with — literally with torches, carrying Nazi banners from the woods and the fields chanting the same antisemitic bile heard across Europe in the ‘30s.  Something that I never thought I would ever see in America,” Biden said.

“Accompanied by Klansmen and white supremacists, emerging from dark rooms and remote fields and the anonymity of the Internet, confronting decent Americans of all backgrounds standing in their way, into the bright light of day.  And a young woman objecting to their presence was killed,” he added and then took aim at his predecessor without naming the 45th president: “And what did you hear?  That famous quote.  When asked about what happened, that famous quote.  “There are very fine people on both sides.”

“That’s when I knew — and I’m not joking — that’s when I knew I had to stay engaged and get back into public life.”

Biden stressed that hate was a factor in everyday contemporary American life and he urged the Class of 2023 to be prepared to meet the challenges posed head on.

“We could defeat hate.  But it never goes away.  It ju- — only hides under the rocks.  And when it’s given oxygen, it comes out from under that rock,” he said 
 
“And that’s why we know this truth as well: Silence is complicity.  It cannot remain silent.  We are live through this battle for the soul of the nation.  And it is still a battle for the soul of the nation.”

Biden then said that he viewed white supremacy coupled with hate as “as the most dangerous terrorist threat to our homeland.” Reiterating his call to “to reject political extremism and reject political violence,” the president then took aim at Republican led state legislatures passing an anti-LGBTQ+, anti-Black, agenda. He also addressed the pandemic of gun violence in the U.S.

“Protect fundamental rights and freedoms for women to choose and for transgender children to be free,” he urged. Then he ticked off a list of goals:

“For affordable healthcare and housing. For the right to raise your family and retire with dignity. To stand with leaders of your generation who give voice to the people, demanding action on gun violence only to be expelled from state legislative bodies. To stand against books being banned and Black history being erased.  I’m serious.  Think about it. To stand up for the best in us,” he said.

The president also addressed violence against Black men profiled and targeted by law enforcement. He ran through a list of his administration’s accomplishments highlighting the executive order “requiring the key elements of the George Floyd bill be applied to federal law enforcement: banning chokeholds, restricting no-knock warrants, establishing a database for police misconduct, advancing effective and accountable community policing that builds public trust.  And we’ll keep fighting to pass the reforms nationwide.” 
 
“Equal justice is a covenant we have with each other.  It must not just be an ideal; it has to be a reality,” he said.

Graduates and families gathered in the Capital One Arena for Howard University’s 2023 graduation listen as President Biden delivers the commencement address.
(Photo Credit: Screenshot/Live Coverage Howard University Media & Public Relations)

Washington D.C. CBS News affiliate WUSA 9 reported that some students weren’t thrilled about the choice of Biden as commencement speaker, and the extensive security screening that went with it.

“I just feel like since we’re an HBCU, we were expecting someone who could really relate to being black in America or going to an HBCU,” said graduate Nia Ollivierre. “But I still feel that Joe has an influence on us that will be respected.”

Vice-President Kamala Harris, herself a Howard graduate, will be the first woman to deliver a commencement speech at the United States Military Academy at West Point graduation ceremony later this month.

Other administration officials are delivering graduation speeches for the Class of 2023 at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), including U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at Fayetteville State University in North Carolina and his fellow cabinet member, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia L. Fudge, at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Florida.

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President Biden Delivers Howard University Commencement:

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District of Columbia

Young people organize D.C. Transgender rights march

Queer Youth Assemble organized events across the country

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The March for Queer and Trans Youth Autonomy took place in D.C. on March 31, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON — Upwards of 1,000 people on Friday participated in a Transgender rights march from Union Station to the U.S. Capitol.

SMYAL Executive Director Erin Whelan; Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson and Japer Bowles, director of the D.C. Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs, are among those who participated in the March for Queer and Trans Youth Autonomy that Queer Youth Assemble organized to coincide with the Transgender Day of Visibility. 

Queer Youth Assemble advocates for young LGBTQ+ and intersex people. The group’s website notes it organized Transgender Day of Visibility marches across the country on Friday.

“This march has reached so many people around the country because of our strength as individuals and as a community,” said Queer Youth Assemble Co-president Alia Cusolito at the beginning of a rally that took place in front of the Capitol Reflecting Pool after the march. “This is a heavy time. It’s a frightening time and a necessary time to speak up.” 

Samira Burnside, a 16-year-old trans woman from Tampa, Fla., spoke after Cusolito.

“These last few months have been hard; hard for all of us,” said Burnside. “As Republicans swept into more seats than they held last year and another election cycle begins, transgenderism has become the battleground through which the cultural war finds itself reborn, more violent, more angry, more terrible.”

Massachusetts Commission on LGBTQ Youth Executive Director Shaplaie Brooks noted “these attacks are strategic.”

“Grown adults are bullying LGBTQ youth,” said Brooks.

Massachusetts Commission on LGBTQ Youth Executive Director Shaplaie Brooks speaks at the March for Queer and Trans Youth Autonomy in D.C. on March 31, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

This year’s Transgender Day of Visibility took place against the backdrop of a proliferation of anti-Transgender bills and laws in states across the country.

Kentucky lawmakers on Wednesday overrode Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s veto of a bill that will, among other things, ban gender-affirming medical care for Trans and nonbinary people who are under 18. Republican South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem in February signed a similar measure into law. 

“Transgender Americans deserve to be safe and supported in every community — but today, across our country, MAGA extremists are advancing hundreds of hateful and extreme state laws that target Transgender kids and their families. No one should have to be brave just to be themselves,” said President Joe Biden on Friday in his Transgender Day of Visibility statement.

“Let me be clear: These attacks are un-American and must end,” he added. “The bullying, discrimination, and political attacks that Trans kids face have exacerbated our national mental health crisis. More than half of Transgender youth say they have seriously considered suicide. Loving parents are terrified for their children’s futures.”

Maryland Gov. Wes Moore on Friday became the state’s first governor to publicly commemorate Transgender Day of Visibility.

“People who have the courage to demand visibility, even after facing hardship — in some cases, after facing violence and poverty — they represent the very best of Maryland. We need to elevate their stories, embrace their courage, and celebrate their humanity,” he said before he signed a proclamation that proclaimed March 31, 2023, as International Transgender Day of Visibility in Maryland. “By signing this proclamation, we are taking a step forward. And I look forward to working with all of you to continue that march in the years to come.”

U.S. Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), Mark Takano (D-Calif.) and David Cicilline (D-R.I.) and U.S. Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) on Thursday reintroduced the Transgender Bill of Rights, which a press release from Jayapal’s office notes would provide “a comprehensive policy framework to provide protections for Transgender and nonbinary people, ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to thrive, regardless of their gender identity or expression.”

“As the very proud mother of an incredible trans daughter, I am deeply disturbed by the rise in anti-trans legislation at all levels of government and at the uptick of transphobic violence,” said Jayapal on Friday during a virtual Transgender Day of Visibility town hall.

Jacobs, who represents California’s 51st Congressional District, noted her brother is Trans and another sibling is gender non-conforming.

The California Democrat said “one of the proudest moments of my life” was when she officiated her brother’s wedding late last year. Jacobs noted it took place the same week that Congress passed the Respect for Marriage Act. 

“His existence deserves to be recognized and respected, his wedding deserves to be celebrated,” said Jacobs, referring to her brother. “His life deserves to be protected, just like every other person and every other trans person.”

Delaware state Sen. Sarah McBride, Whitman-Walker Institute Kellan Baker, National Center for Transgender Equality Executive Director Rigo Heng-Lehtinen and Athlete Ally Ambassador Kaiya McCullough are among those who also participated in the town hall.

(Blade photo by Michael Key)
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District of Columbia

Proud Boys skip planned Drag Story Hour protest in D.C.

“We’ve been doing the Story Hour for six months,” said Shane Mayson, owner and operator of Crazy Aunt Hellen’s

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Parasol Patrol members gather in front of Crazy Aunt Hellen's restaurant in Barracks Row on Feb. 25, 2023, during a Drag Story Hour event. (Washington Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

WASHINGTON – Dozens of supporters turned out Saturday morning outside the Crazy Aunt Hellen’s restaurant on 8th Street, S.E., in the Barracks Row section of Capitol Hill in anticipation of a planned protest by the far-right group Proud Boys against a reading of children’s stories by D.C. drag performer Tara Hoot to children and their parents at the restaurant.

But D.C. police, who closed the one-block section of 8th Street in anticipation of the protest, said the Proud Boys never showed up, and the street closing evolved into a makeshift block party celebrating an event known as a Drag Story Hour.

The Barracks Row Drag Story Hour event took place one week after a similar event at the Loyalty Bookstore in Silver Spring, Md., became the target of a protest by Proud Boys members. 

Silver Spring police said they dispersed the Proud Boys members and supporters of the Drag Story Hour event after the two groups shouted at each other and reports surfaced that at least one Proud Boys member assaulted one of the supporters. No arrests were made, and no injuries were reported, the police said. 

“We’ve been doing the Story Hour for six months,” said Shane Mayson, owner and operator of Crazy Aunt Hellen’s, which is located at 713 8th St., S.E., across the street from the U.S. Marine Barracks.

Mayson told the Washington Blade an organization called the Parasol Patrol, which provides support for Drag Story Hour events across the country and which attended the Silver Spring event, informed him that Proud Boys had placed his restaurant on a protest list that called on opponents of the Drag Story Hour events to show up at the event, which began 10 a.m. Saturday.

He then contacted the D.C. police LGBTQ Liaison Unit, which immediately arranged for the police presence at the time of the event, Mayson said. Among those who came to the location were members of the police LGBT Liaison Unit along with a contingent of 20 or more police officers led by Assistant D.C. Police Chief Jeff Carrol.

“Overall, I think everything went well,” Carrol told the Blade. “The business was able to have their story time, and everyone was able to come out here and peacefully support the business,” Carrol said. “And we didn’t have any incidents. So, I think overall everything went very well.”

Mayson said the children and their parents, who turned out in sizable numbers for the event, enjoyed the story readings by drag performer Hoot. 

“It was fabulously fun and gorgeous and filled with fun and love,” Hoot told the Blade after the event. “And having all these supporters out here means the world to me,” Hoot said. “I was saying to other people that I wish LGBTQIA people across the country were feeling this love and support. 

Hoot was referring to the protests against drag shows in general and against Drag Story Hour events that have taken place in recent months across the country, including some protests led by the Proud Boys group.

Asked if she had any message for the Proud Boys and others who have attempted to disrupt the Drag Story Hour events, Hoot said, “At the end of the day love is going to win. And the joy, that’s what I focus on at all my events,”

Among those standing outside the restaurant as Hoot finished reading stories to the children and parents inside was Salah Czapary, the recently appointed director of the Mayor’s Office of Nightlife and Culture. Czapary, who ran unsuccessfully last year as an openly gay candidate for the Ward 1 D.C. Council seat, said he turned out for the event to show support from the city.

“Any time our community and our constituent who is a business owner here and members of the LGBTQ community ask for government support, we’re out here,” he said. “So, we’re happy to see a robust security presence and an even more robust community presence,” he told the Blade. “And we’re here just to assure people that we’re here to support the community and to have a good time at this drag story time.”

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