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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.”

District of Columbia

‘Smoke-in’ at Russia’s D.C. embassy protests Griner incarceration

Brittney Griner is now going to be sitting in a Russian slave labor camp for the next nine years after this appeal was denied

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Activists inflated a giant 'joint' outside the Russian Embassy in D.C. calling for Brittney Griner's release & freedom for the Russian people. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON – A small group of activists staged a protest in front of the Russian Embassy in D.C. on Thursday to protest the imprisonment of WNBA star Brittney Griner. The protest included a giant inflated “joint” and activists smoking marijuana at the gate along Wisconsin Avenue.

A Russian appellate court on Tuesday upheld Griner’s 9 1/2 year sentence to a penal colony following her conviction for smuggling drugs into the country. The vaping cartridge for which she was convicted is well within the legal limit of cannabis products to carry in D.C.

“I am outraged that Brittney Griner is now going to be sitting in a Russian slave labor camp for the next nine years after this appeal was denied,” activist Adam Eidinger told reporters.

“I know I’m not the only one that’s outraged,” Eidinger said as he raised a handful of cannabis plant material into the air. “I’m holding cannabis plants that grow in the District of Columbia lawfully in our backyards.”

Eidinger continued, “Brittney Griner is not a drug smuggler. She is not someone who is trying to corrupt the Russian children. It is simply her fate as a political pawn in this horrific war on Ukraine.”

Eidinger pointed to the Cyrillic writing on the inflated joint, “this message right here says it all: Free Brittney Griner and the Russians from Putin. He’s kidnapped this country and now he’s kidnapped a beloved American citizen and I think Americans need to start speaking out. We need to stop holding our tongues. The Russians have kidnapped a beloved American hero!”

A number of Secret Service officers ensured the activists remained on the sidewalk, but Eidinger insisted that their actions were legal.

Following the statement to the press, activists smoked marijuana at the gates of the Russian Embassy.

Activists Adam Eidinger and Pamela Wexler smoke marijuana in front of the Russian Embassy on Thursday, Oct. 28 to protest the imprisonment of U.S. WNBA star Brittney Griner.
(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)
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D.C.’s Children’s Hospital targeted by Libs of TikTok over trans care

Anti-LGBTQ+ right-wing Twitter account cited incorrect claims by hospital employee about female to male trans surgery

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D.C.’s Children’s National Hospital (Screenshot/YouTube)

WASHINGTON – D.C.’s Children’s National Hospital has become the target of threatening phone calls, email messages and social media postings after a widely read far-right Twitter account known as Libs of Tiktok posted an incorrect report claiming the hospital routinely performs hysterectomies on transgender patients under the age of 18.

Libs of TikTok founder Chaya Raichik included in her Aug. 25 posting audio recordings of two Children’s National Hospital telephone operators who the hospital says incorrectly stated that a transgender boy as young as 16 would be eligible for a hysterectomy.

“We do not and have never provided gender-affirming surgery for anyone under the age of 18,” according to an emailed statement the hospital media office sent to the Blade.  “In fact, in D.C. you cannot perform a hysterectomy in a minor without a court order,” the statement says.

“We do not provide hormone therapy to children before puberty begins,” the statement continues. “Care is individualized for each patent and always involves families making decisions in coordination with a team of highly trained pediatric specialists,” it says.

“None of the people who were secretly recorded by this activist group deliver care to our patients,” says the statement. “The information in the recording is not accurate. To reiterate, we do not and have never performed gender affirming hysterectomies on minors,” it says.

The statement added, “Since the spreading of misinformation on Twitter, we have been the target of a large volume of hostile phone calls, social media messages and emails.”

The Washington Post has reported that the harassment encountered by the hospital has included social media posts suggesting that it be bombed, and its doctors placed in a woodchipper.

According to the Children’s National Hospital’s statement; “Children’s National Hospital is committed to fostering a welcoming and inclusive environment for all and to serving our LGBTQ+ patients and families in the full spectrum of their care.”

Threats and harassing calls and email messages were directed at Boston’s Children’s Hospital earlier this month over what the hospital says were similar false claims on social media that it was performing hysterectomies on transgender youth under the age of 18.

Libs of TikTok, which has often promoted “groomer” discourse that falsely linked LGBTQ teachers and parents to pedophilia, began to make a variety of false claims regarding Boston Children’s. One allegation included the lie about Children’s offering gender-affirming hysterectomies to children under 18 years old.

Journalist Martha Bebinger with WBUR,  Boston’s NPR news station, noted the campaign started last week with criticism of a video posted on the hospital’s website about hysterectomies. Several conservative social media accounts shared posts about the video on Twitter. The hospital performs hysterectomies on patients 18 and older, but not on children as some of the posts claimed.

“We condemn these attacks in the strongest possible terms, and we reject the false narratives upon which they are based,” Boston Children’s said in a statement. “We are working with law enforcement to protect our clinicians, staff, patients, families and the broader Boston Children’s Hospital community and hold the offenders accountable,” the statement added.

For over two years, a Brooklyn real estate agent and fanatical adherent of far-right extremist ideology, Chaya Raichik, has wreaked havoc via her social media accounts ‘Libs of Tik Tok’, attacking LGBTQ+ people with special emphasis on spreading lies and propaganda about transgender people.

When Raichik attacked Boston Children’s Hospital, spreading lies and falsehoods about the healthcare facility’s treatment of transgender youth. Her ‘call to arms’ was then joined by conservative journalist and anti-LGBTQ+ activist Christopher Rufo and The Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh, a vehement anti-Trans pundit.

The resulting chaos including death threats against Children’s clinicians and staff was acknowledged by a spokesperson for the Boston Police who told the Blade that officials had stepped up security to augment the efforts by the hospital to protect its staff and that an investigation had been launched.

The United States Department of Justice has also launched an investigation into the threats according to an announcement by the United States Attorney for the District of Massachusetts, Rachael Rollins.

In a lengthy statement issued by GLAAD, the organization wrote:

“Libs of TikTok is synonymous with maliciously targeting LGBTQ organizations, people, and allies by posting lies, misinformation, and blatant hate,” said a GLAAD spokesperson. “Meta and Twitter continue to profit from accounts like Libs of TikTok as doctors and staff members of Boston Children’s Hospital, and other providers of healthcare to transgender people, receive death threats and hate.

“These companies are complicit in hosting content which expresses malicious falsehoods and which incite anti-LGBTQ hate. This is the latest in a long pattern of blatant inaction from the platforms to content that directly leads to the recent rise in real world violence and harassment facing LGBTQ people.” 

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Tennessee man utters threats against DC hotel workers with a gun

He made the threats that the workers were from “the faggot part of D.C. and that his gun is only for “faggots and pussies”

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Photo Credit: Washington Metropolitan Police Department, District of Columbia

WASHINGTON – A 21-year-old man arrested by D.C. police on Aug. 24 at the Lyle Hotel near Dupont Circle for allegedly threatening two hotel workers with a handgun stated at the time he made the threats that the workers were from “the faggot part of D.C. and that his gun is only for faggots and pussies,” according to an arrest affidavit filed in D.C. Superior Court.

Court charging documents show that Dylan Nation, a resident of Ooltewah, Tenn., and who was a guest at the hotel at the time of the incident, was charged with Assault With A Dangerous Weapon, Possession of A Firearm During a Crime of Violence, and Carrying a Pistol Without a License.

The arrest affidavit filed by D.C. police says the incident began about 1:20 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 24, when a hotel security worker observed Nation, who is identified in the affidavit as the suspect, engaged in a verbal altercation with a woman identified as his girlfriend outside the hotel, which is located at 1731 New Hampshire Ave., N.W. The affidavit says the security worker “stepped in” to deescalate the altercation and escorted Nation and the girlfriend back into the hotel lobby.

Lyle Hotel (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Once inside Nation told the security worker, who is listed in the affidavit as Complainant 1, and another person the affidavit identifies as Complainant 2, that he needed to go to his car in the hotel parking lot to get some face wash. According to the affidavit, Complainant 2 escorted Nation to the parking lot where Nation allegedly removed a handgun from the glove compartment of his car.

The affidavit says the girlfriend, meanwhile, told Complainant 1, the security worker, that Nation had a gun in his car, prompting Complainant 1 to go to the parking lot, where he observed Complainant 2 attempting to persuade Nation to put the gun back in the car.

“Complainant 1 sees a black handgun in the Suspect’s left hand and tells the Suspect that guns are not allowed in the hotel and that he must leave it in his car,” the affidavit states. “Complainant 1 stated that while in the back parking lot the Suspect points the gun at him and tells him he will blow his skull off,” the affidavit continues.

“Complainant 1 then reaches for the gun and takes it out of the Suspect’s hand,” the affidavit says, after which it says Complainant 1 walked back to the hotel lobby, removed the bullets from the gun, and asked someone to call police. The affidavit does not say whether Nation struggled to resist giving up his gun or passively allowed the hotel worker to take it from him.

The gun is identified in the affidavit as a Glock 23 .40 caliber handgun.

The affidavit next describes both Nation and Complainant 1 standing in front of the hotel, with Nation demanding that he get his gun back. It says Complainant 1 refused to return the gun and told Nation that police had been called. Minutes later, when sirens from arriving police cars were heard, Nation attempted to flee the scene, running north on New Hampshire Avenue.

“Complainant 1 ran after him and tackled him in front of 1806 New Hampshire Avenue Northwest,” the affidavit says. “While holding the Suspect down a marked MPD cruiser stopped and an officer ran over and placed the suspect in handcuffs. Complainant 1 immediately told the officer that the suspect had pointed a gun at him,” the affidavit says.

It says D.C. police obtained a security camera video from the hotel that also included an audio recording in which the voices of the hotel workers and Nation could be heard during part of the altercation.

“In the video you can hear the Defendant’s voice arguing with the Complainants about having a gun and that he should put it in the car for everyone’s safety,” the affidavit states. “The Defendant refuses, then starts to talk about not being safe around the Complainants and that the Complainants are not tough because they are from the faggot part of D.C. and that his gun is only for faggots and pussies,” says the affidavit.

It concludes by saying Nation waived his right not to talk to police detectives following his arrest and that he denied he ever took a gun from his car and pointed it at anyone in a threatening way.

Court records show that at a presentment hearing on the day of Nation’s arrest on Aug. 24, Superior Court Judge Dorsey Jones ordered Nation held without bond pending a preliminary hearing scheduled for 11:00 a.m. Friday, Aug. 26.

The initial D.C. police incident report does not list the incident as a suspected hate crime.

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District of Columbia

Gay couple assaulted in D.C. by teens shouting ‘monkeypox faggots’

The men were treated and released at Howard University Hospital for head and facial bruises, with one receiving stitches for a deep cut

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Photo credit: Washington Metropolitan Police Dept/Facebook

WASHINGTON – Two young men appearing in their late teens shouted the words “monkeypox faggots” at a gay male couple walking along 7th Street, N.W. in the city’s Shaw neighborhood on Sunday, Aug. 7, before punching the two men in the face and head in an incident that D.C. police have called a suspected hate crime.

The gay men were treated and released at Howard University Hospital for head and facial bruises, with one of the two receiving stitches for a deep cut on his upper lip, according to one of the victims who spoke to the Washington Blade.

The victim, an Alexandria resident who asked that he and his partner, a D.C. resident, not be identified by name, said the attackers were part of a group of four or five young men appearing to be between 17 and 19 years old and two young women accompanying them. He said the group crossed paths with the gay couple around 5:40 p.m. in front of a store on the 1700 block of 7th Street, N.W., as the couple was walking to a nearby bus stop on Rhode Island Avenue.

The victim who spoke to the Blade said a nearby witness called D.C. police, who arrived within a few minutes as the two attackers and the other young men with them fled the scene. He said although an ambulance arrived on the scene, one of the police officers drove the couple to nearby Howard University Hospital, where they spent about six hours in the emergency room.

The couple had spent part of that 90+ degree day at the city’s Banneker Pool and later stopped at the Kiki gay bar on U Street, N.W. before taking what the victim who spoke to the Blade said was a leisurely walk from Kiki via 7th Street on their way to the bus stop, where they planned to take the bus to his boyfriend’s Northeast D.C. house.

As the couple walked south on 7th Street about a block from their destination on Rhode Island Avenue they crossed paths with the group of teenagers in front of a store that a D.C. police report says was at 1731 7th St., N.W.

“They were about 17 to 19 years old,” the victim who spoke to the Blade said. “And one of them started saying stuff like, hey, look at these monkeypox faggots and some not so nice stuff like that,” he said.

Two persons of interest considered possible suspects in the Sunday, Aug. 7 assault of a gay couple on the 1700 block of 7th Street, N.W. Police ask anyone who recognizes one or both individuals to contact police at 202-727-9099.
(Image courtesy of the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department)

“We turned around to walk away and one of them came up behind me and got my attention and then sucker punched me and then hit me again and then hit my boyfriend in the face,” the victim said. “And another person hit him in the face as well,” he said. “And then someone across the street called the cops. And then the cops came, and they scattered off.”

To the couple’s surprise, the two young women remained on the scene and apologized for the actions by the guys they were with.

“So, I said something like thanks for the apology, but this is the kind of people you hang out with,” the victim recounted. “And one of them said their dad was gay, and they kind of walked away before the cops got there,” he said. “It was nice of them to apologize I guess for the other people.”

The D.C. police report lists the incident as having two offenses, a simple assault against the two men and a misdemeanor destruction of property related to the destruction of a pair of sunglasses worn by one of the two men that were damaged in the assault against him.

The report also lists the incident as a suspected “Sexual orientation – Anti-Gay” hate crime.

As in all incidents of violent crime, D.C. police call on members of the public to contact the police with information about an incident like this to call police at 202-727-9099 or text a tip to the department’s TEXT TIP LINE at 50411.

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District of Columbia

D.C. LGBTQ+ community services center closes after finances collapse

Earlier this year the entire Board of Directors had resigned, raising the question of whether Casa Ruby could legally operate without a board

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Ruby Corado (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON – Casa Ruby, the D.C. LGBTQ community services center that provided transitional housing services for homeless LGBTQ youth and adults and support for LGBTQ immigrants, has shut down all of its programs after it lost most of its city funding, one of its few remaining employees told the Washington Blade.

Tania Cordova, a Casa Ruby official who has coordinated the group’s LGBTQ immigrant services program, said a failure to pay the rent for Casa Ruby’s offices and rental homes for its transitional housing program made it impossible for the remaining staff of about 10 employees to continue any of the group’s programs.

The Casa Ruby shutdown this week took place nine months after Ruby Corado, the group’s founder and longtime executive director, resigned last October. She announced her resignation less than a week after the D.C. Department of Human Services disclosed it would not renew an annual Casa Ruby grant of what was said to be $850,000 to operate a low-barrier shelter for LGBTQ people.

At the time of her resignation, Corado said Casa Ruby’s then-Government Affairs Director Alexis Blackmon would assume the position of interim executive director while a search took place for a permanent director. But Blackmon resigned from the interim position a short time later and Casa Ruby announced that Jackie Franco, one of its managers, would serve as interim leader for the group with the title of Chief of Staff.

According to Cordova and others familiar with Casa Ruby, who spoke on condition of not being identified, Corado retained full control of Casa Ruby’s finances and made all key decisions despite her claim to have resigned. Cordova and other Casa Ruby staffers have also pointed out that Corado since the time of her announced resignation has spent most of her time in El Salvador operating, among other things, a Casa Ruby she opened in the capital city of San Salvador.

Corado told the Blade in an interview in May that the Casa Ruby board approved the creation of the Casa Ruby in El Salvador. Among its objectives, Corado said, was to provide services for LGBTQ Salvadorans so that they would not be forced to immigrate to the U.S.

Neither Corado nor Franco could immediately be reached this week for comment on the claim by the Casa Ruby staff that they had shut down the D.C. Casa Ruby’s operations.

One source familiar with the D.C. Casa Ruby said there were only about 10 staff members left as of June of this year. Cordova said that as of earlier this year, the entire Casa Ruby Board of Directors had resigned, raising the question of whether Casa Ruby could legally operate without a board.  

The Washington Post reported this week that Casa Ruby employed as many as 100 people as of 2020, eight years after Corado founded the group in 2012.

In its 2020 IRS 990 finance report, which all nonprofit organizations are required to file each year, Casa Ruby reported its total revenue for the year was $4,161,905, with most of the funds coming from D.C. government grants. The 2020 report, the latest one the IRS has released, also shows that Corado’s salary and total compensation for that year was $260,416.

Casa Ruby sources said the group filed a request for an extension of the deadline for filing 2021 IRS 990 report because Corado had not provided the needed financial information. The sources said that while the D.C. government has withheld several hundred thousand dollars in grants for Casa Ruby in the past year or two due to “noncompliance” with the terms of the grants, Casa Ruby has continued to receive funds from private donors. And the staff has not been informed by Corado, according to the sources, on how the private donor funds have been used.

In her interview with the Blade in May, Corado said she believes the Department of Human Services, which has provided much of Casa Ruby’s D.C. government funding, as well as the mayor’s office, was retaliating against her for her outspoken criticism of the city’s handling of programs for the homeless and other programs.

The Department of Human Services has not responded to repeated requests by the Blade for its specific reasons for determining that Casa Ruby was not in compliance with the DHS grants, which prompted DHS to cut off its funds for those grants.

The Menkiti Group, the company that owns the building at 7325 Georgia Ave., N.W., which Casa Ruby used as its headquarters and for the low barrier shelter, claims in a Landlord Tenant Court filing that Casa Ruby owes the company over $1 million in unpaid rent and late fees, among other expenses. Corado told the Blade last year that she withheld some of the rent in a dispute over what she said was the owner’s failure to maintain the building that led to multiple violations in the city’s fire and building code.

A spokesperson for the company told the Blade last year that Corado agreed to a lease that holds the tenant responsible for all needed repairs for the building. Casa Ruby has since moved out of that building.

The landlord for two smaller buildings in the Dupont Circle area in which Casa Ruby rented space have also filed eviction notices for failure to pay the rent.

Cordova said that the Union Temple Baptist Church, which rented four small townhouses to Casa Ruby where Cordova helped to operate the group’s LGBTQ immigrant services program, filed for eviction in court over failure by Casa Ruby to pay the rent. The church owns the buildings. Cordova said the immigrant occupants of the buildings as well as she, who lived in one of them, were forced to move out.

“Everything is closed,” Cordova said. “Nobody is going there to get services because there is nobody to provide the services,” she said. “We don’t have an office, we don’t have office supplies, we don’t have an internet. How are we going to provide services?”

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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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