Mixed Messages Outside Town Hall

Deputy mayor takes issue with DCTC activist's tweets, highlighting possible communication divide between city officials and activists

Just as Mayor Vincent Gray (D) was hitting all the right notes before a crowded room at the second annual ”Political Roundtable” Capital Pride town-hall event last night, one of his subordinates was being accused of shutting a door in the face of an activist whose organization is considered an important partner in combating crime and violence directed against members of the LGBT community.

The exchange between the two men occurred outside the forum at the Charles Sumner School at 17th and M Streets NW, at the entrance to a stairwell. The incident happened shortly after Gray’s swearing-in of 20 new members of the Mayor’s GLBT Advisory Committee and a public interview with Washington Blade reporter Lou Chibbaro Jr.

Jason Terry of the DC Trans Coalition (DCTC), one of several LGBT community groups involved with public safety and providing cultural-sensitivity training to Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) officers, had approached Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice Paul Quander.

Terry tells Metro Weekly he hoped to speak with Quander about scheduling a meeting to discuss issues related to MPD’s LGBTQ Critical Incident Team, and how DCTC can best collaborate with Quander’s office.

That team, established by MPD in 2010, is designed to meet monthly so that MPD representatives and ”first-responder” community organizations – such as DCTC, Rainbow Response, Transgender Health Empowerment and Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence (GLOV) – can discuss crime-related issues affecting the LGBT community.

Terry said last night that when he approached the deputy mayor, Quander said, ”I’ve seen your tweets. You don’t have any interest in cooperating.”

Terry, who had been tweeting reactions to Gray’s town-hall interview throughout the event, has a history of tweeting about disagreements with MPD brass, including Chief Cathy Lanier and several of her deputies. Terry’s Twitter profile includes the warning, ”may contain snark.”

Terry said Quander told him, ”I’ve seen your tweets and they’re all negative.”

Terry said he responded that he still wished to speak with Quander, who replied, according to Terry, ”I don’t think you want to do that, you don’t seem interested.” That’s when, says Terry, Quander shut the door in his face.

”I don’t understand,” Terry said immediately afterward, seemingly stunned. ”I don’t have to agree with every politician in the world. I know I’ve been extremely critical of the administration on violence issues, but I’m an activist. That’s what I do.”

”I’m sorry if I’m a little vehement, but people are dying,” Terry said, referring to several anti-LGBT crimes, including murders of transgender women in past months. ”And when things aren’t going well, as an activist, I should bring that forward.”

Quander addressed the incident this morning, saying his recollection of Thursday evening differs from Terry’s.

Quander says Terry approached him as he was entering the stairwell and asked if he could speak with him, with Quander replying that he was leaving. After Terry introduced himself and said he wanted to talk about MPD, Quander said, ”Oh, you’re Jason Terry,” and referenced his tweets, specifically some Quander saw as disparaging, which Terry posted May 19 during a Capital TransPride anti-violence panel attended by Assistant Chief Diane Groomes and Capt. Edward Delgado of the MPD’s Special Liaison Unit, which includes the Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit (GLLU).

Prior to that panel, Terry tweeted, ”What evil should I direct towards our beloved police chief today?” in reference to his frequent public disagreements with Lanier. Later, when Groomes arrived, Terry tweeted, ”Uh oh. Assistant Chief Groomes just showed up. This is going to be fun.”

After referencing those tweets, Quander says he told Terry he was leaving and did not want to speak with him. Quander says he did not shut the door in Terry’s face.

”I was professional,” Quander tells Metro Weekly. ”I said, ‘I don’t want to speak with you,’ and I explained why.”

With Terry and Quander the only people present when they spoke Thursday evening, Quander says he did not want to speak to Terry one-on-one for fear of having his words misconstrued. He also pointed out that Terry’s tweets could be considered hostile, and defended Groomes, saying she works ”tirelessly” to be responsive to the LGBT community.

”How are negative comments constructive?” Quander asked of Terry’s sentiments. ”If we want to talk about making change, being responsive, how is that constructive?”

Quander says, however, that any suggestion that he was cutting off the working relationship with Terry is ”manufactured.”

”If he is a member of the [Critical Incident] Team, we will continue to work together,” Quander said of his relationship with Terry.

Following Terry’s exchange with Quander Thursday evening, Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Lee Brian Reba (3C01), who is gay, asked Terry what was wrong. After Terry reported the incident to him, Reba, who served as deputy chief of staff for Gray when he the mayor was City Council chairman, appeared shocked.

Reba said he couldn’t believe Quander would have treated Terry in such a fashion, particularly when the mayor was at a Pride celebration touting cooperation between the LGBT community and his office in addressing problems like violence. Reba said such a response was uncharacteristic of the tone Gray sets, explaining that Gray encouraged his employees to provide him both positive and negative feedback when he was council chairman.

”I couldn’t believe on such a night, when there was so much to celebrate, there was someone … ready to leave in tears,” Reba said of Terry. ”Unfortunately, I did not witness what occurred, and I would feel heartbroken, as I think the mayor would, if these actions prove to be true. I’m hoping that it was a misunderstanding.”

”I think tweets can be misinterpreted,” Reba added. ”I think tweets can only speak for the moment, and if the deputy mayor was upset about the tweets, he should have said something to Jason and moved it forward.”

Jeffrey Richardson, director of the Mayor’s Office of GLBT Affairs, says he has not seen Terry’s tweets, though members of the mayor’s staff have described some to him that could be considered hostile to the mayor or MPD. Richardson this morning stressed the importance of not being distracted by ”silly, personal politics,” emphasizing the need for all concerned to work together for the good of the community.

”We’re going to continue to work with the community and keep people safe,” he said.

The Critical Incident Team will meet Tuesday, June 12, to discuss issues related to LGBT crime and more effective communication between city officials and activists, he added.

”My job is to keep the lines of communication open, and work for the good of the community,” Richardson said. ”Regardless of one perceived incident, we’re going to keep moving forward.”

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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