Choosing a Candidate

LGBT residents are hoping the next Ward 5 councilmember will be an ally and advocate

By John Riley
Published on April 12, 2012, 6:45am | Comments

A month out from May's special election to replace former Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr. (D), Ward 5 residents are doing some candidate-shopping.

The special election, scheduled for May 15, features 11 different candidates. And LGBT residents, in particular, are hoping they can find a candidate who will engage them and listen to their concerns – preferably a councilmember with a strong sense of ethics.

''All I want is a genuine, gay marriage-equality platform, as well as honest collegial representation on the council,'' says lesbian Edgewood resident Jane Lincoln. ''Someone who won't engage in 'turf wars' or personal squabbles with other councilmembers. Is that too much to ask?''

The seat on the 13-member D.C. Council opened up in January, after Thomas, the sitting councilmember, pleaded guilty to embezzlement and tax fraud following a suit by D.C. Attorney General Irvin Nathan that alleged Thomas had taken more than $350,000 in city funds earmarked for youth sports programs.

Lincoln says she's seen the candidates in the past few months canvassing the ward, trying to gather petition signatures to get on the ballot, knocking on doors and hanging campaign posters.

''There was a while when you'd stumble and you'd hit a Ward 5 candidate,'' she says. Prior to the official certification of petitions, and a number of withdrawals, there were more than 20 candidates vying for the vacancy.

Lincoln says there are a lot of qualities she's looking for in a candidate, but is almost afraid to demand for fear that she may be disappointed, as she was when Thomas's scandal broke.

She says even though the District has already passed marriage equality, candidates' stances on whether they supported the law and would uphold it is very important to her. She adds she's leaning toward Kenyan McDuffie.

Most of the candidates who spoke with Metro Weekly support marriage equality, including McDuffie, Kathy Henderson and Tim Day. But even those who said they had concerns about the law when it passed, including Delano Hunter and Ron Magnus, or who say they did not have an opinion on the law, like Frank Wilds, have said publicly that they will defend it and oppose any attempt to repeal it.

Candidate Ruth Marshall, who supports marriage equality, said that when the law was passed in 2009, she was unaware that the District's Human Rights Code could prevent a referendum on the topic. But even though she supported a referendum, Marshall says she believes a majority of D.C. voters would have chosen to uphold or approve the law.

''We live in a different time, when there's more familiarity, more knowledge of the LGBT community,'' she says. She says a lot of the pushback against the marriage-equality law was not so much anti-gay animus as a feeling that voters were being excluded from the political process.

Transgender activist Ruby Corado, of the DC Trans Coalition (DCTC), says a number of LGBT individuals live in Ward 5 and want someone who will be accessible and open to listening about their concerns. Corado says she has been concerned about several attacks on transgender women of color that have occurred in the eastern part of the District, and would like to see the next councilmember actively address both anti-LGBT violence and the response of the Metropolitan Police Department to bias crimes.

Corado, who favors holding MPD's feet to the fire when it comes to pursuing and closing possible bias crimes, might be favorably disposed to candidate Shelly Gardner, who vows to use her position as councilmember to call out and publicly reprimand District employees who fail to comply with the District's Human Rights Code. Gardner says she is aware of instances, particularly some involving domestic violence, where police have not responded appropriately in helping victims of violence.

Hassan Naveed, a spokesman for Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence (GLOV) and a Ward 5 resident, issued a statement calling on the future councilmember to be a proactive and vocal advocate for the LGBT community.

"It's important for the next council members to address the concerns of hate crimes against the LGBT community by attending the hearing on hate crimes, engaging with all LGBT organizations on the matter, and holding the city government accountable for their responsibility to protect everyone in our city," Naveed said in a prepared statement.

Candidate Ron Magnus, a former assistant attorney general for the District of Columbia, says that sensitivity training for MPD officers should be mandatory, as opposed to voluntary.

''I'd like to go a step further,'' Magnus says. ''I think they should not just be a one-time training. I think it should be a regular, ongoing training.''

Wilds says that while he does not believe in special treatment for any sub-groups of people, he does think MPD officers should be subject to mandatory sensitivity training on a yearly basis. Day, the sole Republican running for the seat in a field of Democrats and one Independent, says such training should be part of an officer's review, occurring either on a quarterly or six-month basis. McDuffie expresses similar sentiments.

Other candidates say that bias not only needs to be addressed within the context of law enforcement, but in the District's schools, with anti-bullying initiatives that promote tolerance, including for LGBT teens.

''I think when we look at schools, we have to look at it comprehensively,'' says Delano Hunter. ''Bullying is a root cause of truancy. Kids don't go to school because they feel pressured at school, because of bullying.'' Hunter says he would try to move comprehensive anti-bullying legislation through the council to address those issues.

Gardner also makes the connection between the lack of comprehensive anti-bullying legislation and a higher rate of truancy among LGBT teens due to fear of discrimination.

Ward 5 resident Vincent Villano says he is still deciding which candidate to support, but is going to place particular weight on a candidate's stances on prostitution-free zones (PFZs); programs like Project Empowerment, designed to combat anti-transgender bias in hiring for employment; and pushing MPD to pursue and resolve cases in which the victim is a member of the LGBT community.

Under a bill introduced by Councilmember Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7), police would be allowed to declare certain areas permanent prostitution-free zones. Current law allows the MPD chief to declare an area a prostitution-free zone for 20 days.

While several candidates support the idea of PFZs, almost all believe that the permanent PFZ legislation is problematic or potentially unconstitutional, and several expressed concerns of profiling, particularly against members of the transgender community.

''I do support PFzs,'' says Kathy Henderson. ''However, I am very reluctant to say we should make them permanent if the attorney general of the city has said that there may be an issue of constitutionality. I do have a problem with any person or group of persons who are unfairly targeted.''

LGBT Ward 5 residents questioned agree the election will likely be decided on factors unrelated to LGBT issues, such as homelessness and economic development. But, they caution, that doesn't mean they shouldn't have high expectations for candidates on LGBT-related issues.

''Anyone who comes into that position should be looking out for the policies that affect all of the people in the ward, including gay men, lesbians and trans women,'' says Corado. ''We want to see an elected official that actively addresses those issues.''