Washington Blade - December 30, 2005
On March 16, employees in D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams' office
became concerned when Wanda Alston, the mayor's director of
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, & Transgender Affairs office, was late
getting to work.
Alston, a longtime lesbian activist in the District, missed a
meeting co-workers knew she planned on attending.
Attempts to reach her were unsuccessful so her co-workers
contacted Alston's partner, Stacey Long. Long drove to Alston's
Capitol Hill home and when she entered the house she discovered
Alston's body on the floor near the door. She had been stabbed to
News of the death of the 45-year-old lesbian activist rocked the
District's gay community because so many people knew and
respected her previous activism and work since being named to a
cabinet-level post in the mayor's office.
About 24 hours after the killing, a neighbor of Alston's, William
Parrot Jr., was arrested for her murder. Witnesses had seen
Parrot driving Alston's car, and he was in possession of two of
Alston's credit cards and her keys when police nabbed him.
Police said motive for the killing was theft, not anti-gay bias.
But that did little to console the hundreds of people who
attended Alston's memorial services.
Parrot pleaded guilty to the murder and was sentenced to 24 years
in prison. Police said Parrot told them he was high on crack
cocaine when Alston answered his knock at the door and allowed
him to enter her home.
Alston's position in the mayor's office went unfilled for most of
2005, but Williams announced in November that one of Alston's
closest friends, Darlene Nipper, would replace her.
The Alston murder was the top gay news story in the D.C. metro
region in 2005. Here are some of the other important news stories
from the past year:
The board of directors of the Whitman-Walker Clinic announced on
May 31 that D.C.'s largest provider of health care to HIV and
AIDS patients was suffering severe financial shortfalls and had
to cut its budget by $2.5 million, eliminating 62 staff positions
and threatening to close the Clinic's satellite offices in
Maryland and Virginia.
The announcement came two weeks after the Clinic told its
270-member staff that a shortage of funds forced it to withhold
half of its employee paychecks for at least one pay period.
Local governments and private businesses went to work to try to
help the Clinic with its financial problems. Mayor Anthony
Williams pledged $2.2 million in city funds to Whitman-Walker,
the money coming from unspent funds from the District's HIV/AIDS
The city bailout angered a number of other AIDS health care
organizations because, while District officials were trying to
save Whitman-Walker, a number of them were also struggling for
funds and having to cut back services. Ten of the organizations
authored a July letter complaining about a perceived lack of
Virginia and Maryland officials came up with a plan to keep
satellite offices open.
Virginia voters elected new members of the Assembly on Nov. 8,
and the results were encouraging for some gay activists. Entering
the election, they pointed to four candidates who were at the
forefront of opposing gay civil rights.
They were Robert Marshall (R-Loudoun), the author of the anti-gay
Marriage Affirmation Act; Dick Black (R-Loudoun) who introduced a
bill last year to ban adoptions by gay couples in Virginia; Chris
Craddock (R-Fairfax), a youth pastor who said in a Blade
interview that, "Christians and gays hate and despise each
other"; and Brad Marrs (R-Chesterfield), who accused his
Democratic opponent of accepting campaign contributions from a
gay man in an effort to taint her.
Voters rejected three of the four candidates. Marshall, who
garnered only 55 percent of the vote in an overwhelmingly
Republican district, was re-elected.
Many Virginia gay activists are hoping the results will mean
delegates will be less interested in trying to score political
points with harsh laws that penalize gay residents.
"We were smart and strategic in sending a message to some of our
harshest opponents," said Dyana Mason of Equality Virginia. "I
think they recognize that it is probably not a wise idea to focus
solely on the social issues."
Also, Democrat Tim Kaine won the gubernatorial campaign in a race
that was not as close as many predicted. His Republican opponent,
Jerry Kilgore, received a last-minute campaign stop by President
Gay issues played only a minor role in that campaign, although
Kilgore had a history of aggressive anti-gay positions. Both
candidates opposed gay marriage and civil unions.
Mayor's delay of game
Often with the support of the D.C gay rights organization Gay &
Lesbian Activists Alliance, District Mayor Anthony Williams tried
to keep gay issues in the closet to avoid the wrath of the social
conservatives who ran Congress in 2005.
D.C. Attorney General Robert Spagnoletti provided the mayor in
2004 an analysis of whether the District could and should
recognize the civil marriages of gay couples from Massachusetts
who later moved to the nation's capital.
After an initial pledge to release Spagnoletti's opinion by July
4, Williams changed his mind and has refused to make the paper
public. The Blade reported that Spagnoletti, who is gay,
reportedly concludes in the memo that the city can recognize the
marriages of gay couples who were wed civilly in Massachusetts.
Gay activists believe Williams is withholding the memo because he
believes it would upset key members of Congress and could create
a backlash. GLAA, a small group of longtime activists, supports
that decision and has also lobbied against gay marriage, civil
unions and a D.C. office of LGBT Affairs.
But that was not the only delay that upset some gay
Washingtonians. Williams still has not released the results of an
LGBT summit held in the spring and took more than eight months to
replace Wanda Alston, his gay liaison, who was murdered in March.
Some also criticized his slow response to long-term problems of
mismanagement at the District's troubled HIV/AIDS Administration.
Watts & HAA
In February, the Blade reported that the District HIV/AIDS
Administration spent more than $438,000 for a World AIDS Day
event in 2004. A few weeks later, gay D.C. Councilmember David
Catania revealed that HAA cut nearly $3 million in AIDS service
and prevention programs after more than $3 million in funds from
its budget last year went unspent.
Then in August came the final blow: Two local health care
oversight organizations said HAA missed several deadlines for
releasing reliable, updated data on HIV/AIDS rates in the
Officials with the D.C. Appleseed Center for Law & Justice and
the HIV Prevention Planning Group said the data is needed so the
city can update its HIV prevention programs. The two groups said
the data is also required for the city to receive federal HIV
A week later, HAA Director Lydia Watts was fired by Department of
Health Director Gregg Pane. Marsha Martin, the former executive
director of AIDS Action and an official inside the Clinton
administration, was named to replace Watts.
Sex ed in Montgomery County
A national debate over including gay issues in sex education
classes kicked off in Montgomery County, Md., after the school
board there decided to change its curriculum to address some gay
Social conservatives and "ex-gay" groups protested, and
eventually the county gave in to legal threats and scrapped its
new program. The school board promised to include the
conservatives, along with parents who support dealing directly
with gay issues, on a panel that would design a new sex-ed
program for students.
Liberty Counsel, a conservative legal group based in Florida,
filed the lawsuit that stopped the new curriculum from being
adopted. Parents & Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays joined in, demanding
that its perspective of a person being able to change their
sexual orientation from gay to straight also be presented in the
Some parents objected to a short film that showed students how to
correctly wear a condom, using a vegetable as the model.
D.C. Center opens its books
After months of requests, the D.C. Center for Gay, Lesbian,
Bisexual & Transgender People opened its books and let the public
know more about the state of its financial health.
In October, the Center had $35,035 left in its bank account. The
Center dismissed its managing director in August in the midst of
an internal dispute.
In early 2003, the Center had about $275,000 on hand. Most of
that was gone by October 2005. The Center still has not released
financial information for 1999 to 2002, claiming the books for
those years are not in its possession.
Among the items of internal dispute reportedly was a $10,000
contract to the partner of a Center board member to conduct a
study on the need for a gay community center in D.C.
Most of the Center's operating budget had come from the Cherry
circuit party, which has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars,
but the party itself has hit on hard times. The Center opened a
physical office in 2005.
In August, the board of directors of the Center voted to expel
fellow board member and Center vice president Larry Stansbury in
addition to dismissing Robert Bruening, the managing director.
Patrick Menasco, who had led the Center through most of its early
years and is credited with its start, resigned from the board on
the same day. He said the reason for his resignation was his
workload at his law firm, though inside sources suggested clashes
with the Center's current president, Michael Sessa.
Change at Virginia Assembly
During the 2004 debate over the Marriage Affirmation Act, the
Virginia Assembly earned a reputation for being anti-gay, passing
one of the most strident laws that restricted the rights of gay
couples in the nation.
But things changed in 2005. It didn't start out that way when
five different anti-gay bills were introduced at the beginning of
Those measures sought to: add a constitutional amendment to ban
same-sex marriage and civil unions; ban adoptions by gay couples;
ban gay-straight student alliances in the state's public schools;
allow local congregations to secede from a church or diocese over
gay tolerance issues and retain its local property, including
real estate; and allow drivers to claim their support for
"Traditional Marriage" on their license plates.
During the debate over the constitutional amendment in the
Senate, several Democrats, including Sen. Janet Howell
(D-Reston), likened the incremental stripping away of rights from
gays to post-Weimar Germany when the Nazis came to power and
began limiting the rights of German Jews.
"I haven't gotten any negativity at all," Howell said of the
reaction to her remarks. "Support for my speech has largely come
from heterosexuals who are writing to say they are so offended by
what the homophobes are doing and that they think we need to get
engaged in the battle."
One bill backed by gay rights advocates did pass in 2005. The
Virginia Assembly repealed a law that made Virginia the only
state in the union to bar private companies from offering health
insurance benefits to the domestic partners of their employees.
Gay rights advocates stepped back and let business lobbyists push
for this law. That strategy was recognized as a key part of
getting the bill passed.
Md. Assembly pressures Ehrlich
Democrats in the Maryland Assembly, sensing an opportunity to
regain the governorship in 2006, backed four bills advocated by
gay rights activists in 2005, putting political pressure on a
Republican governor in a heavily Democratic state.
The Assembly approved bills that would: create a partnership
registry to allow same-sex couples to designate their partners to
make medical decisions; exempt gay couples from the taxes
involved in transferring the title of a home; add sexual
orientation and gender identity to the state's hate crimes law;
and force schools to report incidents of anti-gay bullying.
Gov. Robert Ehrlich vetoed the Medical Decision Making Act and
the Transfer & Recordation Tax Exemption Act but signed the other
two, trying to strike a balance between his social conservative
base and the more moderate electorate in Maryland.
Ehrlich said he opposed the Medical Decision Making Act because
he feared a statewide registry was the first step on a path that
could lead to same-sex marriage. Ehrlich said he might introduce
his own version of the bill for the next session.
Gay rights advocates in Maryland said they tried several times to
get the governor's input on the bill in 2005, and the governor's
staff declined all invitations to become involved in the process.
Keyes' daughter comes out
Longtime political activist Alan Keyes, a vocal opponent of gay
rights, famously called Vice President Dick Cheney's lesbian
daughter, Mary Cheney, "a selfish hedonist" during the 2004
campaign. At the time, he said he would say the same thing to his
own daughter if she were gay.
Keyes had briefly left his Maryland home to run for the U.S.
Senate seat in Illinois in 2004. When he returned to Maryland in
2005 he was greeted with some family news: His daughter, Maya
Marcel-Keyes, was indeed a lesbian and about to go public.
"'Selfish hedonist' wasn't a surprise because that's what I have
heard before growing up," Marcel-Keyes said in an interview with
the Blade. "I was surprised he made it so public because my dad
has a lot of integrity."
Maya Marcel-Keyes agreed to go public by speaking at an Equality
Maryland Feb. 14 rally at the state capital for gay rights.
She said that her parents stopped communicating with her, tossed
her out of their home and quit paying her college tuition.
Her remarks at the rally focused on "gay kids who have no place
to go" and on a gay friend of hers, Shymmer, who she said had
recently died. Her friend was thrown out of his home by
conservative parents and forced to live on the street.
"[He was] going home with any man who'd give him a roof over his
head for the night," she said.
Marcel-Keyes is a student attending Brown University, with help
from the Point Foundation, which provides scholarships to gay
youth who face financial difficulties because of their sexual