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The Washington Blade
Alston murder shocked D.C. in 2005: Stabbing death of mayor's top gay aide topped local news
Ken Sain
December 30, 2005
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 death.

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: Whitman-Walker's finances 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 Administration office.

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 fairness.

Virginia and Maryland officials came up with a plan to keep satellite offices open.

Virginia elections 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 Bush.

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 District.

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 prevention funds.

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 issues.

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 health classes.

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 the session.

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 orientation.