Community Palette

Through Our Tears the Fight for Equality and Gun Control Goes On

June 14, 2016

Saturday night in Washington, DC we celebrated with a hundred thousand members of the LGBT community and our allies; mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers; children and adults of every gender, race, religion and creed cheering as we marched down the street. We partied late into the night and then woke Sunday morning to the horror of another massacre.


At 2:00 am on Latin night in a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, 49 of our fellow human beings were slaughtered in the worst mass shooting in American history. 53 more were injured in what can only be described as senseless violence no matter what the cause. Terror is senseless and hate is senseless and this crime was both. It was an attack on LGBT Americans but also an attack on all Americans. It seems to have been carried out by one self-proclaimed radical jihadist who supported ISIS, hated the LGBT community, and had easy access to an assault weapon.


Americans will again debate who is to blame and how we stop the violence. One thing every rational human being must accept is whatever the cause of the gunman’s hatred; whatever motivated him to this horrific act; he was born here and bought his guns and ammunition here in the United States. He used an assault weapon that should never be allowed in the hands of any civilian.

The nation is mourning with the families and friends of those who died and praying for a speedy and full recovery for those who were injured. Their personal stories will be as diverse as our nation and the LGBT community itself. We are Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and atheist; white, Black, Asian, Latino and have one thing in common; we are part of the LGBT family, my family.


As we mourn we must also act. Like it or not this dastardly act comes in the middle of a Presidential election. We cannot accept those who would continue to try to divide us and campaign against the very essence of our Democracy. We could stop every Muslim from entering our country as Trump has suggested and this American terrorist would still have gunned down these innocent people because he was here and he hated them. In his own way he was deranged as were the perpetrators of Columbine, Aurora, Charleston and Newtown.


The one thing all these mass murderers have in common is the ease with which they had access to or purchased a gun to commit their crimes.


It is my hope that my family, the LGBT family, will find a way to mourn and remember our brothers and sisters who were taken from us at Pulse Nightclub that will make a lasting difference in the world. The innocent souls of all the mass shooting victims who are now together in heaven need to know they gave their lives for something.


No one is asking to repeal the 2nd amendment but we need to stop the sale of assault weapons and make it more difficult to buy a handgun in our nation. 33,000 men and women die each year from guns and we could do something about this tomorrow if Congress had the will and guts to act.


Sunday after we witnessed another mass shooting and just like after every one of these massacres, rational people asked “how many more must die before we act?” We cannot change the world overnight, we can’t defeat ISIS overnight, we can’t end mental illness overnight, and we can’t end hate overnight. Yet overnight we do have the power to make it safer for our fellow Americans. For those enjoying a night at a gay nightclub; teaching in or attending school; going to a movie or bible study; or just walking the streets in their neighborhoods. We can pass sane gun control laws.


As we work to make the deaths of those who have died from guns mean something we must not become haters or condemn every one of the same religion as a Jihadist or terrorist. Let us not follow the people who want us to hate anyone who doesn’t look like, sound like, or have the same religion or sexual orientation as we do. Let us reject totally the presidential candidate of the political Party asking us to do that.


Instead we should pass sane gun control; the Equality Act; reform our criminal justice system; give women equal pay for equal work; and pass meaningful immigration reform. With those actions we will show the world ‘Love conquers Hate’.


A version of this column is in the Washington Blade.

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Please Vote DC Democratic Caucus, May 21st

May 15, 2016

The DC State Democratic Party holds its caucus on Saturday, May 21st from 10am to 2pm at the DC Convention Center to select delegates to the Convention. My name will appear on the ballot to become a pledged delegate for Hillary Rodham Clinton. In 2008 I was elected as a delegate to support of Hillary but by the time we went to Denver all of Clinton’s delegates knew Barack Obama was going to be the nominee. Hillary asked us all to support then Senator Obama’s nomination and we proudly joined with her when she called to make it unanimous. 

Because of that experience I understand some of the frustration of those who have been supporting Bernie Sanders. You work hard but come up short. But contrary to the Republican Party, this year Democrats will unite like we did in 2008 and move forward together to victory.

This year my hope is to cast a vote for Hillary at the convention; it will be a proud moment for me. The May 21, 2016 Caucus is closed so only DC registered Democrats can vote.  Democratic registration may take place on-site, but the new registrant is required to file a Provisional Ballot in order to register and vote on May 21. The Caucus is officially open from 10:00 am - 2:00 pm and again from 9:00 pm - 10:30 pm on May 21, 2016 only.  During both timeframes at the Convention Center a full slate of delegate-candidates will be available to every registered Democratic voter attending the Caucus. The evening hours are for those who work during the day or can’t come during the day for religious reasons. It should only take a few minutes to cast your ballot but it will be appreciated. 

The process for selecting delegates splits the District into what are called two congressional districts. Wards 1, 2, 6 and 8 are District One and Wards 3, 4, 5, and 7 are District Two.  My name will be on the ballot in District One and those Democrats living in Wards 1, 2, 6 and 8 can vote for me. You can just vote for me, Peter D. Rosenstein, but I urge you to vote for the entire slate running with me including Brianne Nadeau, Ward 1 councilmember, Jack Evans, Ward 2 councilmember Sheila White from Ward 6 and Mary Cuthbert from Ward 8.  Together we will represent the diversity of DC and will proudly cast our ballots for Hillary at the Convention. To become delegates the caucus on May 21st is a crucial first step and we need your support. 

The Clinton campaign will be running full-out to win the D.C. primary on June 14th. It is the last primary in the nation and Hillary wants to end the primary season with a big win. She is already the presumptive nominee as she leads by more than 3.2 million actual votes and her delegate lead of about 300 makes it impossible for Senator Sanders to catch her. But Hillary respects his intention to run through June as she did in 2008.

The Hillary for America campaign will be setting up two offices in the District, one in Anacostia and one in Northwest. Adam Parkhomenko, Co-founder of Ready for Hillary, and National Volunteer Coordinator for Hillary for America will be the lead staff person here. We anticipate Hillary will make a campaign appearance in the final week before the primary.  

Hillary supports Statehood for the District and supports full budget and legislative autonomy while we continue to fight for statehood. She knows D.C. having lived here for years and we want her back. She has spent a lifetime fighting for the issues we care about; quality education for all children; civil rights; equal pay for women; and equality for the LGBT community. She has the temperament, experience and record of success to make a great progressive President. 

As a former teacher; community activist;  and someone who identifies as a feminist, supports the ERA and worked for Bella S. Abzug (D-NY) I am excited that along with all her other qualifications Hillary will be the first woman President of the United States. It will be a symbol to the world of who the American people are; a people who elected a great African American President and now will elect a great woman to lead our nation. This is a powerful symbol to people everywhere.  


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Eroding Public Trust in D.C. Government

May 8, 2016

The D.C. Children & Youth Investment Trust Corporation (CYITC) was formed in June 1999 as an independent 501(c)(3) organization to link public and private resources committed to addressing the long-term needs of children, youth and their families in the District of Columbia.  According to its original mission statement, “Its goal was to create alliances fostering strategic and effective investment in children and youth, to ensure high quality programs and services for every child in D.C. and to create mechanisms to evaluate the effectiveness of our efforts.” Unfortunately it went sadly off the tracks. The most egregious example was the money stolen by former City Council member Harry Thomas Jr.


In 2012, according to the Washington Post, “A solemn and weary Harry Thomas Jr. stood before a federal judge Thursday and blamed ‘a sense of entitlement’ for his having used his former position as a D.C. Council member to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars intended for youth programs. U.S. District Judge John D. Bates then imposed a sentence of three years and two months in prison, the most severe criminal sanction ever given a local elected official in the District.”


Recriminations continued and in 2013 the Washington Post quoted Diane Bernstein, the Trust’s founding vice chairman saying, “We were reaching for the stars here, and we were doing it. Only when the policy people stepped in did things start to go downhill.” In 2007, Adrian Fenty (D) took office as mayor and replaced Bernstein and then-Chair John W. Hill Jr. with his own people. Bernstein said, “What was originally intended to be an independent grant-making organization evolved into a means for political appointees to funnel money to pet projects.”


Looking at the Trust over the years Bernstein was right. There was never appropriate oversight and the board didn’t take responsibility for what was happening. As a non-profit CEO for more than 35 years I can only see the problems with the Trust as outrageous, inexcusable and maybe criminal. My hope is there will be an in-depth audit of all the Trust’s programs and funds with staff and the board held responsible and criminally charged if that turns out to be appropriate.


But the problems with the Trust should be a warning to all future mayors and others responsible for oversight of taxpayer funds that close monitoring of organizations entrusted to doling them out is crucial. When the city works with a non-profit to which they have a role in appointing board members they must ensure those people understand non-profits. It isn’t enough to appoint someone with a big name if that person doesn’t have the knowledge, time or willingness to be integrally involved.


There are other organizations in the District that hand out funds to various non-profits and we need to make sure they have reporting requirements in place and a board and staff that understand finances, and can read a budget and expense report.

One example of another such organization in the District is the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities. It distributes District money to many small groups and it is important to look at how it operates to make sure this embarrassing disaster at the Trust isn’t repeated. The boards of these organizations should have a finance and audit committee. Their staff must understand the board is entitled to see and review all budgets, income and disbursements, and not just after the fact.


The city should take a much bigger role in helping non-profit organizations receiving taxpayer funds and insist their board and staff receive training on what their responsibilities are.  Too often these boards are made up of people dedicated to a particular cause and wanting to do a good job but not having the experience to do it. It is not enough to give mayoral appointees to boards and commissions ethics training, which I understand they get, but they need training in the requirements of the job they are being asked to do.


There is a responsibility that anyone entrusted with spending public funds has and that is to do it responsibly and always be able to justify how it is used. People are generous and most taxpayers don’t resent paying their fair share as long as they know it is being used appropriately. The kind of activity that went on at the Trust, be it just inept or criminal, erodes the public trust.


Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBT rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.


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