Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance
of Washington, DC

AGENDA: 1998

an election-year guide
to gay and lesbian issues
in the Nation's Capital

Last revised: July 14, 1998


I. Public Safety
II. AIDS and Public Health
III. Regulatory Abuses
IV. Defending Our Families
V. Human Rights
VI. Public Education and Youth


The systematic suspension of much of the District's already-tenuous right to self-government in the past few years has angered and frustrated all D.C. residents. None have had greater reason to fear than gay men and lesbians.

Egged on by an increasingly arrogant religious right, Congressional tyranny, with White House acquiescence, has all too often been aimed at the gay citizens of the Nation's Capital.

And yet the wisdom of America's Founders — that the just powers of government are derived from "the Consent of the Governed" — is being vindicated once again.

It is simply no longer possible to run this, or any other large city in the country, by trampling on the rights and legitimate interests of any substantial portion of the body politic. Demagoguery or no demagoguery, home rule or no home rule, the voices of the lesbians and gay men of Washington, D.C. are being heard.

Precisely because no other part of our city's population has more to lose from the absence of meaningful self-governance, the District's gay and lesbian population must spearhead the demand for responsibility and accountability in all our elected officials.

Congress was able to steal back our right to self-government because of the recklessness of those that we, the people, voted to be Mayor, members of the Council, and members of the Board of Education. Since we, the people, dug ourselves into this hole, we, the people, must dig ourselves out.

There are signs for renewed hope, both for the District as a whole and for our lesbian and gay residents in particular. For example, after years of hopelessly unbalanced budgets, the District government is now actually running a surplus. While none of our elected officials would ever take responsibility for the years of fiscal folly, all now claim credit for the new fiscal order. So be it; as Napoleon observed, "Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan."

Improvements in matters more directly affecting the District's gay men and lesbians have also begun to accumulate recently. For example:

It remains for the government to establish and maintain clear and sensible priorities, and improve both its delivery of services and the "corporate culture" of those who deliver them. Among the persistent problems that must be squarely addressed by our elected officials:

The Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance has prepared this Agenda: 1998 to summarize where we stand on issues of concern to our community today. We hope it will be studied seriously both by the candidates in this year's elections and by the community at large.

If we leave our civic responsibilities to others, we should not be surprised when it is their priorities and standards rather than ours that are served. Let us remember the three decades of achievement by GLAA and the District's lesbian and gay community in advancing our equal rights — from a standard-setting human rights law to sodomy repeal. It is time for us in this election year to defend our stake as voters by holding our public officials' feet to the fire — before those hard-won gains are lost.

Richard J. Rosendall

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Part I. Public Safety

A. Improving Relations between the Police and the Lesbian/Gay Community

Due to the efforts of GLAA and others, relations between the gay community and the police have greatly improved since the days a quarter century ago when police entrapment and harassment of gay citizens was routine. We cannot afford to allow our hard-won progress to be lost. GLAA has no desire to maintain an adversarial posture toward the police. The gay community has just as much stake in public safety as anyone; this is all the more true in light of the fact that gay people are a frequent target of hate crimes. We are committed to making every effort to work with the police and other officials to improve trust and cooperation between the gay community and those who are sworn to protect us. That trust has been damaged by recent events at MPD, and steps must be taken to earn back that trust. GLAA President Rick Rosendall, along with Sharen Johnson of Gay Men and Lesbians Opposing Violence (GLOV), participated in Mayor Barry's Citizens Advisory Committee on the Selection of the Chief of Police. We are pleased that on the day of his selection as the new chief, Charles Ramsey asked to meet with gay community leaders as soon as possible to discuss our concerns. Although no such meeting has been scheduled as of mid-July, we look forward to working with Chief Ramsey and his team.

Acting Chief Proctor has indicated that to her knowledge the outrageous extortion scheme allegedly conducted by Lt. Jeffrey Stowe was an isolated case. While we have no evidence to the contrary, this incident has done great damage to relations between the gay community and police; in particular, our colleagues at GLOV have received numerous calls from gay citizens since the Stowe story broke in November who have expressed their reluctance to trust the police. As we have stated, our concern is not only with those on the force who would commit such criminal behavior, but with any of their colleagues who may have known about it and remained silent out of respect for the "Blue Code." The Stowe case underscores the importance not only of sensitivity training, but of strong leadership by top MPD officials to make clear that such behavior will not be tolerated and that offenders will be fired and prosecuted.

GLAA commends the excellent work done in recent years by Gay Men & Lesbians Opposing Violence (GLOV) to improve relations between the MPD and the District's gay and lesbian community. To continue this trend, the MPD must continue to conduct sensitivity training led by gay men and lesbians for both new and veteran police, with payments to these trainers comparable to rates paid other trainers. Such training helps police to respond effectively when gay people are crime victims or witnesses or when same-sex couples are involved in cases of domestic violence. In addition to training, officers must be given clear guidelines and careful supervision to ensure that their law enforcement activities do not trample on civil liberties.

Jessica Xavier of Transgender Nation reports that she has received numerous complaints from transgendered persons that they were singled out for harassment by District police officers, and treated like prostitutes, based solely on their appearance. This amounts to illegal "profiling." Our position is simply that the law should be enforced consistently, and that transgendered persons not be assumed by police to be prostitutes simply on the basis of their appearance.

B. Restoring the Civilian Complaint Review Board

The DC Council rashly abolished the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) in 1995 without providing an alternative mechanism for effectively handling complaints of police abuse. As a result, the District has been one of the few major cities in the country without a civilian complaint review system. After several false starts, the Council is now moving on Bill 12-521, the "Office of Citizen Complaint Review Establishment Act of 1998," which GLAA has endorsed. We believe this legislation builds on the experience of successful civilian review systems elsewhere, while avoiding the problems that plagued the original CCRB. Funding for this new system (about $1 million per year) will have to be provided as quickly as possible, whether by reprogramming funds from the Metropolitan Police Department or by some other route. The Council will have to be very aggressive in exercising its oversight responsibilities for the new system, to ensure that any problems that arise in implementation will be identified and corrected before they become overwhelming.

C. Curtailing Zero Tolerance Abuses

The MPD's version of zero tolerance policing last year often more closely resembled zero intelligence, as overzealous officers arrested people for drinking wine on their own front porches (the so-called "Chardonnay Lady" incident, first reported by The InTowner) and for other trivial matters. While the concept of zero tolerance policing may have some validity, it needs to be focused on those small crimes that clearly do lead to greater crimes — rather than simply giving police an excuse to harass citizens indiscriminately for the purpose of driving up arrest figures.

Any program of this kind requires clear guidelines and strong supervision to ensure that the law-abiding public is truly being protected and not harassed. When officers use the excuse of zero-tolerance policing to throw their weight around arrogantly, community confidence and trust are undermined. The more our police behave like an occupying force rather than as public servants sworn to protect us, the less safe we will all be in the long run.

To end police harassment of District residents drinking on their own front porches, GLAA researched and drafted corrective legislation, which has been incorporated in Bill 12-612, "Opened Alcoholic Beverage Containers Amendment Act of 1998," introduced on April 7 by DC Councilmember Carol Schwartz. The Council has taken the first steps towards enacting this bill, and we hope it will secure final passage this fall. Fears that this legislation will somehow deprive the police of an important enforcement tool against public drunkenness and rowdiness are not justified. Indeed, the MPD has expressed its support for this bill, no doubt realizing that publicity from incidents such as the "Chardonnay Lady" debacle damages its credibility.

D. Investigating Homicides

Problems with the MPD's homicide division have affected the gay community. In particular, there were five cross-jurisdictional murder cases involving black gay men who were picked up (or at least last seen) in District bars such as the Bachelor's Mill, and murdered in Prince George's County. Metropolitan Police Department officials have pledged to improve their coordination with the FBI and neighboring police departments. In the past few months, the new head of the MPD's Homicide unit, Commander Ross Swope, has met with a number of area gay and lesbian community leaders to discuss strategies for securing greater cooperation between the police and members of our community in such investigations.

E. Discrimination by Emergency Caregivers

In 1995 a transgendered citizen, Tyra Hunter, died following a traffic accident when certain rescue workers from the D.C. Fire Department allegedly withheld proper and timely emergency treatment from her because of their own prejudices. The Fire Department's mishandling of this case undermined the entire community's confidence in the Department's fairness and competence.

The DC Fire Department again failed to give proper medical service in 1996 when two gay men were assaulted by a homophobe in Dupont Circle. Because the Department's personnel refused to render proper assistance on the scene, the victims were forced to walk a mile to George Washington University Hospital for treatment. We have heard of other complaints of similar misconduct by emergency medical personnel when confronted with persons with AIDS in need of immediate aid. Fire Chief Donald Edwards needs to be more outspoken and visible in leading efforts to eradicate this kind of improper activity by members of his department.

In 1996, Mayor Barry and former Fire Chief Otis Latin made a commitment to develop and implement an enhanced community relations training program for all Department personnel, including strong recognition of gay and lesbian community concerns. Although such training did not begin until a few weeks ago, it is now underway in full force; all Department personnel should receive this training by the end of the fiscal year.

F. Hate Crimes Enforcement

Passage of the Bias-Related Crimes Act of 1990 was one of the great legislative achievements affecting the gay and lesbian community in recent years. GLAA believes that the Council needs to be vigilant in exercising its oversight responsibilities to ensure that the MPD is training all its members to recognize, respond to, and document bias-related crimes. It should be noted that decisions by the U.S. Attorney's office to "no paper" various cases have caused great frustration on the part of police as well as citizens. This is another negative consequence of the District's lack of self-determination.

G. Condom Availability for District Prisoners

It took persistent lobbying by GLAA and many other local organizations leading the fight against AIDS, but several years ago the D.C. Department of Corrections began to make condoms freely available in District jails and prisons. Sexual acts in prison are still prohibited, but possession of condoms is no longer considered contraband or grounds for disciplinary actions. That progress is now being effectively rolled back as an unintended consequence of the trend towards federalization and privatization. Many D.C. prisoners are now housed in places where there are no such programs, raising the risk of transmission of AIDS within prison walls and eventually into the general population. To the extent possible, D.C. officials should require private contractors to provide condom availability programs, and should lobby federal and state officials to lift any bans on such programs in their facilities where District prisoners are housed.

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Part II. AIDS and Public Health

A. Assuring Full Spending of DC Appropriated Money

In FY 1996, the District government failed to spend $1 million of its own funds appropriated for the fight against AIDS; in FY 1997 just ended, the same problem reappeared in about the same magnitude. The underspending reflected the District's failure to implement innovative programs for AIDS prevention; in FY 1996, for example, the District failed to get its needle exchange program off the ground, and in FY 1997 the city government did not award contracts for new AIDS prevention programs targeting under-served at-risk populations. At the very end of FY 1997, some funds that otherwise would have been lost were reprogrammed to DC General Hospital to let them stock up on AIDS-fighting drugs for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP), but this is not a good way of doing business — especially since activists warned District officials several months earlier that the underspending problem would recur, a warning that went unheeded.

Appropriated District funds that are not spent do not carry over into the next fiscal year but are effectively lost. What is potentially even worse, the District government's underspending has jeopardized the federal funds the city receives each year under the Ryan White Care Act. Other cities that have similarly failed the "maintenance of effort" test mandated by the Ryan White Care Act have indeed endured a cutback in federal funding. We must use every dollar available, both local and federal. GLAA believes that funding for the care and treatment of people with AIDS must continue to rise in proportion to the caseload, which shows no signs of abating. The District's current financial predicament should not be used as an excuse to force cutbacks in AIDS programs locally, and grants must be monitored to ensure that funds are not only spent but spent properly.

B. Financial Management

GLAA supported the designation of a third party to act as a fiscal agent for federal AIDS money (including Ryan White and HOPWA), which was adopted last year by the Financial Control Board. Under the new system, an independent third party, which has no financial ties to the District government, will draw down federal money from accounts at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to pay AIDS service providers directly. The District's Agency for HIV/AIDS will continue to certify that vouchers are submitted accurately and are eligible for payment, and will also continue to set other programmatic objectives and standards. We feel that this system will result in swifter payment to AIDS service providers who are due federal reimbursement. GLAA also remains committed to pursuing such a system for locally appropriated dollars should the District renege on current commitments to bring payments of local money up to date.

C. Funding ADAP and Food and Nutritional Support

Now that new life-prolonging drugs are available, we must continue our commitment to spending Ryan White Title II money on the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP) which helps pay for drugs for people with no or inadequate insurance coverage. Likewise, we all must remain committed to funding (with both federal and District money) home delivered meals, other nutritional support such as food banks, and also clean drinking water for people with HIV/AIDS. GLAA deplored Mayor Barry's dismissal of former Public Health Commissioner Harvey Sloane, whose chief offense was to warn people with AIDS and other vulnerable persons when the District's water was not safe to drink. The Mayor's insistence that public officials should place their personal loyalty to him above their duties to the public is contemptible beyond words.

D. Legalizing Medical Marijuana

GLAA supports legalizing the medical use of marijuana when a patient's doctor recommends it to combat some of the effects of AIDS, cancer, or other diseases. We expect candidates to support Initiative 59 publicly if it qualifies for this November's ballot. Should Initiative 59 not qualify for the ballot, the Council should enact substantially the same legislation itself in 1999. There is no reason to believe that legalizing medical marijuana in tightly controlled situations will encourage youth to indulge in drug abuse. Alleviating pain and suffering must not be sacrificed to political posturing and demagoguery. In particular, we oppose threats by the Clinton Administration to revoke the federal prescription authority for doctors who recommend marijuana for their patients who are not responding properly to other medications.

E. AIDS Prevention

Prevention saves lives and saves money. For this reason GLAA took the lead in supporting condom availability programs in schools and prisons. Condoms, when properly used, have been proven to help prevent the transmission of HIV from one person to another. If we are truly serious about stopping the spread of AIDS, condom availability programs are essential. GLAA opposes limiting AIDS education and prevention strategies in our public schools to an "abstinence-only" approach, as demanded by some in the religious right.

GLAA also worked for the enactment and funding of legislation permitting the operation of clean needle exchange programs by AIDS services providers to help stop the transmission of HIV among intravenous drug users. Studies have shown that these programs have not in any way led to increased IV drug use in communities around the country where these programs exist.

F. Avoiding Counterproductive Legislation

There is renewed support in much of the country for attractive-sounding but ineffective legislation that mandates the reporting of the names of people infected with HIV to public health officials, encourages health workers to pressure Persons with AIDS to identify their sexual or drug-use partners for purposes of contact tracing, criminalizes the "knowing" transmission of the AIDS virus, or abolishes anonymous testing. Such measures actively discourage those most at risk from being tested or treated for HIV, from well-justified fears of exposing themselves to possible discrimination and retaliation. A far more effective strategy used in many areas supports the reporting of cases of HIV to public health officials without using actual names.

G. Taking Women's Health Concerns Seriously

There are many other medical issues of concern to our community. Lesbians are at particular risk of not having breast and cervical cancers diagnosed early — based on lack of access to and sensitivity of medical providers to lesbian sexuality issues. The city needs to make sure that its health centers are staffed with people who are aware of and sensitive to such issues. The needs of women with HIV/AIDS are also often ignored. City agencies which dispense birth control or barriers for disease prevention also need to provide dental dams and/or other barriers for safe lesbian sexuality.

H. Fighting TB and Alcoholism

Drug-resistant TB has begun to spread in this area and needs to be aggressively stamped out before it becomes more entrenched within the population of people with HIV/AIDS and their medical care providers. Programs focusing on alcoholism which are run by or paid for by the city also need to incorporate gay and lesbian concerns in this area.

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Part III. Regulatory Abuses

A. Ending Harassment of Gay Businesses

Not long ago, there was a rash of incidents where District government regulatory agencies — chiefly the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA), the ABC Board, the Metropolitan Police Department, and the Fire Department — deliberately targeted gay businesses for unfair and unwarranted harassment. Justified under the mantra of "zero tolerance," this campaign degenerated into a paradigm of "zero intelligence," especially when overzealous police officers were pulled into dubious schemes hatched by Inspector James Delgado and others from DCRA. After a very pointed series of protests from GLAA, the concerted campaign of anti-gay harassment has apparently run its course — with one glaring exception, as explained below.

B. Ending Harassment of Gay Consumers

At the beginning of this year, the now-ousted chief of DCRA, David Watts, instituted a proposed order that would reclassify as a sexually oriented establishment any video store that derives more than 15% of its revenue from adult videos. Given that zoning regulations would then force these stores to close down, Mr. Watts was clearly abusing his regulatory authority to ingratiate himself with certain segments of the District's population. These puritanical regulations serve no legitimate government interest and constitute a direct assault on the right of adult consumers to choose their own forms of entertainment. It is not enough to try to delay the implementation of the proposed regulation for a few years while stores adjust their policies, or to grandfather in existing stores (thereby shielding them from competition). The proposed regulation should be entirely rescinded because no government-imposed limits on the proportion of adult videos sold at video stores are tolerable in a free society.

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Part IV. Defending Our Families

A. Securing Equal Marriage Rights

An increasing number of both political and religious leaders have come to realize that, in the words of Georgetown University Law School Professor William Eskridge, Jr., "The civilizing influence of family values, with or without children, may ultimately be the best argument for same-sex marriages." Recognizing such unions may be, as Professor Eskridge puts it, "in the interest of civilizing gays and civilizing America." GLAA will oppose efforts by Congress or anyone else to stop the District of Columbia from recognizing same-sex marriages performed elsewhere.

Domestic partnership laws are well and good, but they provide at best only limited practical benefits; domestic partnership laws cannot, for example, grant spousal pension rights for survivors, or allow spousal immunity protection in court actions, or allow couples to file income taxes jointly. Accordingly, we hope that eventually the District will grant recognition to same-sex marriages, though for pragmatic reasons we are not pressing for such legislation at present. We agree with U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), the renowned civil rights leader, who stated during the 1996 Congressional debate on the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act: "Marriage is a basic human right."

B. Upholding Adoption Rights

A court decision a few years ago upheld the right of unmarried couples to adopt children jointly in the District. GLAA opposes efforts in Congress to outlaw or restrict such adoptions. The true victims of such posturing would be the children who would otherwise enjoy the benefit of having not one but two legally and financially responsible parents. We believe that the overriding criterion in adoption and custody cases should continue to be the best interests of the child — not the best interests of the politicians and other outside parties.

C. Domestic Partnership

GLAA was instrumental in the codification of the Health Care Benefits Expansion Act of 1992, which provides for the registration of domestic partners, along with certain benefits, in the District of Columbia. However, the Act has never been funded since its inception because of Congressional decree. We believe that the District should fight for its right to use local tax revenues to implement the domestic partnership law.

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Part V. Human Rights

A. Improving the Administration of the DC Human Rights Act

GLAA has been critical of cutbacks in enforcement of the DC Human Rights Act of 1977, the District's landmark anti-discrimination law. Since 1990 the number of investigators assigned to anti-discrimination complaints has plunged from 14 to just 2; as a direct result, anyone filing a complaint of illegal discrimination today with the District government can expect to wait for 3 to 4 years before a finding of probable cause can be issued. Gerald Draper, head of the Department of Human Rights & Local Business Development, has acknowledged that OHR does not have nearly enough resources to do its job properly. GLAA salutes the DC Council's action last year to mandate mediation at OHR before an investigation is launched into a complaint; this helps make the most of OHR's limited investigative resources.

GLAA urges the following steps:

B. Ending Discrimination by the Boy Scouts

The local chapter of the Boys Scouts of America (BSA) is being sued [Pool v. Boy Scouts of America, Geller v. Boy Scouts of America] because of the national group's rigid policies barring gays from joining either as scouts or as leaders. BSA leaders have claimed an exemption from the District's Human Rights Act on the grounds that BSA is a private club. In fact, since its inception BSA has been heavily supported by government agencies at the municipal, state, and federal levels throughout the country, and has always advertised that membership is open to "all boys" — hardly the earmarks of a "private club." The national leadership of BSA is cynically exploiting homophobia to advance its own exclusionary agenda; such bigotry cannot be tolerated under our laws. A ruling in the local cases is expected soon from the District's Commission on Human Rights. We agree with the March 2 ruling by the New Jersey state appeals court: "There is absolutely no evidence before us, empirical or otherwise, supporting a conclusion that a gay scoutmaster, solely because he is homosexual, does not possess the strength of character necessary to properly care for, or to impart BSA humanitarian ideals to the young boys in his charge."

C. Ending DC Government Attacks on the DC Human Rights Act

The District Government itself has launched several attacks in recent years on the integrity of the Human Rights Act by advancing extremely narrow interpretations of its meaning and scope. In the Boy Scouts case cited above, for example, the Department of Human Rights and Local Business Development originally accepted BSA's claim that it is a private club — completely overturning earlier rulings on the definition of private clubs handed down in the Big Brothers anti-gay discrimination case. Fortunately, a storm of protests by GLAA and others prompted the intervention of the Corporation Counsel, who has reversed the Department's original interpretation. But the Corporation Counsel's office has argued elsewhere that the District government is exempt from having to comply with the Human Rights Act in the delivery of public services. Equally ominous is the recent argument that the Human Rights Act does not bar harassment of public school students but only bans discrimination in admission policies; if upheld by the courts, this interpretation would open the door for all kinds of legalized harassment. The Human Rights Act of 1977 explicitly carries the admonition that it is to be interpreted broadly and liberally; the pattern of legal arguments advanced until very recently in the name of the D.C. government is incompatible with this guideline.

We are encouraged that a few months ago Corporation Counsel John Ferren took the extraordinary step of formally withdrawing the argument that the District government is exempt from the coverage of the public accommodations section of the DC Human Rights Act when it provides services to the public. The Corporation Counsel's office had originally made this claim in its briefs defending the District government against the lawsuit filed by the family of Tyra Hunter. We hope to hear no more of this preposterous theory.

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Part VI. Public Education & Youth

A. Preventing Vouchers for Private Sectarian Schools

D.C. voters rejected the concept of taxpayer-financed vouchers for private schools in a 1981 referendum by a decisive margin of 9-to-1. Nevertheless, under the spurious banner of "populism," several Congressional leaders have tried to ram a voucher program aiding sectarian and other private schools down the throats of District citizens. GLAA opposes public subsidies for private schools, in part because most private schools are run by religious denominations violently hostile to lesbians and gay men. Private school vouchers imposed by Congress would be another wanton violation of home rule principles and would ultimately be struck down by the courts as patently unconstitutional.

B. Respecting the Equal Access Act

Homophobes in Utah attracted national attention when the State Legislature passed a law banning all non-curriculum-related clubs in public high schools, thereby abolishing a slew of clubs ranging from chess clubs to Bible study groups. This absurd law was passed because students in Utah had established a number of gay/straight alliances; under the federal Equal Access Act enacted nearly a decade ago, schools must either allow any non-curriculum related clubs or else ban all of them. Other strategies are also being advanced to circumvent the Equal Access Act, all of them designed to suppress free speech in our public schools. GLAA is gratified to know that there have been a number of gay-supportive clubs formed over the years in District public schools and expects our elected officials to uphold their right to exist.

C. Providing Social Services for Gay & Lesbian Youth

The District government should do all in its power to assist the Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League (SMYAL) and similar groups in training educators and social workers on issues affecting gay and lesbian youth. Mainstream youth service agencies in both the private and the public sector have frequently failed in their responsibilities to our young gay people, sometimes out of their own prejudices, or sometimes because of fears of losing public or foundation funding. District government agencies have the duty to put their professional commitment to the welfare of the young over any adverse fears or prejudices.

Homophobia kills, and youngsters are often the most vulnerable. Nowhere is this fact more painfully clear than in the disproportionately high rate of attempted suicides among lesbian and gay teenagers. The District's Department of Human Services must implement the recommendations of the Sullivan report on teen suicide and ensure that District agencies that provide social and medical services to teens are fully aware of and sensitive to lesbian and gay youth concerns.

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Copyright © 1998 by Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington, DC, Inc.
All Rights Reserved.
GLAA, Inc.
P.O. Box 75265
Washington, DC 20013-5265
Phone (202)667-5139

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