There’s an internecine battle underway inside the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, one of the District’s most prominent gay activist organizations.
The conflict is rooted in group’s most recent leadership elections, on Dec. 3. These facts are not in dispute: A slate of Stein Club veterans, led by president Lateefah Williams, sought reelection to the group’s five executive offices. In the days leading up to the vote, dozens of new members joined the club. Immediately eligible to vote, those members helped an insurgent slate narrowly win three of the five offices, including club president.
I’ve heard some of the vets characterize those events as a “coup”; one Stein veteran, Jeri Hughes, wrote a Blade op-ed calling the election a “farce” and the new slate’s tactics as a “neat trick” that caused an “irrevocable scar on the exemplary history of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club.”
But president-elect Martín Garcia, who won by two votes, said the election was done “by the books, by the rules” and said the new members’ votes should count the same as any other member’s.
“We definitely saw the potential to take Gertrude Stein to the next level,” he said. “Seeing the disconnect between the longtime activists and the young grass-rootsy folks in the city, I figured, how can we connect these?”
Still, some of the “longtime activists” are miffed at how things went down and are now seeking to invalidate the election. The outgoing executive committee voted to hold a special meeting next week to consider doing so. Objections have been raised to the status of 17 of the new members who voted — 11 because their addresses “could not be confirmed,” according to a legal memo, and six others who claimed “special membership” status that “could not be verified.”
Jerome Hunt, the club’s vice president of administration, acknowledged that there is no residency requirement in the club by-laws, but said some members were concerned by the newcomers’ out-of town addresses, including in California and Florida. “On the surface it didn’t look like it was up to par,” Hunt said. “Usually our members come from Maryland, Virginia and D.C.”
Per club rules, “special memberships” are available to “senior citizens, students and limited-income members,” who pay $15 per year rather than the standard membership rate of $35 per year. Some are questioning whether members who claimed limited-income status are truly limited-income — a question that’s complicated by the fact that club rules don’t define what constitutes a “limited-income member.”
Williams said some of her allies researched the new members in question and determined through Internet searches and social media that they may not qualify. Also, she said, “additional members of the community came forward and said, ‘I know these people, they’re not low-income.’ “
Garcia said the questioning of the members’ status is an affront to the “young LGBT folks of color” who backed him in the election and are “probably among the most marginalized” elements of the community. He also suggested that members who questioned voters’ status should have leveled their challenges before the election, not afterward.
“It not only puts a challenge on the new members, it makes it harder for them to be involved and less likely for them to be involved,” Garcia said, adding, “we upped their membership by 45 people and brought in $1,100 for the organization — I don’t think that should be overlooked.”
Matters will come to a head at the special meeting next Wednesday, at which members (including the newcomers) will hear more information about the challenges and take a vote on whether to toss out the election, Hunt said.
Williams said she has not decided whether she would vote in favor of a redo. “I’m interested in bringing the issues before the membership,” she said. “However the membership decides, I’m willing to go with that decision.”