The Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, arguably among the most influential clubs in District politics, on Aug. 22 announced the recipients of its annual leadership awards. The awards will be presented at the club's 31st Anniversary and Leadership Awards gala, Wednesday, Sept. 19, to the American Civil Liberties Union - National Capital Area, Ronald C. Collins, Kathleen DeBold and Jose Gutierrez.
A change in this year's awards will honor the memory of Richard Rausch, a founding member of the Stein Democrats who died May 29 of complications from pneumonia and infections after surgery related to his hip. He had also battled liver cancer. He was 71.
To remember Rausch, the club will add his name to what will now be called the Richard Rausch Equality Award, going this year to the ACLU.
''It's a new award to honor a longtime member of the organization,'' says Stein Club President Mario Acosta-Vélez. ''But Richard was not only one of the long-term members, he was a defender of our organization. He made sure it was active and represented in the local Democratic Party. He mentored some of our leaders over the years. He made us relevant in local politics. He strongly believed in the role of the Stein Club in District politics.''
The Wanda Alston Democratic Service Award also carries the distinction of honoring a deceased Stein Club member, in this case the first person to head the mayor's permanent Office of LGBT Affairs. Alston was murdered in March 2005. The award in her name will this year go to Collins, assistant secretary to the Council of the District of Columbia.
''Ron Collins was instrumental in ensuring that openly GLBT people were appointed to several boards and committees during the Williams administration,'' says Acosta-Vélez. ''I was appointed to the Commission on Human Rights during that period. He made a big difference in ensuring our community was represented.''
The club's Justice Award will go to DeBold, former executive director of the Mautner Project lesbian-health organization, as well as interim executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN).
The club will present Gutierrez with its Heil-Balin Commuity Service Award in recognition of his founding and directing the city's Latino LGBT History Project. This award is named for partners Ron Balin and Jerry Heil, deceased founding members of the Stein Club.
In other news related to this influential club, the group's officers released some preliminary data from a survey of members during the Stein Club's August meeting, Aug. 13. The e-mail survey, which Acosta-Vélez says was completed by about half of the roughly 200 recipients who opened it, polled members on a variety of issues and returned some interesting data.
The survey asked, for example, if members feel that this Democratic club should limit its membership to registered Democrats. A clear majority of 60 percent of respondents answered that the Stein Club membership should not be restricted by party affiliation.
''Given that in D.C., the majority of voters are Democrats, many people in the GLBT community see the Stein Club as a unique GLBT vehicle for influence in politics in the city,'' Acosta-Vélez offers, trying to decipher that particular survey response. ''It's because of our access and influence. As an organization, we've demonstrated that we have access in many ways. That's what makes us attractive.''
Other survey questions included which public-policy issues members would like to address, which type of same-sex relationships should be pursued by District government during the next two years, and whether the District should take action to recognize same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions. The final survey results are due to posted on the group's Web site sometime in September, with discussion to follow at the club's next regular monthly meeting, Monday, Oct. 8, at 7 p.m. in Room 120 of the Wilson Building, 1350 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Meetings are open to the general public, but only Stein Club members may vote.
The Sept. 19 anniversary and awards gala will be held at the Women's National Democratic Club at 1526 New Hampshire Ave. NW from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
For more information about the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club or to purchase tickets to the anniversary and awards gala, $75, visit the club online at www.steindemocrats.org.