Vincent Orange at Mayor Muriel Bowser's November 2014 victory party. Credit: Darrow Montgomery/File

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Vincent Orange‘s curious campaign antics continue. In one fell swoop during a forum for Ward 5 Council candidates last week, Orange incorrectly identified his campaign manager as gay, and attacked fellow candidate Zachary Parker for his decision to publicly announce that he’s gay.

During the Capital Stonewall Democrats forum Wednesday, Orange said Parker’s announcement is a “matter of convenience” and admonished Parker for a perceived lack of support for LGBTQ issues.

“I’m puzzled here tonight,” Orange began. “The chairman of my campaign is openly gay and has been openly gay for a very long time. Some of my top advisors are openly gay. Twice I’ve heard Mr. Parker say, ‘Well I’m openly gay and I’m espousing to help.’ But he was an elected official for almost four years, and all the things that we’ve discussed here tonight, he could have helped those young kids, he could have helped adults by just being that proud LGBTQ leader.

“It seems like it’s just a matter of convenience when you hear him talk,” Orange continued. “So I don’t understand, and I’m puzzled because so many others have said, ‘This is who I am, I’m proud of it,’ and reached out and helped others. But to just become openly gay a few months ago seems to be a matter of convenience, and now to say ‘I’m going to be the openly gay person on the Council,’ it just doesn’t add up to me.”

There’s a lot to unpack here.

First, Orange’s campaign chair, Franklin Garcia, has not been openly gay for a very long time. Garcia tells City Paper that he has been “very much a part of the LGBTQ community as an ally, but that’s somebody else. He wasn’t talking about me.” Garcia says Orange has two honorary co-chairs who are openly gay and believes Orange must have been referring to them.

But when asked, Garcia could not recall the names of honorary chairs. He promised to text the names to City Paper but never did. In an interview, Orange admitted that he misspoke and repeated that a number of his campaign advisors are gay.

Second, by invoking openly gay members of his campaign, Orange is using their identities for his own benefit—essentially the same thing he’s accusing Parker of doing. Not to mention that he did so during a forum hosted by a pro-LGBTQ group. Read the room, VO! Orange disagrees with that assessment, and says he was simply pointing out what he believes is a failing on Parker’s part to champion LGBTQ rights.

Orange, of all people, has little room to criticize a gay man’s decision to come out publicly. While serving as the Ward 5 councilmember, and during his unsuccessful run for mayor in 2006, Orange spoke against same-sex marriage. In a video interview that has recently resurfaced and is circulating online, Orange says anyone who supports same-sex marriage was “morally unfit to run the city.” Orange changed his mind several years later.

Nevertheless, Orange received significant blowback on social media in the week after the Stonewall Dems’ forum, including from Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau.

“WOW. @ZacharyforWard5 thank you for sharing your whole self with all of us openly, on your terms,” Nadeau tweeted. “I’m sorry you’re facing this hatefulness, but I am not surprised. Hell no, VO. You need to do some more work sir. This is not acceptable and the District deserves better.”

Jose Romero, who runs the Twitter account @DCHomos, also joined in.

“Coming out is such a personal thing for everyone, whether they’re gay or bisexual or transgender,” Romero tells City Paper. “Everyone’s coming out story is different, everyone’s is unique. It can range from happy to incredibly sad to people getting killed even to this day. Zachary doesn’t owe anyone any answers as to when he chose to come out, and I think for Vincent Orange to claim that he’s doing it to somehow get more votes, and it’s an advantage for him, is completely wrong.”

Orange played defense over the weekend, posting pictures of a same-sex marriage ceremony he performed in the Wilson Building and boasting of his endorsements from the Gertrude Stein Democrats Club (now the Capital Stonewall Democrats).

But for some, those points ring hallow.

“Using excuses about officiating this gay wedding and having these gay friends, that is not an apology,” says Mysiki Valentine, who ran in 2020 as an openly gay candidate for the at-large seat on the State Board of Education. “All of our journeys are different. Some of us come out very early, some of us never come out. If he wants to be leader in Ward 5, he needs to understand that. He is supposed to bridge people together, not cause divisions.”

Valentine, who is supporting Parker in the Ward 5 race, says he hopes Orange’s rhetoric motivates Parker to be louder about queer issues “because now he can see there are people still in this city who want us not to be free.”

“They say a zebra doesn’t change its stripes,” Valentine says. “There was a time [Orange] was very vocal about being against gay marriage and gay rights, and I think this rhetoric is a true reflection of how he feels.”

But for Ronald Thompson, a 24-year-old Black gay man, Orange’s criticisms of Parker resonate.

“People are rushing to his defense, but he’s never stood up for Black queer candidates or issues,” says Thompson, who managed Valentine’s 2020 SBOE campaign. “It was never an issue of his on State Board of Education. It never came up.”

Asked whether he thinks Parker had a duty to come out, Thompson pauses.

“There’s a strong ought there. I think there is a moral obligation,” he says, adding, “To VO’s point, I have never seen him stand up for an issue that was important in my life. Not a one.”

Parker did not return a phone call or text message. But he responded to Orange’s accusations briefly during his own closing remarks.

“It’s worth noting that violence comes in many forms and we’ve seen that here tonight,” Parker said before taking his own vague swipe at Orange. “It’s about electing a councilmember who will lead us ethically and honorably at all times,” Parker said, in what appears to be a reference to Orange’s past brushes with ethics rules.

Parker has suggested on Twitter that Orange’s targeted attack may have something to do with polling numbers. “It’s all good. He sees the same polling we do,” Parker tweeted. “We’re staying focused.”

That would make sense considering Orange’s closing remarks during another forum held at the Union Wesley AME Zion Church on April 30.

“I’m tired of this far left giving us pieces of fish, but they won’t give us that pole,” Orange said pointing to Parker. “They won’t give us that bait.” Orange told the audience to “check these people’s background out,” suggesting that some of his challengers (assumedly including Parker) are outsiders who “pop up” and profess to tell native Washingtonians what’s best for them. “Man, get back in the box,” Orange said.

Orange says he’s seen two polls of the Ward 5 race. One shows Orange two points ahead of Parker, the other shows Parker two points ahead of Orange. But Orange says his focus on Parker isn’t driven by polling. Rather, his goal has been to point out his challengers’ records.

“You’re good at explaining the problems, but what did you do?” Orange asks.

Jatarious Frazier, president of the Capital Stonewall Democrats, says Orange’s comments were an unfortunate way to end an otherwise informative and collegial forum. He says he spoke with both candidate after the event.

“When I spoke with VO, I said any candidate in a debate or forum setting should stick to the issues when contrasting him or her self from their opponents,” Frazier says. “When you look at candidates like Vincent Orange versus Zachary Parker, there are so many areas where they are ideologically different. There’s plenty to talk about. It was a really unfortunate end to the forum.”

Frazier says the Stonewall Dems will endorse a candidate in the Ward 5 race. Voting will conclude on May 15 and they plan to release the results May 17.