Wanda R. Alston, 45, a longtime gay rights activist and a high-ranking member of Washington, D.C., mayor Anthony A. Williams's cabinet, was murdered Wednesday night in her home, neighbors and fellow members of the mayor's staff said. Although District of Columbia police would not identify the woman found dead at Alston's home in D.C., neighbors and fellow members of the mayor's staff said it was Alston, who was head of the Office of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Affairs. "I think we're all feeling a certain numbness from the shock of losing one of our friends and one of our colleagues," fellow cabinet member Ron Collins told WJLA-TV.
Williams spokeswoman Sharon Gang said the mayor's office would confirm nothing Wednesday night and referred all calls to police. Police were treating the case as a homicide, said Chief Charles H. Ramsey, who personally responded to the crime scene. The victim's partner, Stacey Long, found the body shortly after 6 p.m., then called police, Ramsey said. "We found a female lying facedown. Quite a bit of blood on the scene," Ramsey said. The chief added that there was no evidence of forced entry. He said it was too early in the investigation to discuss a motive, and he had no information on possible suspects.
Several other high-ranking members of Williams's administration, including city administrator Robert C. Bobb and school board president Peggy Cooper Cafritz, also went to Alston's home and spoke with police. Alston's brother was called to the scene as well and left in tears after talking to police, WRC-TV
reported. Alston did not show up for work on Wednesday and also missed a meeting at 7 p.m., WRC reported. Police were searching for Alston's car.
Alston was a well-known lesbian activist and was named in September to head the Office of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Affairs, after the mayor made the office a cabinet-level position. Before that, she served as the mayor's special assistant in that capacity. Alston served previously as director of operations for the office of the deputy mayor for public safety and justice. She joined the Williams administration in August 1999 as Williams's liaison to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Before joining the Williams administration, Alston worked for the gay rights group Human Rights Campaign as an events manager and later went on to establish a political consulting firm. In 1992, Alston served as the executive assistant to the president of the National Organization for Women, Patricia Ireland, and later as NOW's special projects director, helping to organize four national marches in Washington and one in San Francisco.
Alston later helped to found the National Stonewall Democrats and was still active in the organization's D.C. chapter. "Stonewall is saddened by the loss of our friend and one of our community's finest leaders," said Eric Stern, executive director of Stonewall. "Wanda Alston helped foster the creation of our national organization in 1998 and continued to increase the visibility of LGBT Americans, especially LGBT Americans of color, among the residents of the District of Columbia and among Democrats throughout the country."
Last year Alston was elected by the District of Columbia Democratic State Committee to serve as a delegate to the 2004 Democratic National Convention. There, Alston lobbied other delegates on issues important to residents of the District of Columbia and gay and lesbian Democrats.
Keith Boykin, president of the gay rights group National Black Justice Coalition, described Alston as an activist, a fighter, a strong black woman, and a vocal lesbian. "And yet she was still Wanda, my friend," Boykin said in a tribute to Wanda's life posted on his Web site. "Wanda was one of the toughest, most determined people I have ever met in my life."