Services to pay tribute to the life of gay activist Wanda Alston

BY admin

March 19 2005 1:00 AM ET

A vigil in Washington, D.C., on Saturday and a memorial service on Monday will allow friends and family members to remember and mourn slain D.C. mayoral aide and longtime gay rights activist Wanda Alston. Alston, 45, was found murdered in her northeast D.C. home on Wednesday.

A 38-year-old man accused of stabbing Alston to death was being arraigned on Friday afternoon. William M. Parrot Jr. was charged with first-degree murder while armed. He lived just two doors away from Alston. Alston's partner, Stacey Long, found the body and then called police, who found evidence at the crime scene linking Parrot to the killing, said police chief Charles Ramsey, who would not give details. "We have the guy. There's no question about that," Ramsey said. Parrot and Alston knew each other, and there was no evidence of a forced entry into Alston's home, Ramsey said. Investigators would not discuss a possible motive but said the killing probably was not a hate crime. Police also believe Parrot acted alone, said Capt. C.V. Morris, head of the violent crimes unit.

Parrot was taken into custody shortly after police learned that Alston's missing car was parked in southeast Washington, about two miles east of the crime scene, Morris said. When detectives arrived, people in the neighborhood pointed out who had been driving the car, and Parrot was arrested after a brief foot chase. Ramsey credited the arrest to a tip from a citizen, an element he said has been lacking in other police investigations. "You can't say enough about the public coming forward in any homicide case. This one is a little higher-profile because she was a high-ranking government employee, but if we could get this kind of information all our cases, we could probably close many of them," Ramsey said.

Alston was the director of the Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Affairs for Mayor Anthony A. Williams. Williams said he and other city officials remain heartbroken over Alston's death but are pleased with the quick arrest. "I think it does, at least, provide us with some sense of closure," Williams said, according to NBC4-TV.

D.C. councilman Jim Graham, a noted advocate for gays and lesbians, said the community was glad to hear of the arrest. "What a relief this is, and what a contrast to how I felt when I woke up this
morning...feeling profoundly sad, disoriented, and angry." Alston had been a special assistant to Williams since November 2001. According to a biography provided by the mayor's office, Alston served "as a liaison between the District government and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities." Williams raised that to a cabinet-level slot last September.

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 Alston's life posted on his Web site. "Wanda was one of the toughest, most determined people I have ever met in my life."

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