Friends and city leaders honored Wanda R. Alston at a funeral service in Washington, D.C., on Monday mixed with laughter and tears for the woman known as a tough but generous advocate for gays, lesbians, and other minority groups.
Alston, 45, who headed the city's office on gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender affairs, was found murdered in her home last week. She was to be buried Tuesday near her native Newport News, Va. "We ask ourselves, How could this have happened?" said Mayor Anthony A. Williams to the hundreds gathered at the Unitarian church All Souls. Williams said Alston always went out of her way to help other people. She had been active in the drug-abuse recovery movement, having had addictions herself in the past.
"Growing up, I always wondered how God was ever going to arrange the last judgment," Williams said, joking that it would be a logistical nightmare. "Now I've realized Wanda is the leading organizer for the last judgment--it's going to be on time and on budget."
Stacey Long, Alston's partner--the two of them were planning to marry--found Alston stabbed to death in their northeast Washington home Wednesday. Police have ruled out a hate crime, and they said the lone suspect in the case had a friendly relationship with Alston.
William M. Parrott, 38, a neighbor who lived two doors down, was arraigned Friday on a charge of first-degree murder while armed, and court documents said he had admitted to using crack cocaine and hurting Alston. Parrott later used Alston's credit cards to buy gasoline and sold it for cash to buy more drugs, prosecutors said.
On Monday, speaker after speaker, including D.C. delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, looked down at Alston's white casket, adorned with pink roses, and remembered her warmhearted but aggressive nature and passion for serving disenfranchised groups. Norton said Alston was especially interested in helping young black gay people, who are "often driven to the borders of our society.... She taught us that civil rights is indivisible--it's all or nothing. It can't be civil rights for you but not for someone else."
Alston joined the D.C. government in 1999, where she served as Williams's liaison to the U.S. Census Bureau and in several different offices before being promoted to a cabinet-level position in September. Alston organized national marches in D.C. and San Francisco beginning in 1992 as the executive assistant to former National Organization for Women president Patricia Ireland, and later as a member of the NOW board of directors. She also was active in the Democratic Party and as an organizer with the
Human Rights Campaign Fund. "She was a diamond in the rough," Ireland said of Alston, who was the 10th of 11 children. "Along the way I watched her blossom into one of the most determined, confident, and courageous people I know."
Soloists gave dramatic renditions of "Amazing Grace" and "To God Be the Glory," drawing tears and applause, and at the end of the service the crowd joined in singing "Lift Every Voice and Sing." D.C. council members, friends from all over the city, and members of Alston's church, Unity of Washington D.C., filled the pews and stood in the back. "Wanda, thank you for putting up with me," Williams said to his loyal aide. "God bless you, Wanda." (AP)