Police have arrested a Washington, D.C. man in the brutal murder of a prominent lesbian activist, Wanda Alston, who was stabbed to death last Wednesday afternoon in her capital home.
Her partner, Stacey Long, discovered Alston’s body that evening. The two had planned on getting married this summer.
The following day, after neighbors informed police that a man was seen driving Alston’s missing car, authorities apprehended William Parrot, Jr., an unemployed neighbor of Alston’s, and charged him with the murder.
Alston was the director of the city’s Office of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Affairs, which Mayor Anthony Williams incorporated as a cabinet post last September.
Alston was a well-respected leader in the city’s lesbian and gay community, whom friends and colleagues described as an outspoken activist, committed not only to gay and lesbian issues, but also to ending domestic violence against women and improving the lives of at-risk youth.
“She was a force to be reckoned with. A determined advocate who could cross the diversity of the D.C. LGBT community,” said Peter Rosenstein, Alston’s friend, and a member of the Mayor’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Executive Advisory Board.
“We were just devastated,” Rosenstein said. “I was waiting for her to show up at a meeting we had scheduled that evening at six when someone came into the office and said Wanda had been murdered.”
Everett Hamilton, a longtime fried of Alston who met her in 1994 at a meeting of the D.C. Coalition, an African-American LGBT organization, echoed these sentiments.
“Wanda was the person who was always getting people involved,” Hamilton said. “She was the one you went to when you needed something done.”
Everett also described Alston as unusual for a D.C. activist.
“A down-to-earth, honest person who wasn’t afraid of confronting gay groups about their racism or sexism,” he noted. “Something not usually done in this city’s cocktail party activism. She had no patience for injustice.”
Alston’s outspokenness sometimes led to clashes with friends and allies.
“We were notorious for our fights,” Hamilton fondly reminisced. “But that’s because we were passionate about our issues. She wasn’t always right, but she was so committed and focused. She managed to bring us along to discover what was right about what she believed.”
Alston was born in Newport News, Virginia, in 1950. She received a bachelor’s degree from Southeastern University and moved to D.C. in the early 1980's, living with a brother.
A recovered cocaine addict, Alston was candid about how she got clean. Her sobriety was a springboard for her involvement in women’s issues. She joined the National Organization for Women (NOW), eventually being promoted to the position of executive assistant to Patricia Ireland, the group’s former president. In that post, Alston helped organize several national pro-choice marches and lead a NOW delegation to the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995.
“When I met Wanda, she seemed as if she was at loose ends looking for something that would be satisfying and capture her imagination,” Ireland said in a written statement this week. “When she plugged into feminist activism, I think she found a whole new world overall. She was an organizer and did it to keep her balance in an unjust world.”
Alston was also a founding member of the National Stonewall Democrats, a confederation of LGBT Democratic clubs around the nation. In 2004 she was on official D.C. delegate to the Democratic National Convention.
In 2001, Williams named Alston as the city’s liaison to the LGBT community and she subsequently persuaded him to make the office a cabinet position.
At the time of her death, she was the lead organizer for a citywide LGBT summit scheduled for April. According to Sharon Gang, a mayoral spokeswoman, the summit will be held as planned.
Police sources claim Parrot had been using crack cocaine for several days before the murder. After a brief chase before he was arrested, Parrot was found in possession of Alston’s credit cards which, during a taped statement, he admitted using to purchase gasoline for people in exchange for cash which he used to buy more drugs. He was denied bond at his arraignment.
Investigators have not classified Alston’s death as a hate crime.
More than 1000 people attended Alston’s funeral on March 21, including Mayor Williams, members of the City Council, and Eleanor Holmes-Norton, the District of Columbia’s representative in Congress.
Alston was buried in Newport News.