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Open trans military service ‘inevitable,’ advocates say

Landon Wilson, gay news, Washington Blade

Landon Wilson was discharged from the Navy for being transgender. (Photo courtesy of Wilson)

Those seeking to overturn the U.S. military’s ban on open transgender service say it’s a question of when, not if, the change in policy is made.

That’s the view of Landon Wilson, a 24-year-old transgender former sailor whose story about being discharged from the Navy — despite having critical skills to intercept enemy communications — made the front page of The Washington Post last week.

Speaking with the Washington Blade this week, Wilson wouldn’t predict when the military’s ban on transgender service would be lifted, but said it’s just a matter of time.

“I think that it will be,” Wilson said. “Transgender service is inevitable at this point, it’s just the work to get there, making people understand that we’re not asking for special treatment. We’re not a community that’s asking to be an exception; we’re just asking to be able to have the same rights as everybody else.”

Following publication of the Post piece, which documents his decision to enlist as a sailor, his subsequent decision to transition and discharge from the Navy, Wilson said he received a lot of positive reaction, including from military leaders. He was discharged just two months ago on March 5.

“I had people from the military community in Hawaii actually reach out to me, people that I haven’t talked to before, who were very supportive,” Wilson said. “A lot of higher up leaders contacted me via email or Facebook and extended their sympathy to me, told me they valued the work that I had done. They were apologetic of the policy and that it had to come to this.”

Unlike “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which prevented until 2011 openly gay people from serving in the U.S. military, the ban on transgender service in the military is a medical regulation that could be lifted at any time. Under DoD Instruction 6130.03, which was put in place before 1980, disqualifying conditions for military service include change of sex and a “current or history of psychosexual conditions (302) including but not limited to transexualism…exhibitionism, transvestitism, voyeurism and other paraphilias.”

Allyson Robinson, a transgender advocate and policy director for the LGBT military group SPART*A, said in her meetings with Pentagon officials, the message conveyed to her was openly transgender service would happen at some point.

“People ask me what kind of resistance I’m facing,” Robinson said. “To be perfectly honest, I’ve encountered very little resistance. What I do encounter is this resignation: ‘Yes, we know that this has been coming. Yes we know that this needs to get done.’”

Robinson, a transgender veteran herself who transitioned after she left service, said she had the sense when working on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal that the ban on transgender service wouldn’t be lifted for another 15 years. Now, based on the success of the end to the military’s gay ban, she said she’s “very optimistic” the military can move to openly transgender service in between two and five years — starting under the leadership of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

But you wouldn’t know that talking to public relations officials at the Pentagon, who say in response to media requests there are no plans to change the ban on transgender service. In fact, the Human Goals Charter recently signed by top military brass lacked any explicit mention of transgender people working at the Pentagon — either on the military or civilian side —  even though other groups, including gay service members, were included.

And the Pentagon has offered a new reason for why it cannot lift the ban: transgender service members often have to serve in “austere environments” where they don’t have access to treatments related to transition. That position has been disputed by bisexual scholar Nathaniel Frank, who wrote in an op-ed for Slate that other kinds of troops are allowed to serve even if they have to receive continual treatment.

That line of thinking also riled Wilson, who pointed out that the military deploys transgender contractors to the same “austere environments” all the time with the ability to obtain treatment free from any bias. Further, Wilson noted other countries have enacted openly transgender service without any problems.

“With that said, our allies who allow transgender service deploy to the same environments with no issues,” Wilson said. “The American military continues to be the odd one out here in holding onto an antiquated policy that weakens our military as an institution and hurts our people who have taken an oath to protect and defend.”

It’s hard to say how many transgender people have been discharged under this regulation. Lt. Cmdr. Nathan Christensen, a Pentagon spokesperson, said the Pentagon doesn’t track the number of discharges for service members who are transgender.

That’s different than the situation under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” The military was keeping tabs on the number of service members discharged for being gay and eventually found nearly 14,000 troops were expelled under the law.

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said ending the ban on transgender service is a priority because it’s one of the very few ways in which the federal government itself continues to discriminate against LGBT people.

“And that’s not OK, and those things have to go away,” Keisling added. “The two big ones we’re working on is trans military service and the arbitrary exclusions in the federal employee health benefits plans. Those are just the federal government acting immorally, and capriciously, and that’s a big reason why it’s on our plate.”

Still, even within the transgender community, Keisling said there hasn’t been significant clamor to move forward with ending the military ban compared to other issues.

“There’s a lot of support for us doing this work, but it’s not the kind of thing that’s coming from a groundswell of community interest,” Keisling said. “I think the community is interested and knows that it’s the right thing to do, but for people, it’s definitely not their top priority of things to accomplish.”

Since the time Wilson was discharged, he has relocated to New York City to help produce a documentary called “TransMilitary,” which is set to demonstrate the harms of the ban and compare U.S. policy to other countries, such as that of Great Britain, which Wilson said ended its ban on transgender service before ending its ban on gays in the military.

But if the military were to end its ban on transgender service, Wilson said he would re-enlist in the Navy “in a heartbeat.”

“The military gave me a lot of things on a personal level, and a lot of that general confidence to be able to be whom I am today,” Wilson said. “There’s never been a time in my life where I felt I belonged like I did in the military. The community and the overall family feeling of the military is something that you do not find anywhere else.”

07
May
2014

Pentagon celebrates Pride with trans speaker

Amanda Simpson, gay news, Washington Blade

Amanda Simpson (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The benefits afforded to the same-sex spouses of service members in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling against the Defense of Marriage Act emerged as a major theme among speakers during the Pentagon’s annual Pride event Wednesday, which featured a transgender emcee.

In the department’s first Pride celebration since the milestone court decision last year, Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work hailed the extension of such benefits nationwide to service members with same-sex spouses.

“We believe that anyone and everyone who serves their country, or desires to serve their country as well as their families, should have all the benefits they deserve and have earned in accordance — and we did this simply because it was the right thing to do,” Work said.

After the DOMA decision, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the ruling would afford these spousal benefits — such as health care and housing benefits — to married service members, even in states without marriage equality.

In a panel following Work’s remarks, the importance of benefits became more apparent as representatives of same-sex military families spoke about their personal stories.

Kristen Hamilton-Brindee, the spouse of Senior Chief Hospital Corpsman Kelly Hamilton-Brindee, talked about how the allocation of benefits afforded her crucial treatment after she was diagnosed with cancer at around the time Kristen gave birth to their child.

“I received my ID card four days before I went into the emergency room, and we found out that I had cancer,” Kristen Hamilton-Brindee said. “Having her chain of command know and having that ID card made a profound difference in our lives, and we’re very grateful that that happened in the sequence.”

As a result of the treatment afforded to her spouse, Kelly Hamilton-Brindee said her spouse has now been cancer-free for six months.

It was the third annual Pride celebration at the Pentagon, which have taken place since “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was lifted in 2011. Although Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Air Force Under Secretary Eric Fanning, who’s gay, spoke at last year’s event, they didn’t make an appearance this year. Hagel was traveling overseas.

The event was an official Pentagon event and organized by the department a group of LGBT military and civilians called DOD Pride. The Pentagon provided some support to publicize the celebration.

Organizers of the event included a transgender emcee. Transgender people are still barred by medical regulation from serving openly in the U.S. military even with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” off the books.

The emcee for the event was Amanda Simpson, now executive director of Army Energy Initiatives Task Force and the highest-ranking transgender civilian official, who talked about her inability to serve on the uniform side of the military.

“I was recruited to serve with the Navy as a nuclear propulsion officer, but I couldn’t,” Simpson said. “It wasn’t that I didn’t desire to serve my country, it was because I had a secret that would make it extremely difficult, a secret that I didn’t have words for, and when words were spoken by others, it usually ended up with me being beaten up or hazed.”

The issue of transgender exclusion from the military has gained attention in recent months. After top military brass signed a Human Goals Charter in April that lacked any explicit mention of transgender individuals — either on the civilian or military side — transgender groups criticized the Pentagon for the omission.

In his address, Work suggested — either by mistake or possibly by referencing the civilian side — that the days of anti-transgender discrimination at the Pentagon are over in the aftermath of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

“For far too long, gay and lesbian service members and their partners and families, and bisexual and transgender individuals in our department, were unable to serve,” Work said. “They were forced by law to compromise their values, to choose between serving the country they love and…being true to themselves. Today, we celebrate that that chapter in our history is now over.”

Hagel said during a recent interview on ABC’s “This Week” he thinks the U.S. military’s ban on open service “continually should be reviewed,” and the White House has announced it backs Hagel’s efforts. However, the Pentagon has announced no formal review of the policy.

Work invoked a transgender-inclusive military later in his speech, suggesting more work needs to be done without naming any particular action for transgender service.

“Because of the work of the LGBT service members and civilians for the department, I think the hurdles to their acceptance are growing smaller and smaller every day because all of these people have proven their great worth and that they should be primarily judged on their capabilities, but, as I said, we have more to do,” Work said.

Allyson Robinson, a transgender advocate and policy director for the LGBT military group SPART*A, attended the event and noted Work’s disconnect during his speech, calling for the review of transgender service to move forward.

“I appreciated Deputy Secretary Work’s reference to the values of integrity and inclusion that make our military strong, but I question his assertion that the days of anti-LGBT discrimination in DOD are gone and almost forgotten,” Robinson said. “For the 15,000 transgender people serving in uniform today, they are neither. The policy review suggested by Secretary Hagel and supported by President Obama needs to get underway now so we can finally bring those dark days to an end.”

Stephen Peters, president of the American Military Partners Association, also attended and said the exclusion of transgender people from the military was noticeable at the event.

“Although not spoken, it was clearly evident that we still have progress to make,” Peters said. “The aproximately 15,000 service members who identify as transgender are still forced to serve in silence or risk ending their careers, which also impacts their families. We look forward to the day when the service of these brave Americans is honored as well.”

Others at the event were gay Arlington business owner Freddie Lutz, SPART*A communications director Sue Fulton and gay Virginia 8th district congressional candidate Adam Ebbin.

The panel concluding the event, which focused on LGBT military families, was moderated by Brig. Gen. Tammy Smith, the first openly gay general officer in the U.S. military, included Kathy Moakler, who has a gay daughter and is government relations director for the National Military Family Association as well as Technical Sergeant Erwynn Umali-Behrens and his spouse Will Umali-Behrens.

Concluding the panel, Smith said the ability of LGBT service members serve authentically and openly with their families “is the essence of Pride.”

“It is Pride in your military identity, and the opportunity to serve as your authentic selves, the ability of the service members to fully and openly rely upon their family and access the same support structures that are available to any military family,” Smith said.

05
Jun
2014

Hagel may attend Pride event at Pentagon

Chuck Hagel, Secretary of Defense, gay news, Washington Blade

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel may attend a Pentagon Pride event. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel may attend an upcoming event at the Defense Department to celebrate June as Pride month, according to two Pentagon officials familiar with the event.

On Tuesday, sources told the Washington Blade that Hagel has expressed interest in attending the event to honor LGB service members and LGBT members of the civilian workforce, but he hasn’t yet expressed a firm commitment because his schedule at that time isn’t yet clear.

Lt. Cmdr. Nathan Christensen, a DOD spokesperson, confirmed that a Pentagon Pride event is set to take place later this month, but offered few details.

“The DoD Pride Organization is in the process of organizing an event at the Pentagon later this month,” Christensen said. “No firm date has yet been set. DOD Pride is a private organization which is comprised of DOD civilians and service members whose charter is to represent LGB service members, LGBT civilian employees, contractors, and families throughout the Department of Defense.”

Christensen added the Pentagon itself isn’t planning the event, but has formally recognized June as Pride month. He didn’t respond to a follow-up email on whether Hagel has expressed an interest in attending the event.

It would be the first time that a sitting defense secretary has attended a Pride event at the Pentagon. Last year, when the Pentagon hosted a Pride event for the first time, the senior DOD official who spoke on stage was then-Pentagon general counsel Jeh Johnson, one of the co-chairs of the study that examined the impact of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal. Then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta delivered a video message, but didn’t appear at the event.

Hagel’s participation would be noteworthy because at the time of his nomination for defense secretary, many members of the LGBT community were wary about his confirmation.

Many expressed concern over comments he reportedly made to the Omaha World Herald in 1998 when he said the then-nominee for U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg shouldn’t be confirmed because he’s “openly aggressively gay.” Hagel later apologized for the remark.

As a Republican U.S. senator representing Nebraska, Hagel had a dismal voting record on LGBT issues. He voted for the Federal Marriage Amendment in 2004, but didn’t cast a vote in 2006.

Still, over the course of the nomination process, Hagel said he supports “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and pledged to implement “expeditiously” benefits for troops with same-sex partners available under current law.

DOD’s announcement of the Pride event comes on the heels of a memorandum obtained by the Blade on Monday in which the Pentagon officially observes June as Pride month. The document, which recognizes President Obama’s Pride proclamation, is dated May 31 and is signed by Office of Diversity Management and Equal Opportunity Director Clarence Johnson.

“We recognize gay, lesbian and bisexual service members and LGBT civilians for their dedicated service to our country,” the memo states. “Each year of his administration, President Obama has issued a proclamation recognizing that our national security is strengthened by the heroic contributions these Americans make to our Department, and have made throughout out history. The LGBT community has written a proud chapter in this fundamentally American story by reminding us that integrity and respect remain corner stones of our military and civilian culture.”

Allyson Robinson, executive director of the LGBT military group OutServe-SLDN, praised the Pentagon for observing June as Pride month, but expressed discontent with the omission of transgender service members from the statement.

That omission is also found in the response above provided by Christensen. Currently, openly transgender people are unable to serve in the military and are issued medical discharges if their gender identity becomes known.

“Transgender people have served this nation with pride, honor, and distinction – and continue to do so in the hundreds, if not thousands,” Robinson said. “It’s past time to honor them for their service and sacrifice, and past time to end the discredited and obsolete practice of forcing them to serve in silence and fear.”

04
Jun
2013

OutServe-SLDN chief axed by board: reports

Allyson Robinson, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, OutServe, gay news, Washington Blade

Allyson Robinson was asked to resign by OutServe-SLDN’s board, according to media reports. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

UPDATE: This story has been updated to include a statement to the Blade from OutServe-SLDN board member Marine Corps Capt. Matthew Phelps, who says he’s withholding his resignation indefinitely until current issues are resolved.

The head of the LGBT military group OutServe-SLDN has resigned following a request from her organization’s board after serving less than one year as executive director, according to reports.

The news of Allyson Robinson’s ouster was first reported by The Bilerico Project on Sunday morning, which reported she was fired from the position. A subsequent report from Buzzfeed provided additional information, but said she was asked to resign. Yet another report on AMERICAblog says neither is the case, but the development to remove her was proceeding.

The Bilerico account, citing a leaked email from Director of External Relations Zeke Stokes, reports Robinson was “fired” after a “board coup.” She’s the only openly transgender leader of a national organization representing the LGBT community.

Additionally, Bilerico reported Stokes along with Director of Chapter & Member Services Gary Espinas and Legal & Public Policy Director David McKean resigned in protest, along with other board members.

Stokes said in the email leaked to Bilerico, “I can no longer represent OutServe-SLDN to the public or to our members and donors. Thus, effective today, I have resigned as a member of the staff and wish to no longer be affiliated with the organization.”

Bilerico also reports McKean confirmed his resignation, but is staying on with the organization until some legal matters are resolved.

“It would be inappropriate for me to comment on yesterday’s events,” McKean is quoted as saying. “But while I share Zeke’s conclusion, I will remain with the organization until I can determine how to resolve matters related to client representation in accordance with legal ethics rules and requirements.”

When contacted by the Washington Blade, both Stokes and Robinson declined to comment on the situation. McKean didn’t respond to the Blade’s request for comment. Espinas also didn’t immediately respond to Blade’s request for comment, but also has an away message on his email indicating he’s resigned.

“Dear Reader: I have resigned from the OutServe-SLDN staff. I am no longer monitoring this email address,” Espinas writes. “Please direct your inquiries to the OutServe-SLDN Board of Directors.”

On Sunday, OutServe-SLDN board member Brenda “Sue” Fulton posted the Bilerico report on her Facebook page while identifying as one of the board members who resigned. Fulton didn’t respond to the Blade’s request for comment.

“I am upset that this got out, but more upset that it happened,” Fulton writes. “I was one of those who resigned from the Board. Sad, sad days. I will ALWAYS, ALWAYS support the lgbt troops. Mission over politics.”

According to Bilerico, anonymous sources with knowledge of OutServe-SLDN’s finances say that the decision was mostly based on a lack of fundraising since “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” repeal. Bilerico reports Robinson volunteered last week to take a pay cut to prevent layoffs at the organization.

Asked by the Blade to comment on the developments, OutServe co-founder and Board Chair Josh Seefried had little to say, but gave assurances more information would be forthcoming.

“We have some internal issues to deal with, but after that, we will be updating the community,” Seefried said.

Jonathan Hopkins, another board member, told the Blade the Bilerico report is “not entirely accurate,” but refused to comment further.

The Buzzfeed report says Robinson was asked by the board to resign on Saturday — after which Fulton accused Seefried of having “rushed this vote through.”

Buzzfeed obtained a different email from Fulton to Seefried and board member Katie Miller saying she didn’t vote to ask Robinson to resign, nor did board member Shannon McLaughlin. Fulton writes in the email that board members Matthew Phelps and Beth Schissel didn’t have the opportunity to vote.

“You cannot characterize this publicly as a ‘unanimous’ vote of the Board,” Fulton writes. “If you do so, Board members will speak publicly to deny that they voted for it. The details of who was in the room and who wasn’t when you rushed this vote through will not support your case.”

It’s unclear how much longer Robinson will stay on as executive director.

Both Bilerico and Buzzfeed reported board chair Marine Corps Capt. Matthew Phelps, who recently married Ben Schock in a high-profile wedding, and Beth Schissell had resigned from the board in addition to Fulton.

But in a statement to the Washington Blade, Phelps said while he intended to resign, he has decided to withhold his resignation at the request of the board “for the time being.”

“As many of you know, I submitted my resignation to OutServe-SLDN yesterday,” Phelps said. “It was not immediately accepted by the board co-chairs, and at their request I have agreed to withhold my resignation for the time being. My primary focus has been and always will be in service to my country and ALL service members who defend it.”

Asked by the Blade why his resignation wasn’t accepted, Phelps replied, “They value my participation in handling the current situation.”

In response to another follow-up inquiry on how long the “time being” would last, Phelps replied, “I am holding off indefinitely until the current issues are resolved.”

The third report on AMERICAblog says no decision to oust Robinson has been made. This report has another email dated June 23 from Fulton in which she appears complicit in the decision to oust Robinson by announcing a proposal to meet with her “to work together on a transition plan that has you resigning.”

AMERICAblog doesn’t cite the full email in the story, but the rest of it lays out a timetable for her departure and “makes clear that should Robinson not accept a peaceful transition, she would be asked to leave immediately.”

In a subsequent update, Bilerico reports it was told by Fulton that this email was “pulled out of context.”

According to AMERICAblog, the developments are related to OutServe-SLDN’s chief financial officer Francisco Ramirez, who had been with the organization since 2005 and resigned last month. Robinson reportedly wanted Ramirez gone, but it’s unclear for what reasons.

OutServe-SLDN was seen as struggling to find new direction following the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Robinson had been an advocate for an explicit non-discrimination policy in the military and openly transgender service.

23
Jun
2013

Robinson breaks silence amid OutServe-SLDN turmoil

Allyson Robinson, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, OutServe, gay news, Washington Blade

Allyson Robinson says she’ll stay on for the time being, but leave OutServe-SLDN at later time. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Following a tumultuous two days of reports that the board of the LGBT military group OutServe-SLDN voted to oust its leader, leaders of the organization finally broke their silence on Monday to confirm she would depart.

Allyson Robinson, the group’s executive director, posted a statement on a website for OutServe Magazine saying she’ll stay on with the group for the near term, but has decided on her “own accord” at a later time to step down.

“[T]o honor those who’ve shared those values with me, it is my intent to continue to lead OutServe-SLDN in the near term as we approach an historic moment for our community and our country,” Robinson said. “After that, at a date to be determined, I have decided of my own accord to step down, and will work with our members to ensure an orderly transition to the next phase of this organization’s life.”

The Bilerico Project and Buzzfeed reported over the weekend that the board held a meeting Saturday night in which it decided to ask Robinson to resign. In addition, those outlets reported three staff members — Director of External Engagement Zeke Stokes, Director of Chapter and Member Services Gary Espinas, and David McKean, Legal and Public Policy Director — resigned following the decision.

Leaders of the organization remained silent for two days on what transpired as leaked emails were published indicating the board vote to remove Robinson was rushed through. Names of staffers who resigned and others were removed from the staff list on the group’s web site on Saturday.

Robinson, who has led OutServe-SLDN for nine months, was the only openly transgender leader of a national LGBT rights organization.

Also on Monday, the organization’s board posted a statement in which members apologized for the way the events had played out, but affirmed that Robinson would leave the organization.

Josh Seefried, co-chair of the board, said in the statement “there’s no excuse for the series of events that transpired this past weekend.”

“On behalf of the Board of Directors, I sincerely apologize for this as well as the impact it’s had on our staff’s and members’ trust and confidence in the organization Allyson Robinson has led OutServe-SLDN as one of the most transformational leaders of this movement, and there is not a member serving on this board who does not respect and admire her work for this organization and the LGBT movement,” Seefried said.

The statement says OutServe-SLDN is transitioning from primarily a legal services organization into a membership services and advocacy organization that would increase the role of the organization’s 6,500 members.

According to the board statement, this reporting ensued after an email on Saturday containing the contents of confidential internal board discussions “was erroneously distributed” to an email list with recipients outside of board members. The statement says the “drafted item” was only part of a series of discussions among board members.

April Heinze, another board co-chair, praised Robinson in the statement for the work she’s done for the organization, saying she put LGBT service members and their families first.

“As many in our community know, the LGBT movement is evolving quickly, and so will its institutions,” Heinze said. “Many people thought that after the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ all the military LGBT organizations would or should disappear. As Allyson Robinson and her staff have so powerfully and effectively reminded the nation, the mission for full equality in our Armed Forces is incomplete.”

Other board members had different reactions amid reporting over the past two days. One board member, Brenda “Sue” Fulton, publicly affirmed on her Facebook page that she had resigned in protest. Another board member, Marine Corps Capt. Matthew Phelps, told the Washington Blade he had initially wanted to resign, but agreed to stay on indefinitely because the board “value[s] my participation in handling the current situation.”

Despite the reporting, the board vote to oust her was never confirmed by the organization or its members on the record, nor was any reason stated for why the board would want to oust Robinson. Yet another report in AMERICAblog said no decision was made to remove her, but the process to ask her to resign was underway.

According to anonymous sources in Bilerico and Buzzfeed, reasons given to oust her ranged from a lack of ability to fundraise after “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal in addition to jealousy and anti-transgender bias. No source said anything on the record.

The board statement says OS-SLDN faces “real and significant” financial obstacles and has forced the board to consider “cutting costs and staffing reductions.” Still, Robinson late last year received $50,000 from the Arcus Foundation as the first grant under its “New Leadership” program.

OutServe-SLDN faced the prospect of having to restructure following repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which was a major goal of its parent organizations: OutServe and Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. Since her start at the organization, Robinson had emphasized partner benefits for gay troops, membership expansion and non-discrimination in the military.

At the group’s annual D.C. in march, Robinson, an Army veteran, spoke personally about coming to terms with being transgender, which is prohibited by regulation for service members.

“In the weeks and months ahead, we’ll expand further to take advantage of the full strength of America’s diverse military family – and to ensure we’re not leaving anyone behind,” Robinson said at the time.

UPDATE: In a statement to the Blade, Fulton responds to the statements provided by Robinson and the board, praising the departing executive director while criticizing board members:

Kudos to Allyson Robinson for taking the high road in this situation.
But I can’t make sense of the Board’s statement. Are they trying to imply that they did NOT demand Allyson’s resignation?? To even suggest that would be an insult to my honor, and an offense to the honor and integrity of others who resigned, especially talented, dedicated, and principled staff members Zeke Stokes, Gary Espinas, and David McKean.

In a larger sense, this statement, appearing after days of silence, is an insult to the members. Several remaining Board members are people I respect; unfortunately their good sense did not win the day. This appears to be a craven, self-serving attempt by the Board leadership to keep their jobs. Given the catastrophic loss of donors who’ve fled, and members who are fleeing, I am astonished that there is no accountability from the Board leadership. In any self-respecting organization, the Co-Chairs would resign from the Board.

25
Jun
2013

Hagel addresses LGBT service members at Pride event

Chuck Hagel, Department of Defense, Pentagon, gay news, Washington Blade

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel speaks at a DOD Pride event (Washington Blade photo by Damien Salas)

For the first time, a sitting defense secretary on Tuesday made a live appearance at a Pentagon event to observe June as Pride month and to thank LGBT troops for their service to the country.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel led a trio of high-ranking Obama administration officials at the event, giving opening remarks in which he called gay and lesbian service members and LGBT civilian workers “integral to America’s armed forces.”

“Our nation has always benefitted from the service of gay and lesbian soldiers, sailors, airmen, coast guardsmen and Marines,” Hagel said. “Now, they can serve openly with full honor, integrity and respect. This makes our military and our nation stronger — much stronger.”

Alluding to the now lifted policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Hagel emphasized America is a nation that has the capability to evolve.

“For more than two centuries, our democracy has shown that while it is imperfect, it can change, and it can change for the better,” Hagel said. “All of us should take pride in the role the U.S. military has played in this endeavor and continues to play. The military continues to fulfill this country’s promise. Our commitment to equality requires us to continue building a culture of respect for every member of the military, our society, and for all human beings.”

The event, which was organized by the LGBT affinity group DOD Pride, was the second-ever Pride celebration at the Pentagon and the first ever in which a sitting defense secretary participated. Last year, then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta delivered remarks by video, but didn’t appear in person.

Hagel’s participation is also noteworthy because his nomination was controversial in the LGBT community. In 1998, Hagel reportedly called then-nominee for U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg Jim Hormel “openly aggressively gay.” Hagel apologized when these remarks resurfaced during his confirmation process and Hormel eventually endorsed the nomination.

At the event, Hagel received a warm welcome from the audience. Attendees, who mostly filled the 350-seat Pentagon auditorium, gave  resounding applause when he approached the podium before his remarks.

Valerie Jarrett, gay news, Washington Blade

Senior adviser to the president Valerie Jarrett (Washington Blade photo by Damien Salas)

Representing the White House at the event was senior adviser to the president Valerie Jarrett, who during her keynote speech emphasized the significance of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and President Obama’s leadership in the effort.

“As you know, change has been the defining theme of the Obama administration,” Jarrett said. “When I look back over the last four-and-a-half years since President Obama took office, nothing better exemplifies that kind of profound, meaningful and historic change than repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’”

Recalling the start of the legislative process to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Jarrett said she heard stories of gay service members at the White House and relayed them in the Oval Office to President Obama, who assured her repeal would happen.

“He put his hand on my shoulder and he said that he was determined, no matter what, that we would find a path to the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ so that the next time these men and women came to the White House, they could do so in uniform, proudly and openly, with their heads held high and their loved ones at their side,” Jarrett said.

Jarrett also touted the announcement in February that the Pentagon would start the process for providing partner benefits to gay troops available under current law. She said the military would be able to issue these benefits “this fall.”

Additionally, Jarrett also spoke at length about efforts to stop sexual assault in the military and alluded to future plans to enhance the health of the military.

Acting Air Force Secretary Eric Fanning, the highest-ranking openly gay civilian official within the Pentagon, was third to deliver remarks and spoke about his personal experience working at the Pentagon 20 years ago as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was implemented and the path toward its repeal.

“It was hard to imagine we’d ever be where we are today, but during these 20 years, the military’s gone through the difficult process of opening itself up by providing opportunities to those for whom it was previously denied or constrained, to women, to immigrants looking to prove their loyalty to this country and earn their citizenship, to gays and lesbians,” Fanning said.

Eric Fanning, United States Air Force, gay news, Washington Blade, military

Acting Air Force Secretary Eric Fanning (Washington Blade photo by Damien Salas)

Fanning, who said he was in the same room with Obama as he signed the certification for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, also recalled the feeling of it being a non-event within the Pentagon.

“I kept getting asked, ‘What was it like when you went back to the building after the repeal was signed? Was that what everyone was talking about? Was there a buzz in the building?’” Fanning said. “And I answered honestly — and I think disappointingly — that, no, went back to the building, and in my view, the building had already moved on past the decision and we talked about what we talk about every single day: the budget.”

In accordance with military tradition, a quintet of service members presented the colors at the start of the event by bearing the Americans flag as well as flags for each of the military services. One service member, Marine Corps Cpl. Joey Gutierrez-Alvarez, sung the national anthem.

While each of the speakers talked generally about making more progress in the country for greater equality, they didn’t explicitly address two outstanding items LGBT advocates have sought for the U.S. military: the implementation of a non-discrimination policy and openly transgender service.

Allyson Robinson, outgoing executive director of OutServe-SLDN, nonetheless told the Blade in the auditorium after the event she was encouraged by what she heard on stage.

“I think it was historic,” Robinson said. “I was especially moved, though, by the acknowledgment … that there is so much work left to be done. Absent from much of this discussion is the need to include transgender people who are willing and qualified to serve to be a part of armed forces. We’re looking forward to completing that work as well.”

In his remarks, Hagel made the effort to exclude transgender service members — referring to “gay and lesbian service members and LGBT civilians” — even though he was addressing at least one transgender veteran in the audience. Robinson herself served in the Army before she transitioned.

The event took place the day after Robinson announced that she would leave OutServe-SLDN following a tumultuous two days of media reporting that she was ousted by the group’s board. At the event, Robinson declined to elaborate on why she was leaving.

Army Capt. Valerie Palacios, a member of the interim board with DOD Pride, told the Blade after the event the mere presence of the secretary of defense was significant.

“First of all, this is somebody so high, like the secretary of defense, and a senior adviser to the president at an event like this,” Palacios said. “As service members, we had a similar event last year, but it wasn’t quite as big … So this year is very important to us, especially because Secretary Hagel is very supportive of our community.”

Also in attendance at the event was Army Brig. Gen. Tammy Smith, the first openly gay flag officer in the U.S. military and deputy chief in the Army Reserve Office of the Chief in D.C.. After the event, she spoke highly of the speakers’ remarks.

“They were inclusive, they were about diversity, but they also focused on the military, the total force, and about the importance of the military and where it plays in the strategic security of our nation,” Smith said. So, we are a piece of that, we are not a whole of that, we are not a whole of that, and we recognize that as part of that diversity, we’ll make the military better.”

25
Jun
2013

‘We’ve got Ph.D.s working as file clerks’

Bob Witeck, Allyson Robinson, Ruby Corado, Gay News, Washington Blade

Allyson Robinson (left) was forced out of her role as head of OutServe-SLDN this week, offering a reminder of the need for more trans visibility in the LGBT movement. Ruby Corado (middle) is a local trans rights advocate who welcomes the new Association of Transgender Professionals; and Bob Witeck (right) is a local adviser to ATP, which is headquartered in New York.

Employment discrimination against transgender people is a staggering problem for LGBT rights advocates in the United States with unemployment rates twice the national average, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality.

But the newly formed Association of Transgender Professionals is taking on an even broader mission — fighting for inclusion on a global scale.

“We’re already getting requests to help other countries, like the U.K.,” says ATP’s executive director Denise Norris. “There are folks in a lot of places who are excited that we are available to the public.”

The very term “transgender,” she notes, is an imperfect one.

“‘Transgender’ is a very U.S. concept,” says Norris. “It’s very Western in its model; it’s based upon the gender binary, so the challenge is how do we look at workplace inclusion on an international scale.”

ATP, co-founded by Norris and Joe McCormack, is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving employment rates for transgender people by building acceptance in the workplace, helping trans people learn how to find jobs and by providing businesses a channel to reach out to transgender talent. The organization is headquartered in New York, but has advisers in most major urban areas of the country. In D.C., longtime advocate Bob Witeck of Witeck Communications is an ATP adviser.

“The rate of unemployment is about 200 percent of the national average for the trans community in general, and 400 percent for trans people of color,” Norris says. “ATP is about building acceptance inside the workplace and in employers, and about helping our community learn how to get jobs. Many of us thought we wouldn’t have real jobs and don’t know how to interview, or don’t know how to dress for success.”

Just this week came a reminder about the need for more trans visibility in the broader LGBT movement, as Allyson Robinson, a trans woman, was forced to resign as executive director of OutServe-SLDN.

Norris noted that many ATP members are military veterans.

“One cannot serve with Pride if one is commanded to do so in the closet,” she said. “Allyson’s role at OutServe-SLDN was a beacon to all by demonstrating that transgender was finally an equal partner in the struggle for LGBT equality.”

ATP helps trans people find jobs in all sectors of the economy, and is not limited to helping those who have MBAs or other degrees. Unemployment at the entry level is considered just as important to combat.

In addition to directly helping transgender people seek employment, ATP also helps companies and organizations seek transgender employees. As Norris explains, it is difficult for many accepting companies to advertise that they are transgender friendly.

“There are no avenues for the companies that are transgender friendly,” she says, “they don’t know how to recruit to us. There are no recruiting channels. … In many cases of employment, we don’t even know who wants to hire us — who doesn’t care about gender expression.”

Both Norris and McCormack have corporate backgrounds. In 1993, McCormack founded McCormack and Associates (now McCormack and Warren), which he says was the first gay-identified executive search firm in the U.S.

“My observation as a recruiter is that the transgender population, of which many people are talented and accomplished, is the most unemployed and underemployed sector of our community because of this discrimination,” McCormack says. “Recruiters who often are gatekeepers are concerned that their clients may be biased against transgender people. They don’t even give them the opportunity to consider them, so the company would be trans friendly, but there is this bias in the recruiting profession that is a real barrier for transgender people.”

Norris founded the educational and direct-action group, The Transsexual Menace, in 1993. She has worked in the corporate sector since around that same year, and currently is a consultant for the multinational management-consulting firm, Accenture. In addition to working with clients, Norris advises the firm on how to be more inclusive and accepting of diverse gender expression.

McCormack and Norris said that based on their corporate experience, they know that inclusion appeals to many large corporations.

“I can talk corporate. I know what motivates employers. A lot of advocacy groups are not talking the same language as employers,” Norris says. “There’s this concept called ‘corporate talent,’ which is why ‘LGB’ recruiting is very hot. We know diverse teams have a statistical likelihood of making better products. Trans is the last untapped pool of diversity talents. We’ve got Ph.D.s working as file clerks, and geologists working in back stores.”

As ATP undergoes the process of gaining its own non-profit status, the association is operating under the auspices of the New York LGBT Center. It is mostly funded by donations, and by grants from large foundations. ATP has received a $10,000 grant from the Pallette Foundation of New York, and a $25,000 challenge grant from the Calamus Foundation.

ATP is inclusive of those in the transgender community who do not identify within the binary of male or female. The association’s goal is to make the workplace accepting of all forms of gender expression, not just gender expression that complements traditional views of masculinity and femininity.

“Every 25 years, there’s this convulsion. Stonewall was the first convulsion, 25 years later, our community convulsed again, and out of that convulsion came ‘LGBT.’ What we’re seeing now is that the next generation coming in on that 25 year cycle is forcing us to redefine LGBT in their terms,” Norris says. “I believe since other people allowed me to stand on their shoulders in the ‘90s, I have an obligation and stewardship that the soil we till with ATP in the workplace must accommodate genderqueer and omnisexual. It cannot be latched onto the gender binary.”

Casa Ruby (2822 Georgia Ave., N.W.) is a multicultural center and safe space for the D.C. Latino transgender community. The organization provides housing assistance, employment advocacy, HIV testing and other services. Ruby Corado, the organization’s director, is excited by the founding of the Association of Transgender Professionals and the work they are doing.

“It is such a needed area of work. It comes down to another pressing issue, which is violence. I think the fact that people are not employed puts them at risk, because they are confined to living in neighborhoods where it’s not safe,” Corado says. “I will say ‘kudos’ to the people putting this together. As a transgender organization in D.C. focusing on the local needs of trans people, we certainly welcome them and will help to work with them.”

Although the ATP specifically advocates for the transgender community, Norris describes the organization as inclusive of all individuals who are gender non-conforming, including those who are gay and lesbian.

“I see us all as one people. I’m in favor of getting rid of the acronym. I prefer the word ‘queer,’ she says.

For more information on the Association of Transgender Professionals, visit transgenderprofessionals.org.

27
Jun
2013

New group for LGBT service members forms

Allyson Robinson, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, OutServe, gay news, Washington Blade

A new group for LGBT service members has launched in the wake of the ongoing turmoil at OutServe-SLDN triggered by the ouster of its former director Allyson Robinson. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON — A group of LGBT service members have launched a new organization in the wake of last month’s abrupt departure of OutServe-SLDN Executive Director Allyson Robinson.

Servicemembers, Partners and Allies for Respect and Tolerance for All (SPARTA) announced its formation on July 22, according to the New Civil Rights Movement. The blog said the group describes itself as “a group of LGBT people and allies who are currently serving or have served in the military and our families.”

SPARTA’s inception comes roughly a month after Robinson, who is transgender, stepped down amid reports the OutServe-SLDN board of directors ousted her.

OutServe-SLDN earlier this month announced it would close its D.C. offices amid further reports it is near bankruptcy.

The SPARTA announcement came three days after OutServe-SLDN chapter leaders announced they had severed ties with the latter organization. The New Civil Rights Movement reported OutServe-SLDN’s trans chapter has also joined SPARTA.

24
Jul
2013

Best of Gay D.C. 2013: People

Best of Gay D.C., Best Artist, Wicked Jezabel, gay news, Washington Blade

Wicked Jezabel (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Best singer or band:

Wicked Jezabel

Wickedjezabel.com

Runner-up: Tom Goss

 

Best of Gay D.C., Eric Fanning, Pentagon, Air Force, Best Bureaucrat, gay news, Washington Blade

Eric Fanning (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Best bureaucrat:

Eric Fanning

Runner-up: Nancy Sutley

 

As acting secretary of the Air Force, Eric Fanning personifies the service motto of ”Aim High … Fly-Fight-Win.”

He’s the highest-ranking openly gay civilian official in the U.S. military, overseeing procurement and operations for a $140 billion department at the Air Force. Fanning wins the 2013 award for Best LGBT Bureaucrat or Federal Worker and is the first-ever winner from the Washington Blade in this new category.

Fanning, 45, has had a long political career in D.C. After his initial work on Capitol Hill, Fanning worked during the Clinton administration at the Pentagon and the White House. Once President Obama assumed office, Fanning went to work within the Department of the Navy and continued in that role until he was nominated as Air Force under secretary.

Although the Senate confirmed Fanning for the lesser role as under secretary for the Air Force, Fanning became acting secretary when Michael Donley retired. Since that time, he was among the speakers at an LGBT Pride celebration at the Pentagon in June.

In an interview with the Washington Blade, Fanning said he left the Pentagon after “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was implemented in the 1990s and didn’t want to come back until a president was elected who would end it.

“It was very difficult when we were getting to the end of the first two years and it wasn’t clear if we were going to be able to repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’” Fanning said. “I didn’t know what I was going to do if we didn’t get the repeal through because some people couldn’t work because they were openly gay or lesbian.” (CJ)

 

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Local heroine:

Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C.’s long-serving congressional delegate and a longtime proponent of LGBT equality.

Runner-up: Katy Ray

 

 

David Perruzza (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

David Perruzza (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Local hero:

Dave Perruzza

Runner-up: Freddie Lutz (Freddie’s Beach Bar)

 

Dave Perruzza, perhaps best known as manager of JR.’s, also devotes much time to organizing the annual 17th Street High Heel Race. The 27th annual race is scheduled for Oct. 29. After serving in the U.S. Navy, Perruzza began working at the well-known Dupont Circle gay bar in 1996, handling coat check. He soon worked his way up to the top spot at the 17th Street, N.W., bar known for its friendly environment and popular theme nights. Readers from near and far appreciate that Perruzza strives to make everyone feel welcome and at home, whether you’re a local headed to happy hour after a long day on the Hill or a tourist looking for a friendly face.

 

 

Xavier Bottoms (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Xavier Bottoms (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Best drag king:

Xavier Bottoms

Runner-up: Sebastian Katz

 

Best of Gay D.C., Best Realtor, Mark Rutstein, gay news, Washington Blade

Mark Rutstein (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Best Realtor:

Mark Rutstein

Runner-up: Ray Gernhart

 

Mark Rutstein is a repeat winner in this category. He works both as manager of Cobalt and as a Realtor for Coldwell Banker on 17th Street.

 

DJ Wess (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

DJ Wess (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Best DJ:

DJ Wess

Runner-up: Chord Bezerra

 

Heidi Glüm (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Heidi Glüm (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Best drag queen:

Heidi Glum

Runner-up: Ba’Naka

 

For Heidi Glum (aka Miles DeNiro), drag was a ticket out of a miserable job.

“I was a shampoo person at a salon,” she says. “It was a terrible job. I was essentially a maid. So I quit and all I do now is drag. I’ve been busting my ass to make it a career.”

Glum (pronounced “gloom”) started drag about five years ago in New York where she says she was a long-time “club kid.” Back in D.C. the past two years, Glum has several monthly gigs — a drag bingo at Mellow Mushroom, Gay Bash, WTF and Crack and “a lot of stuff in New York too.”

At times it’s been rough going. Glum was attacked by two patrons at Manny & Olga’s, a pizzeria on 14th Street in June after a Black Cat performance. Glum was beaten and called “tranny” and “faggot” in an incident captured on video.

She says her philosophy of great drag means infusing feeling in the work.

“You can tell when someone is really feeling it,” she says. “It comes up from somewhere inside you. You either have it or you don’t, this sort of spark. You can tell some of them are just dressed up for the hell of it.” (JD)

 

Best of Gay D.C., Ed Bailey, Best Business Person, Town Danceboutique, Number Nine, gay news, Washington Blade

Ed Bailey (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Best businessperson:

Ed Bailey (Town Danceboutique)

Runner-up: Karen Diehl

 

Eddie Weingart (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Eddie Weingart (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Best massage:

Eddie Weingart

Deep Knead Massage Therapy and Body Work

Runner-up: The Legendary Dave

 

For Eddie Weingart, “making people feel whole is the number one thing,” in his massage work.

Having survived a serious car accident in 2001, he knows first-hand about pain management. He says his work, which incorporates both ancient and modern techniques, is tailored to “bring a wellness of body, mind and spirit.”

Weingart is gay and is based in Silver Spring, though he has many clients in D.C. He guesses about 95 percent of his clients are LGBT. He’s been in the area three years and averages 50-60 massages per week. (JD)

 

Denis Largeron (Photo by Denis Largeron)

Denis Largeron (Photo by Denis Largeron)

Best visual artist:

Denis Largeron

Runner-up Lisa Marie Thalhammer

 

Digital photographer Denis Largeron has been shooting part-time professionally for about three years. By day, he works at World Bank.

He focuses on commercial work and does weddings, portraits, what he calls “boudoir” photo and various gay events.

“I think last year I shot about every gay circuit party there was on the East Coast,” he says. “Most of the time, it’s promoters who hire me to shoot their events but I also shoot for some magazines as well.”

Largeron is gay and came to the U.S. about six years ago to be with a then-boyfriend.

“For me, it’s all about having a client and meeting their specific need,” he says. “Every client has a different expectation and that’s what I like about it. You have to adjust.” (JD)

 

Bethany Carter Howlett (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Bethany Carter Howlett (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Best personal trainer:

Bethany Carter Howlett

Runner-up: Drew McNeil

 

Finding the motivation to maintain a healthy lifestyle can be difficult. Bethany Carter Howlett makes it easier with her fitness expertise.

Howlett is a professional fitness athlete, formerly a body builder and registered dietician. She holds multiple certifications and trains anyone from children to professional athletes. She also owns four gyms in Virginia.

“I feel being a trainer who practices what she preaches by competing, training and living the healthy lifestyle of a professional athlete allows for a strong advantage in my favor among other personal trainers in the area,” Howlett says.

Her training programs are diverse from one-on-one sessions to group classes. Howlett can train people in person or even online. Her diet plans are specially made to suit the needs of the individual from their genetic lineage to their health history.

A Virginia native, Howlett began gymnastics at age 3. As an undergraduate at the University of Virginia, where she received her bachelor’s degree in molecular biology, she was a cheerleader.

Howlett is married to Jason Rowley and they are expecting their first child. Howlett has continued training clients and working out throughout her pregnancy. She hopes to be back in the gym two weeks after she gives birth. (MC)

 

 

Bruce DePuyt (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Bruce DePuyt (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Best TV personality:
Bruce DePuyt WJLA, News Channel 8
Runner-up: Chuck Bell, NBC4

 

“News Talk with Bruce DePuyt” on News Channel 8 remains among the metropolitan area’s most influential local news programs.

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier, Maryland state Del. Heather Mizeur (D-Montgomery County) and other politicians and officials frequently discuss the important issues of the day. LGBT-specific topics that include the implementation of the U.S. Supreme Court decision that found a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, efforts to repeal Virginia’s gay nuptials ban and Russia’s LGBT rights record are also a regular part of the weekday talk show’s line-up.

“I’ve been a loyal reader of the Washington Blade for 30 years, so this is a very special honor,” DePuyt said upon learning he had won.

DePuyt has been with News Channel 8 since 1993.

He covered Maryland politics extensively until he became the host of “News Talk” in 2002.

“I also want to acknowledge my employer of the last 20 years, WJLA/NewsChannel 8 for always being in my corner,” DePuyt said.

DePuyt was a reporter and anchor at WVIR in Charlottesville, Va., before he arrived at News Channel 8. He also produced an award-winning weekly talk show, “21 This Week” on “Cable News 21” in Montgomery County, Md.

“News Talk” airs on News Channel 8 weekdays live at 10 a.m. (ML)

 

 

Best of Gay D.C., best actor, Logan Sutherland, gay news, Washington Blade

Logan Sutherland (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Best actor:

Logan Sutherland

Runner-up: Will Gartshore

 

At just 22, Logan Sutherland is at the beginning of his acting career and he’s already winning awards. “This is an incredible surprise,” he says. “I didn’t even promote myself. I’ve been way too busy!”

After graduating from American University’s musical theater program in the spring, Sutherland began landing acting gigs straight away beginning with multiple roles in the Source Festival at Source Theatre in June. Shortly after, he drew praise for his showy turn in this summer’s Fringe Festival favorite “One Night in New York.”

“It was like Disney had made a big gay musical about a guy coming to New York looking for love,” he says. “I played Andy, one of the bitchy people that he met in Chelsea. He was like the Regina George [from “Mean Girls”] — a real bitch.”

A genuine triple threat, Sutherland has been performing since he was a kid in small town Schwenksville, Pa. Currently the out actor is understudying for “Lulu and the Brontosaurus” at Imagination Stage in Bethesda. Later this season he will appear in Woolly Mammoth’s “The Summoning of Everyman,” a morality play that now reads as satire.

When not acting, Sutherland works as a server at Founding Farmers three blocks from the White House.  He’s considering film work, which may involve a move to New York or California in the future. But for now, the Dupont Circle resident says he’s learning a lot and happy to be a part of the D.C. theater scene. (PF)

 

Best actress:

Jessica Thorne

Runner-up: Holly Twyford

 

Jessica Thorne is a fresh and definitely welcomed face on the local theater scene. The self-described straight LGBT ally initially left her native Georgia for D.C. to attend Catholic University’s musical theater program. After graduating in 2011, she immediately began performing with Synetic Theatre Company, the never boring movement-based troupe based in Crystal City.

“I’m incredibly grateful to Synetic. They changed me as an artist,” says Thorne who remains a member of the company. “As an actor it makes you incredibly comfortable with your body and who you are in space and time. It was a great experience and very singular to the company.”

Last season, Thorne was an ensemble member in director Ethan McSweeney’s gorgeous production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at the Shakespeare Theater Company. And more recently she shone as wholesome Janet in Studio Theatre’s “Richard O’Brien’s The Rocky Horror Show.”

As a freshman in high school, Thorne was certain she wanted to pursue a career in theater. She is grateful to her mother and grandmother for supporting her choice to study theater in college. “They’ve been there every step of the way,” she says. “For me, that support has been really imperative in becoming an artist. You base a lot of your success on the people who are backing you.” She also thanks her colleagues in the D.C. theater community whom she describes as incredibly supportive and generous.

Currently studying voice in New York with singer/composer Marisa Michelson, Thorne considers D.C. home and is slated to perform here in two shows this spring (about which she cannot yet reveal details). We promise to keep readers posted. (PF)

 

Kat Skyles (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Kat Skyles (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Best Hill staffer:

Kat Skiles

Runner-up: Guy Cecil

 

President Barack Obama (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

President Barack Obama (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Best straight ally:

President Barack Obama

Runner-up: Brooke Jordan

 

Best of Gay D.C., Best Bartender, Carlos Arroyo, JR's, gay news, Washington Blade

Carlos Arroyo (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Best bartender:

Carlos Arroyo (JR.’s)

Runner-up: Liz Warner-Osborne (Cobalt)

 

Carlos Arroyo says the relaxed atmosphere at JR.’s makes it a great place to work.

“It’s a great vibe overall,” he says. “The clientele is super awesome. We have amazing regulars and people just go there to have a great time. It’s not pretentious. They leave work and everything at the door. … It’s probably one of the most relaxed bars I’ve worked in.”

Arroyo has been in D.C. about 13 years and has dabbled in theater, communications work, personal training, catering and more. He also helps his partner with a photography business and says the two “travel quite often.”

Arroyo previously worked at Number Nine on P Street for about a year and a half, but moved over to JR.’s. He’s quick to assert he has enjoyed working at both hotspots.

“When JR.’s comes calling, you can’t turn them down,” he says. “It’s one of the busiest gay bars in D.C.” (JD)

 

Jamie Romano (Washington Blade photo by Kevin Naff)

Jamie Romano (Washington Blade photo by Kevin Naff)

Best Rehoboth bartender:

Jamie Romano (Purple Parrot)

Runner-up: Chris Chandler (Blue Moon)

 

Jamie Romano is a repeat winner, having taken this prize two years ago. He reclaims it this year in a close contest with Chris Chandler. Romano has an uncanny ability to remember his customers’ favorite drink and often has one at the ready before you sit down. You can find him behind the main bar at the gay-owned Purple Parrot and at the popular outdoor bar in back, known as the Biergarten.

 

 

Best of Gay D.C., Josh Deese, Trevor Project, Judy Shepard, Committed Activist, gay news, Washington Blade

Josh Deese (Photo courtesy of Josh Deese)

Most committed activist:

Josh Deese

Runner-up: Halley Cohen

 

Florida native Josh Deese knew he wanted to make a difference in the LGBT community after being bullied for his sexuality growing up led him to attempt suicide.  His experience drew him to The Trevor Project’s Youth Advisory Council (YAC).

“Just having a feeling that people don’t appreciate you and that you’re worthless takes its toll on you,” says Deese. “It only takes one, a friend, parent or ally to stand up and save someone’s life and let them know they aren’t alone.”

Deese, who cites Harvey Milk as one of his heroes, has spoken with The Trevor Project about LGBT youth suicide, most recently at The National Cathedral with Judy Shepard, Matthew Shepard’s mother. He also serves as the Neighboring Commuter Representative on the University of Maryland Government Association.

In the future he plans to work in real estate in the D.C. area and eventually would like to run for the U.S. House. He hopes his efforts to help the LGBT community will lead to LGBT youth feeling safer and appreciated in the future. He says he wants them to understand life is an option.

He’s a sophomore at the University of Maryland majoring in government and politics with a minor in LGBT studies. (MC)

 

 

Maryland Del. Heather Mizeur (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Maryland Del. Heather Mizeur (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Best gay politician:

Del. Heather Mizeur (Maryland)

Runner-up: Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.)

 

Del. Heather Mizeur has represented Takoma Park and Silver Spring in the Maryland General Assembly since 2006. But she’s best known now as the openly gay candidate for governor. She faces current Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and Attorney General Doug Gansler in the contest. She would make history as the state’s first female governor and the country’s first openly LGBT elected governor if she prevails next year.

“Diversity is enormously important,” she told the Blade. “Not simply to have a gay governor, but to have a governor who can represent the voices of people in communities that have not always had a voice in the process.”

 

 

Allyson Robinson (Washington Blade photo by Blake Bergen)

Allyson Robinson (Washington Blade photo by Blake Bergen)

Best trans advocate:

Allyson Robinson

Runner-up: Ruby Corado

 

It was a difficult year for Allyson Robinson, who stepped down from her position as executive director of OutServe-SLDN in June. Robinson, who led OutServe-SLDN for nine months, was the only openly transgender leader of a national LGBT rights organization. A new group, Servicemembers, Partners and Allies for Respect and Tolerance for All (SPARTA) announced its formation in July, following the turmoil at OutServe-SLDN. Robinson remains a prominent voice for transgender rights and LGBT equality.

 

 

Best of Gay D.C., Best Amateur Athlete, Stonewall Kickball, Martin Espinoza, gay news, Washington Blade

Martin Espinoza (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Best amateur athlete:

Martin Espinoza (Stonewall Kickball)

Runner-up: Julie Olsen

 

Diego Orbegoso (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Diego Orbegoso (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Best stylist:

Diego Orbegoso, Bang Salon

Runner-up: Dmitri Lords, Zoe Salon & Spa

 

Diego Obregoso says the best part of being a stylist is “the magical boosting of people’s energy by making them feel good.”

With a background in makeup and cosmetology, Obregoso has been at Bang Metropole (1519 15th St., N.W.) for six years. He’s gay and estimates about 60 percent of his customers are LGBT.

A native of Lima, Peru, Obregoso has been in the U.S. 11 years. (JD)

 

 

Best of Gay D.C., David Lett, Best Clergy, gay news, Washington Blade

The Very Rev. David B. Lett (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Best clergy:

Rev. David Lett

Runner-up: Rabbi Shira Stutman

 

Sometimes Saturday is a very short night sleep-wise for David Lett. He’s often out until the wee hours hostessing (as Lena Lett) the drag show at Town Danceboutique. Sundays are often spent doing spiritual duties as supply clergy with the North American Old Catholic Church, an LGBT-affirming offshoot of the Roman Catholic Church where years ago, Lett went to seminary and studied in Rome.

Lett says the two roles aren’t as dissimilar as they might seem.

“To be a drag performer, you have to be confident and you have to be able to put yourself in front of people and …. take them from wherever they are to a new place. A priest does a lot of the same things, there’s just not as much liquor going around. … The basic tenets of the role are identical. It’s just the means by which they are done that is completely different.”  (JD)

 

Rev. Dean Snyder (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Rev. Dean Snyder (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Lifetime achievement award:

Rev. Dean Snyder (Foundry United Methodist Church)

 

Rev. Dean Snyder has been an LGBT ally for 40 years and he is the inaugural recipient of the Blade’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

He has fought to change his denomination’s ban on same-sex marriages being performed by the church’s ministers. In 2010, the Foundry congregation voted 367-8 to allow same-sex marriages to be performed in the church.

A large portion of Foundry’s congregation is LGBT, including couples that have been in committed relationships for decades. This brought Snyder to question the church’s laws.

“We started doing services to honor gay and lesbian committed relationships, which we argued were not a violation of the rules because we weren’t actually consecrating a marriage,” Snyder told the Blade. “But then … when it was clear marriage was going to become legal in Washington, D.C., then we couldn’t fudge anymore. It was either marriage or it wasn’t.”

24
Oct
2013

Soaring at the Air Force

Eric Fanning, United States Air Force, gay news, Washington Blade, military

Under Secretary of the Air Force Eric Fanning (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

 

After being bitten by the politics bug in 1988, a gay Dartmouth college student would abandon plans to pursue a career in architecture and instead move to D.C. where, years later, he would ascend the ranks to take on the second-highest civilian position in the U.S. Air Force.

It was the New Hampshire primary after eight years of Ronald Reagan that led Eric Fanning to shift his career trajectory to politics and policy.

“The campaign hooked me on politics. I found my way into an internship on the Hill and decided I wanted to come back,” Fanning said. “I got a great job on the House Armed Services Committee, which is not easy to do. I was very lucky to get that. The chairman of the committee, for whom I was research assistant, was, within 16 months, Clinton’s first defense secretary, so I was over here in the Clinton Pentagon. The path kind of wrote itself very early on.”

Fanning, 44, reflected on his career path and vision for an LGBT-inclusive Air Force during an interview with the Washington Blade in his office at the Pentagon on Wednesday — the first media interview he’s granted since the U.S. Senate confirmed him last month as under secretary of the Air Force by voice vote.

After  his initial work on Capitol Hill, Fanning worked as special assistant to the Secretary of Defense, and associate director of political affairs at the White House. During the Bush administration, he worked for Business Executives for National Security, a D.C.-based think tank before joining the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation & Terrorism.

Once President Obama assumed office, Fanning went to work as Deputy Chief Management Officer for the Department of the Navy and continued in that role until he was nominated in July for his role as Air Force under secretary. In that role as part of Air Force leadership, Fanning is responsible for affairs on behalf of the secretary of the Air Force, including organizing, training and equipping the service. Fanning, who’s single, lives in Logan Circle and works at the Pentagon.

Throughout his service in the government, Fanning has witnessed the enactment of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 1993 as well as the ban on openly gay service members being lifted after President Obama signed repeal legislation in December 2010.

“‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was implemented when I got here,’” Fanning said. “That wasn’t a particularly fun experience listening to the senior generals and admirals talk about those issues — now it was 20-plus years ago. It made this last round more rewarding just to see the change in the attitudes in the senior uniform leadership.”

Although he said he’s never felt like he’s been discriminated against while working at the Pentagon, Fanning said working for an institution that would have discharged him for being openly gay if he had served on the uniform side was “challenging” and he was on pins and needles as legislation to repeal the law met obstacles in Congress.

“I left the Pentagon before the re-election and then didn’t come back until this administration when we had a president who said he was going to end it,” Fanning said. “It was very difficult when we were getting to the end of the first two years and it wasn’t clear if we were going to be able to repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ I didn’t know what I was going to do if we didn’t get the repeal through because some people couldn’t work because they were openly gay or lesbian.”

Fanning isn’t a stranger to LGBT advocacy work. From 2004 to 2007, he served on the board of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund. Fanning said he’s limited in the degree to which he can take part in LGBT organizations, but does contribute to pro-LGBT causes. Among them was a recent donation to Scouts for Equality, the organization the led the way for the Boy Scouts to approve a resolution ending its ban on gay youth.

“I think those organizations are important,” Fanning said. “It’s one of the reasons I gave so much time to the Victory Fund. But I don’t think there’s anything as important as just living an open life of integrity and productivity. … The more of us that are out and just doing the normal course of work of what we do as brothers, sisters, sons, colleagues, neighbors, I think that’s one of the most important things we can do.”

Chuck Wolfe, CEO of the Victory Fund, said Fanning represents what LGBT Americans can achieve and said his new role in the Air Force appropriately fits someone who helped elect LGBT people as a Victory Fund board member.

“Eric’s appointment is another positive step for LGBT Americans, who have begun to reject the idea that authenticity and public service are incompatible,” Wolfe said. “As a Victory Fund board member, Eric worked to make it possible for talented, committed leaders to serve the public regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. It’s fitting that he has now become a high-profile example of that mission.”

Like many gay Americans, Fanning said he’s closely monitoring the proceedings at the Supreme Court on two prominent gay rights cases: one challenging California’s Proposition 8, the other challenging the Defense of Marriage Act. Fanning said the case against DOMA is also professionally important to him because that law precludes major partner benefits — including health and pension benefits — from flowing to service members with same-sex partners.

“It has a significant impact on the Department of Defense as well because so many of these benefits conversations are tied up with DOMA, which is a federal law that we have to follow,” Fanning said. “In some ways, DOMA, which I think is a terrible law, made the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ easier because it took some of the more emotional issues off the table, but in terms of extending benefits, I think everyone who serves in uniform should have full access to legal benefits, and so, DOMA is the main roadblock to that.”

Fanning also takes the helm of the Air Force after an announcement in February that the Pentagon would extend to service members with same-sex partners limited benefits that are available to them under DOMA. Most of these benefits are the result of issuing these partners military IDs so they have access to commissaries and other programs. The goal to implement these is by  by Aug. 31, but no later than Oct. 1.

“When we deploy airmen in this case, they need to know their families are being taken care of when they’re back home,” Fanning said. “The families are involved in deployments; we’re taking families away for extended periods of time. So, I think extending those types of benefits to people who are serving in uniform, volunteered for those risks is very important. So, I’m glad to see that it’s going forward.”

With the process leading to those benefits underway, Fanning also said he supports other outstanding initiatives sought by advocates — in particular the LGBT military group OutServe-SLDN — on behalf of LGBT service members while emphasizing he was speaking in a personal capacity in support of those ideas.

One of them was an explicit non-discrimination policy on sexual orientation in the military that would protect gay service members who feel they’re suffering discrimination or harassment. Currently, service members have no recourse for anti-gay discrimination outside of their chain of command. In respect to calls for an explicit non-discrimination policy, the Pentagon has consistently said it treats all service members with respect without committing to a new policy.

“Speaking personally, I always think it’s important to have non-discrimination policies codified to include everyone,” Fanning said. “The military, because it has a chain of command, has a different attitude about this and a different way to try to go about protecting airmen, sailors, soldiers, Marines — but Eric Fanning? Yes. I personally like to see these things in writing and codified.”

While some advocates have said President Obama should issue a non-discrimination executive order to protect gay service members, OutServe-SLDN has shifted its focus to calling on Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to include out service members in non-discrimination and anti-harassment protections. Fanning said his preference is for the policy to originate from the Pentagon.

“My view about government is you should always use those resources that are available to you first before you move up to the next level, so I think there are a number of things we can do inside this building for the Department of Defense,” Fanning said. “If the president wanted to do that for the government at large, that’s a different issue, but we have the ability within the Department of Defense to codify this without having the president issue an executive order.”

Fanning also said he backs the idea of openly transgender service in the military. Currently, openly transgender people are unable to serve in the armed forces and face a medical discharge if their gender identity becomes known.

“I think that the military is stronger, institutions are stronger, and society is stronger the more inclusive that we are,” Fanning said. “So, wherever we can root out discrimination, I think it’s a positive thing.”

Allyson Robinson, executive director of OutServe-SLDN, praised Fanning for expressing support for the initiatives and said his vision for the military brings the institution into alignment with the 21st century.

“Under Secretary Fanning shares the same vision we have at OutServe-SLDN: a U.S. military that leads the nation in LGBT inclusion rather than lagging behind it,” Robinson said. “The steps he’s suggested would bring our armed forces in line with proven best inclusion practices of some of America’s most effective organizations, including our largest defense contractors, and of some of our strongest allies, like Great Britain and Israel. It’s encouraging to see this kind of forward thinking from one of our top military leaders.”

30
May
2013