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Levine seeks U.S. House seat from Va.

Mark Levine, Democratic Party, Virginia, gay news, Washington Blade

Mark Levine (Photo courtesy of Levine for Congress)

Gay rights attorney and radio talk show host Mark Levine on March 9 officially launched his campaign for the U.S House seat in Northern Virginia being vacated by retiring Rep. Jim Moran (D).

At a rally in his Old Town Alexandria townhouse packed with supporters and family members, including his parents, Levine described himself as an “aggressive progressive” who will fight for the progressive causes and policies that he said many fellow Democrats have shied away from.

As a staff attorney for gay former Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), Levine said LGBT rights and marriage equality would be an important part of his campaign platform and would be at the top of his agenda if elected to Congress.

“I think all too often Democrats take what they can get and maybe cast a vote but aren’t out there changing the course of the debate,” he said.

“So those of you who know me and even some of you that don’t know me that well know that I’m really not a quiet person,” he said, drawing laughter and applause. “I don’t think we need quiet people in Congress.”

Levine is one of 11 candidates running in the hotly contested Democratic primary in a heavily Democratic district where the winner of the primary is expected to win the general election in November.

Among the others running are gay Virginia State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria), and State Del. Mark Sickles (D-Fairfax), who came out as gay last month in a column in the Washington Post.

The Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, which raises money for out LGBT candidates, has endorsed Ebbin. The group called Ebbin a champion for progressive causes and LGBT equality during his nine years in the Virginia General Assembly, both as a senator and former delegate.

Levine said he hopes to distinguish himself from his rivals by drawing attention to his experience in legal and public policy work for more than 20 years. He pointed to his stint as a congressional staffer and his outspoken advocacy for progressive causes, including universal health care, in his regular appearances on radio and TV political talk shows such as those on Fox News and MSNBC.

12
Mar
2014

Recommitting to the Victory Fund mission

Chuck Wolfe, Victory Fund Champagne Brunch, gay news, Washington Blade

Victory Fund President Chuck Wolfe told Sunday’s crowd about his recent heart attack and thanked supporters for their work during his absence. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Last Sunday was the annual Victory Fund National Champagne Brunch and by all accounts it was a success. There were fewer people than last year but that could be attributed to the steep price increase for tickets.

Chuck Wolfe, president and CEO of the Victory Fund, began the program and spoke of his recent heart attack and thanked the staff and board for all their hard work during his illness. It was good to see him back. He is often seen as the heart and soul of the Victory Fund and deserves much of the credit for its success in recent years. He introduced Steve Elmendorf, board chair, along with Kim Hoover, board treasurer and event co-chair.

The brunch is often a moving event in which LGBT leaders from across the nation gather to celebrate how far we have come and remind each other how far we still have to go for full equality. Each year there is a featured speaker and this year it was Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine) who is running for governor and recently came out as gay. If elected, he would be the first openly gay person to be elected as a governor. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) introduced him and remarked that it is becoming increasingly difficult to be the first of anything in the LGBT community because of the successes we have had in recent years.

We had a New Jersey governor who came out in office and a gay governor who never came out in another state, but this would still be a first. Polis talked about how hard it must have been for Barney Frank when he was the only out person in Congress while today when Michaud came out there were others there to throw him a coming out party. They served pink cupcakes and the musical selections included “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

When Michaud spoke he said, “never before, and most likely never again will I eat pink cupcakes.” He also commented on the beautiful people in the room and reminded everyone that he is still single and was going to be in Washington all weekend. The line formed to the right.

Among the other candidates who spoke to the welcoming crowd were Maura Healey, who’s running for attorney general in Massachusetts, and Mary Gonzalez, a candidate for the House of Representatives in Texas. David Catania, D.C. Council member and mayoral candidate, also spoke and talked about his record in D.C. and how the Victory Fund has been instrumental in his past races. He commented on how far behind he is in the polls at this point but said he could make that up. The applause for him was definitely on the lighter side as many in the room are from D.C. and supporting the Democratic nominee.

It is my understanding that the Victory Fund will be going through a strategic planning process in the coming months. All good organizations do this and it is time for the Victory Fund to reaffirm its mission and to look at what they are doing well and what they need to work on. There were people I spoke to who didn’t come to this year’s brunch for reasons other than the cost. Some stayed home because of the Victory Fund’s endorsement of Republican Richard Tisei in his bid for Congress from Massachusetts. Others didn’t come because of the early endorsement of Catania, which occurred before he even announced. These and other issues surely will be part of the discussion during the strategic planning process.

The Victory Fund should find a way to let their huge mailing list and those visiting their website know about LGBT candidates they aren’t endorsing. There are many such candidates around the nation running for posts from county commission to school board to town council. They are running for the first time and may not meet the criteria for an endorsement. But these candidates deserve to have people know they are stepping up to the plate. Others, like longtime activist Dana Beyer, who is running for State Senate in Maryland against an LGBT incumbent endorsed by Victory Fund, at least deserves recognition on the website to let people know she is running even if she isn’t endorsed.

These candidates are part of the future and they make up, as they say in baseball, our bench.

09
Apr
2014

Barney Frank blasts Uganda over anti-gay law

Barney Frank, Massachusetts, World Bank, human rights, Democratic Party, United States House of Representatives, gay news, Washington Blade

Former Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Former Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank on Wednesday blasted the Ugandan government over a law that imposes a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts.

The gay Democrat noted during a hearing the Tom Lantos Commission on Human Rights held on the World Bank and human rights at the U.S. Capitol that he was among the members of Congress who in 2000 supported debt forgiveness for Uganda under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative.

“One of the things that we were told by some leaders of some countries who have engaged in vicious persecution of people who share my sexual orientation [is] ‘stay out of [our] business; you have no right to tell us what to do,’” said Frank. “Uganda was not so angry about gay people intruding in their business when in 2000, along with three of my colleagues, I was one of the leaders in passing a bill that gave them hundreds of millions of dollars in debt relief. We put that through and it was serious debt relief for Uganda.”

Frank also dismissed claims that Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who signed the so-called Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law in February, and others have made that suggest the West brought homosexuality into Africa.

“The argument that we’re meddling in other people’s business; that’s total hypocrisy,” said the former congressman, referring once again to the 2000 debt cancellation. “People welcomed our help.”

Frank also noted during his testimony the U.S. backs efforts to combat HIV/AIDS in Uganda.

The East African country receives nearly $300 million each year through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief to fight the epidemic. The Ugandan government in 2013 received more than $485 million in aid from the U.S.

“There was a tremendous response on the part of the United States to combat AIDS in Africa and it was led politically by the people the Ugandans are persecuting – gay men and lesbians,” said Frank. “The terrible nature of what they are doing is particularly undermined by the fact that they are turning around and persecuting people who were rightfully supporting them.”

The World Bank postponed a $90 million loan to the Ugandan government that had been earmarked to bolster its health care system after Museveni signed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law.

The U.S. has suspended a study to identify groups at risk for HIV/AIDS that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had planned to conduct with a Ugandan university. A CDC agreement that funded the salaries of 87 employees of the Ugandan Ministry of Health who support the country’s response to the epidemic expired on Feb. 28.

“The world now accepts that sustainable development is impossible without human rights,” said Massachusetts Congressman Jim McGovern, who co-chairs the Tom Lantos Commission on Human Rights, during the hearing.

Frank said decisions to delay loans and suspend foreign aid should not be “done ad hoc” because he feels countries that receive it can “complain” they had not been warned in advance.

“It’s important to have a framework in place so when a country contemplating anything that brutal in the future will be on notice,” he said.

Ugandan authorities on April 3 raided a health clinic and medical research facility in Kampala, the country’s capital, for allegedly conducting “unethical research” and “recruiting homosexuals.” The Makerere University Walter Reed Project receives funding through PEPFAR.

The Capitol Hill hearing coincided with the World Bank and the IMF’s spring meetings that will take place in D.C. this weekend.

Frank, who retired from Congress in 2012 after 16 terms in office, also emceed a reception at the Rayburn House Office Building that took place after he testified before the committee. LGBT rights advocates from countries that include Uganda, Lebanon, China and Russia joined Sara Aviel of the World Bank and U.S. Reps. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.) and others.

10
Apr
2014

World Bank president meets with LGBT advocates

IMF, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, gay news, Washington Blade

The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund held their spring meetings in D.C. from April 11-13. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

World Bank President Jim Yong Kim on April 11 met with 15 LGBT rights advocates in D.C.

Lebanese Medical Association for Sexual Health President Hasan Abdessamad; Jonas Bagas of TLF Sexuality, Health and Rights Educators Collective, Inc., in the Philippines; Clare Byarugaba of the Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law in Uganda; Children’s Human Rights Centre of Albania General Director Altin Hazizaj; Miroslava Makuchowska of the Polish Campaign Against Homophobia; Khemraj Persaud of the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination in Guyana; Slava Revin of Spectrum Human Rights; Simran Shaikh of the India HIV/AIDS Alliance; Josefina Valencia Toledano of Clóset de Sor Juana AC in Mexico City; K.K. Verdade of the ELAS Fund in Brazil; Beijing Gender Health Education Institute Executive Director Xiaogang Wei and Beijing LGBT Center Executive Director Ying Xin are among those who met with Kim in downtown Washington.

The Washington Blade was unable to attend the meeting because of press restrictions that restricted access to the building in which it took place, but a World Bank press release described the gathering as the “first conversation of its kind.” It coincided with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund’s annual spring meetings that took place in Washington over the past weekend.

“I want to thank the gay and lesbian activists from around the world for their courage in speaking up on behalf of others in vulnerable situations in their countries, and for pressing home the point that discrimination against any group is unacceptable – whether it is religion, race, gender identity or sexual orientation,” said Kim. “Their stories will inform us as we move ahead with revisions to the World Bank Group’s long-standing safeguards, which were designed to protect the interests of individual people in our projects.”

The advocates on the same day attended a roundtable on LGBT-specific issues with 17 World Bank executive directors and board members from the Middle East, Europe, Japan and China. World Bank Alternate Executive Director for the U.S. Sara Aviel, Robert B. Tan and César Guido Forcieri, executive directors for the World Bank in the Philippines and Argentina respectively, co-hosted the gathering.

“Social inclusion is core to the World Bank Group’s mission,” said Aviel during an April 9 reception on Capitol Hill that former Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank emceed. “At its core poverty is about exclusion and that’s exclusion from service, exclusion from resources, exclusion from opportunities. There’s plenty of evidence that shows discrimination is bad for economic growth and development.”

Abdessamad told the Blade on April 11 that he welcomed the opportunity to meet with Kim.

“It is a very important step,” said Abdessamad. “This is what the bank has been missing over the years – to listen to the people and especially people who might be affected by the bank’s policies and projects.”

The meeting between Kim and the advocates took place less than two months after the World Bank postponed a $90 million loan to the Ugandan government that had been earmarked to bolster the East African country’s health care system. This decision came in response to President Yoweri Museveni signing a bill into law that imposes a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual relations.

The U.S. last month suspended a study to identify groups at risk for HIV/AIDS that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had planned to conduct with a Ugandan university after Museveni signed the so-called Anti-Homosexuality Bill. A CDC agreement that funded the salaries of 87 employees of the Ugandan Ministry of Health who supported the country’s response to the epidemic expired on Feb. 28.

Frank noted during testimony he gave during an April 9 hearing on the World Bank the Tom Lantos Commission on Human Rights held that he was among the members of Congress who in 2000 supported debt forgiveness for Uganda.

“Uganda was not so angry about gay people intruding in their business when in 2000, along with three of my colleagues, I was one of the leaders in passing a bill that gave them hundreds of millions of dollars in debt relief,” said the former congressman who retired in 2012. “We put that through and it was serious debt relief for Uganda.”

Aviel applauded Kim’s decision to postpone the World Bank’s loan to Uganda after the Anti-Homosexuality Bill became law.

“We fundamentally believe that there should be zero tolerance for discrimination,” she said. “That’s why we pushed for and supported the decision to postpone the Uganda project a few weeks ago and strongly supported Kim’s strong statements on discrimination.”

Aviel also applauded GLOBE, a group for the World Bank’s LGBT employees, as she spoke during the Capitol Hill reception. She acknowledged the bank needs to do more to not only protect its aforementioned employees, but incorporate LGBT-specific issues into the projects it funds.

“Social inclusion is core to the mission of the World Bank, but hasn’t been as core to some of its practices or operations that it should be,” said Aviel, referring to a 2013 organizational report that specifically referred to gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders for the first time. “Now we’re working very hard to make sure the findings and the analysis are operationalized into the work that the bank does.”

15
Apr
2014

Victory Fund endorses Catania for mayor

David Catania, Catania for mayor, D.C. Council, gay news, Washington Blade

David Catania won the Victory Fund’s endorsement even though he hasn’t yet announced his candidacy for mayor. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, an influential national group that raises money for LGBT candidates for public office, created a stir among local activists this week when it announced it has endorsed D.C. Council member David Catania (I-At-Large) for mayor.

With many LGBT activists supporting Mayor Vincent Gray’s re-election bid and others in the LGBT community supporting one of the four other City Council members running for mayor, some are asking why the Victory Fund would endorse Catania before he has formally announced he’s running for mayor.

Catania has formed an exploratory committee for a mayoral race and has said he most likely would run if Gray wins the Democratic primary on April 1.

Victory Fund Press Secretary Steven Thai said that while the group doesn’t endorse unannounced potential candidates very often, it has taken this step before. He noted that the Victory Fund endorsed former U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) for the U.S. Senate in 2012 before she officially announced she was running for the Senate.

Baldwin went on to declare her candidacy for the Senate and won that race, making history by becoming the first out lesbian or gay person to become a U.S. senator.

“David Catania brings an incredible amount of passion and commitment to his job,” the Victory Fund’s chief operating officer, Torey Carter, said in a statement released by the group on Tuesday.

“He helped guide Washington through a period of unprecedented growth and revitalization,” Carter said. “He is ideally positioned to lead a city with such a diverse and dynamic people.”

The Victory Fund also announced on Tuesday its endorsement of gay Virginia State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) in his race for the 8th District U.S. House seat being vacated by retiring Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.).

Ebbin is running in a hotly contested Democratic primary scheduled for June 10 in which two other openly gay candidates are running in an 11-candidate race.

“Adam Ebbin has distinguished himself as an outspoken voice of progressive values,” Carter said in a separate statement on Tuesday. “After ten years in the state legislature, he has remained committed to his goal of increasing equality and opportunity for those who are often left behind.”

Virginia State Del. Mark Sickles (D-Fairfax), who came out publicly last week in a column in the Washington Post, emerged as an unexpected ‘out’ candidate in the 8th District congressional race. Also running is gay rights attorney and radio talk show host Mark Levine, who worked as a legal counsel for gay former U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.). Levine says he’s been out as gay since the 1980s.

As of this week, the Victory Fund has endorsed 71 out LGBT candidates in national, state and local races and expects to endorse more than 200 out candidates across the country in the 2014 election cycle, the group says on its website.

Among those endorsed so far are at least nine gay or lesbian candidates running in D.C., Maryland and Virginia, including Catania and Ebbin.

But missing from its endorsement list so far are lesbian Maryland Del. Heather Mizeur (D-Montgomery Country), who’s running for governor, and gay D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who is running for re-election to a fifth term.

Spokesperson Thai reiterated the Victory Fund’s longstanding policy of not disclosing why the group has not endorsed a candidate. However, he said many more candidates are in the endorsement pipeline and the group could very well endorse candidates not on the list in the next few weeks and coming months.

He said the group’s criteria for endorsing any candidate, as posted on the website, include a demonstration that the candidate is viable and can show a path to victory; a record of support on LGBT rights; and the completion of a detailed application seeking an endorsement. Thai said an endorsement for a prior election doesn’t carry over to the next election and all incumbents must re-apply each time they run.

Graham couldn’t immediately be reached to determine if he applied for an endorsement in his Council race.

The Mizeur for governor campaign didn’t say specifically whether the campaign formally applied for a Victory Fund endorsement.

“We are in close communication with the Victory Fund and we would welcome their support,” campaign spokesperson Steven Hershkowitz told the Blade.

Meanwhile, in a little-noticed development, Del. Peter Murphy (D-Charles County), one of eight openly gay members of the Maryland General Assembly, announced last month that he is not running for re-election to that position. Instead, Murphy said he decided to run for president of the Charles County Board of Commissioners, a position equivalent to a county executive.

“Whether you’re a state legislator or a county commissioner president, it’s all about the quality of life for all people,” Murphy said in a Feb. 3 statement. “I’ve always been accessible and responsive as a delegate, and I look forward to the opportunity of continuing to serve all our residents with the same enthusiasm and dedication.”

As a candidate for governor, Mizeur is giving up her seat in the House of Delegates. Records with the state board of elections show that she did not file for re-election to her delegate post prior to the filing deadline of Feb. 25. The election board lists Mizeur as an “active” candidate for governor in the June 24 Maryland primary.

The departure of Mizeur and Murphy from the House of Delegates would lower the number of out gay or lesbian members of the Maryland General Assembly from eight – the highest in the nation for a state legislature – to six if all six remaining lawmakers are re-elected this year.

The others running for re-election are State Sen. Richard Madelano (D-Montgomery County) and Delegates Maggie McIntosh (D-Baltimore City), Luke Clippinger (D-Baltimore City), Mary Washington (D-Baltimore City), Anne Kaiser (D-Montgomery County) and Bonnie Cullison (D-Montgomery County).

All except Kaiser have been endorsed by the Victory Fund.

Other out gay or lesbian candidates in Maryland that have received the Victory Fund’s endorsement this year are Evan Glass, Montgomery County Council; Byron Macfarlane, Howard County Register of Wills; and Kevin Walling, Maryland House of Delegates, Montgomery County.

Walling is running in a different district than that of Mizeur and Kaiser’s districts in Montgomery County.

26
Feb
2014

Why coming out still matters

Mike Michaud, Democratic Party, Maine, gay news, Washington Blade, coming out

Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine) (Photo public domain)

Growing up, I never dreamed that openly LGBT people could be politicians, athletes or celebs, let alone thrive as teachers, cops, doctors or clergy. It was shocking news when the late Rock Hudson was outed by AIDS; tennis icon Billie Jean King revealed she is a lesbian; and former Rep. Barney Frank came out. Yet, as I write this, Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine) who’s running for governor, has just come out as gay, and the sky hasn’t fallen.

“My #gaydar missed it, but happy to welcome @RepMikeMIchaud to team lgbt,” Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), who is gay, tweeted. Many in the media agree with Michaud, who wrote in an op-ed column in the Portland Press Herald and the Bangor Daily News, “Why should [being gay] matter?”

Media mavens had the same reaction recently when Gawker, the news and gossip site, seemingly confirmed what many have long suspected: Fox News anchor Shepard Smith is likely gay. Smith was in a New York bar with “a muscular 6-foot-2-30-something white male.”

“At a time when gay people can marry and fly helicopters in the Marines, is it time to consign outing to history, alongside other 90′s crazes like Zima and square-toed shoes?” Alex Williams wrote in the New York Times about Gawker’s Smith reveal.

At the risk of sounding so 1999, I beg to differ. We can marry now in 14 states plus Washington, D.C.; a celeb comes out every nano-sec; and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has been repealed. Coming out often no longer involves the drama, tears, fears and angst of yesteryear.  When I was young, I felt like I was in an “After School” special when I told my family I was queer. Last summer, when I saw relatives for the first time in years, we chatted about same-sex weddings we’d attended. Jim Parsons of the “Big Bang Theory” came out seamlessly by briefly mentioning his partner in a New York Times interview.

“That may seem like a big announcement to some people. For me, it’s just a part of who I am, as much as being a third-generation millworker or a lifelong Mainer,” Michaud wrote in the op-ed saying that he’s gay, “One thing I do know is that it has nothing to do with my ability to lead the state of Maine.”

Michaud’s being gay has nothing to do with how effective a governor he would make.  Yet, fair or not, his being gay and coming out do matter. Michaud isn’t a right-wing, anti-gay hypocrite. Yet, he didn’t come out voluntarily. He disclosed his sexual orientation after his opponents insinuated that he’s queer. “I wasn’t surprised to learn about the whisper campaigns … some of the people opposed to my candidacy have been using to raise questions about my personal life,” Michaud wrote in his op-ed. “They want people to question whether I am gay.  Allow me to save them the trouble with a simple, honest answer. Yes I am.”

Some may not care who Shepard Smith dates or which celebrities and politicians are closeted. Yet many of us still struggle with homophobia. In this country, you can be fired in the workplace for being gay in 29 states, and 33 states have no protection for employment discrimination based on gender identity. While ENDA is likely to pass the U.S. Senate, it’s unlikely to be passed by the House of Representatives.

My friend Penny recently talked to her pal. “Her 19-year-old nephew just came out,” she said, “ His father said to him, ‘being gay is a sin! How can you still go to church?’”

This young man’s story is far from unique. In a world where despite much progress, homophobia remains a part of our daily life, coming out still matters.

06
Nov
2013

A look ahead at an intriguing 2013

As we welcome the New Year we can be sure that there will be a Supreme Court decision on our right to marry. We know the justices agreed to hear two cases: one on DOMA Section 3 and the other on California’s Proposition 8. Everyone and their uncle will be dissecting these cases and trying to predict an outcome. Lawyers will be giving us every possible scenario on each of them until the day the decision is rendered, which will most likely be the last possible day in June.

As a layman I see the court upholding the right to marry in California and overturning Section 3 of DOMA, with both decisions based on states’ rights. This seems to be the simplest thing for them to do if they are not prepared to take the final step and decide that under the 14th Amendment, same-sex marriages are protected by the Constitution. Of course, hope springs eternal that they will agree to invalidate all those obscene state constitutional amendments claiming that marriage can only be between a man and a woman.

Setting aside the jokes made after Colorado and Washington State legalized marijuana and people said they now understood the Bible where it says, “if man lies down with man they must be stoned,” the reality is that these anti-marriage equality amendments were passed because people wouldn’t acknowledge the fact that marriage in the United States is a civil right, not a religious one. It is granted in a license by the state and the decision to follow that up with a religious ceremony is a personal one. I am not convinced the court is willing to tell all those people they are wrong just yet. That feeling is heightened when listening to Ruth Bader Ginsburg say she thinks the court may have ruled on Roe v. Wade before the country was ready for it. But then it is nearly impossible to predict what the court will do, as we saw in the decision on the Affordable Care Act.

Congress should be able to move on some social legislation in 2013 — possibly a fair and equitable immigration bill and maybe with Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) in the Senate even ENDA can move if we put enough pressure on the Congress. Surely in the first quarter of 2013 we can put enough pressure on the president to sign an executive order banning discrimination in federal contracting.

There will be more than enough happening in 2013 to keep us all talking and debating. Anyone in Dupont Circle should feel free to stop by the Java House coffee shop on 17th and ‘Q’ Street any morning to partake in a conversation/debate. Patrons there have fun anticipating the possible Hillary Clinton run in 2016 and analyze everything she does or says from a new haircut to talk of buying a new house to where she will accept speaking engagements to see how it might play into a candidacy. Speculation on what President Obama will do after his second term began even before the term has begun. Topics of conversation will surely include continued fascination with Michelle Obama’s wardrobe and guessing games over new Cabinet members, ambassadors and high-level appointments in the White House. Since your opinion is as valid as anyone else’s sitting at the table, feel free to join in the fun.

The more serious issues that will play out in 2013 include what happens in Afghanistan, Syria, Egypt, Iran, Israel and to the Palestinian people. How many more people will lose their lives as these fights continue? Most agree that 2013 will not see the end of the turmoil in any of those places but we can and must pray that our leaders will find equitable solutions that will allow people to live in peace.

As we rejoice at the swearing in of the new Congress, especially members like Sen. Baldwin, and bid adieu to others like Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) we must all remain vigilant and active if we are to advance the causes we believe in. As the president is sworn in to his second term we must continue to pressure him to stay strong in moving a progressive agenda forward as we stand strong at his side and pressure the members of Congress to do the same.

2013 could become one of the most exciting political years in a long time. We will surely be able to claim some victories if each and every one of us remains involved and continues to speak out for what we believe.

03
Jan
2013

Frank seeks appointment as interim U.S. senator

Rep. Barney Frank is actively seeking an interim appointment as a U.S. senator (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Former Rep. Barney Frank expressed interest in an interim appointment as a U.S. senator. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Gay former Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who retired after his last term as a U.S. House member on Wednesday, publicly expressed interest in the position of interim U.S. senator on Friday during an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” and said he’s spoken to Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick about the role.

“I’ve told the governor that I would now like frankly to do that because I would like to be a part of that,” Frank said. “It’s only a three-month period; I wouldn’t want to do anything more. I don’t want to run again.”

Frank noted during the interview that two weeks ago he said he wasn’t interested in the position because it was “kind of like you’re about to graduate, and they said ‘You have to go to summer school,’” but has since changed his mind.

The opportunity for the interim appointment has come up in the wake of President Obama’s announcement that he’ll nominate Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) as secretary of state. Under Massachusetts law, Patrick will have to select an interim replacement for Kerry, and between 145 and 160 days after Kerry steps down a special election must be held to find a permanent replacement.

Last week, Frank told Politico that he wouldn’t rule out the possibility of accepting the appointment, saying his answer to whether he wants the job was “not a ‘no’ or a ‘yes.’”

In a later interview with the Boston Globe, Frank expanded on his reasons for seeking the position, saying he wants to take part in the talks to stave off major budget cuts to federal programs now that the sequester under the “fiscal cliff” deal has been pushed off two months.

“The first months of the new Senate will be among the most important in American history,” Frank was quoted as saying. “I may be a little immodest, but I called the governor and said I think I can be a help in reaching a fair solution to some of these issues.”

Frank reportedly continued, “I think there are progressive ways to work on Social Security and Medicare. I think making the case against [Tea Party Republicans] on the debt limit is important. A split emerged in the Republican Party over the fiscal cliff, with mainstream Republicans splitting with the radical right. I think it’s important for us to continue to exploit that. We need to reach out to conservative Republicans who nonetheless are willing to compromise, and find a way to reach a deal.”

The Washington Blade reported earlier this week that the cuts under the sequester could impact federal programs relevant to LGBT people and people with HIV/AIDS, potentially placing as many as 12,000 people on the waiting list for assistance under AIDS Drug Assistance Programs.

Patrick hasn’t yet indicated whom he’ll designate for the position. Other names that have emerged in media reports are Vicky Kennedy, the wife of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, and former Democratic presidential nominee and former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis. A Patrick aide said the governor hasn’t made a decision yet.

Denis Dison, a spokesperson for the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, said Frank’s experience as a U.S. House member would make him well-qualified for the position of U.S. senator as Congress approaches budget cuts.

“As a former chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, few people understand better the complexities facing federal lawmakers in the coming months,” Dison said. “Beyond the history-making nature of such an appointment, it would serve the people of Massachusetts well to have someone with his experience and knowledge working on these very tough issues as they choose their next senator.”

If Frank is appointed the role, he would join Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) in the U.S. Senate and would become the second openly gay lawmaker to serve in that chamber.

Frank’s new interest in the role marks a change from the viewpoint he expressed to the the Blade on Monday during an interview in previously unpublished comments.

Asked about his previous comments in Politico, Frank replied, “The only way to deal with that is to ignore it. Ignore the question. Talk about being in awkward situation. I am ignoring that.”

Pressed on whether he had any conversations with Patrick by that time, Frank offered more details and said he was ready to leave Congress.

“I have not had any conversations with the governor,” Frank said. “There’s a couple who’ve said, ‘Gee, you should be a senator. Want me to tell the governor?’ I said, ‘Please do not do that.’ I don’t want anyone doing that. I’m ready to get out of here, and my mind is set for that.”

Frank’s interest in becoming a U.S. senator is noteworthy because he’s come out in opposition to the potential nomination of former Sen. Chuck Hagel as defense secretary based on the former senator’s 1998 anti-gay remarks against James Hormel and his anti-gay voting record. If appointed as a senator, Frank would be in a position to vote against confirming Hagel.

04
Jan
2013

Hagel a disappointing choice from Obama

07
Jan
2013

Hagel nomination controversial in LGBT community

Leon Panetta, Chuck Hagel, Barack Obama, White House, Secretary of Defense, Washington Blade, gay news

President Obama nominates Chuck Hagel and John Brenner to high-level administration positions (Washington Blade photo by Chris Johnson)

President Obama officially announced on Monday he would nominate former Sen. Chuck Hagel for defense secretary, a move that has stirred controversy in the LGBT community.

Obama appeared with Hagel in the East Room of the White House to name the Nebraska Republican as his choice — calling him “the leader that our troops deserve” and praising him for his service as a U.S. senator and Vietnam veteran — in addition to nominating John Brennan as director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

“Chuck Hagel’s leadership of our military would be historic,” Obama said. “He’d be the first person of enlisted rank to serve as Secretary of Defense, one of the few secretaries who have been wounded in war, and the first Vietnam veteran to lead the department.  As I saw during our visits together to Afghanistan and Iraq, in Chuck Hagel our troops see a decorated combat veteran of character and strength.”

Obama also alluded to outstanding work at the Pentagon on LGBT issues without enumerating any specific initiatives, saying the nation must move toward “continuing to ensure that our men and women in uniform can serve the country they love, no matter who they love.”

Hagel made no reference to LGBT issues during his remarks, but more generally said he was grateful to have another opportunity to serve the country as well as “men and women in uniform and their families.”

“These are people who give so much to this nation every day with such dignity and selflessness,” Hagel said. “This is particularly important at a time as we complete our mission in Afghanistan and support the troops and military families who have sacrificed so much over more than a decade of war.”

The news was met with varied reactions in the LGBT community — ranging from full support to outright opposition — based on Hagel’s anti-gay record and lingering inequities faced by LGBT service members.

First, there are the anti-gay remarks that Hagel made in 1998 about James Hormel, whom the senator referred to as “openly, aggressively gay” in remarks published in the Omaha World-Herald while questioning his ability to serve as a U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg. A U.S. senator representing Nebraska from 1997 and 2009, Hagel also had a poor record on LGBT issues. He voted for the Federal Marriage Amendment in 2004, but didn’t cast a vote in 2006.

Just last month, Hagel delivered an apology to media outlets over his 1998 remarks, saying he backs open service and is “committed to LGBT military families.” Major LGBT groups like OutServe-SLDN and the Human Rights Campaign quickly accepted the apology.

But questions linger on outstanding LGBT issues at the Pentagon. Gay service members still aren’t afforded partner benefits offered to straight troops in the U.S. military  — such as joint duty assignments, issuance of military IDs, use of the commissary and family housing — which could be changed administratively at any time even with the Defense of Marriage Act in place. Pentagon officials have said they’ve been looking into this issue since the time “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was lifted in September 2011, but no action has been taken. Another lingering issue is the prohibition on openly transgender service in the military — another problem that could be changed administratively.

Baldwin seeks answers on Hagel

Lesbian Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), who after being sworn in last week as the first openly gay senator, will be faced with voting on whether to confirm Hagel, told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell on Monday that she plans to “ask some tough questions, to give a thorough review and to be fair.”

“But I do want to speak with him … to see if his apology is sincere and sufficient,” Baldwin said. “I want to hear how he’s evolved on this issue in the last 14 years because the significance to the post to which he’s been nominated is the respect for now openly gay members of the military … We need to see [repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell] implemented successfully especially because the security of this nation is at stake.”

Another group seeking additional information from Hagel is the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, which issued a statement on Monday expressing concerns about the nomination.

Rea Carey, the Task Force’s executive director, called on Hagel to address how he’d advance LGBT issues at the Pentagon — as well as abortion rights for female service members — during his upcoming confirmation hearings before the Senate.

“We continue to express our concerns about the nomination of former Sen. Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense due to his poor track record on LGBT equality and reproductive rights,” Carey said. “Though Chuck Hagel has recently apologized for past anti-gay remarks, we expect him to fully explain his views during the confirmation process and what steps he intends to take as defense secretary to demonstrate his support for LGBT members of the military and their families.”

Another group that’s seeking a specific action from Hagel — after initially accepting the senator’s apology — is OutServe-SLDN, which issued a statement calling for a plan on partner benefits and non-discrimination policies.

Allyson Robinson, OutServe-SLDN’s executive director, said she wants Hagel to expand on what he means by being “committed to LGBT military families” by articulating policy plans on these issues.

“A commitment to support LGBT service members and their families must be a commitment to action,” Robinson said. “It’s past time to extend all benefits available to married same-sex military couples and families while the so-called Defense of Marriage Act is still on the books. It’s past time to put in place military equal opportunity and nondiscrimination protections so that all qualified Americans who wish to serve this nation in uniform may do so without fear of harassment or discrimination.”

The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT group, has been relatively silent on the Hagel nomination after accepting Hagel’s apology a couple weeks ago and issued no public news statement on the day of the announcement.

Fred Sainz, HRC’s vice president of communications, said in response to an inquiry from the Washington Blade that his organization is looking to hear more from Hagel during the confirmation hearings without offering an explicit position on the nomination.

“The next secretary of defense will be critical to the implementation of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal,” Sainz said. “We look forward to Senator Hagel’s testimony on how he intends to end the discriminatory behavior against gay and lesbian service members’ families.”

White House says Hagel values inclusion

The White House has responded to LGBT concerns about Hagel’s record through its chief advocate handling LGBT issues — Senior Adviser to the President Valerie Jarrett — who addressed the issue on Monday in a blog posting on the White House website.

“The President is fully committed to ensuring that all of our service members and military families are treated equally,” Jarrett writes. “He is confident that, as Secretary of Defense, Senator Hagel will ensure that all who serve the country we love are treated equally — no matter who they love.”

Noting that Hagel issued an apology for the remarks and expressed a commitment to LGBT military families, Jarrett said “one of the great successes of the LGBT civil rights movement” is providing people the opportunity to evolve on those issues.

“The President would not have chosen him unless he had every confidence that, working together, they will continue to ensure that our military and DOD civilian workforce are as welcoming, inclusive, and respectful as possible,” Jarrett concluded.

A White House spokesperson didn’t respond to a request for comment on whether Hagel would lay out more specific plans during his confirmation process to address outstanding issues regarding benefits or non-discrimination policies.

Former gay Rep. Barney Frank appeared to have a change of heart on Hagel. In an interview with the Boston Globe on Monday, Frank reversed his earlier stated opposition to the former senator’s confirmation as defense secretary, saying he was initially hoping Obama wouldn’t nominate him.

“As much as I regret what Hagel said, and resent what he said, the question now is going to be Afghanistan and scaling back the military,” Frank was quoted as saying. “In terms of the policy stuff, if he would be rejected [by the Senate], it would be a setback for those things.”

Frank, who’s now vying for an appointment as interim U.S. senator of Massachusetts, also reportedly said, “With the attack coming out of the right, I hope he gets confirmed.” If appointed to the Senate seat, Frank would be in a position to vote on the confirmation.

Perhaps the strongest support in the LGBT community in favor of the nomination came from Rick Jacobs, chair of the California-based progressive grassroots organization known as the Courage Campaign, who declared his support for Hagel in a column for The Huffington Post.

“Chuck, like most Americans, has evolved has changed his views on homosexuality,” Jacobs said. “He gave his word that as DoD chief he supports the law, that openly gay and lesbian soldiers will be treated equally to ‘straight’ ones. Remember when the Commandant of the Marine Corps opposed repeal of ['Don't Ask, Don't Tell'] and then when it passed said the Marines would implement it better than any other branch?”

Speaking with the Blade, Jacobs also said he’d like to see Hagel address outstanding LGBT issues at the Pentagon during his upcoming confirmation hearings.

“It would be great to have that addressed as we move forward,” Jacobs said. “It’s a good idea; we should do that. The more we can discuss openly the policies and implementation of policies to make equal LGBT people in service, the better off we are.”

Jacobs told the Washington Blade he hadn’t spoken to any groups prior to writing his column urging him to come out in support of the Hagel nomination.

On the other end of the spectrum is the Log Cabin Republicans. For the second time, the organization on Monday published a full-page ad in a major newspaper opposing the Hagel nomination. The ad, which follows a similar one published in the New York Times last month, is titled “Chuck Hagel’s Record on Gay Rights” and offers a timeline of remarks on LGBT issues made by Hagel.

In addition to the 1998 anti-gay remarks against Hormel, the ad also notes Hagel has expressed support for DOMA and says in 2005, when a federal judge in Nebraska determined the state’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, Hagel opposed the decision, saying, ”I am hopeful the federal appeals court will recognize the rights of Nebraskans to determine their own laws governing marriage and reverse this decision.”

Gregory Angelo, Log Cabin’s interim executive director, said his organization continues to oppose Hagel after examining the “‘totality’ of his public record on gay rights.”

“Until his name surfaced as a potential nominee for Secretary of Defense, he has stood firmly and aggressively against not only gay marriage, but also against gay people in general,” Angelo said. “Log Cabin Republicans helped lead the charge to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and is extremely invested in seeing that we don’t lose any ground due to a lack of sincere commitment to gay people and their families on the part of the incoming Defense Secretary.”

The move by Log Cabin raised questions about how a small organization can afford to buy full-page ads in major newspapers amid speculation that neo-conservative opponents of Hagel are influencing the group. Additionally, Log Cabin applied a different standard to 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney by endorsing the candidate even though he backed a Federal Marriage Amendment.

Speaking to the Blade, Angelo said “there’s some potential” for more ads, but declined to comment on the costs of the ads, saying they’re “part of a larger communications effort” that has come from the board of directors. Angelo also denied that other groups had asked Log Cabin to run the ads, saying they came “exclusively from within Log Cabin Republicans.”

08
Jan
2013