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Where is ENDA after 40 years?

Jeff Merkley, Barney Frank, ENDA, Employment Non-Discrimination Act, gay news, Washington Blade

Sen. Jeff Merkley (left) is chief sponsor of ENDA, which still hasn’t passed after an early version was introduced 40 years ago. Barney Frank (right) led the fight during his tenure in the House (Washington Blade file photos by Michael Key).

In the span of a short few years, the LGBT community has made tremendous strides that for decades seemed out of reach — ranging from “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal to the advancement of marriage equality.

But even though it was initially a high priority for the LGBT community, passage of employment non-discrimination protections remains as elusive as ever — 40 years to the day that the late Rep. Bella Abzug introduced the first bill to advance those protections in the U.S. House.

Nonetheless, LGBT advocates working on passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act say enactment of the legislation is within reach amid other victories on marriage and gays in the military.

Christian Berle, legislative director for Freedom to Work, said the key to passing ENDA at this time is building Republican support for the legislation in the GOP-controlled House. The legislation has seven Republican co-sponsors: Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Fla.), Charlie Dent (Pa.), Richard Hanna (N.Y.), Jon Runyan (N.J.), Mike Coffman (Colo.), Michael Grimm (N.Y.) and Chris Gibson (N.Y.).

“Freedom to Work has done lobby visits with more than 100 House Republican offices since the bipartisan Senate victory last year, and we’re finding open minds with Republican members of Congress and their staff in a way we would not have during ENDA’s early years,” Berle said. “I get the sense Republican Leadership is no longer actively whipping rank-and-file Republicans against ENDA, which is a change from decades past.”

Berle espoused the view expressed by so many other ENDA supporters — the White House, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the Human Rights Campaign — that if the legislation were allowed to come to a vote now, it would have sufficient support to pass. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has said he opposes ENDA when asked if it’ll come up for a vote.

But former Rep. Barney Frank, who was chief sponsor of ENDA before he retired, insisted that it would take a Democratic majority in both the House and the Senate — as well as a Democratic president — for the bill to become law.

Frank was also dismissive of the number of Republican co-sponsors of ENDA, saying it wouldn’t be enough to convince House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to move the bill forward.

“This is a fantasy that there can be Republican pressure on him to bring it up,” Frank said. “The last time it came up, we did get something like 20-something on passage, but only eight on the committee motion, which would have killed the bill…The Republicans are dead set against this.”

Frank asserted he’s heard that Republicans are telling Boehner not to bring up the legislation because “it’s a tough issue” for Republicans facing competition from more conservative opponents in their primaries. Frank said he’s unable to identify which Republicans are telling this to House leadership, but said it’s a common practice among lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

“It’s one of those things where they have to choose between alienating voters in the primary, or alienating them in November,” Frank said.

Nonetheless, ENDA has seen significant movement over the course of this Congress alone. Last year, the Senate voted 63-32 on a bipartisan basis to approve the legislation, marking the first time either chamber of Congress passed the bill with transgender protections.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), chief sponsor of ENDA in the Senate, reflected on the progress the legislation has made in a statement as he considered the bill’s introduction 40 years ago.

“Forty years ago, Bella Abzug launched a courageous movement for equality and opportunity in Congress with the introduction of the Equality Act,” Merkley said. “Few would have anticipated that it would be two decades before the Employment Non-Discrimination Act was introduced in the Senate, and that it would be another 19 years before the Senate approved the Act. Last year, when the Senate voted to approve ENDA by a bipartisan, two-to-one margin, it was an emphatic declaration that it is way past time to end employment discrimination.”

Merkley also turned up pressure on the House Republicans, saying American citizens “who care about equality and opportunity” should encourage the U.S. House to immediately take up and pass this bill.

Just last week, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation published a study, titled “The Cost of the Closet and the Rewards of Inclusion,” that found 53 percent of LGBT employees nationwide are closeted on the job. Additionally, the study found one-fifth of LGBT workers have looked for a new job specifically because the current job environment wasn’t LGBT friendly, but 26 percent of LGBT workers have stayed in a job because the environment was accepting.

But there is a faction of the LGBT community that is unhappy with ENDA because the religious exemption is broader in ENDA than it is for other groups. Others are unhappy with the bill because it pertains only to employment, unlike the bill that Abzug introduced 40 years ago, which covered housing and public accommodations.

Gay blogger Joe Jervis published an email on Tuesday from Matt Foreman, former head of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, who said, “It’s time to pull the plug on this essentially lifeless corpse and demand full equality under the federal civil rights statutes.”

Andrew Miller, a member of the grassroots group Queer Nation NY, was among those expressing dissatisfaction with the current version of ENDA because of its religious exemption and limited scope.

“The LGBT community deserves a comprehensive civil rights law, by the way, just like the ones that Chad [Griffin] and HRC are advocating for in Arkansas and Mississippi and Alabama,” Miller said. “It doesn’t make sense to us that they would advocate for comprehensive civil rights at the state level, but try to enact this piecemeal at the federal level.”

Miller said he believes the 64 senators who voted for ENDA and the more than 200 co-sponsors of the legislation in the House would also support a bill that includes housing and public accommodations, so he was baffled as to why HRC was pushing a more limited bill.

Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for HRC, paid tribute to the bill that Abzug introduced, calling her “a visionary leader,” but noting the current version of ENDA would provide crucial protections for LGBT people.

“No bill is perfect,” Sainz said. “And no bill encompasses every step that needs to be taken. However, House passage of ENDA would provide crucial protections for the millions of Americans who live in states like Alabama and Arkansas, Nebraska and North Carolina where there are no explicit state laws preventing them from being fired based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Some LGBT advocates have said ENDA is more appropriate than amending Title VII. Other civil rights groups are wary of amending civil rights laws to include LGBT people because it would make Title VII seem too easy to change. Moreover, ENDA is purposely structured differently than Title VII to prohibit disparate impact claims, which if allowed for LGBT people could require companies to keep information on which employees are LGBT and which are not.

But as ENDA continues to languish in Congress, LGBT advocates are seeking out other means to protect the LGBT community from discrimination, such as via an executive order from President Obama.

After initially hesitating on the order, then backing it by signing a letter with other House members calling for the directive, then opposing it in an interview with the Huffington Post’s Michelangelo Signorile, Frank told the Washington Blade he thinks it’s time for Obama to sign the directive now that it’s clear Democrats won’t take back control of the House.

“I think he should do that,” Frank said. “The problem before was that I was worried about signing too many executive order. Signing this executive order isn’t going to have any negative impact. There was a time when, I think, he had to worry about signing executive orders. They’re already as mad at him as they can be over executive orders.”

With strong public support for ENDA, those pushing for the legislation continue to see a path forward for the legislation. A poll published in September by TargetPoint Consulting found that 68 percent of voters support the bill (although a whopping 8 in 10 voters already believe the bill is law).

Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, said the support ENDA enjoys demonstrates that non-discrimationation is another example of the public embracing an idea the government has yet to achieve.

“ENDA has been around almost as long as the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force,” Carey said. “Forty years after it was introduced, the idea behind the legislation — that all LGBTQ people should be protected from discrimination at work — is so popular that most Americans think that it is already the law. So ENDA is a great example of where the public is way ahead of most of our lawmakers, especially those in the House who aren’t moving anything forward right now — even measures like this that would be well received by the public.”


ENDA’s long, frustrating path

Bella Abzug, ENDA, Democratic Party, New York, United States House of Representatives, gay news, Washington Blade

Rep. Bella Abzug (Photo public domain)

May 1974 — Rep. Bella Abzug (D-N.Y.), along with Rep. Ed Koch (D-N.Y.), introduce the Equality Act, which would have amended the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include sexual orientation under the protected classes for employment as well as housing and public accommodations.


Gerry Studds, ENDA, Democratic Party, Massachusetts, United States House of Representatives, gay news, Washington Blade

Rep. Gerry Studds (Washington Blade photo by Clint Steib)

June 1994 — Gay Rep. Gerry Studds (D-Mass.) introduces the modern version of ENDA, which includes protections only for employment.


Ted Kennedy, ENDA, Democratic Party, United States Senate, Massachusetts, gay news, Washington Blade

Sen. Edward Kennedy (Washington Blade photo by Doug Hinckle)

July 1994 — Under the leadership of Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), the Senate Committee on Labor & Human Resources holds the first-ever congressional hearing on ENDA. Lesbian attorney Chai Feldblum is among the witnesses.

October 1994 — Running for a U.S. Senate seat in Massachusetts, Mitt Romney pledges in a letter to the Log Cabin Republicans to co-sponsor ENDA “and if possible broaden to include housing and credit.” Romney would later say in 2006 he sees no need for ENDA before he pursued his presidential bid.

September 1996 — A deal is struck in the Senate to bring ENDA to a floor vote along with the Defense of Marriage Act. Although DOMA passes the Senate by a wide margin, ENDA fails narrowly by a 49-50 vote.


Bill Clinton, Democratic Party, Arkansas, gay news, Washington Blade

President Bill Clinton (Official White House Photo by Barbara Kinney public domain)

January 1999 — President Bill Clinton becomes the first U.S. president to call for ENDA passage during a State of the Union address, saying discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation “is wrong, and it ought to be illegal.”

April 2002 — Under the leadership of Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee reports out ENDA to the Senate floor. The legislation never sees a floor vote.


Barney Frank, Massachusetts, Democratic Party, United States House of Representatives, ENDA, gay news, Washington Blade

Rep. Barney Frank (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

April 2007 — Gay Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) introduces a version of ENDA in the House that for the first time includes language barring employment discrimination against transgender people.

September 2007 — Much to the consternation of LGBT advocates, Frank introduces a new version of ENDA that strips the bill of its transgender provisions, saying the votes are lacking in the House to pass a trans-inclusive bill.

October 2007 — Even though the bill has been stripped of its transgender protections, the Human Rights Campaign is a signatory to a letter from the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights urging members of Congress to continue to support ENDA.

November 2007 — The sexual orientation-only version of ENDA passes the House by a 235-184 vote. It’s never brought up for a Senate vote.


Barack Obama, ENDA, United States of America, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade

President Barack Obama (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

May 2008 — In a heated primary with Hillary Clinton, then-Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama vows in an open letter to the LGBT community to “place the weight of my administration” behind the enactment of a fully inclusive ENDA.

June 2009 — Following the inauguration of President Obama, Frank again introduces a transgender-inclusive version of ENDA, saying “we’re beyond” any possibility of removing that language.

August 2009 — Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) introduces a trans-inclusive ENDA. It’s the first time a Senate version of the bill contains protections for the transgender community.


Thomas Perez, Obama Administration, ENDA, gay news, Washington Blade

Thomas Perez (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

November 2009 — Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas Perez testifies on behalf of the Obama administration before the Senate, calling the bill “a top legislative priority for the Obama administration.”


Nancy Pelosi, ENDA, United States House of Representatives, California, gay news, Washington Blade

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

June 2010 — After the House votes on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) tells the Washington Blade a House vote on ENDA won’t take place until the Senate acts on the military’s gay ban. The House never acts on ENDA before Democrats lose control of the chamber.


Kylar Broadus (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Kylar Broadus (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

June 2012 — Kylar Broadus testifies on behalf of ENDA before the Senate HELP Committee, becoming the first openly transgender person to testify before the chamber.

April 2013 — Gay Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) introduces ENDA as its new chief sponsor in the U.S. House following the retirement of Barney Frank.

June 2013 — President Obama makes ENDA passage a major component of his speech during a Pride reception at the White House, saying, “We can make that happen — because after the last four and a half years, you can’t tell me things can’t happen.”

July 2013 — Under the chairmanship of Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions reports out on ENDA by 15-7 vote, marking the first time a trans-inclusive bill has passed out of committee.

November 2013 — The Senate votes 64-32 on a bipartisan basis to approve ENDA, marking the first time the chamber has passed ENDA and the first time either chamber of Congress has passed a version of the bill with transgender protections.


John Boehner, ENDA, United States House of Representatives, Republican Party, gay news, Washington Blade

House Speaker John Boehner (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

November 2013 — House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said he sees “no basis or no need” for ENDA when asked by the Washington Blade if he’ll allow a vote on the bill. The House has yet to vote on the legislation.


Ebbin, Levine chasing Beyer in Va. congressional race

Adam Ebbin, Mark Levine, gay news, Washington Blade

Adam Ebbin and Mark Levine, two gay candidates for Congress from Virginia, are trying to catch frontrunner Don Beyer in the run-up to next week’s primary. (Photos courtesy of the Ebbin and Levine campaigns)

Virginia State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) and talk show host Mark Levine, two gay candidates running in the June 10 Democratic primary for Virginia’s 8th District U.S. House seat, appear to be trailing presumed frontrunner Don Beyer, the state’s former lieutenant governor.

According to virtually all political observers familiar with the race, Ebbin and Levine are in the same boat as four other candidates believed to be trailing Beyer – they lack the name recognition and campaign funds that Beyer has amassed.

With all of the candidates, including Beyer, expressing strong support for LGBT rights and marriage equality, LGBT voters in the overwhelmingly liberal-leaning, Democratic district must choose between Ebbin and Levine and four straight allies.

The seat for the 8th District, which includes Arlington, Alexandria, Falls Church, and parts of Fairfax County, became open when longtime Rep. Jim Moran (D), announced earlier this year that he planned to retire after completing his current term in January.

In the last of at least a dozen debates in the hotly contested race, which was held May 30 in Arlington, Ebbin and Levine joined the other candidates in explaining why voters should choose them as Moran’s successor.

Ebbin, who has served as a state delegate and later state senator for more than 10 years, said he has been a proven fighter for progressive causes and legislation that has benefited his district and the state.

“I’m the only one up here who has successfully expanded Medicaid in Virginia to provide parental care for unwed moms,” he said. “I’m the only one up here to provide insurance access to LGBT couples.”

Adding that he stood up to ultra conservative and anti-gay former state attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, Ebbin told the debate audience of more than 300 people, “I’m the only one up here to call himself unabashedly a liberal tonight.”

Levine, who served as legislative counsel for former U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), took a more aggressive posture at the debate, criticizing Beyer for having a history of “caving in to Republicans.” Levine also criticized State Del. Patrick Hope (D-Arlington), another of the candidates running for the congressional seat, for working in his regular job for a doctors’ trade association that Levine said contributes more money to Republicans than Democrats.

Beyer and Hope disputed Levine’s claims, saying they each have a longstanding progressive record.

Levine, who calls himself an aggressive progressive, told the Blade after the debate that he would be far more assertive than the other candidates in pushing for progressive legislation in Congress.

“I’m not a lobbyist for any particular group,” he said. “I’m a lobbyist for ordinary people.”

Beyer raise the issue of his position on LGBT rights during the debate. In response to a question directed to all candidates asking if they ever changed their position on a controversial political issue, Beyer said he had.

He noted that in 1995 and 1996 then gay Democratic activist Adam Ebbin and other members of Virginia’s LGBT Democratic club, Virginia Partisans, sent him a questionnaire asking about his position on same-sex marriage.

He returned the questionnaires saying, “I didn’t think gay marriage was feasible or practical and I wasn’t for it,” he said at the debate. “I was wrong.”

But a short time later, similar to President Obama, Beyer said his views evolved on the issue and he came to support marriage equality. But 2006, when a state constitutional amendment was placed on the ballot in Virginia, he was among the largest contributors to the campaign to oppose it, he said.

“And I will say now that I am a very strong believer in marriage equality,” Beyer told the debate audience. “And I would like to thank Adam Ebbin for leading in this journey.”

In a development that surprised some in the LGBT community, longtime Virginia gay Democratic activist Nick Benton, the editor and publisher of the Falls Church News-Press, endorsed Beyer in an editorial earlier this year.

While praising Ebbin and Levine as highly qualified candidates, Benton told the Blade that he believes Beyer has the breadth of experience as a businessman, diplomat and former lieutenant governor to make him the best choice to replace Moran in Congress.

“I think a lot of people appreciate him not just as lieutenant governor but what he did for initiating the campaign for Obama and then fundraising for Obama,” Benton said.

He was referring to Beyer’s role as one of Virginia’s leading supporters of Obama in the 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns. Obama won Virginia both times. He later appointed Beyer, the owner of a chain of car dealerships in Virginia, as U.S. Ambassador to Switzerland.

The other candidates running for the seat are Alexandria Mayor William Euille, Virginia Tech professor Derek Hyra, and former Virginia Urban League director Lavern Chatman.


Should we always vote for the LGBT candidate?

Richard Tisei, Republican, Massachusetts, gay news, Washington Blade

Richard Tisei (Photo courtesy of Tisei).

A gay man is running for Congress in Massachusetts against a straight incumbent. The gay man has been endorsed by the Victory Fund. So why are so many members of Congress who are strong supporters of both the Victory Fund and LGBT rights holding a fundraiser in Washington on June 25 for the straight guy?

Those hosting the fundraiser include Sen. Ed Markey, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and participating are Steny Hoyer, Richard Neal, James McGovern, Michael Capuano, Stephen Lynch, Niki Tsongas, as well as members who are themselves gay or bisexual, including Reps. David Cicilline, Jared Polis, Mark Takano, Kyrsten Sinema, Mark Pocan and former Congressman Barney Frank. The easy answer is that the gay man is running as a Republican and the straight incumbent is a Democrat. But the answer is really much more complicated than that.

The gay Republican is Richard Tisei and he first ran and lost against the straight incumbent John Tierney (D-Mass.) in 2012. Tisei served in the Massachusetts Legislature for 26 years. He then ran and lost as the lieutenant governor candidate on Charlie Baker’s ticket in 2010. It was at that time that he came out. The Democratic incumbent is Tierney, who has served in Congress since 1997. He is a liberal member of Congress who has voted with other Democratic representatives from Massachusetts. He is the co-author of the Green Jobs Act of 2007 and the College Affordability and Accountability Act of 2008 and a strong supporter of LGBT rights.

The issue is more than just gay or straight because in Congress today, seemingly even more than in the past, party affiliation is paramount. That is the reason so many LGBT members are willing to raise money and support a straight person over a gay person. Should Tisei win and come to Washington, his first vote would be for the Republican leadership. Today that would be John Boehner for speaker and most likely even more conservative Republicans for majority leader and whip. Those votes alone will dictate what Tisei can or can’t accomplish during his tenure in office.

The man Tisei is committed to supporting for speaker is John Boehner. Boehner has so far refused to bring ENDA to a floor vote, even though it passed with bipartisan support in the Senate. So even if Tisei campaigns and says he supports ENDA it won’t matter. He will be casting that first hypocritical vote for leadership that controls the agenda and opposes what he says he supports.

Tisei’s supporters say that having an openly gay Republican in the House can impact others in his party. Tisei’s history suggests otherwise. When he ran for lieutenant governor with Baker in 2010, he wasn’t able to convince his running mate to support transgender rights.

The issue for many Democrats is simple: Electing another Republican just helps Boehner and the far right stay in power. We have often seen that contrary to changing the Republican Party, LGBT groups in the Republican Party like Log Cabin, went along to get along and supported Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan who campaigned on a pledge to appoint judges opposed to marriage equality.

Like many, I hope the Republican Party will change in the future. I believe that enough Republicans will decide that they can’t continue to support leadership and a platform that is consistently on the wrong side of history. They will see that a Republican Party that refuses to pass an immigration reform bill, continues to carry on a war against women’s rights, including denying equal pay for equal work, campaigns against raising the minimum wage and works to deny full civil and human rights to the LGBT community is not a path to a better future for America. But that fight will have to be carried on internally in the Republican Party.

Democrats shouldn’t be led to believe that they are helping by electing Republican members of Congress — gay or straight — who will support the current leadership.


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.


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.


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.


Barney Frank blasts Uganda over anti-gay law

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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.


World Bank president meets with LGBT advocates

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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.”


Barney Frank doc screens at Tribeca

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

“Compared to What: the Improbable Journey of Barney Frank,” a documentary about former U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) screened at the Tribeca Film Festival April 27 and bills itself as a “fun and poignant portrait of one of our most well-known and least understood political figures.”

Directors Sheila Canavan and Michael Chandler say their 90-minute film “alternates between deeply personal moments and the inner workings of our political process” with “rare archival material and interviews” that “reveal the emotional pain and harmful effects of a closeted life, the relief of coming out and the triumph of love through the Congressman’s historic same-sex marriage.”

Frank, 74, who came out in 1987 and got married to Jim Ready in 2012 before retiring from the House of Representatives in Jan. 2013, told Variety he gave the husband-and-wife filmmakers, who filed more than 100 hours and started filming in 2011, he had two rules: “When my constituents come to see me about some problem, they are entitled to absolute privacy” and “my first obligation was to be an effective legislator.”

No word yet on a Washington screening. See the trailer below.