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Queery: Cass Johnson

Cass Johnson, gay news, Washington Blade

Cass Johnson (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

About 15 years ago, a friend of Cass Johnson’s convinced him to join a pottery class.

“He dropped out after five or six weeks, but I was hooked,” Johnson says. “I just kept on taking classes.”

On Jan. 28, Johnson saw his dream come true when he opened District Clay, a new 2,000-square-foot ceramic and pottery studio in D.C.’s Brookland neighborhood (2414 Douglas Ave., N.E.). Johnson says it’s the first new ceramic teaching studio to open in D.C. in 20 years. Classes are offered in sculpture, tile and more and the space includes several kilns, wheels and other pottery accoutrements. Classes will be offered during the day, evenings and weekends. A discount is being offered this month in relation to the grand opening (details at districtclay.com).

Johnson says he sensed a demand when he realized other studios in the city frequently were full.

“There is something almost soulful about turning a lump of clay into an elegant vase or mug,” the 54-year-old gay Redondo Beach, Calif., native says. “If you think about it, there are not many opportunities to make something with your own hands. I find it a very relaxing atmosphere, one where the outside world just fades away.”

Johnson came to Washington 24 years ago and worked as a lobbyist. He and husband, Matt, live in Woodley Park. He enjoys gardening, bicycling, dog walking, reading, bread making and, of course, pottery, in his free time.

 

How long have you been out and who was the hardest person to tell?

I have been out since I was 18. The hardest person to tell was my mother, who broke down and cried. She thought I would not have a happy life.  In contrast, my Dad was great and very supportive.

 

Who’s your LGBT hero? 

Harvey Milk, because of his passion.

What’s Washington’s best nightspot, past or present? 

This is going to date me but it has got to be Tracks from way back when. I remember a time when I couldn’t imagine not going to Tracks on a weekend.

 

Describe your dream wedding. 

My wedding was my dream wedding. Matt and I got married in Ptown and honestly a number of people said it was their favorite wedding too. We sent people on a treasure hunt, I made tea bowls for everyone and we gave them out dressed in kimonos and then we had a lovely and tearful wedding ceremony at the Red Roof Inn. Wouldn’t do anything different except stopping all the rain that weekend.

 

What non-LGBT issue are you most passionate about? 

I love making pots. That’s why I opened District Clay.

 

What historical outcome would you change? 

I’d make it so that Al Gore officially beat George Bush. Then we would not have had Iraq or a gay bashing White House.

 

What’s been the most memorable pop culture moment of your lifetime?

Cher in Las Vegas

 

On what do you insist? 

Being considerate.

 

What was your last Facebook post or Tweet?

About opening District Clay!

 

If your life were a book, what would the title be?

“What a Wonderful World It Is”

 

If science discovered a way to change sexual orientation, what would you do?

Encourage more people to become gay.

 

What do you believe in beyond the physical world? 

I believe that there is a life force that is beyond the physical world and we will discover what it is when we get there.

 

What’s your advice for LGBT movement leaders?

Keep charging.

 

What would you walk across hot coals for? 

My partner Matt. We have been in love since our second date and have never had a bad day. It sounds impossible but it’s true. It is miraculous for me.

 

What LGBT stereotype annoys you most?  

That gay men have to be effeminate.

What’s your favorite LGBT movie? 

“Milk.” Great political movie.

 

What’s the most overrated social custom? 

I don’t know what the most overrated custom is but the most underrated is hugging.  People should hug more.

 

What trophy or prize do you most covet? 

I would love to have a piece of my pottery in a major museum collection.

 

What do you wish you’d known at 18? 

I wish I had started doing pottery at 18 rather than at 40. At 18, I had no real idea what I wanted to do.

 

Why Washington? 

I came here to get involved in public policy. I had no idea at the time what a great city Washington is. Coming from L.A., where you had to drive everywhere, to Washington, a city of real neighborhoods, was mind blowing in a very positive way.

12
Feb
2014

California divests from Russian companies over neo-Nazi gay abductions

CalPERS divested $20m from MegaFon & Mail.ru because of their ties to neo-Nazi organizing site VKontakte, VK.com.

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16
May
2014

Anti-trans referendum won’t make 2014 California ballot

California, Gov. Jerry Brown, Gay News, Washington Blade

Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law that says schools must allow trans students to use the bathrooms and locker rooms and play on sports teams that match their gender identification. (Photo public Domain)

Despite the efforts of anti-transgender groups, a referendum on a law allowing California students to participate in student activities in accordance with their gender identity won’t appear before state voters in 2014.

On Monday, California Secretary of State Debra Bowen announced via Twitter that the signature check on the referendum for the law, known as the School Success & Opportunity Act, didn’t yield enough valid signatures to place the measure on the state ballot. A spokesperson for the office confirmed for the Blade the measure failed to qualify.

After a signature-check process that lasted months, state officials found opponents of the law submitted 487,484 valid names — which is 17,276 short of the necessary 504,760 names to qualify. They submitted 619,387 names, but 131,903 were deemed invalid.

The law, signed by California Gov. Jerry Brown on Aug. 13, requires California public schools to respect students’ gender identity and ensures transgender students have access to school activities, facilities and sports teams in accordance with their gender identity. But critics say it violates the rights of students who may feel uncomfortable sharing facilities with someone of a different biological sex.

LGBT advocates responded to the news by saying the law, which went into effect Jan. 1, ensures all students, including those who are transgender, can do well in school.

Masen Davis, executive director of the San Francisco-based Transgender Law Center, said the law fosters a positive environment for students in California schools.

“This law gives schools the guidelines and flexibility to create an environment where all kids have the opportunity to learn,” Davis said. “We need to focus on creating an environment where every student is able to do well and graduate. This law is about doing what’s best for all students — that’s why it’s supported by school boards, teachers, and the PTA.”

The Transgender Law Center is part of a coalition known as the Support All Students campaign, which consists of nearly 100 state and national organizations including Equality California, National Center for Lesbian Rights, ACLU of California, Gay-Straight Alliance Network, the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center and Gender Spectrum.

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said the failure of the referendum to qualify for the ballot reflects the growing support for transgender rights.

“The forces of discrimination tried to go after California’s LGBT young people, and it’s a sign of our progress that they fell short of their goal,” Griffin said. “Yet unfortunately there are groups out there that are actively working to make the lives of LGBT youth harder. This law does nothing more than safeguard transgender students from being excluded and ensures all students are provided the same opportunities – regardless of gender identity.”

The lack of insufficient valid signatures to place the measure on the ballot isn’t surprising. John O’Connor, executive director of Equality California, predicted in November that it was “unlikely, [but] it’s not impossible” for the measure to qualify given the signature validation rate at that point.

Enough signatures deemed valid last month after a randomized spot-check was conducted to trigger a full count of all of the signatures acquired in the 58 counties. But, as revealed on Monday, the full count revealed the anti-trans campaign had failed to gather enough names to put the issue up for referendum.

Brad Dacus, president of the Pacific Justice Institute, nonetheless vowed in a statement to continue the fight against the trans student law through other means.

“Make no mistake, Pacific Justice Institute is committed to protecting the privacy of children,” Dacus said. “We are ready to review and challenge every signature that was not counted towards the referendum of this impudent and in-your-face bill. Our children’s privacy is worth doing all that we can.”

The statement says the Privacy for All Students, the coalition behind the referendum effort, has a right to review and appeal to the courts each of the around 131,000 signatures that were rejected. Additionally, the organization “to defend any child who has their privacy rights violated” because of the trans law.

It’s also still possible for opponents of the law to repeal it through a separate ballot initiative process different from the referendum process. But the deadline has passed for such a measure to qualify for the 2014 ballot, so the soonest that would be is 2016. A statutory ballot initiative would require 504,760 signatures to qualify for the ballot; a constitutional amendment would require 807,615 names.

Erik Olvera, spokesperson for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said the odds aren’t favorable for path anti-trans groups have to strip the student law from the books.

“They would have to do an initiative or go to the legislature — both very hard,” Olvera said.

25
Feb
2014

Gay Republican advances in bid for Congress

Carl DeMaio, gay news, Washington Blade

Republican Carl DeMaio will face incumbent Democrat Rep. Scott Peters in the general election. (Photo public domain)

There are seven openly gay members of the U.S. House – all of whom are Democrats. But Republican Carl DeMaio, who emerged as one of the top two candidates in a primary election for California’s 52nd congressional district Tuesday, hopes to change that.

DeMaio trailed one-term incumbent Democratic Rep. Scott Peters by about six percentage points in the four-way open primary Tuesday night, meaning the two candidates will face off in the general election in November.

“Tonight’s win sends a national message to the Republican Party: San Diegans are fed up and frustrated,” DeMaio, a former member of the San Diego City Council, said Tuesday. “We want the party to return to its traditional roots of standing up for personal freedoms where we allow individuals to decide social issues in the context of their own personal views on faith and family without interference from their government.”

DeMaio featured his husband in a campaign advertisement. He’s found himself the victim of smear campaigns: Shortly before the primary, his campaign office was vandalized, leaving computers destroyed and the floors flooded.

DeMaio has been by-and-large unable to win the backing of the mainstream LGBT establishment. The Human Rights Campaign endorsed Peters, noting his “stellar record on LGBT equality.” The Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, which works to elect openly LGBT candidates, stayed out of the race.

DeMaio, who was booed at a San Diego Pride parade when running for mayor of the city in 2012, has said in the past he wouldn’t “push the gay special agenda” if elected. He did, however, garner support from GOProud and the Log Cabin Republicans, two conservative LGBT groups.

Although he has said he “obviously” supports same-sex marriage, he has accepted donations from individuals who contributed to Proposition 8, the state constitutional amendment that banned same-sex marriage in California. Prop 8 has since been overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court — but DeMaio, who has a partner, never took a public stance on the controversial measure.

Here’s how other LGBT candidates fared in California’s Tuesday primaries:

• Lesbian candidate for San Diego county clerk Susan Guinn failed in her attempt to unseat Ernest Dronenburg. During his tenure, he tried to delay same-sex marriage after the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the lower court’s ruling to strike down Prop. 8.

• San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, a lesbian Republican, won her re-election effort.

• Long Beach, Calif., elected its first openly gay mayor, Robert Garcia. The 35-year-old is also the city’s first Latino mayor.

05
Jun
2014

Health disparities reported for Calif. gays

asthma, inhaler, health disparities, Calif, gay news, Washington Blade

LGBT residents suffer higher rates of asthma, cancer, substance abuse and smoking. (Photo public domain)

SAN BERNADINO, Calif. — LGBT residents in California’s Inland Empire (the metro areas of Riverside and San Bernadino counties) suffer higher rates of asthma, cancer, substance abuse and smoking, a report released last week found. The Press-Enterprise, a paper in the region, reported the news.

The report, believed to be the first of its kind in California, also found a greater likelihood of depression and suicidal thoughts, believed to be linked to discrimination and stigma, the article said.

Much of the Inland-specific data in the report is based upon the California Health Interview Survey. That statewide survey, conducted by UCLA, includes 150 LGB people from Riverside and San Bernardino counties who were selected to be representative of the community’s gender, ethnicity and age. Both counties’ data were used in the report to include more people and make the statistics more representative, according to Aaron Gardner, a health department research specialist who prepared the report and was quoted in the Press-Enterprise article.

Some of the local statistics mirror results of national and state studies that find that LGBT people have higher rates of smoking, substance abuse and binge drinking. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that may in part be a reaction to homophobia and discrimination, the article said.

05
Mar
2014

Texas GOP backs ‘reparative therapy’

Republican Party of Texas, gay news, Washington Blade

Republican Party of Texas logo.

FORT WORTH, Texas — The Texas Republican Party’s new platform that backs so-called “reparative therapy” on June 7 received final approval.

The Associated Press reported the roughly 7,000 delegates who attended the party’s annual convention never debated the proposed plank before they ratified the platform at the Forth Worth Convention Hall. The Texas Eagle Forum, a Tea Party organization that supports what its website describes as “traditional values,” spearheaded efforts to add support of “reparative therapy” to the platform.

“The Republican Party of Texas should not allow its platform to be used to promote psychological quackery,” said Steve Rudner, chair of the Equality Texas Foundation board of directors.

Rudy Oeftering, vice president of Metroplex Republicans Dallas, a gay conservative group, is among those who also criticized the “reparative therapy” plank.

California and New Jersey currently ban “reparative therapy” to minors. Lawmakers in Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and other states have proposed similar prohibitions on the controversial practice the American Psychological Association and other groups have condemned.

11
Jun
2014

Study finds meth use affects T-cell counts

crystal meth, methamphetamine, gay news, Washington Blade, drugs, T-cell

Crystal meth (Photo by Radspunk via Wikimedia Commons)

SAN DIEGO — Researchers in California have found that U.S. men who have sex with men and use methamphetamine had greater T-cell activation and proliferation than non-users, even though they had an undetectable viral load.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of California at San Diego, studied 50 men and produced evidence that meth users may have a deeper HIV DNA reservoir than non-users.

Users who are HIV-positive have a higher risk of cognitive impairment and faster progression to AIDS, researchers said.

But the reasons for these associations remain unclear. Worse antiretroviral adherence or meth-related risk behaviors could explain worse health outcomes in meth users, or some physiologic mechanism could explain these health deficits, researchers said.

19
Mar
2014

N.Y. to consider ban on ‘conversion’ therapy

New York, Albany, capitol, gay news, Washington Blade, therapy

New York State Capitol Building. (Photo by Canucklynn; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

ALBANY, N.Y. — New York’s Democratic-led Assembly is set to consider a bill on Wednesday that would ban “conversion” therapy for minors, the Associated Press reports. Bans on the practice have already gone into effect in New Jersey and California. A proposed ban was voted down in Illinois in April.

The American Psychological Association says there is no evidence that the so-called gay conversion therapy can change someone’s sexual orientation. A task force set up by the group found that it can cause distress and anxiety.

Sen. Brad Hoylman, who sponsored the measure and is the only openly gay member of the Senate, said he heard from a man who had electrodes attached to his genitalia to curb his homosexual desires, the AP article said.

“On one level it’s pretty nutty stuff,” Holyman was quoted as having said by the AP, “but it’s happening in New York by licensed therapists.”

The Democrat said that the bill would extend to New York state licensed psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, mental health practitioners and physicians. Clergy would not be included in the ban.

Opponents of the ban say that it may infringe on a person’s freedom of speech, although a federal judge in New Jersey upheld that state’s ban in November saying that the law does not violate free speech, the AP reports.

11
Jun
2014

AFER paid law firms more than $6.4 million in Prop 8 case

Proposition 8, Supreme Court, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, marriage equality, gay news, Washington Blade

The plaintiffs in the Proposition 8 case at the Supreme Court emerge victorious with lawyer David Boies, Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin and American Foundation for Equal Rights Executive Director Adam Umhoefer. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The American Foundation for Equal Rights between 2009 and 2013 paid more than $6.4 million to two law firms that successfully argued against California’s Proposition 8.

Tax filings indicate former U.S. Solicitor General Ted Olson’s law firm – Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP – received $1,691,714 from AFER for “legal and ancillary legal expenses” between April 23, 2009, and March 31, 2010. The organization paid the law firm $958,655 between April 1, 2010, and March 31, 2011, and another $2,758,352 between April 1, 2011, through March 31, 2012.

Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP received $537,939 from AFER between April 1, 2012, and March 31, 2013. The organization also paid David Boies’ law firm – Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP – $468,089 for “legal and ancillary legal expenses” between April 1, 2010, through March 31, 2011.

These expenses include payments to expert witnesses who testified against Prop 8, travel and living expenses for lawyers who lived in San Francisco for a month during a three-week trial over which now retired U.S. District Chief Judge Vaughn Walker presided in 2010. Additional costs include the use of LexisNexis and other online research databases and photo copying documents.

Prop 8 supporters raised nearly $40 million in support of the same-sex marriage ban that California voters approved in 2008.

Walker in August 2010 struck down the gay nuptials prohibition.

A three-judge panel on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco in February 2012 upheld the ruling. The U.S. Supreme Court last June struck down Prop 8.

AFER’s 2013 tax filings were not available.

“AFER’s case resulted in the return of marriage equality in California for a fraction of the cost of a ballot measure,” AFER Executive Director Adam Umhoefer told the Washington Blade on Tuesday.

Tax filings also indicate AFER raised $14,900,467 between April 23, 2009, and March 31, 2013, that Umhoefer told the Blade includes a “large amount” of contributions from Republican donors. He added his organization estimates the Prop 8 case also generated millions of dollars in earned media coverage for which it did not have to pay.

“Our donors feel very strongly about return on investment,” said Umhoefer.

Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP and Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP did not return the Blade’s request for comment.

AFER, alongside Olson and Boies, is representing two same-sex couples – Tim Bostic and Tony London of Norfolk and Carol Schall and Mary Townley of Chesterfield – who are challenging Virginia’s constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen last month struck down the commonwealth’s gay nuptials ban that Attorney General Mark Herring in January announced he would not defend. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., in May is scheduled to hold oral arguments in the AFER case and a second lawsuit Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union filed last summer on behalf of Christy Berghoff and Victoria Kidd of Winchester and Joanne Harris and Jessica Duff of Staunton that has been certified as a class action.

American Foundation for Equal Rights, AFER, Adam Umhoefer, marriage equality, same-sex marriage, gay marriage, gay news, Washington Blade

AFER Executive Director Adam Umhoefer (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Lambda Legal and the ACLU continue to work the case pro bono.

AFER and co-counsel in the Bostic case initially questioned why the two groups petitioned the court to join their lawsuit.

Umhoefer told the Blade his organization’s costs in the Bostic case will be “significantly lower” than the amount of money it spent to challenge Prop 8 because the lawsuit against Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban has worked its way through the courts much faster. He said he expects the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will issue its ruling sometime this summer – roughly a year after Bostic and London filed their lawsuit.

20
Mar
2014

A son’s case for marriage equality

Sandy Stier, Kris Perry, David Boies, Chad Griffin, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, marriage equality, Proposition 8, Defense of Marriage Act, DOMA, Prop 8, California, Supreme Court, gay news, Washington Blade

Prop 8 plaintiffs Sandy Stier and Kris Perry addressed onlookers after a historic ruling at the U.S. Supreme Court. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The first time anyone asked me if I was disadvantaged to be raised by lesbian moms was in the first grade. A friend from my class asked what my mom and dad did for a living, and when I told him I had two moms, he told me that I wasn’t normal, that we were different.

Growing up, friends would ask questions like, “who cooks?” or, “who works?” trying to fit our puzzle piece where we just couldn’t. To me, my family was different because I had three parents; a step mom and two other moms; a twin and two step brothers; the fact that my parents were gay never made me think of them as different, until those outside my family made a point of it.

It wasn’t until my freshman year in high school that I finally saw how my family was “different.”

Elliott and I woke up early on Jan. 11, 2010, and put on our only suits. We shuffled into the back of Kris and Sandy’s SUV and the four of us drove across the Bay Bridge to a Victorian home in San Francisco. There, we met with Chad Griffin, president of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, Paul Katami, and Jeff Zarrillo (who with my moms would be the plaintiffs in the Proposition 8 case). The five of them stepped outside to meet the press, and it was Jeff who said, “We’re all Americans who simply want to get married like everybody else.”

In minutes, Elliott and I were on our way to the Federal District Courthouse. We were led through the back while our moms and a battalion of lawyers weaved their way between picket lines. It seemed that in no time Judge Walker was banging his gavel and the trial began.

One of our lawyers, David Boies, called Jeff and then Paul. The opposing lawyer, Charles Cooper, cross-examined Paul, and then, Ted Olson, our other lawyer, asked Kris to take the stand.

After a few questions, Ted asked Kris what it felt like to be discriminated against. It was the first time I had ever heard any of my moms describe what it was like to face prejudice. She told Ted about growing up in the Central Valley of California and hiding who she was. She told him how she was teased and mocked as she grew up and how that blanket of constant hate had lowered the quality of her life. She also said she had never allowed herself to be truly happy and how she didn’t want any kid to know what that felt like.

Looking around as Kris joined us again on the bench, I could see my brother, Sandy, and our friends in tears.

I had finally found my answer: Families like mine are no different than anyone else’s. We share the same love. We’re only different in that we felt the brunt of living under discriminatory laws.

When a family like mine is denied equal protection under the law, when society tells us that because you are a minority, you don’t get the rights of the majority, it hurts. It validates hate against that minority. It teaches kids in states with same-sex marriage bans that your family isn’t worthy of protection.

Perry v. Hollingsworth was appealed again and again until it reached the Supreme Court.  My first trip to D.C. was much like that drive to San Francisco three years earlier. Elliott and I woke up early to stand in line outside the courthouse. We walked behind our parents to sit behind Ted Olson and David Boies. In the midst of Charles Cooper’s oral argument, Justice Kennedy asked, “Forty thousand children in California … that live with same-sex parents, and they want their parents to have full recognition and full status. The voice of those children is important in this case, don’t you think?” Cooper responded saying there was no evidence that children, my brothers and I, would benefit from Kris and Sandy being married.

Today the same question is being asked in court cases across the country that challenge state bans on marriage equality and like Perry v. Hollingsworth have the potential to bring the battle of universal marriage equality to the Supreme Court.

Four months after the Supreme Court oral arguments, the court lifted the ban on same-sex marriages in California and I got to know exactly what that benefit is. Take it from a son –I’ve never felt prouder or more patriotic than when my moms were legally married one year ago on June 28. Every son and daughter in every state should have the right to feel that way.

Spencer M. Perry is the son of Kris Perry and Sandy Stier, plaintiffs in the Perry v. Hollingsworth case that overturned California’s ban on same-sex marriage. He studies economics and public policy at George Washington University.

Kris Perry, Sandy Stier, Spencer Perry, gay news, Washington Blade

From left, Kris Perry, Spencer Perry and Sandy Stier (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

 

25
Jun
2014