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Cartoon: Big shoes to fill

Jo Becker, Chad Griffin, Rosa Parks, marriage equality, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, civil rights, gay news, Washington Blade

(Washington Blade cartoon by Ranslem)

22
Apr
2014

New book on marriage equality assailed as ‘travesty’

Human Rights Campaign, American Foundation for Equal Rights, AFER, HRC, marriage equality, same-sex marriage, gay marriage, Virginia, Chad Griffin, Tom Shuttleworth, Carol Schall, Emily, Mary Townley, Adam Umhoefer, David Boies, Ted Olson, Tim Bostic, Washington Blade, Tony London

Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin is lionized in “Forcing the Spring” for his role in the marriage movement. (Blade file by Michael Key)

A new book on the advancement of marriage equality and the lawsuit that overturned Proposition 8 is stirring controversy over its lionization of HRC President Chad Griffin and its depiction of the federal lawsuit he helped initiate against the California ban.

The book, “Forcing the Spring,” was written by Jo Becker, a New York Times journalist who was embedded with Griffin and the Prop 8 team as their lawsuit moved forward. The book hit shelves on Tuesday, but has already incurred the ire of many in the LGBT movement who say it heaps too much praise on Griffin and ignores others who led the marriage equality effort for decades.

The notion that Griffin, a board member of American Foundation for Equal Rights, is the hero who saved the marriage equality movement pervades the 437-page work.

One part of the book that addresses his move to D.C. in 2012 to become head of the Human Rights Campaign includes a farewell discussion in which fellow AFER board member Rob Reiner says of Griffin, “If there ever is going to be — and there will be at some point — the first gay president, you’re looking at him.”

As noted by gay blogger Andrew Sullivan in his tirade against the book, “Forcing the Spring” opens with a comparison of Griffin and civil rights icon Rosa Parks, saying a revolution begins when someone “grows tired of standing idly by” against the tide of injustice.

“It begins when a black seamstress named Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat on a bus to white man in the segregated South,” Becker writes. “And in this story, it begins with a handsome, bespectacled thirty-five-year old political consultant named Chad Griffin, in a spacious suite at the Westin St. Francis hotel in San Francisco on election night 2008.”

It’s this comparison between Griffin and the iconic figure of the black civil rights movement that Sullivan, who helped pioneer the idea of same-sex marriage in the 1990s, says is only the start of “jaw-dropping distortion” throughout the book.

Andrew Lane, a prominent New York-based gay donor, called the book a “travesty” and said Becker knew that was the case as she was putting the book together.

“She chose to give us a shallow and incomplete history that fetishizes the role of celebrities and PR hacks and either trashes or ignores the real heroes who fought for years to help make the moment possible,” Lane said. “That vapid gay men are attempting to re-write history by centering themselves is not news. That they conscripted a New York Times reporter to do the heavy lifting for them certainly is.”

HRC didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment on the perception that Griffin and the Prop 8 case are given undue credit in the book for their role in the marriage equality movement.

A significant portion of the book is devoted to the behind-the-scenes action leading to President Obama’s announcement in favor of marriage equality in 2012. Although Obama campaigned in 2008 in opposition to same-sex marriage (despite supporting it in 1996), he later said he could evolve on the issue, leading to his announcement in favor of same-sex marriage during his re-election campaign.

According to the book, when Vice President Joseph Biden appeared to endorse same-sex marriage on NBC’s “Meet the Press” just days before Obama’s announcement, the White House reacted furiously. In a chain of emails sent through the White House, senior adviser to the president Valerie Jarrett through an intermediary accused Biden of “downright disloyalty.”

Griffin gets credit as a key voice for moving these evolutions forward. A passage in the book recounts Griffin briefly asking the president during a fundraiser, “How can we help you evolve more quickly?” Obama gave a non-committed response, but pointed to his work on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and the Defense of Marriage Act as evidence of his commitment to LGBT rights.

Further, it recounts Griffin attending a Los Angeles fundraiser with Biden prior to his appearance on “Meet the Press.” After Griffin asked Biden what he really thinks about marriage equality, the vice president said being against it in the future will be a “political liability.” A top Biden aide is quoted as saying it was a moment when “his hard drive got erased.”

John Aravosis, editor of AMERICAblog, criticized the depiction of Griffin as being a driving factor in Obama’s evolution, especially because others who contributed to the effort — like his own blogger who got Obama to say he could evolve on marriage — are absent from the book.

“I had high hopes for Chad taking over HRC, and said so publicly, but I don’t honestly know what Chad did to get the president to evolve on marriage,” Aravosis said. “You wouldn’t know it from Jo Becker’s self-proclaimed ‘definitive account’ of the gay marriage battle these past five years, but the president used that word in response to a question from then-AMERICAblog deputy editor Joe Sudbay, who questioned the president in the White House in October of 2010. Becker gives neither Joe, nor AMERICAblog, any credit, for the now-famous answer.”

Also depicted as contributing to Obama’s evolution on marriage is Ken Mehlman, the former head of the Republican National  Committee who came out as gay in 2010. Mehlman attended Harvard with Obama, so the two had known each other for decades.

According to the book, Mehlman e-mailed Obama senior adviser David Plouffe some talking points and suggested soft lighting for the interview and that it be conducted by a female reporter (it ended up being Robin Roberts of “Good Morning America,” who was closeted at the time).

It’s not the first time the events leading up to Obama’s announcement in favor of same-sex marriage have been reported. The 2013 book “Double Down,” which chronicles Obama’s re-election campaign, also discusses the lead-up to the endorsement. The book similarly recounts the fervor in the White House after Biden’s words on “Meet the Press” and Mehlman’s advice to Obama for his interview, although Griffin makes no appearance in that narrative.

While praising Griffin, the book doesn’t present as favorable an image of other leaders in the marriage equality movement. Among them is Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, who spoke out on marriage equality when it was much less popular — even among LGBT rights groups — in the 1990s.

One portion of the book disparages Wolfson for having unkind words for “Milk” screenwriter and AFER board member Dustin Lance Black after he pledged in his Oscar acceptance speech that equal rights will come very soon for gay people across America.

“Wolfson had berated the younger man over his Oscar speech, explaining as though to a willing but ignorant child his ongoing, twenty-five year plan to build support for marriage equality,” Becker writes. “Twenty-five years? Black had practically gasped. But he had said little; it was intimidating, to say the least, to be dressed down by a pioneer of the marriage equality movement.”

In response to a Blade inquiry on whether he’s given a fair shake in the book, Wolfson spoke in holistic terms on progress made on marriage equality and future goals to advance it further.

“As a movement, we have secured a strong majority of public support for the freedom to marry and a critical mass of Americans living in marriage states,” Wolfson said. “Together, we gutted the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, and, as we again head toward the Supreme Court, have built irrefutable momentum showing America is ready. But we are not done. Freedom to Marry is going to stay focused on finishing the job and achieving the goal we’ve long been aiming toward: winning marriage nationwide.”

Another person whose role is minimized in the book is Mary Bonauto, the civil rights director at Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, who successfully argued the case almost 11 years ago that brought marriage equality to Massachusetts, making it the first state in the country with same-sex marriage. She has also led efforts against the Defense of Marriage Act.

Her role in “Forcing the Spring” is reduced to commending the Prop 8 lawsuit for enabling a trial of the issue of marriage equality. “They turned that trial into a truth commission,” Bonauto is quoted as saying of the attorneys behind the lawsuit.

Carisa Cunningham, a GLAD spokesperson, dismissed the omission of Bonauto’s work on marriage equality by saying the book was meant to capture the narrative of another effort to advance the cause.

“This book wasn’t Mary’s story, and it’s clearly not a history of the movement,” Cunningham said. ”Someday someone will write a book about Mary, and in the meantime, Mary’s story has been told in plenty of public ways and she and GLAD get a lot of well-deserved credit. We’re in it for the work – on principle and how it makes a difference in people’s lives.”

Cunningham also criticized the depiction of Griffin in the book, saying although he offered significant contributions to advancing marriage equality, the book “may do a disservice to those contributions by portraying him as a savior of the movement.”

But the crux of the book is that the lawsuit against Prop 8 litigated by Ted Olson and David Boies restructured the marriage movement. The title itself, “Forcing the Spring,” suggests the Prop 8 case was responsible for bringing marriage equality to the entire country — or at least getting the ball rolling for successes in other states besides California.

But it was the decision in the DOMA case — not the Prop 8 case — that established legal precedent enabling courts since that ruling to rule in favor of marriage equality in now 10 states. The U.S. Supreme Court on the Prop 8 case sidestepped the merits of whether a state can ban same-sex marriage, ruling that proponents of the law had no standing to defend the ban in court after California state officials declined to do so.

The conclusion of Becker’s account gives credit to the lawsuit against DOMA, but says the arguments in the Prop 8 case influenced U.S. Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy’s decision in striking down the federal law.

“By intertwining arguments from both cases, Kennedy gave the Windsor decision a heft and precedential value it might not otherwise have had, providing powerful legal ammunition for a slew of future challenges to state bans on same-sex marriage,” Becker writes.

It should be noted, as previously reported by the Blade, that Olson and Boies’ assistance in the Prop 8 lawsuit came with a hefty $6.4 million price tag. Moreover, HRC, now headed by Griffin, was among the nine signatories of a letter that came out the day before the Prop 8 lawsuit was filed and urged restraint in taking the case to court.

“It is by no means clear that a federal challenge to Prop. 8 can win now,” the letter says. “And an unsuccessful challenge may delay marriage even longer, not only in California but in other states, and seriously damage the rights of LGBT people on many other important issues.”

Nonetheless, HRC in the past week has been promoting the book and its depiction of the Prop 8 case in various blog postings on the organization’s website. One March 26 posting in the weeks prior to the publication of the book calls it “an unparalleled testament to the last five years in the American civil rights movement.”

Suzanne Goldberg, co-director for Columbia University’s Center for Gender & Sexuality Law, said she’s read the Becker book and faulted Becker for not telling the Prop 8 story in a way that better shows its place among other contributions to the marriage movement.

“I think the Perry case was, along with other cases, legislative and community-based advocacy, influential in shaping the marriage equality movement,” Goldberg said. ”The problem with Jo Becker’s book is not the up-close story she tells about the Prop 8 case and media work, which in itself is interesting, but rather the uncritical telling of that story as an account of the marriage equality movement. There are numerous places where she gives both the case and the media advocates far more credit for inventing advocacy strategies and changing the landscape than either deserves.”

22
Apr
2014

Jo Becker’s revisionist history on marriage

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

(Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Jo Becker’s book “Forcing the Spring,” which lauds the work of the American Foundation for Equal Rights has generated much debate in the LGBT community. Andrew Sullivan trashed the book and its author and claimed some major credit for himself in the fight for marriage equality.

Elizabeth Birch, former president of the Human Rights Campaign trashed Sullivan in her Huffington Post column. But they apparently agree on one thing: The book by Becker is far from an accurate history of the fight for marriage equality.

Reading the excerpt published in the New York Times, it was easy to accept both Sullivan and Birch were right even if their language was harsh. Michael Calderone in his Huffington Post piece quotes Sullivan’s comments on Becker’s book in which he said it is “truly toxic and morally repellent,” and that it includes instances of “jaw-dropping distortion” and statements “so wrong, so myopic and so ignorant it beggars belief that a respectable journalist could actually put it in print.” I guess Sullivan and Becker won’t be going for brunch anytime soon.

Birch calls Sullivan “insufferable,” and notes, “While it is true that the struggle for marriage equality predates the Proposition 8 case and its aftermath, it also predates Andrew Sullivan. (Did anyone else notice no less than four of Sullivan’s books are pushed in the opening paragraphs of his diatribe against the Prop 8 team? So much for collective credit).”

But why is anyone surprised that Sullivan thinks the world revolves around him? I remember his New York Times magazine cover story on the AIDS epidemic, “When Plagues End,” in 1996 when he declared the AIDS epidemic over because the new medications worked for him. The millions who have died and been infected since may not see themselves in the same light.

Both Sullivan and Birch offered strong statements about what was left out of Becker’s book and after reading the excerpt, I was left wondering how much money AFER paid her to write it. It clearly is not a history of the fight for gay marriage but rather a book trying to create heroes of a select few. This is not to denigrate the work of Chad Griffin or the actual work of attorneys who fought the Prop 8 fight or the real heroes of that fight, the couples who brought suit.

But in the excerpt (I haven’t read the full book) she portrays Ken Mehlman as a hero, glancing over his personal responsibility for the anti-gay rhetoric and devastating policies of the Bush administration. She never mentions that while Olsen was one of the lawyers for these couples he was at the same time supporting the Romney/Ryan ticket that was promising to repeal all gay rights advances and to appoint justices to the Supreme Court who would be guaranteed to rule against this case.

There are so many people and organizations deeply involved in the struggle for marriage equality. The fact is, the case brought by AFER to the Supreme Court was a partial victory instead of a possible total loss because Walter Dellinger, former acting solicitor general in the Clinton administration, submitted a brief offering the court what some called an “off-ramp.” It was his brief quoted in Chief Justice Roberts’ opinion that allowed the court to reject the case and return it to the Appellate Court in California where the ruling would only impact that state.

The Becker book apparently leaves out nearly all the activists who have spent a good part of their lives fighting for full human and civil rights for the LGBT community. Many have spent the years working for marriage equality that Mehlman and Olsen spent developing and supporting policies to prevent it.

From Hawaii, where the Supreme Court first ruled in 1993 that marriage equality was constitutional beginning the long fight there, to Massachusetts, which became the first state to legalize marriage equality in 2004; to Iowa that legalized it in 2009 to D.C., the fight for marriage was an effort by thousands. D.C. advocates spent 20 years preparing the stage and working to elect a City Council that would vote yes when the right time came. The question Becker says Griffin put to Obama about when he would “evolve” was asked by many others at those small $37,500 a couple fundraisers. I myself put him on the spot with the same question, and got the same answer, at one of those events on Sept. 30, 2011.

I hope that when marriage equality becomes a reality across the entire nation that someone will write the real history of the fight that won it. That book will be beneficial to future generations in a way that the Becker book will never be.

24
Apr
2014

Becker defends book during D.C. appearance

Jo Becker, New York Times, gay news, Washington Blade

Jo Becker defended her book against criticism during an appearance at a D.C. bookstore (Washington Blade photo by Chris Johnson).

The author of a controversial book on the fight to overturn California’s Proposition 8 defended her work Friday during a promotional event at a D.C. bookstore — although differing accounts have emerged over whether she cancelled an appearance at the Human Rights Campaign headquarters the next day.

Jo Becker, who wrote “Forcing the Spring,” spoke at an hour-long event at Politics & Prose Bookstore and touted her book, saying it wasn’t meant to encompass the entire history of the marriage equality movement.

The book’s praise for Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin’s contributions to that effort — while leaving out others or casting them as obstacles to the Prop 8 lawsuit — has ignited controversy in the LGBT community.

Asked by the Washington Blade during the Q&A portion of the event whether she thought this criticism was unfair, Becker said the book is “one chapter in a much longer narrative.”

“I chose to write about this chapter because it was a defining moment in the sense that there was a decision that was made to go to the federal courts — and that was not the consensus of the established gay rights legal groups who had been fighting this for years, who had given a great deal of thought to this,” Becker said.

Becker noted her book also talks about the case against the Defense of Marriage Act, the tension between that lawsuit and the Prop 8 case and concerns over bringing both cases to court. Additionally, Becker said she had received a “rave review” in the New York Times Book Review.

“The movie ending of this would have been the Supreme Court [issues a] 50-state ruling, everybody that brought this case gets what they want,” Becker said. “It wasn’t the ending that the people that I write about in the book wanted, but it was an ending that was very important to the people at [San Francisco] City Hall and as a result of this case, a fifth of the country has been able to resume…having marriage equality.”

When the Blade asked whether she had any conversations with gay blogger Andrew Sullivan, the chief critic of her book, Becker replied she had no such talks, but has “put herself out there on forums and on TV.”

“I think that their criticism is of a book I didn’t write,” Becker said. “The criticism is how could I leave out characters, really important people, in the marriage equality movement. And the answer is I chose to write about this case and in this case and this litigation effort, they weren’t a part of that.”

Expounding on the criticism, Becker said, “Some leaders in the gay community are divided about this book in the same way that they were divided about this case.”

Asked by The Bilerico Project’s John Becker (no relation to Jo Becker) about a line in the book saying the marriage movement previously had “languished in obscurity,” Jo Becker talked about the work of Mary Bonauto, the attorney who brought marriage equality to Massachusetts.

“Mary talked about this, none of the cases just didn’t garner the same amount of attention,” Becker said. “This became a headline in the way that it hadn’t been in part because of the odd-ball, odd-couple pairing of these two straight guys who came from opposite sides of the aisle, fought Bush v. Gore. Mary told me her cases didn’t get that kind of attention.”

Before opening the event up to questions, Becker began the event by reading from her work the personal tales of individual gay people who spoke at the Prop 8 trial, and what being gay — and unable to marry in California at the time — meant for them.

“The political change that we’ve seen, it’s moved with a rapidity unseen in modern political history,” Becker added. “And one of the really big reasons is people, sort of, have come out and told stories. When you come to know someone — 9 out of 10 Americans now say they know someone who is gay. When you know someone who is gay, you’re more likely to support this issue.”

The bookstore event came on the same day that blogger Sullivan published an apparent schedule of her tour from Penguin, her publisher, indicating she was set to appear at an event at the Human Rights Campaign on Saturday. Following controversy over the book, HRC spokesperson Charles Joughlin said reports of her making an appearance at the organization were “incorrect,” but declined to clarify if something was once scheduled but then cancelled.

Differing accounts have emerged of what happened. After her event at Politics & Prose, the Blade asked Becker whether she planned to appear at an HRC event the next day. She replied, “no,” adding that she’ll make an appearance on MSNBC. When the Blade asked whether there ever was an event scheduled for her at HRC, Becker said she was “not aware” of anything.

The next day, the Blade went to HRC headquarters at 11 a.m. as the Penguin schedule indicated she would speak. An attendee near the desk, who identified himself as “Carl,” said an event was indeed taking place, but it was a private meeting for high-dollar HRC donors and not open to the public. Asked whether Becker would make an appearance, Carl said she was scheduled to come, but she cancelled to appear on MSNBC.

[UPDATE: Sarah Hutson, a spokesperson for Penguin Press, offered another explanation for what happened regarding the HRC event, saying the company is responsible for Becker's schedule.

"Penguin Press publicity had discussed with HRC a possible appearance on Saturday 4/26 and we entered it into our database as a placeholder," Hutson said. "It was erroneously marked as a confirmed talk/signing in our system and thus was automatically loaded onto Penguin.com’s event listings which should never have happened. We instead decided to have Jo appear on MSNBC that day. We’re pleased to have many interview and event requests for Forcing the Spring and we make scheduling decisions, not the author."]

During the bookstore event, the questions that Becker took from the LGBT media and other attendees were decidedly different. While the gay media challenged her over complaints about the book, others were apparently unaware of the controversy and sought more information on the LGBT rights movement.

One woman apparently unaware of the Prop 8 lawsuit interrupted Becker as she spoke to ask, “Who was Charles Cooper?” Becker informed the audience member he was the attorney who had defended Prop 8 in court.

Another audience member expressed concern about the focus on marriage equality as opposed to workplace non-discrimination protections. Becker eagerly responded with information about the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, saying in more than half the states employers can legally discriminate against workers because they’re gay.

“I don’t think it is a wedge issue; it just isn’t,” Becker said. “The country is changing so rapidly. Demographically, leaders of the Republican Party that I’ve talked to — they understand the demographics of this issue. This is a long-term losing position for the Republican Party, and so there’s a lot of discussion around that.”

As reported by Bilerico, Becker spoke at the D.C. bookstore on the same day it was revealed the Ford Foundation approved a $150,000 grant for her in 2013 “to research and write a book on the marriage equality movement in the United States.”

Asked by the Blade whether she sees a potential sequel to “Forcing the Spring,” and if so, what would be an appropriate topic, Becker said any of the more 60 marriage lawsuits making their way once again to the Supreme Court would make a good “epilogue” to her book.

“There’s a bunch of books in the works,” Becker said. “This was an extraordinary five years and there should be books written about all different aspects of it. Like I said, this is just one, but there should be lots of books. There’s going to be a case that eventually does make it to the Supreme Court.”

28
Apr
2014

HRC launches Southern LGBT campaign

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“Right now, this country is deeply divided into two Americas — one where LGBT equality is nearly a reality and the other where LGBT people lack the most fundamental measures of equal citizenship,” said HRC President Chad Griffin. (Washington Blade file by Michael Key).

WASHINGTON — The Human Rights Campaign on April 28 announced a new campaign designed to bolster pro-LGBT efforts in the South.

Project One America establishes what the organization described as “permanent campaigns” in Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas. HRC will spend $8.5 million over three years and devote 20 staffers to the effort.

“Right now, this country is deeply divided into two Americas — one where LGBT equality is nearly a reality and the other where LGBT people lack the most fundamental measures of equal citizenship,” said HRC President Chad Griffin, who was born and raised in Arkansas.

Gays and lesbians in the three states have filed lawsuits seeking marriage rights since the U.S. Supreme Court last June struck down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act. The Campaign for Southern Equality last year launched a campaign to highlight the need for gay nuptials in the South.

30
Apr
2014

HRC urges feds to recognize Utah same-sex marriages

Human Rights Campaign, American Foundation for Equal Rights, AFER, HRC, marriage equality, same-sex marriage, gay marriage, Virginia, Chad Griffin, Tom Shuttleworth, Carol Schall, Emily, Mary Townley, Adam Umhoefer, David Boies, Ted Olson, Tim Bostic, Washington Blade, Tony London

Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin is calling on the Obama administration to recognize Utah same-sex marriages. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The nation’s largest LGBT organization is formally calling on the Obama administration to recognize as valid the estimated 1,300 same-sex marriages performed in Utah.

In a letter dated Jan. 9 and obtained by the Washington Blade, Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, writes to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder “there is no legal reason to question” the validity of same-sex marriages performed in the state before the Supreme Court issued a stay on the weddings.

“Given this landscape of facts, there is simply no reason for the United States government not to extend federal recognition to these more than 1,300 couples,” Griffin writes.

Griffin ticks off several reasons why the marriages should be considered valid — despite a recent decision from Utah Gov. Gary Herbert to hold off on recognizing Utah same-sex marriages until the litigation that enabled them is complete.

“Each was legally performed by a clerk representing the State of Utah, in accordance with the state’s statutes and constitution,” Griffin writes. “Even the office of the governor of Utah—whose formal political position is one of opposition to marriage equality—urged state agencies to extend state marriage recognition to these couples during that 20 day period when same-sex marriages were being performed. Even though the governor’s office has now made a political decision to cut off this recognition, it continues to insist that it makes no pronouncement about the validity of these unions.”

A Justice Department spokesperson confirmed receipt of the letter, but declined further comment. Earlier this week, Dena Iverson, a Justice Department spokesperson, said the department is reviewing the Utah governor’s as part of its determination on whether the federal government will recognize the unions.

Same-sex couples began marrying in Utah on Dec. 20 as a result of ruling from U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby striking down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, known as Amendment 3, as unconstitutional. However, the Supreme Court placed a stay on these marriages on Monday, resulting in Utah saying it would place on hold recognition of these unions until the litigation is resolved in the courts.

But the letter to Holder isn’t the only missive HRC sent out on Thursday. The organization also sent out a letter to each of the attorneys general in the 18 states where same-sex marriage is recognized to urge them to recognize the Utah same-sex unions.

“Should any of these couples be residents of, travel through, or relocate to your state, there is simply no reason to treat their marriage differently from any other, and I urge you to issue an advisory opinion declaring that treating all legally-conferred marriages consistently as a matter of equal protection and basic justice is consistent with the public policy of your state,” Griffin writes.

Notably, D.C. isn’t included in the letter, even though same-sex marriage was legalized there in 2009.

According to Utah TV affiliate Fox 13, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes suggested that others states may be able to recognize same-sex marriages performed in Utah, even though Utah won’t recognize them.

“It’s not invalidating it in the same way that if they went to Hawaii, they could potentially apply for benefits there based on the marriage that took place. They can’t be recognized (here),” Reyes reportedly said. “There is a very fine distinction, but a very important distinction based on those two things.”

09
Jan
2014

Gays behaving badly

Sean Eldridge, gay news, Washington Blade

(Washington Blade cartoon by Ranslem)

A squabble broke out at the Equality Forum panel discussion of national politics I moderated last week in Philadelphia.

A woman in the audience objected forcefully after the Victory Fund’s Torey Carter discussed his organization’s controversial endorsement of two gay candidates for Congress.

One is Richard Tisei, a gay Republican from Massachusetts seeking to unseat pro-LGBT (but straight) incumbent John Tierney. The race is dividing LGBT voters and donors, with some saying we should remain loyal to our allies in Congress while others like the Victory Fund see an opportunity to add an openly gay voice to the GOP caucus.

The other race is in New York where the Victory Fund and other LGBT advocates are backing Sean Eldridge over a Republican incumbent who opposes marriage equality. The race is controversial because Eldridge has a thin resume but deep pockets — he’s married to Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes.

The woman at Equality Forum nearly leapt from her seat, angry at the notion of a candidate buying a seat in Congress and questioning whether the LGBT community should play along with such unsavory tactics.

Her frustration is certainly understandable. Eldridge embodies much of what is wrong with our modern political system, which prizes money over achievement. LGBT advocates should reconsider supporting Eldridge’s vanity campaign for Congress from New York’s 19th congressional district.

Or is it the 18th district? It’s hard to keep track of where Eldridge and his wealthy husband — who won the lottery by ending up Mark Zuckerberg’s college roommate as he was creating Facebook — are buying their latest multi-million-dollar home.

We should abandon the term “carpetbagging” and call it “Eldridgeing” because he gives new meaning to the cynical practice of picking up and moving to a new district to buy a seat in Congress.

Eldridge is taking on incumbent Rep. Chris Gibson, a Republican who opposes marriage equality but is a co-sponsor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Of course, no one would mistake Gibson for a gay rights advocate — he earned a zero on HRC’s congressional scorecard — but gay voters and donors should resist lining up behind an alternative just because he’s gay and rich. Surely there’s a viable, experienced Democrat living in the district. We won’t know because anyone contemplating a run was scared off by the Hughes war chest.

In sharp contrast to most newbie politicians, Eldridge shuns the media. He has refused multiple Blade interview requests. Politico last month published a profile of Eldridge and noted that he not only refused its interview requests, but locked the campaign headquarters door when a reporter showed up knocking.

Despite Eldridge’s arrogant approach to campaigning, LGBT voices are embracing him.

“They are young, rich, smart and good-looking. It’s a pretty powerful combination,” Richard Socarides told the New York Times in a predictable display of sycophantic ass kissing.

There’s no disputing they are rich. Hughes’ net worth has been reported to be between $600-700 million. The money came from his connection to Facebook’s Zuckerberg. As the New York Times put it, “For Mr. Hughes, a history and literature student with no programming skills, it later seemed to outsiders a lucky break.”

The couple bought an estate in Garrison, N.Y. along with 80 acres in 2011 for $5 million, the Times noted, quoting Eldridge as saying that’s where they “put down roots.” But just two years later, when the congressional seat in that area appeared out of reach for Eldridge, they bought a new, $2 million spread just north in the 19th congressional district.

Eldridge is just 27 but has a “deep commitment” to public service, according to his bio on Victory Fund’s website. It continues, “He helped lead the successful campaign for marriage equality in New York State in 2011.” That’s almost as ridiculous and brazen as author Jo Becker comparing HRC’s Chad Griffin to Rosa Parks in her new book “Forcing the Spring.”

Much gnashing of teeth followed publication of the book last month. Part of the reason for the backlash is that the book played into a narrative of HRC swooping in at the 11th hour and taking credit for the work of grassroots activists. Many of them have complained (often privately and off the record, fearing retribution) of HRC’s tactics, from Maryland to Maine and California to New York.

We all know the marriage equality movement didn’t start in 2008 with the Prop 8 case and that Griffin is no Rosa Parks. In fact, that case fell far short of its goals; it’s an odd choice for Becker’s grandiose claims.

As gays find increasing acceptance and move openly into the halls of power, we mustn’t forget our own history, as HRC bet wrongly we would in the case of Becker’s book. That history has always been about a shared responsibility for helping each other overcome discrimination and hate. We all stand on the shoulders of a generation of gay men who died and the LGBT survivors who took care of them.

And, as the insightful Maya Rupert of the National Center for Lesbian Rights told our audience at the Equality Forum: We don’t need a gay Rosa Parks. The original belongs to everyone.

Kevin Naff is editor of the Washington Blade. Reach him at knaff@washblade.com.

08
May
2014

Maryland to recognize Utah same-sex marriages

Doug Gansler, gay news, Washington Blade

Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler on Friday said his state would recognize same-sex marriages performed in Utah.

“Maryland will continue to recognize valid out-of-state same-sex marriages as we continue to strengthen the Constitution’s promise of equal protection under the law,” said Gansler. “It is an affront to the idea of basic human rights that the battle for full marriage equality in this country remains in headlines and courtrooms.”

Gansler told the Washington Blade his office on Thursday received a call from a gay Maryland couple who married in Utah about whether the state would recognize their union.

Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin on the same day urged him and attorneys general in the 17 other states that have extended marriage rights to gays and lesbians to recognize the marriages of the more than 1,300 same-sex couples who exchanged vows after U.S. District Court Judge Robert Shelby struck down the Beehive State’s gay nuptials ban. The U.S. Supreme Court on Jan. 6 blocked any future same-sex marriages from taking place in Utah until the case is resolved.

“Should any of these couples be residents of, travel through, or relocate to your state, there is simply no reason to treat their marriage differently from any other,” wrote Griffin.

HRC spokesperson Fred Sainz described Gansler’s announcement to the Blade as “another win for justice, dignity and equality.”

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder earlier on Friday announced the federal government will recognize same-sex marriages performed in Utah between Dec. 20 and Jan. 6. This announcement came two days after Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said his state would not recognize the aforementioned unions pending the outcome of his administration’s appeal of Shelby’s ruling.

Gansler in 2008 became the first statewide official to back marriage rights for same-sex couples in Maryland when he testified in support of gay nuptials during a state Senate committee hearing. He wrote an opinion in 2010 that said Maryland would recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in other jurisdictions.

“We’ve just said of course based on our previous opinion, we of course would welcome those couples here,” Gansler told the Blade. “Public policy would dictate that least in those 18 states (in which nuptials for gays and lesbians are legal) the marriages from Utah would be recognized.”

Gansler added he hopes the Supreme Court will agree to hear the Utah case and determine whether the denial of marriage rights to same-sex couples is constitutional.

“The hope is that this Utah case would be taken at the Supreme Court, which issued the injunction,” he told the Blade. “Staying the decision is indication the Supreme Court would take the case and finally put to rest the issue of whether or not the prohibition of same-sex marriage is constitutional. And clearly it’s not.”

Gansler is currently running to succeed Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley.

He will face Lieutenant Gov. Anthony Brown and state Del. Heather Mizeur (D-Montgomery County) in the Democratic primary in June.

10
Jan
2014

Michael Sam becomes first out gay man drafted to NFL

Michael Sam, football, Missouri, gay news, Washington Blade

The St. Louis Rams on Saturday picked Michael Sam in the seventh round of the National Football League draft. (Photo by Marcus Qwertyus; courtesy Wikimedia Commons).

Michael Sam on Saturday became the first openly gay man drafted into the National Football League after the St. Louis Rams picked him in the seventh round.

ESPN broadcast a video that showed the former University of Missouri defensive end breaking down as he received the telephone call from Rams coach Jeff Fisher that told him the team had picked him. His boyfriend, Vito Cammisano, was among those who were him in San Diego.

Fisher noted during a post-draft press conference that his team in 1946 drafted the first African American into the league.

“This is a second historic moment in the history of this franchise,” he said. “I’m honored to be part of it. Michael’s a good football player. They’re pretty excited to have him in the building.”

Rams defensive end Robert Quinn told Dan Hellie of the NFL Network that Sam has “proven himself on the field” with the Associated Press naming him the 2013 defensive player of the year in the Southeastern Conference. He was also selected as one of 10 unanimous first-team All-Americans.

“He’s a great player,” Quinn told Hellie. “He proved himself while he was in college.”

Brooklyn Nets center Jason Collins, who is the first openly gay person to play in a major American professional sports league, are among those who congratulated Sam.

“The St. Louis Rams just helped athletes everywhere feel more confident in their ability to be who they are and play the game they love,” said former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo. “I am thrilled that Michael Sam is being judged by his ability on the football field and look forward to supporting him in anyway to ensure that that he finds a welcoming environment in the NFL.”

“We congratulate Michael Sam and the St. Louis Rams on their terrific decision to draft him,” added Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin. “Today, LGBT young people can look to Sam as proof that being open and proud of who you are doesn’t keep you from achieving your dreams.”

President Obama also congratulated Sam, the Rams and the NFL.

“From the playing field to the corporate boardroom, LGBT Americans prove everyday that you should be judged by what you do and not who you are,” a White House official told the Washington Blade on Sunday.

The Miami Dolphins late on Sunday announced it had fined safety Don Jones after he described Sam kissing Cammisano as “horrible” on Twitter.

The team also suspended Jones until he completes “education training for his recent comments.”

“We met with Don today about respect, discrimination and judgment,” said Dolphins Head Coach Joe Philbin in a statement. “These comments are not consistent with the values and standards of our program. We will continue to emphasize and educate our players that these statements will not be tolerated.”

Jones apologized.

“I take full responsibility for them and I regret that these tweets took away from his draft moment,” he said.

Sam, 24, came out in a February during a series of interviews with the New York Times and ESPN.

“Michael Sam has made a historic and courageous decision to live his authentic truth for the world to see,” said National Black Justice Coalition CEO Sharon Lettman-Hicks after Sam came out. “Sam continues the tradition of breaking down barriers for not only LGBT athletes who dream of playing professional sports, but all LGBT people, young and old, who seek to live openly, honestly and safely in their neighborhoods and communities.”

Sam on Thursday signed an endorsement deal with Visa.

Sam’s spokesperson, Howard Bragman, told the Washington Blade on Saturday the defensive end is not available for interviews.

10
May
2014

State Dept. quiet on Nigeria gay arrests

Department of State, gay news, Washington Blade

The State Department won’t articulate options to address anti-gay activity in Nigeria. (Photo public domain)

State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki was unable on Friday to articulate any options to address Nigeria’s anti-gay law and the arrests that have followed other than restating U.S. concerns about the situation.

Under questioning from the Washington Blade, Psaki provided little additional information on U.S. efforts to confront the anti-gay law as reports continue to emerge of hostilities toward gay men in the country.

“I don’t have any new options to outline for you at this point,” Psaki said. “I think we’ve been very clear in expressing our concerns and how deeply concerned we are about the impact on all Nigerians of this law.”

On Thursday, the Human Rights Campaign issued a statement calling on the State Department to employ all available tools to stop the anti-gay situation in Nigeria described in media reports that has troubled many observers.

“The State Department must use every available tool to demonstrate that any nation which targets its own LGBT citizens and violates their civil rights gravely risks its standing in the international community,” said HRC President Chad Griffin.

The Obama administration has previously said the anti-gay law itself violates Nigeria’s international legal obligations and is inconsistent with human rights protections in its constitution.

But one option that Psaki took off the table on Friday was a potential loss of U.S. financial aid to Nigeria, saying the United States funds programs in Nigeria that are critically important.

“It’s also important to note that a great deal of our funding goes to programs including HIV prevention, human rights programs, programs that are promoting fundamental freedoms, program funding that often goes through PEPFAR,” Psaki said. “Those are programs that, obviously, we continue to support.”

Homosexual acts were already illegal in Nigeria, but the new anti-gay law signed on Jan. 7 by Nigeria President Goodluck Jonathan goes further than the existing statutes.

It bans not only same-sex marriage and same-sex relationships, but also membership in LGBT organizations. Entering into a same-sex marriage or civil union is punishable by up to 14 years in prison, and membership in an LGBT organization is punishable with jail time of up to 10 years.

The State Department had previously said it was trying to verify reports that as many as 38 gay men have been arrested and 168 others are being pursued following passage of the anti-gay law. The Associated Press reported on Friday that arrests are spreading across Nigeria and dozens more individuals perceived to be gay have been rounded up and questioned.

But Psaki on Friday said wasn’t able to provide any confirmation about arrests in terms of numbers as she reiterated U.S. concern about the media reports.

“I don’t believe I have an update on the specific numbers that have been out there,” Psaki said. “Obviously, we have expressed our concerns about these reports, expressed our concerns about the legislation as well…It’s often difficult to confirm specific numbers along those lines.”

Will Stevens, a State Department spokesperson, later told the Blade the U.S. embassy in Nigeria is working to ascertain the number of individuals perceived to be gay arrested under the law. Stevens said the State Department would provide a response by Tuesday, but it’ll probably be a “squishy number” because of the changing situation.

Asked to respond to media reports that Uganda President Yoweri Museveni has returned the “anti-homosexuality” bill to parliament, which passed the measure last month, Psaki said she was unaware of the development.

“I haven’t seen that,” Psaki said. “I’m happy to check with our team and see if we have more details on that.”

A State Department official later told the Blade the United States continues to raise concerns about the legislation in Uganda and “welcome[s] reports” that some Ugandan leaders have expressed their  opposition to the bill.

“Since the 2009 introduction of this legislation, we have consistently registered our opposition at the highest levels of government, both in Washington and in Kampala, reiterating our long-standing opposition to legislation that discriminates against LGBT individuals,” the official said.

18
Jan
2014