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Mizeur not included in Victory Fund’s initial 2014 endorsements

Heather Mizeur, Delman Coates, Montgomery County, Silver Spring, Maryland, Maryland House of Delegates, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade

Del. Heather Mizeur is seeking to succeed Gov. Martin O’Malley. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Maryland gubernatorial candidate Heather Mizeur is not among those whom the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund backed in the first round of 2014 endorsements it announced on Monday.

The group endorsed gay Maine Congressman Mike Michaud in the race to succeed Republican Gov. Paul LePage. The Victory Fund also backed Massachusetts lieutenant gubernatorial candidate Steve Kerrigan and Maura Healey in her bid to succeed Attorney General Martha Coakley who announced her campaign to succeed outgoing Gov. Deval Patrick last fall.

Victory Fund CEO Chuck Wolfe described Michaud in a statement as the “nation’s first openly gay candidate to win a gubernatorial election,” although it will not take place until November. Michaud, who has represented Maine’s 2nd Congressional District since 2003, last November came out in an op-ed he submitted to the Associated Press, the Bangor Daily News and the Portland Press Herald.

“He’ll also be a strong voice for fairness, freedom and equality for all Americans coast-to-coast,” said Wolfe.

Mizeur could also become the country’s first elected openly LGBT governor if Maryland voters elect her to succeed Gov. Martin O’Malley in November.

“We will absolutely welcome their support,” Mizeur campaign manager Joanna Belanger told the Washington Blade.

Denis Dison, senior vice president of programs for the Victory Fund, said his organization generally does not comment on potential endorsements until one is made.

The Victory Fund endorsed the Montgomery County Democrat for the Maryland House of Delegates in 2006 and 2010. Steve Elmendorf, chair of the Victory Fund board of directors, last January hosted a fundraiser for Mizeur’s gubernatorial campaign at his D.C. home.

The Victory Fund’s announcement comes two weeks after Equality Maryland, the state’s largest LGBT advocacy organization, endorsed Lieutenant Gov. Anthony Brown for governor. Mizeur described the apparent snub to the Blade and other media outlets as a “puzzling choice.”

EMILY’s List last month announced it would encourage its members to contribute to Mizeur’s campaign.

“Heather Mizeur is a progressive powerhouse who will fight for the rights of Maryland’s women and working families from day one,” said EMILY’s List President Stephanie Schriock.

The Victory Fund on Monday also announced it has endorsed incumbent U.S. Reps. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Mark Takano (D-Calif.) for re-election. The group additionally backed North Carolina congressional candidate Marcus Brandon, former Freedom to Marry staffer Sean Eldridge who hopes to unseat incumbent Republican New York Rep. Chris Gibson, Florida state Rep. David Richardson and Pennsylvania state Rep. Brian Sims.

Maryland state Dels. Bonnie Cullison (D-Montgomery County) and Mary Washington (D-Baltimore City) and Howard County Register of Wills Byron Macfarlane are also among those whom the Victory Fund endorsed. Former Equality Maryland staffer Kevin Walling, who announced his candidacy to represent portions of Montgomery County in the House of Delegates last summer, also received the group’s backing.

06
Jan
2014

Recommitting to the Victory Fund mission

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

09
Apr
2014

Meet the only openly trans U.S. House staffer

Ben Panico, gay news, Washington Blade

Ben Panico is the only openly transgender staffer to serve in the U.S. House. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

On a Friday morning in August when most D.C. workers are either away on vacation or coming into work in casual attire, Ben Panico is dressed for business in a dark suit over a crisp white shirt.

Two months earlier, Panico started work in his year-long fellowship at the LGBT Equality Caucus as an appointee of the Gay & Lesbian Leadership Institute’s Victory Congressional Fellow program, which is funded by the David Bohnett Foundation. The 22-year-old has the distinction of being the only openly transgender staffer to serve in the U.S. House.

In an interview with the Washington Blade at the offices at the Leadership Institute, Panico said his new job consists of supporting the seven openly LGB members of the House — who are also the co-chairs of the LGBT Equality Caucus — in advancing legislation.

“In the fellowship, I am scheduling briefings and writing letters to help engage the staff on any number of issues that are important for the LGBT and the trans community,” Panico said.

Panico said the issue of anti-transgender discrimination is part of his work that’s personally important to him because it persists despite recent LGBT progress.

“I’ve met a lot of trans folks who’ve faced discrimination in a lot of areas,” Panico said. “And I think that there are a lot of ways that the caucus is doing a great job addressing those problems and working on what legislation the seven co-chairs are interested in moving forward.”

Panico declined to identify any specific legislative vehicle that he thinks would best address anti-transgender discrimination, maintaining his job is to support the path by which the seven openly LGB members choose to move forward.

But Panico acknowledged the significance of being the only known openly transgender staffer in the U.S. House.

“Being in this position allows me to utilize my experiences and the experiences that I’ve heard from other trans folks to help move legislation forward and improve the community as a whole,” Panico said.

Although Panico has been working with the LGBT Equality Caucus since June, the Gay & Lesbian Leadership Institute just announced his work and status as the only openly transgender person in the U.S. House on Thursday. Steven Thai, a Leadership Institute spokesperson, said the announcement was postponed until August recess because the caucus has been focused on legislation.

Chuck Wolfe, CEO of the Victory Institute, said Panico’s distinction of being the only openly transgender person in the U.S. House offers Congress a unique perspective.

“Ben Panico brings a wealth of experiences to this position, and as Capitol Hill’s only openly transgender staff member, he brings a much needed voice to the table,” Wolfe said. “I am confident Ben will be able to gain immense experience and assist in advancing an equality agenda in Congress.”

The distinction of being the only openly transgender staffer in the U.S. House was previously held by Diego Sanchez, who worked for former Rep. Barney Frank before his retirement. Now, Sanchez serves as national policy director for PFLAG.

Sources familiar with Capitol Hill say it’s uncertain whether another openly transgender staffer now works for the U.S. Senate.

Originally from Connecticut, Panico graduated from Johns Hopkins University, where he studied English Literature and Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies. While in college, Panico took part in LGBT activism, serving as director of operations for the Diverse Sexuality & Gender Alliance, lobbying university administrators for an LGBT resource center and leading the development of a Safe Zone training program.

“I know that the trans community faces a lot of discrimination, a lot of problems of inequality right now, and I feel very passionate about helping address those problems and improve the lives of trans people in the future,” Panico said.

Prior to his current job, he was an intern on Capitol Hill who during his junior year of college worked for Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), a supporter of LGBT rights who has called on Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder to stop defending the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.

But Panico is keeping much of his personal life private, declining to comment, for example, on when he transitioned. Panico also declined to say whether he has personally experienced anti-transgender discrimination, but said he would argue “all trans people have experienced discrimination in some form or another.”

In addition to his work in the LGBT Equality Caucus, Panico is participating in other groups that advance LGBT causes. He’s a member of the LGBT Congressional Association, the affinity group for LGBT staffers on Capitol Hill.

Mitchell Rivard, vice president of the LGBT Congressional Staff Association, said Panico’s work on Capitol Hill is helping to advance transgender visibility.

“Currently being the only openly transgender staffer on Capitol Hill, Ben is breaking down barriers and will be a visible and vocal advocate for equality in Congress,” Rivard said. “Having previously interned in Congressman Dan Kildee’s office, he brings valuable experience to his new job and we are thrilled to have him join the LGBT Congressional Staff Association.”

Although Panico acknowledges discrimination against LGBT people remains a persistent problem, he envisions a world in the not-too-distant future where that will come to an end.

“I think it’s tough to say a specific time, but I would say in the coming years, I see a lot of change happening, legislation moving forward,” Panico said. “Hopefully, in five to 10 years, I feel like the LGBT community is really going to have a lot more support from the next generation of folks coming up.”

15
Aug
2014

Soaring at the Air Force

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

30
May
2013

Congressional LGBT Pride

The Victory Institute joined with Gay, Lesbian and Allies Senate Staff (GLASS) Caucus, the LGBT Congressional Staff Association, Library of Congress GLOBE and the LGBT Equality Caucus to host the Congressional LGBT Pride Reception at Rayburn House Office Building on Wednesday. Speakers included Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) and Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.). (Washington Blade photos by Damien Salas) buyphoto 

06
Jun
2013

Gay men nominated as U.S. ambassadors to Europe

Rufus Gifford, gay news, Washington Blade, Democratic Party, Obama for America

Rufus Gifford, who’s gay, was nominated as U.S. ambassador to Denmark (Photo by Christopher Dilts for Obama for America)

President Obama nominated on Friday two openly gay men and supporters of his presidential campaign for ambassadorial posts in Europe.

Rufus Gifford, who previously served as finance director for the Obama campaign, was named as U.S. ambassador to Denmark, while James Costos, who’s vice president of global licensing and retail for HBO, was named U.S. ambassador to Spain. Both nominations are subject to Senate confirmation.

“It gives me great confidence that such dedicated and capable individuals have agreed to join this administration to serve the American people,” Obama said in statement. “I look forward to working with them in the months and years to come.”

In an interview with the Blade in September 2011, Gifford spoke about his support for Obama.

“I’ve been on board with the campaign in one way shape or form since January 2007 — nearly from the moment I met Sen. Obama,” Gifford said. “I was certainly a believer in him and his message and his politics, etc. So, I do believe that the last two years have been two of the very most productive years in American history. In my mind, truly, if we can get four more, think of how much more we can accomplish.”

Gifford was most recently the financial chair for the committee for the president’s inauguration. Prior to working for the Obama re-election campaign, he was finance director of the Democratic National Committee. During the 2008 presidential campaign, he was the California Finance Director for the Presidential Inaugural Committee and working as a political consultant in California from 2004 to 2008.

According to his White House bio, Gifford is a Federal Club Member of the Human Rights Campaign and a Partner in Conservation for the World Wildlife Fund.  He received a B.A. from Brown University.

Costos has had various roles in the entertainment industry. Before joining HBO in 2006, he was CEO of Eight Cylinders, Inc., an entertainment marketing and licensing agency, and head of Promotions and Consumer Products at Revolution Studios in California.  A graduate of the University of Massachusetts, he began his career in New York as a fashion and retail executive.

According to OpenSecrets.org, Costos contributed more than $60,000 to the Democratic National Committee in the previous election and nearly $5,000 to Obama’s presidential campaign.

Chuck Wolfe, CEO of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, congratulated both individuals on their nominations in a statement.

“We congratulate Rufus Gifford and James Costos, whose nominations reflect the president’s strong commitment to eliminating barriers to public service for LGBT Americans,” Wolfe said. “I’m confident they will both represent the United States with distinction.”

Another openly gay nominee was announced earlier this week. Daniel Baer, a State Department official, was named was tapped to become U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

John Berry, who formerly was director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, is also reportedly on the short list as U.S. ambassador to Australia, but the White House hasn’t yet announced the nomination.

Three other openly gay men have previously served as U.S. ambassadors. David Huebner has served as U.S. ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa since 2009. Michael Guest was U.S. ambassador to Romania from 2001-2004 and James Hormel was U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg from 1999-2001.

14
Jun
2013

Gay candidate touts progressive values in bid to replace Markey

Carl Sciortino, Democratic Party, Massachusetts, Middlesex, gay news, Washington Blade

Gay Massachusetts State Rep. Carl Sciortino (D-Middlesex) is seeking to represent Massachusetts in Congress. (Photo by Seth Rau)

As Democrats celebrated Massachusetts Rep. Ed Markey’s win on Tuesday in the special election for an open U.S. Senate seat, a gay candidate is already working to build support for a bid to replace Markey in the House.

In an interview with the Washington Blade, Massachusetts State Rep. Carl Sciortino, 34, touted his progressive values as he talked about seeking to represent Massachusetts’ 5th congressional district in the U.S. House. A victory would make him the eighth sitting openly gay member of Congress.

“I have a strong progressive track record in the state legislature, where I served for nine years,” Sciortino said. “And I think there are many issues facing our country that will affect us for many years, and I want to bring a solid, progressive voice to the debate.”

At the top of the list for Sciortino — who launched his campaign in February — are climate change, Social Security, immigration as well as campaign finance reform in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, which he said is “blocking a healthy democracy.”

“There are many things on the table that we are struggling with as a country right now, and I think at a core level, we’re really talking about whether the American Dream is available for another generation,” Sciortino said.

The lawmaker said he’d also advance his record on LGBT issues in Congress, which he said he sees as “core economic and fairness issues for families who happen to be LGBT.” He’s credited with helping beat back a constitutional amendment opposing marriage equality in Massachusetts and was lead sponsor of the state’s m0re recently signed transgender civil rights law.

“At a very base level, of course, we have to get an inclusive-ENDA passed,” Sciortino said. “Employment protections are crucial, and the fact that as a country we still can have a qualified worker fired for no other reason than they are gay or transgender is totally unacceptable.”

Marc Solomon, national campaign director for Freedom to Marry, spoke highly of Sciortino and his efforts to combat a constitutional amendment in Massachusetts that would have rescinded marriage equality in the state after it was put in place by the State Supreme Court. At the time, Solomon was the head of MassEquality.

“Carl is one, I’d say, of a handful of elected officials for whom I would do pretty much anything — and I’m not exaggerating,” Solomon said. “And it’s because he’s committed, he’s passionate, he’s smart and he knows how to get things done. He has the great combination of having really strong progressive convictions while at the same time knowing how to build alliances with others to get laws passed.”

In October, Solomon is set to officiate over the congressional hopeful’s wedding to his partner of more than five years, Pem Brown, a 29-year-old consultant for non-profit communications. The ceremony will take place in Boston at the Old South Meeting House, where the LGBT community gathered in 2003 to celebrate on the night of the Goodridge decision that brought marriage equality.

Throughout the campaign, Sciortino said his plans to marry someone of the same gender haven’t been an issue for voters.

“I think it’s significant that an openly gay candidate running for Congress can be planning my wedding while running for office and, frankly, no one really cares in a big way that we’re getting married,” he said.

Sciortino’s candidacy was dependent on a Democratic win in the Senate race on Tuesday between Rep. Markey (D-Mass.), and Gabriel Gomez, a former Navy SEAL. Now that Markey has won the Senate seat, his congressional seat is vacated, giving Sciortino the opportunity to run.

Another special election at a yet-to-be-determined date will be held to see who will represent Massachusetts’ 5th congressional district in Congress. It’s already a crowded field: others who’ve announced their candidacy include State Sen. Karen Spilka, State Sen. William Brownsberger, State Sen. Katherine Clark and Middlesex Sheriff Pete Koutoujian.

Nathan Gonzalez, deputy editor of the Rothenberg Political Report, said it’s too early to handicap the race, but noted even at this early stage that Sciortino will face a crowded field.

“From what I know, I’m expecting him to be a serious and credible candidate, but I don’t think he will be the only one that those adjectives fit,” Gonzalez said.

This week, Sciortino is making a trip to D.C. to get himself better acquainted with lawmakers as well as activist organizations working on progressive and LGBT work. He didn’t immediately recall which stakeholders he’ll meet once he arrives in Washington.

“I will be walking in as a freshman member of Congress in the middle of a term and this is an opportunity to make the rounds, build support for the campaign and build relationships,” Sciortino said.

One event he will attend is a fundraiser that will take place in the home of gay Democratic lobbyist and activist Robert Raben. Gay Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) is expected to attend.

Sciortino said he sees former Rep. Barney Frank as a role model in terms of both his service to Massachusetts and to the LGBT community.

“He was fighting for LGBT equality even as a closeted member of the state legislature in the ’70s and deserves, I think, our collective appreciation,” Sciortino said. “And I can only hope to be as witty and sharp as he’s always been, so he’s a good role model in that way as well.”

In addition to legislative work, Sciortino is pushing for more action from the Obama administration. He praised Obama for his LGBT accomplishments — and put passage of hate crimes protections legislation at the top of his list — but joined in the call for an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from engaging in LGBT workplace discrimination.

“He deserves our appreciation, but, that being said, we have to hold his feet to the fire and keep pushing for it as a community until we have full equality — and a ban on discrimination for federal contractors has to be part of that strategy because when companies can continue to discriminate against our families and our community, it sends a message that it’s OK,” Sciortino said.

Chuck Wolfe, CEO of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, was among those who spoke highly of the candidate, whom his organization has endorsed.

“Carl has been a proven leader on LGBT issues in the Massachusetts Legislature,” Wolfe said. “He’ll continue that outspoken advocacy in Congress, where we need more authentic LGBT voices speaking truth to power.”

26
Jun
2013

30 Colombian LGBT advocates attend USAID-backed training

Jhosselyn Pájaro, Colombia, LGBT rights, gay news, Washington Blade

Colombian LGBT rights advocate Jhosselyn Pájaro (Photo courtesy of Jhosselyn Pájaro)

Thirty activists from across Colombia are attending a four-day training in the city of Cartagena designed to encourage LGBT people to become more involved in the country’s political process.

The program, which the Gay and Lesbian Victory Institute and the Colombian LGBT advocacy groups Caribe Afirmativo and Colombia Diversa organized, is the second to take place in the South American country as part of the USAID-backed LGBT Global Development Partnership that will contribute $11 million over the next four years to advocacy groups in Ecuador and other developing countries. Thirty activists attended the initiative’s first Colombia training that took place in Bogotá, the country’s capital, from May 30 – June 2.

Denis Dison of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Institute; Claire Lucas of USAID; National Democratic Institute Director Francisco Herrero and Tatiana Piñeros, a transgender woman who runs Bogotá’s social welfare agency, are among those who took part in a panel on Thursday that Colombia Diversa Executive Director Marcela Sánchez moderated on how out political leaders and officials can advance the Colombian and American LGBT rights movements. Jhosselyn Pájaro, a trans woman who ran for municipal council in the city of Arjona outside of Cartagena; Ramón Rojas, a councilman in the city of Chaparral in central Colombia and María Rachid, an Argentine lawmaker and LGBT rights advocate who led campaigns in support of the country’s same-sex marriage and trans rights laws that took effect in 2010 and 2012, also spoke.

“I will have the opportunity to build my capacity and be able to realize a good and better platform in regards to the next campaign,” Pájaro told the Washington Blade before the Cartagena training began. “To know how to implement a good strategy that will allow me to reach my voters is something that excites me greatly.”

The training is taking place roughly five weeks after two gay men in Bogotá became the country’s first legally recognized same-sex couple.

Colombia’s Constitutional Court in 2011 ruled gays and lesbians could seek legal recognition of their relationships within two years if lawmakers in the South American country failed to extend to them the same benefits heterosexuals receive through marriage.

The Colombian Senate in April overwhelmingly rejected a bill that would have extended marriage rights to gays and lesbians.

The Constitutional Court’s June 20 deadline passed amid lingering confusion as to whether same-sex couples could actually marry in Colombia because the 2011 ruling did not contain the word “marriage.”

Sánchez and other LGBT rights advocates consider Carlos Hernando Rivera Ramírez and Gonzalo Ruiz Giraldo married after a Bogotá civil judge solemnized their relationship on July 24. Many notaries have said they will allow gays and lesbians to enter into a “solemn contract” that is similar to an agreement into which two people enter when they purchase a home together as opposed to a civil marriage.

Anti-LGBT violence in Colombia remains a serious problem in spite of efforts to extend relationship recognition to same-sex couples in the country.

Colombia Diversa estimates 58 of the reported 280 LGBT Colombians who were murdered between 2010-2011 were killed because of their sexual orientation or gender identity and expression. A report from the Latin American and Caribbean Network of Transgender Women (REDLACTRANS) notes 61 trans Colombian women have been reported killed between 2005-2011.

Caribe Afirmativo, which works in Cartagena and other cities along Colombia’s Caribbean coastline, documented 79 LGBT residents in the region suffered “violent deaths” since the murder of the organization’s founder, Rolando Pérez, in February 2007. The group also noted 86 incidents of anti-LGBT police harassment during the same period.

Edgar Plata of Caribe Afirmativo, who uses art as a way to advocate in support of LGBT rights, and Alondra Márquez of the Santamaría Fundación, a group based in the city of Cali that advocates on behalf of trans women, discussed violence against LGBT Colombians during a D.C. panel on Aug. 22 that coincided with an Organization of American States meeting on human rights.

Edgar Plata, Caribe Afirmativo, Alondra Márquez, Santamaría Fundación, Global Rights, gay news, Washington Blade

Edgar Plata of Caribe Afirmativo and Alondra Márquez of Santamaría Fundación take part in a panel on anti-LGBT violence at Global Rights in Northwest D.C. on Aug. 22, 2013. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Caribe Afirmativo Director Wilson Castañeda told the Blade on Thursday that Colombian political parties have yet to include gay-specific issues in their platforms. He added LGBT Colombians who seek to enter politics lack support and money for their campaigns and face what he described as the traditional political class that “functions more like electoral businesses than an ideological process.”

Castañeda added he feels working with the media to create visibility for LGBT Colombians is also important.

“It is important to immediately begin to generate synergies with the parties; with the current elected officials to ensure they, without being LGBT, are open to the idea,” Castañeda said.

Gay and Lesbian Victory Institute President Chuck Wolfe, who spoke on a panel during the Bogotá training, applauded the Cartagena gathering and the LGBT Global Development Partnership.

“This groundbreaking training puts into action the U.S. government’s commitment to global LGBT equality,” he told the Blade. “We are excited to work with our partners in-country and at USAID to grow the domestic participation of the LGBT community in Colombia.”

30
Aug
2013

Quinn loses historic bid for NYC mayor

Christine Quinn, New York City, gay news, Washington Blade

Christine Quinn finished third in the New York Democratic primary for mayor behind Bill de Blasio and William Thompson. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn lost her bid to become New York’s first openly gay and first female mayor on Tuesday, finishing third in a bruising Democratic primary in which she was assailed on issues unrelated to her sexual orientation.

With pro-LGBT candidate Bill de Blasio, who holds the city’s elected post of Public Advocate, holding a commanding lead in the final weeks of the campaign, Quinn struggled to come in second.

A second place finish could have placed her in an Oct. 1 runoff election against de Blasio if de Blasio failed to reach a 40 percent threshold needed to win the Democratic nomination outright.

But with 98 percent of the voter precincts counted shortly after 1 a.m. Wednesday, Quinn was in third place with 15.5 percent of the vote, trailing former city comptroller William Thompson, who had 26 percent of the vote.

De Blasio had 40.2 percent. However city election board officials said it could take a week before they count absentee and challenged ballots to determine whether de Blasio’s vote count remains at 40 percent or higher.

“I want to congratulate my opponents Bill Thompson and Bill de Blasio on a hard-earned victory,” Politicker.com blog quoted Quinn as saying at her election night gathering at a hotel in Chelsea.

“This was a hard-fought race, we took a lot of knocks, we were up against a lot of odds, but I’m proud of the race we all ran,” Politicker quoted her as saying. “There’s a young girl out there who was inspired by the thought of New York’s first woman mayor and said to herself, ‘You know what? I can do that.’”

The New York Times reported that an exit poll showed LGBT voters comprised 9 percent of the Democratic primary electorate on Tuesday. According to the Times, the exit poll showed de Blasio beating Quinn among LGBT voters by a margin of 47 percent to 34 percent. Thompson received 9 percent of the LGBT vote, former New York Congressman Anthony Weiner received 4 percent, and city comptroller John Liu received 3 percent of the LGBT vote, the exit poll showed.

Many political observers view Quinn’s third-place finish as an astonishing turn of events following her status as the frontrunner in the nine-candidate race during the first several months of the campaign. At one point Quinn approached the 40 percent mark in public opinion polls, placing her far ahead of de Blasio both in potential votes and in money raised.

Kenneth Sherrill, a political science professor emeritus at New York’s Hunter College, said a number of factors contributed to Quinn’s stunning decline in the polls and de Blasio’s dramatic rise. Among them, he said, were Quinn and her campaign advisers’ failure to recognize early on the intensity of voter animus toward incumbent Mayor Michael Bloomberg, with whom Quinn was perceived as a strong ally.

Sherrill said the negative impact of Quinn’s perceived association with Bloomberg was compounded by her decision to wage a campaign geared more for a general election than a Democratic primary.

“In the general election you have to appeal to the broader centrist voters,” he said. “In a primary, the best strategy is to appeal to the most ideological and activist voters.”

According to Sherrill, de Blasio skillfully took the latter approach, positioning himself as a progressive champion of New Yorkers struggling to retain their hold on the middle class. He said de Blasio capitalized on Bloomberg’s unpopularity and succeeded in defining Quinn as a Bloomberg crony, stressing Quinn’s key role in 2009 in backing a change in the city charter that allowed Bloomberg to run for a third term.

Sherrill and other political observers say Quinn’s campaign was also hurt badly by an independent expenditure organization formed by labor and animal rights activists called “Anybody But Quinn.” Among other things, the group produced attack ads denouncing Quinn for not supporting legislation to ban horse drawn carriages in New York’s Central Park.

Although Quinn sought to distance herself from some of Bloomberg’s positions, especially the mayor’s support for a “stop and frisk” policy initiated by the city’s police commissioner, which civil rights groups said targeted minority communities, her reluctance to more aggressively oppose the policy subjected her to strong criticism by de Blasio and some of the other candidates.

Sherrill said the litany of problems Quinn encountered in her campaign had “absolutely nothing” to do with her sexual orientation.

“It didn’t matter one bit,” he said of Quinn’s status as an out lesbian. “What mattered was her proximity to the mayor.”

Quinn won the endorsement of the city’s three major daily newspapers – the New York Times, Daily News, and New York Post. She also received the endorsement of Gay City News, the city’s LGBT newspaper, along with endorsements from most of the city’s prominent LGBT leaders.

The national LGBT groups Human Rights Campaign and Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund contributed thousands of dollars to her campaign and dispatched volunteers and field organizers to help in locations throughout the city.

Victory Fund President and CEO Chuck Wolfe issued a statement Tuesday night noting that eight of its 10 endorsed candidates in New York races, including City Council candidates, won their races in the New York primary.

“As you know by now, Council Speaker Christine Quinn was not successful in her bid for the Democratic nomination for mayor,” Wolfe said. “There’s no sugar-coating what an emotional loss this is for her, her many supporters and all of us here at the Victory Fund,” he said.

“I’ve known Chris for a long time,” he added. “She has been a remarkably effective and passionate advocate for LGBT equality and, most importantly, for everyone who calls New York City home.”

Political observers said the LGBT vote appeared to be divided, with many activists supporting de Blasio over Quinn.

Sherrill said that while de Blasio and Quinn emerged as rivals in a heated political campaign both made great strides to normalize what have been viewed as non-traditional families. He noted that de Blasio, who is white, put his black wife and bi-racial son and daughter in the forefront of his campaign.

“Quinn and her wife were around all the time,” Sherrill said. “She talked about her wife. She talked about her in-laws.”

Added Sherrill, “This was a campaign in which families that never were talked about before were being portrayed as normal, everyday, wholesome, all-American real New Yorkers. And it’s not causing a stir. It’s an amazing breakthrough.”

Finishing behind Quinn in the New York primary on Tuesday were New York City Comptroller John Liu, who received 7 percent of the vote and former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.), who received 4.9 percent. Four other lesser known candidates received less than 4 percent each.

Joseph J. Lhota, a top aide to GOP former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, won the Republican nomination in Tuesday’s primary. Although Democrats outnumber Republicans in New York City by a 6 to 1 margin, no Democrat has won the city’s mayoralty since 1989 when Democrat David Dinkins became the city’s first black mayor.

Four years later, Dinkins lost big to Giuliani, and Giuliani and Republican-turned-independent Bloomberg have dominated the general elections for mayor ever since that time.

Now, Lhota, who supports same-sex marriage, is viewed as progressive on social issues while, like Bloomberg, he is a strong ally to New York’s business interests. With de Blasio being perceived by many in the business sector as anti-business, some political observers think Lhota has a shot at winning in the November general election.

11
Sep
2013

Miami Beach mayoral candidate among LGBT hopefuls

Michael Gongora, Miami Beach, Victory Fund, gay news, Washington Blade

Miami Beach City Commissioner Michael Gongora is one of several Victory Fund-endorsed LGBT candidates hoping for a win on Tuesday. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Miami Beach City Commissioner Michael Gongora is considered to have a shot at becoming that city’s first openly gay mayor on Tuesday despite the fact that former President Bill Clinton has endorsed one of his three opponents.

Gongora, Mayor Annise Parker of Houston, who’s running for re-election; and Washington State Sen. Ed Murray, who’s leading in the polls in his race for mayor of Seattle, are among a record 54 openly LGBT candidates running nationwide in an off-year election.

Each of the candidates has been endorsed by the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, a national LGBT advocacy group that raises money and provides logistical campaign assistance to openly LGBT candidates for public office.

Like Gongora, Murray would be the first openly gay mayor of Seattle if he beats incumbent Mayor Mike McGinn. Murray finished ahead of McGinn in a multi-candidate open primary in August, prompting political observers to predict Murray would emerge as the winner in the general election on Tuesday.

Most political observers in Houston consider Parker the frontrunner in a nine-candidate race. But they say it’s possible that her lead rival, millionaire attorney and philanthropist Ben Hall, could win enough votes to force Parker into a runoff election in December.

Most of the remaining 54 LGBT candidates backed by the Victory Fund are running in county and municipal races, including seven openly gay or lesbian candidates running for re-election or election to the New York City Council. Each of seven candidates, all Democrats, is expected to win their races in heavily Democratic districts.

In the Miami Beach race, Gongora, an attorney and environmentalist, received the endorsement of the Miami Herald and several of his fellow city commissioners. He’s running in a hotly contested race against a millionaire real estate developer, Philip Levine, whom Clinton endorses; and former comedian and entertainer Steve Berke. A fourth opponent, Raphael Herman, is considered by observers as a fringe candidate who isn’t expected to be a significant player in the race.

According to the Miami Herald, Levine has contributed more than $1.5 million into his campaign and is believed to be behind a series of negative ads attacking Gongora. Some of the ads point to Gongora’s 2002 drunken driving arrest that was lowered to a reckless driving charge.

“I made a mistake, and it’s not a mistake that will impact in any way, shape or form my ability to lead the city as mayor,” the Herald quoted Gongora as saying.

Gongora has fired back at Levine, pointing out in his own campaign ads that Levine gave money to the 2010 campaign of Tea Party Republican Marco Rubio when Rubio ran in the GOP primary against then-Republican Gov. Charlie Crist for an open U.S. Senate seat, which Rubio won.

Democrats outnumber Republicans in Miami Beach by a wide margin and Levine’s support for Rubio in 2010 could hurt him, even though he’s a Democrat.

Victory Fund spokesperson Jeff Spitko said another candidate — along with Parker, Murray and Gongora — running in what the group considers this year’s 10 “groundbreaking” races for LGBT candidates is lesbian Celia Israel of Austin, Texas. Israel is running in a special election for an open seat in the Texas House of Representatives in a four-candidate race.

She would become the second openly LGBT member of the Texas Legislature if she wins her race on Tuesday.

Israel, a progressive Democrat, worked as an aide to former Texas Gov. Ann Richards before starting a public policy consulting business in Austin, where she and her partner of 18 years live. She’s running against two other liberal Democrats, Rico Reyes and Jade Chang Sheppard, and Republican Mike VanDeWalle in a majority Democratic district. She received the endorsement of the Austin Chronicle.

Spitko said the Victory Fund has dispatched staff and board members along with volunteers to work on the get-out-the-vote effort for Israel, Parker and Murray. Victory Fund Executive Director Chuck Wolfe will be in Seattle helping with the Murray campaign; the group’s political director, Lucinda Guinn, will be in Houston helping on Parker’s campaign; and Deputy Political Director Mike McCall will be in Austin helping Israel, Spitko said.

“And a large part of our office [in Washington] will be here late into the evening following the election results and we’ll be posting the results on our blog, gaypolitics.com,” said Spitko, where activists throughout the country can keep track of the outcome of the races where LGBT candidates are running.

A total of 85 openly LGBT candidates backed by the Victory Fund emerged in races throughout the country earlier this year. Out of that total, 18 have won primaries and advanced to the general election on Nov. 5; 14 have won in general elections already held; and one emerged as a winner in a run-off election. Nine candidates backed by the Victory Fund lost their races in primaries earlier in the year.

31
Oct
2013