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Denizens Brewing, gay news, Washington Blade

Jeff Ramirez, Emily Bruno and Julie Verratti (Photo courtesy of Denizens)

Julie Verratti and Emily Bruno are not professional commercial beer brewers. But for the lesbian couple, opening Denizens Brewing Co., geared toward a younger, diverse generation of craft beer aficionados, is just the latest endeavor in a string of adventures.

Denizens, a term meaning a local or regular customer, is a fitting term for the new brewery, nestled among new high-rise apartment buildings on East-West Highway, a 10-minute walk from the Silver Spring Metro stop, which former same-sex marriage activists Verratti and Bruno opened this month with Jeff Ramirez, whose sister is married to Emily’s brother giving the operation a family feel. Ramirez, who’s been developing and fine-tuning beer recipes for his entire career, came up with the flavors.

The owners of the 200-seat brewery and beer garden, about 3,000 square feet, plan to brew five core styles and five seasonal styles out of its basement. A popular gay-owned food truck, BBQ Bus, will open a brick-and-mortar location inside the brewery this summer.

“Have I ever done something this big? No,” says Verratti, who’s had a series of careers in everything from political activism to personal training. “It’s the first time — the first time for all of us.”

Che and Tadd Ruddell-Tabisola, who own BBQ Bus, knew the Denizens owners from their time as LGBT activists. Going into business together seemed like the perfect next step, building upon an old friendship.

“It was a match made in heaven,” Che says. “I think Julie and Emily are great. Their concept and their approach is really thoughtful. There’s a lot of quality behind what they’re doing.”

Ruddell-Tabisola, BBQ Bus, Denizens, food truck, gay news, Washington Blade

BBQ Bus (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Che and his husband always wanted to open a physical location ever since their first day on the road in April 2011. But the opportunity didn’t immediately present itself.

“We got turned down for two loans and a few credit cards when we were trying to get this business going,” he says. “Nobody was lending money to a startup [during the recession], let alone a restaurant. The food truck really was a way to get into this business.”

Today, the food truck is well known across the D.C. area, an asset upon which Denizens, located at 1115 East-West Highway in Silver Spring (denizensbrewingco.com), hopes to capitalize.

“Everyone wants to eat when they’re drinking beer,” says Taylor Barnes, the brewery’s director of marketing and events. “Che and Tadd loved the pairing of beer and barbecue, and so did we. It’s a new model — two businesses coexisting in the same space. So it was really important for us that we just got along as people first, and second as business partners.”

“They’re fun, they’re super welcoming, and they love diversity just as much as we do,” Verratti says. “I love the fact that if you combine the ownership structure between the brewery and BBQ Bus, four out of the five owners are gay and gay married.”

 

A long journey

Denizens, gay news, Washington Blade

Denizens (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

 

Craft beer fans tend to be well educated, city-dwelling political progressives in their 20s and 30s, making the District and the surrounding metropolitan area an optimal place to open a brewery. But as the East Coast craft beer scene continues to boom, Barnes says craft beer is often marketed toward a “narrow slice of America.”

“One of the reasons we wanted to start Denizens Brewing Co. is that craft beer is for everyone,” she says.  

But plans to open the business were stalled in part because of the restrictive Defense of Marriage Act, leading Verratti and Bruno to draw upon their roots as activists.

“Emily and I met and started dating as political organizers,” Verratti says, referring to their time in Boston working on the 2004 presidential campaign and later, on the canvass program at MassEquality, an organization that helped secure and defend same-sex marriage in Massachusetts, the first state where it became legal.

“It was a pretty unbelievable time period,” she says, reminiscing on what she jokingly calls her “past life as a professional gay.” 

“Every day, you could feel the weight of the country on you. We were being attacked constantly from the right, and we did a full-scale ground war. We knocked on hundreds of thousands of doors. We created the model for how to win these types of battles across the country.”

Veratti, born and raised in Silver Spring, married Bruno in California during the short window before Proposition 8 was temporarily struck down, and moved back home with her wife to earn a degree from George Washington University Law School. Both women had toyed with the idea of opening a business, but it was their penchant for political activism and Verratti’s fluency in legal jargon that paved the way for the opening of Denizens.

The couple encountered their fair share of roadblocks along the way, starting with the Defense of Marriage Act, which, until it was struck down last June, prohibited the couple from enjoying mutual financial benefits even though they’ve been legally married since 2008.

“We had been making steady progress on our plans to open the brewery, but the striking down of DOMA enabled us to move forward more quickly because I knew I would have full access to Julie’s benefits as a federal employee during the unstable transition to becoming an entrepreneur,” Bruno says.

Opening a business together, Bruno says, wouldn’t have been possible if the law was still on the books.

 

Changing the law

 

The fall of DOMA allowed Bruno to quit her job and devote full attention to opening the brewery. But that wasn’t the last hurdle to overcome. Restrictive laws in Silver Spring made opening a brewery nearly impossible, gay or straight.

“One of the reasons why there hadn’t been more breweries opening up, specifically in Montgomery County, is that the laws had been archaic,” Verratti says, pointing to laws prohibiting breweries from offering take-out service and forcing them to sell pints to the county as a middleman instead of directly to bars and customers.

“We looked at that and thought, ‘Why don’t we just change the laws?’ I honestly think because of our political organizing background, it gave us the savvy to figure out how to do that.”

After testifying before the Montgomery County delegation, the couple was successful in making the county’s laws more business friendly. Denizens bills itself as a “craft brewery serving European-style lagers, American-style ales, Belgian-inspired beers, sour beers and barrel-aged beers to both the craft beer aficionado and those new to high-quality brews.”

For the first round of brewing, they contracted with Beltway Brewing Company but by September plan to brew everything in house with their own 15-barrel system. They decline to say how much they invested in the business but say they’ve been planning and developing since December 2012. Both Verratti and Bruno love beer and while Verratti has done some home brewing, they say Ramirez is the expert.

Brett Robison, the bar manager at Republic, a local bar that buys beer from Denizens, predicts the change will improve conditions for Denizens and future breweries.

“What’s going to happen because of this law change is overnight, Montgomery County is going to go from being one of the least favorable places to open any kind of alcohol business to being one of the most favorable places,” Robison says. “This law change now creates incentives for entrepreneurs.”

Although the doors have only been open for a few weeks, the brewery, which Barnes calls a local “job creator,” already has a diverse group of regulars.

“Everyone who works here is really gay friendly,” says Barnes, who is straight, pointing out that the nearly 40-person staff mostly identifies as LGBT. “I’m proud to be working at a lesbian-owned establishment. Because we are all diverse, it is more welcoming to everyone.”

“This community has really embraced us, and we’re so grateful for it,” Verratti says. “There’s been a strong contingent of the LGBT community that has come out and supported us. That makes me feel really happy and proud.”

23
Jul
2014

Time for a new employee manual

manual, gay news, Washington Blade

A review of existing employment manuals is especially important when there are significant changes in the laws governing the employer/employee relationship.

By JOHN J. MATTEO

The beginning of the New Year is always a good time for companies and employers to review their existing employee manuals or employment policies to insure they are compliant with current law and with their own practices.  An old adage states that the only thing worse than not having an employment manual or written policies is to have them but not follow them. This adage reflects the need to insure that your policies comport with your company’s actual practices and that such practices are consistent with applicable law.

A review of existing employment manuals is especially important when there are significant changes in the laws governing the employer/employee relationship, as we have seen in 2013. These include the Windsor decision issued by the Supreme Court that struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, the implementation of some portions of the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”), the push for mandatory sick leave by some jurisdictions, the IRS’s continued focus on properly classifying employees v. independent contractors, and the EEOC’s stated strategic goal of focusing on workplace discrimination. Any one of these issues would require a revision to most employer’s policies and manuals, but together they call for a complete revamping and review of the way policies are formed and enforced by most employers.

D.C. employers have been used to protecting gay employees from discrimination given the D.C. Human Rights Act; however, employers in Maryland and Virginia have not had a state law with the same level of protections, although Maryland has moved in that direction. Given the Windsor decision and subsequent IRS guidance, gay couples that are lawfully married in a state or jurisdiction recognizing such unions may avail themselves of the same rights as heterosexual couples when filing their tax returns. The effect on employers in the region (where two of the three major jurisdictions recognize gay marriage) is that they cannot deny certain benefits to gay employees who are legally married. Employers should be sure that these protections are clearly set forth in their employment manuals.

Much has and will continue to be written about the ACA as its provisions are implemented but employers – especially smaller employers/companies need to be prepared. The most important lesson at this juncture is that employers with fewer than 100 employees need to begin to prepare their workers for the changes that have now been delayed until 2015. This will include mandatory participation in the local health care exchanges, as well as mandatory minimum benefits that must be provided by almost all employers.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has issued public statements that are clear — elimination of workplace discrimination will be one of the major focuses of the commission. Accordingly, employers need to be well trained on the EEOC standards so that business owners and managers can insure adherence to EEOC rules and regulations. These standards should also be well described in the company’s employment manual and procedures so that the company has guidance, employees know their rights and if a complaint is made both parties will know the process to follow.

Another important feature that should be clearly set forth in employment manuals or procedure policies given the EEOC’s stated goals, are the rights afforded to those seeking maternity, paternity and other family leave benefits. Depending on which local jurisdiction a company is situated in and how many employees are employed, the laws will differ. It is important for the employer to know these rules, to clearly state the company policy in the manual and most importantly to consistently apply them to all employees.

These are just a few highlights of provisions that employers should make sure are part of their employment manuals or policies and are some of the most important given recent EEOC statements. Other provisions that also should be clearly defined are policies related to full time/part time distinctions, Internet use and privacy, confidentiality, termination procedures and severance benefits.

In sum, the lessons are simple — employers should be educated by a professional on the myriad laws governing the employer/employee relationship and should seek out qualified advisers to assist them in drafting consistent policy manuals to avoid the risk of employment claims.

 

John J. Matteo is president and chair, Business & Employment Practice Groups, Jackson & Campbell, P.C.

This is part of a series of articles by Jackson & Campbell on legal issues of interest to the LBGT and greater business community.  Jackson & Campbell is a full service law firm based in Washington with offices in Maryland and Virginia. If you have any questions regarding this article, contact John J. Matteo at 202-457-1678 or jmatteo@jackscamp.com. If you have any questions regarding our firm, please contact Don Uttrich, who chairs our Diversity Committee, at 202-457-4266 or duttrich@jackscamp.com.

28
Feb
2014

Gay marriages have begun in Michigan!

Last night a federal court struck down Michigan's gay marriage ban, the 14th such victory since US v. Windsor.

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22
Mar
2014

The Defense of the History of (Gay) Marriage

A new book has the "definitive account" of the gay marriage battle over the last 5 years. And gets it all wrong.

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21
Apr
2014

Sen. Warner sees dismal future for LGBT rights in GOP Senate

Mark Warner, United States Senate, Democratic Party, Virginia, U.S. Congress, gay news, Washington Blade

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) (Washington Blade file photo by Lee Whitman)

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) predicted Wednesday that the lingering issue of gay veterans being unable to receive benefits for their same-sex spouses in states without marriage equality would be a question for the next secretary of veterans affairs.

During a phone interview with the Washington Blade, Warner said the inability of veterans to receive same-sex benefits in certain states after the Supreme Court ruling against the Defense of Marriage Act was a violation of the principles of fairness.

“I still think we need to make sure if we’re talking about equality of rights, that ought to be around, marriage rights, civil rights, housing rights, employment rights,” Warner said.

Asked whether this issue should be a question for the secretary of veterans affairs, a position that is open following the resignation of Eric Shinseki, Warner replied, “I think this will be something that, I’m sure, will be raised with the next VA secretary.”

In June, Warner wrote to the Obama administration asking for an end to the practice of withholding veterans’ home loans from married same-sex couples who live in non-marriage equality states like Virginia. The Department of Veterans Affairs has been withholding these benefits because 103(c) of Title 38, which governs veterans benefits, looks to place of residence, not the place of celebration, in determining whether a couple is married.

In his letter, Warner used the example of a Navy veteran who applied for a veterans’ home loan in Virginia, but was denied equal benefits because the VA won’t count the income of her non-veteran spouse. The couple was married in Maryland, but the VA didn’t insure their loan request to buy a home in Fairfax County, Va., resulting in a much higher monthly mortgage payment for the couple.

Speaking with the Blade, Warner said the couple since that time has been able to secure the lower rate by going through a different agency after insufficient progress was made with the VA. Still, Warner said he would support a blanket policy change from the VA more in line with the Supreme Court’s ruling against DOMA.

Warner is currently facing re-election and running against former Republican National Committee chair Ed Gillespie for a second term representing Virginia in the U.S. Senate.

Asked how he thinks Gillespie would fare on LGBT issues if elected to represent Virginia in the U.S. Senate, Warner said he’s not familiar with his opponent’s position on those issues, but expressed skepticism based on Gillespie’s history in Republican politics.

“I do know that there seems to be kind of a cookie-cutter campaign approach coming from many of the Republican candidates this year that has not been as inclusive a message as I’ve got, or I think most folks realize is in the best interest of Virginia,” Warner said. “I’m not going to comment on him specifically other than the fact that he’ll be a double-down on gridlock since this a career paid-partisan, and I’m not sure that’s going to get us to a place where we actually get stuff done in the Senate.”

But Warner did forecast a dismal future for progress on LGBT rights in the Senate if Republicans take control of the chamber and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) or Sen. Jon Cornyn (R-Texas) is running the show.

“I think there would be more challenges,” Warner said. “I think this an issue, especially like on marriage equality, where the public has moved much quicker than the elected officials, and, again, I wouldn’t see the same kind of forward progress if the Senate would flip.”

Litigation against Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage is progressing through the courts. The U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals is set to issue a ruling on the marriage equality case at any time.

Warner said he hasn’t been following the developments in that case, but took credit for recommending along with former Sen. Jim Webb the nomination of U.S. District Judge Arenda Wright Allen, who ruled against Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage at the district court level.

“I’ve not followed the kind of weekly reports on the briefs and who’s writing amicus [briefs], but I think as you’ve seen all over the country, there clearly seems to be a growing majority if not unanimity,” Warner said. “This is an issue whose time has come.”

Warner endorsed same-sex marriage a little more than a year ago just before the Supreme Court heard arguments in the marriage cases. During his interview, Warner said he came to that support as a result of his three daughters who couldn’t understand his earlier position and said his endorsement built off earlier pro-LGBT actions.

“I fought against the amendment back in 2007, campaigned against it, gave money against it,” Warner said. “I think I had a record that was headed in that direction…I go back to the fact that our law treats people equally in terms of if you love someone, if you want to enter into a committed relationship.”

Warner’s name has been mentioned in some circles as a possible candidate for president in 2016. But the senator said he’s focused on his re-election in 2014, adding he thinks Hillary Clinton would be the “prohibitive favorite” should she run in the presidential race.

Asked whether he would pursue a run either for president or vice president, Warner maintained his focus is on winning re-election to his U.S. Senate seat.

“I’m running for re-election in 2014,” Warner said. “Good try.”

04
Jun
2014

Finishing the job of the LGBT movement

mass wedding, same-sex marriage, gay marriage, Supreme Court, Proposition 8, Defense of Marriage Act, Prop 8, DOMA, gay news, LGBT, Washington Blade, marriage equality

(Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The nature of LGBT activism is changing fast in this post-DOMA/Prop 8/DADT world. As LGBT acceptance grows and anti-gay laws continue to fall, it’s easy to forget where we came from, how we got here and what’s left to accomplish.

Pride week seems a good time to reflect on some of that.

One recent story illustrates just how dramatically different the world is today: Michael Sam’s NFL draft and kiss with his boyfriend broadcast live on ESPN. The “ick” factor remains a potent enemy of LGBT equality, from straight men tweeting their horror at the kiss, to opponents of Maryland’s recently approved trans rights law trying to scare voters into thinking men dressed as women will flock to bathrooms and locker rooms. That’s why spontaneous displays of affection like Sam’s are important — such visibility will slowly ease the discomfort some feel at the sight of two men or two women together.

Although Sam’s coming out is a courageous step, some won’t recognize his process as particularly pioneering. When Martina Navratilova came out in the early 1980s, she lost untold millions in endorsement deals and endured the homophobic and misogynistic barbs of commentators and tennis fans the world over. Contrast that with Sam’s carefully choreographed announcement, Visa endorsement deal and the NFL’s aggressive moves to shield him from criticism.

Indeed, much has changed. From the days when activism meant taking to the streets, as chronicled in HBO’s “Normal Heart,” which debuted last month, to our modern view of activists as lawyers and lobbyists.

As things get better, it’s important to remember that not everyone is benefitting from all the positive change. The Blade in January embarked on a special yearlong series focusing on poverty in the LGBT community. We’ve told many stories of those in our community struggling with chronic unemployment, discrimination and health care dilemmas. There’s much more to come this year in the series.

Poverty isn’t the only problem facing the LGBT community. From transgender people who face disproportionately high rates of violence and discrimination to prison inmates coping with discriminatory laws behind bars to LGBT youth living on the streets to the stubbornly high rates of HIV infection among MSM, there is much work ahead.

And as we remember those less fortunate at home, let’s also look abroad to those LGBT people struggling to overcome hate in countries around the world like Russia, Uganda and elsewhere where being LGBT can mean imprisonment and even death.

The Blade is celebrating its 45th anniversary this year and our Pride float will reflect the changes in both the LGBT community as well as at the paper itself — from our early days as a black-and-white one-sheet newsletter featuring stories about police harassment to our modern incarnation complete with social media platforms and mobile app.

If there’s one common thread in all the thousands of stories the Blade has published over the years it’s our focus on telling the stories of LGBT people. Some readers still occasionally question why we disclose the sexual orientation of sources in our stories. The reason speaks to our core mission of chronicling our own history and overcoming hate and bias through visibility. Encouraging visibility is also why Pride celebrations remain important. Not everyone lives in LGBT-friendly places like D.C. They come from rural Virginia, Pennsylvania, Western Maryland and other locales that seem close by but for some can feel a world away from a city like Washington with its pro-LGBT politicians, an openly gay candidate running for mayor, marriage equality law and progressive laws protecting transgender residents.

So as we celebrate Pride this weekend in D.C., let’s be mindful that marriage equality isn’t the only goal of the movement and that when the weekend’s revelry ends we need to recommit ourselves to finishing the job.

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

05
Jun
2014

Marriage lawsuit filed in N.D.

North Dakota, gay news, Washington Blade

State Seal of North Dakota

BISMARCK, N.D. — Seven gay and lesbian couples on June 6 filed a federal lawsuit challenging North Dakota’s same-sex marriage ban.

The Associated Press reported the couples filed the lawsuit with the U.S. District Court in Fargo that challenges the state’s constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman and its refusal to recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in other states.

North Dakota had been the last state without gay nuptials in which same-sex couples had not filed a lawsuit seeking marriage rights since the U.S. Supreme Court last June struck down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act.

The AP reported that Josh Newville, a Minneapolis lawyer, is representing the North Dakota couples. He filed a federal lawsuit last month on behalf of six same-sex couples in neighboring South Dakota who are seeking marriage rights in their state.

11
Jun
2014


Study finds LGBT health care improving

LGBT Health, gay news, Washington Blade, health care, improving

(Public domain image)

WASHINGTON — A new report finds that things are improving for LGBT people because of better access to health care, Benefitspro.com, a Summit Professional Network publication, reports.

Citing a new study called “Health and Access to Care and Coverage for LGBT Individuals in the U.S.” from the Kaiser Family Foundation, the site reports findings that say that while LGBT people still tend to have more physical and mental health challenges than their straight counterparts, their needs are being increasingly recognized and met.

Researchers evaluated data from the U.S. Census Bureau, various state agencies, the Institute of Medicine, the National Center for Transgender Equality, the Centers for Disease Control and more to issue the report. Recent factors such as the Affordable Care Act’s implementation and the Supreme Court’s DOMA ruling were also considered, the article said.

The report credits the Affordable Care Act and the rejection of DOMA with “reshaping the health care and coverage landscape for (LGBT) individuals and their families.”

15
Jan
2014

Electing more out women to public office

Tammy Baldwin, women, gay news, Washington Blade

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

By STEPHANIE SCHRIOCK

There is a big difference between being a topic of conversation and being a part of the conversation. If we want a truly representative democracy, we need to elect a government that actually looks like our nation of individuals – of every gender, race, religion and orientation.

EMILY’s List works on making that vision a reality by supporting diverse Democratic women candidates for every level of office. And we have work to do: We elected an historic number of women in 2012, but women are still only 19 percent of Congress. That’s one of the reasons we’ll fight for the underdog candidate when we know she is the right one.

In 2011, when everyone told us that Tammy Baldwin couldn’t win a Senate race in Wisconsin, we put everything we had behind her and made it happen. We’d been standing with Tammy for years and knew she was a champion for every Wisconsinite. And, in 2012, Baldwin made history when she was elected as our nation’s first openly gay United States Senator.

Having her voice in the Senate makes a difference. Having Kyrsten Sinema’s voice in the House of Representatives makes a difference. Having Annise Parker as mayor of Houston makes a difference.

Having LGBT voices in the halls of power is not just important, it’s essential. It’s something we need to work on every month, not just Pride Month, because the work these women do has a lasting impact.

Women like current candidate for governor of Maryland, Del. Heather Mizeur, who has done incredible work to bring marriage equality to her state. As a city councilor she helped Takoma Park become the first municipality to pass a resolution in support of same-sex marriage and as a state delegate, her passionate floor speech helped secure final passage for statewide marriage equality. And women like candidate for Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey who, as assistant attorney general took on the federal government and worked working tirelessly to challenge DOMA and see it overturned.

In Houston, Mayor Annise Parker championed an ordinance that would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Despite threats of a recall, Parker refuses to put political games ahead of the rights of the people of Houston. In Nevada, state Sen. Pat Spearman, an advocate for LGBT people of color, ensured gender identity protections were included in hate crimes prevention laws. Oregon’s House Speaker Tina Kotek played a large role in the passage of the Oregon Family Fairness Act, the Oregon Equality Act and strengthening laws to protect students from bullying in schools.

Elections matter. Electing these women has changed their towns and states and our country. Electing more LGBT women and more women LGBT allies will make ours a more inclusive country.

Right now, the EMILY’s List women in the Senate have a 100 percent record on supporting the overturning of DOMA, backing an LGBT-inclusive Violence Against Women Act, voting for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and publicly backing marriage equality. That’s a record I am proud of.

One of the bravest things you can do in a democracy is put your name on the ballot. Especially when you may not meet the stereotypes of a candidate, or be the most obvious person to run for office.

We need to stand with the women brave enough to do just that. This is a nation of individuals, and it should be a nation where everyone can be proud of what makes them unique, and have their voices heard.

Stephanie Schriock is president of EMILY’s List.

17
Jun
2014