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Rubio wins battle against gay black judicial nominee

Marco Rubio, Florida, Republican Party, United States Senate, gay news, Washington Blade

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) won his battle against a gay black judicial nominee. (Washington Blade file photo by Lee Whitman)

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has won his battle against the White House over the confirmation of a gay black judicial nominee to the federal bench.

At the start of the year, the White House submitted to the Senate a list of more than 200 nominations previously named by Obama. But, as first reported by The Huffington Post, William Thomas, whom Obama named for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, isn’t among the nominees.

A White House official confirmed for the Washington Blade that Thomas wasn’t resubmitted.

“The nomination of Judge William Thomas was returned by the Senate and Sen. Rubio has made his objection clear, so the president chose not to renominate him,” the official said.

Had Thomas been confirmed by the Senate, he would have been the first openly gay black male to sit on the federal bench. (Deborah Batts, confirmed to the federal bench in 1994 and the first-ever out person to sit on the federal judiciary, is also black.)

Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, was among those expressing disappointment that the Thomas nomination didn’t succeed.

“We supported the Thomas nomination,” Sainz said. “We are disappointed that Judge Thomas was not re-nominated but we know that Sen. Rubio’s opposition to Thomas is unwavering and that the senator would not have let this exceptionally qualified judge move forward.”

Over the course of more than a year since Obama first nominated Thomas in November 2012, the nomination has been blocked. Rubio refused to hand in the “blue slip” to the Senate Judiciary Committee to allow the nomination to go forward, even though the Florida senator initially recommended Thomas and the nominee received a rating of “well-qualified” from the American Bar Association.

Faced with accusations that he was holding up Thomas because of his race and sexual orientation, Rubio pointed to the way Thomas as a state judge in the Miami-Dade Circuit handled two cases as reasons for holding up the nomination. The objection in one case was for being too lenient; the objection in the other was for being too harsh.

One was the case of Michael Traverso, who killed a cyclist in a hit-and-run accident while driving on a suspended license. Rubio’s office cites concerns that Thomas sentenced Traverso to the minimum sentence of 22.8 months in jail, less time served, amounting to only 364 days.

The other involves Joel Lebron, who took part in the 2002 gang rape and murder of 18-year-old Ana Maria Angel. According to Rubio’s office, Thomas twice suppressed confessions of perpetrators of the crime including the confession of Lebron, who pulled the trigger.

The reasons that Rubio’s office offered for blocking the nomination are in dispute. Attorneys involved in the cases wrote letters to Rubio last year, saying Thomas acted responsibly.

A Senate staffer confirmed for the Blade this week that Rubio had never returned his “blue slip” to allow the Thomas nomination to move forward.

LGBT advocates who had been pushing the Thomas expressed disappointment over the missed opportunity of confirming the first openly gay black male to the federal bench.

Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, said the fallout was troublesome because more diversity is needed on the federal bench.

“We need more diversity in the federal judiciary, not less and it’s disappointing that Judge William Thomas was not included among the nominees the White House submitted to the Senate this week,” Carey said. “Sen. Marco Rubio’s procedural maneuvering to stop this nominee was unacceptable and harmful given that the vacancy on the Southern District Court of Florida has been classified as a judicial emergency.”

Denis Dison, a spokesperson for the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, also expressed disappointment that the Thomas nomination didn’t succeed. The Presidential Appointment Project, a Victory Fund-led initiative, recommended Thomas to the White House.

“It’s hard to see how Sen. Rubio’s bizarre behavior with regard to this nomination is anything but politically motivated, and that’s a shame,” Dison said. “Judge Thomas is highly qualified and his nomination enjoyed broad support. The fact that he is openly gay should have no bearing on the Senate confirmation process.”

But Thomas wasn’t the only pending LGBT judicial nominee before the Senate. One other remains: Judith Levy, a lesbian whom Obama nominated in July for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. Her nomination is still before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Brooke Sammon, a Rubio spokesperson, pointed to a previous statement she issued on Thomas when asked if the Florida senator was satisfied his nomination didn’t succeed.

“The nomination of Judge Thomas has also been thoroughly reviewed, and Sen. Rubio has determined that Thomas’s record on the state court raises serious concerns about his fitness for a lifetime federal appointment,” Sammon said. “Those concerns include questions about his judicial temperament and his willingness to impose appropriate criminal sentences, particularly in the two high-profile cases of Michael Traverso and Joel Lebron last year. After reviewing Thomas’s record, Sen. Rubio cannot support moving forward with the nomination.”


Obama nominates black lesbian to serve on federal judiciary

President Obama nominated a black lesbian on Thursday to the federal judiciary. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key).

President Obama nominated a black lesbian on Thursday to the federal judiciary. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

President Obama added to his list of openly gay judicial appointments on Thursday by naming a black lesbian to serve on the federal court.

Obama nominated Staci Michelle Yandle for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois on Thursday as part of a group of four nominees.

“I am pleased to nominate these distinguished individuals to serve on the United States District Court bench,” Obama said in a statement. “I am confident they will serve the American people with integrity and a steadfast commitment to justice.”

Yandle, who was recommended by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), will need confirmation from the U.S. Senate before she’s seated on the bench.

In a statement, Durbin called Yandle an “excellent candidate” to serve on the federal judiciary in Illinois.

“She will bring a wealth of knowledge and litigation experience to the position,” Durbin said. “I am pleased that President Obama has nominated her today. I will be working with Senator Kirk to see her nomination approved by the Senate.”

The U.S. Senate has already confirmed a total of eight openly gay judges to the federal bench, and Obama named seven of the them. If confirmed, Yandle would be the first openly gay person to serve Illinois on the federal judiciary.

In an interview with Trial Associate in July, Yandle said she thinks the plaintiff bar can be more diverse “whether you are talking about ethnic, gender, or sexual orientation diversity” — a rule she said could apply to any profession.

“The plaintiff bar needs to be more embracing of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community,” Yandle said. “When I first started practicing, for a while I did not feel comfortable acknowledging my sexual orientation because I didn’t want it to cost me my job. I wanted to be judged on my merit and my merit alone. Many members of the LGBT community still have that fear. We are a traditional profession that is conservative in many ways.”

According to a bio provided by the White House, Yandle has served as a solo practitioner in southern Illinois since 2007, where she focused her practice on civil litigation in federal and state court. She received her law degree in 1987 from the Vanderbilt University and her bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois in 1983.

Yandle has also engaged in public service, serving by appointment on the Illinois Gaming Board from 1999 to 2001 and on the Illinois Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in the 1990s.

LGBT advocates praised the Yandle nomination for its potential to add diversity to the federal judiciary.

Michael Cole-Schwartz, a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, was among those praising Obama for his choice.

“The nomination of Staci Michelle Yandle is further evidence that the administration is committed to building a judiciary that reflects the diversity of our country,” Cole-Schwartz said. “She is a highly qualified nominee who will serve with distinction.”

Denis Dison, spokesperson for the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, said the confirmation of Yandle to the federal judiciary would enhance the diversity of the courts.

“Our government, including the judiciary, works best when it benefits from the perspectives and experiences of all Americans, so we applaud the president’s effort to increase diversity on the federal bench,” Dison said. “Staci Yandle’s nomination is also a reminder of the enormous talent, professionalism and diversity that exists within the American LGBT community, and we congratulate her on this achievement.”

But Yandle wasn’t the only openly LGBT nominee that Obama named on Thursday. Shamina Singh, executive director for the MasterCard Center for Inclusive Growth, was nominated for a seat on the Board of Directors of the Corporation for National & Community Service

Yandle wouldn’t be the first openly lesbian African American to serve on the federal judiciary. That distinction belongs to Deborah Batts, whom the Senate confirmed during the Clinton administration in 1994 for a seat on the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York.

It’s also not the first time that Obama has nominated an openly LGBT black person to serve on the federal judiciary. In November 2012, Obama nominated William Thomas for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

However, after initially recommending the nominee, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) objected to Thomas and held up the nomination. After no action was taken on the nomination over more than a year, Obama didn’t renew his recommendation of Thomas at the start of the year.

In related news, another openly LGBT judicial nominee advanced in the Senate on the same day that Obama named Yandle for a seat on the federal courts.

The Senate Judiciary Committee reported out Judith Levy, whom Obama nominated in July for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, by voice vote as part of a group of 32 nominees. She currently serves as an assistant U.S. attorney in Michigan.

D’Arcy Kemnitz, executive director of the LGBT Bar Association, praised the committee for moving forward with the Levy nomination and urged the full Senate to confirm her.

“Just as women, African Americans, Latinos and others have made our judicial system stronger through their expertise and experiences, openly lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender judges and attorneys also ensure our courts reflect our country,” Kemnitz said. “We now call on the full Senate to vote on Levy’s nomination without delay.”


Marcus Brandon seeks to become first out black congressman

Marcus Brandon, North Carolina, Greensboro, gay news, Washington Blade

N.C. state Rep.Marcus Brandon (D-Greensboro) is running for Congress in North Carolina. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Marcus Brandon has a chance to make history.

If he wins his bid to represent North Carolina’s 12th congressional district in the U.S. House, he could become the first openly gay black person elected to Congress.

Brandon, 39, says that distinction would be “really significant” because black people within the LGBT community tend to suffer most in terms of discrimination, but he asks potential supporters to look at his full body of work as the reason to back his candidacy.

“I tell people don’t vote for me because I’m gay, [but] because I passed more bills than anybody in the race,” Brandon said. “And so, we’re about effectiveness. So, for people to see my work, it really makes it a much more powerful conversation to say, ‘You know what, we really don’t care about his sexuality; we’re just glad he put 10 new schools in our district.’”

The congressional hopeful spoke to the Washington Blade on Thursday in the offices of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, which has endorsed his candidacy.

“I felt that underrepresented communities, like the one I live in, were not really having true representation in terms of being able to deal with structural issues concerning our community, dealing with education and equality, dealing with income inequality, environmental inequality,” Brandon said.

The 12th congressional district, which is located in central North Carolona and comprises portions of Charlotte, Winston-Salem and High Point, is heavily Democratic. It has been vacant since former Rep. Mel Watt resigned this year to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency and a special election has been set for November.

The district has a significant African-American population; 47.2 percent of the residents are white, while 44.6 percent are black. More than a quarter of residents in the district live below the poverty line.

“The social ills that come out of that — I have the highest HIV rates, I have the highest infant mortality rates, I have the highest drop out rates,” Brandon said. “Whenever you say 41 percent of African-American males don’t graduate, that number doubles in that community.”

Brandon has experience in the political arena and distinction of toppling an incumbent in his own party. In 2011, he was elected to represent Greensboro in the State House of Representatives after beating four-term lawmaker and newspaper owner Earl Jones in the Democratic primary. He’s currently the only openly gay member of the North Carolina General Assembly.

Yet again in his run for Congress, Brandon has competition for the Democratic nomination. Several other Democrats are in the race to claim the Democratic banner for the seat, including State Rep. Alma Adams, attorney George Battle III, attorney Curtis Osborne and State Sen. Malcolm Graham.

But Brandon said the most recent fundraising numbers reveal that only two Democratic candidates are in a position to “run a sufficient race here.” Brandon has raised the most, taking in $213,804 and having $71,000 in cash on hand, while Adams comes in second, taking in $202,000 and having $92,000 in cash on hand. The primary is May 6.

“I’ve never lost an election, and I don’t intend to lose this one,” Brandon said. “We have the biggest organization, the one with the most momentum and we fully anticipate it to be a very close election, but I have no doubt that we’ll win this race.”

David Wasserman, House editor at the Cook Political Report, said it’s too early to determine what will happen in the primary, but added Brandon is a strong candidate.

“It’s so early in the race that it’s difficult to tell who will comprise the top tier,” Wasserman said. “But it’s safe to say Brandon will be a formidable contender, because he appeals to multiple constituency groups in the Democratic Party.”

If elected to Congress, Brandon said he’d work to address HIV/AIDS by restructuring the process of block grants from the U.S. government.

“We can’t treat Cincinnati, Ohio, like you treat High Point, North Carolina, or Charlotte, North Carolina,” Brandon said. “I, as a state legislator, was never able to move that money around to people who could do the work simply because of the control the federal government has on a very generic way that we deal with funding.”

Brandon said one piece of legislation long-pursued by the LGBT community, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, would be “a big priority” for him.

The congressional hopeful said he sponsored a bill in the state legislature that would bar anti-LGBT workplace discrimination in North Carolina and worked to ensure it included teachers and protections for transgender people.

“One of my colleagues in the Senate did an ENDA bill that excluded teachers because they were fearful of the conversation,” Brandon said. “I think that’s why it’s important to have LGBT people at the table when we’re making policy because we know that any kind of conversation actually moves people from one place to the next, and that’s always been a vision for us. To exclude anybody from a conversation on equality is not something that we do.”

As ENDA languishes in Congress, Brandon said he’d like to see President Obama sign an executive order prohibiting LGBT discrimination among federal contractors because it would serve as a “reference point” for the passage of legislation.

“I think it definitely would help simply because everybody needs a reference point to know what’s right,” Brandon said. “There’s a lot of fear-based rhetoric that goes along with this, and I think that if we have a reference point … it makes it a lot easier for that domino effect to take place.”

Brandon isn’t the only openly gay black candidate in the middle of a congressional bid. Also pursuing a seat is Steve Dunwood, a Michigan candidate who’s seeking to represent Detroit in the U.S. House.

Brandon also isn’t the only openly gay candidate running in North Carolina. Just this week, gay singer and “American Idol” runner-up Clay Aiken announced that he’s pursuing the Democratic nomination in the state’s 2nd congressional district in an attempt to unseat Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.).

Brandon said he welcomes a fellow openly gay congressional candidate in North Carolina running at the same time — mostly because he thinks it’s time for Ellmers to end her tenure as a member of Congress.

“I’m very excited about Clay running for Congress because I’m a Democrat and we really need that seat,” Brandon said. “Renee Ellmers has done nothing but show contempt and hate for our president, and so, I think Clay Aiken has studied issues and always been passionate about social issues. And he’s just like me, he’s just a guy that happens to be gay and wants to make change.”

Brandon was elected to the state legislature just one year before North Carolina approved Amendment One, a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and marriage-like unions. Brandon voted against it but the legislature approved the measure, as did North Carolina voters.

Although Brandon said his state is ready for marriage equality, he blamed redistricting in favor of Republicans as the reason why it hasn’t happened.

Amid numerous lawsuits making their way to the Supreme Court, including one filed in North Carolina, Brandon said a ruling from the high court would be a “much quicker route” to bringing marriage rights to gay couples in the state.

“I do believe the people of North Carolina, and polls shows that we are there, and North Carolina is ready for equality,” Brandon said. “I think the country is ready for equality, it just takes the political will, like it always does.”

Torey Carter, chief operations officer at the Victory Fund, said Brandon’s election to Congress is important because no openly gay black person has ever been elected to the body.

“North Carolina State Representative Marcus Brandon’s endorsement from the Victory Fund comes at a key moment in history where currently in the United States Congress there is not an out gay black member of Congress,” Carter said. “We are excited for Brandon’s primary on May 6 where he will hopefully shatter one of the many glass ceilings that need to be broken.”


Bipartisan organizations will shape our movement

LGBT Republicans, LGBT politics, gay news, Washington Blade

The Victory Fund supports the election of openly LGBT candidates, both Democrats and Republicans as well as independents, who have demonstrated leadership in advancing freedom and equal rights for all LGBT Americans.



As a Democrat from San Francisco and a Republican from New England, we have put our heads together on why the work the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund does is critically important to achieving LGBT equality.

From Arizona to Mississippi to Kansas, recent attempts to pass anti-LGBT legislation remind us of the adage “if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.” These examples illustrate why it is so important that we elect openly LGBT candidates to office: to ensure that our voice is heard, and that basic freedom and human rights are guaranteed for everyone, regardless of whom they are or who they love. That goal has remained the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund’s central credo ever since its founding in 1991.

Last week, the Victory Fund was proud to announce the endorsement of two openly gay congressional candidates: Dan Innis, running in New Hampshire, and Richard Tisei, running in Massachusetts. These two candidates were key players in their states’ push for marriage equality. They also happen to be Republicans. We understand the frustration that many individuals in our community are having with Victory’s endorsements of Republicans, particularly in races against strong Democratic allies. Victory’s endorsements do not take place without considerable amounts of forethought and planning.

This debate brings our community to a critical juncture. Without openly LGBT members of Congress from both parties, how will we continue to move full speed ahead toward the equality we deserve?  The answer does not lie in concentrating on short-term partisan gains, but by continuing to endorse openly LGBT viable candidates across the political spectrum who have a demonstrated leadership record in support of LGBT equality.

We believe it is important to acknowledge our appreciation for the significant contributions of our allies and what they have been able to accomplish at all levels of government, but it is Victory’s firm belief that to sustainably move the needle forward we must help create change in both cloakrooms. As we have seen with marriage equality in state legislatures, out LGBT legislators have to be at the table to help their colleagues understand how these votes affect them as people. Put another way, does anyone think Arizona Republicans would have had such an easy time passing anti-LGBT discrimination if an LGBT colleague sat alongside them in those caucus meetings?

If elected, Dan Innis and Richard Tisei will have the ability to speak to their colleagues about why DOMA needs to be fully repealed. As married men with same-sex spouses, they deserve to have the same privileges as their peers. They will be credible voices, spoken from personal experiences as openly gay Americans — about the need for progress on laws, such as ENDA to protect LGBT workers. We know this because their commitment to equality is not new; they both have considerable track records on LGBT issues.

Many in the LGBT community rightfully call on the Republican Party to drop its outdated opposition to LGBT rights. But to do so will require change to the GOP from the inside as well as the outside, and at all levels of government. That is why Victory supports the election of openly LGBT candidates, both Democrats and Republicans as well as independents, who have demonstrated leadership in advancing freedom and equal rights for all LGBT Americans. The election of openly LGBT candidates in recent years has helped bring that goal within reach — but we cannot expect to achieve all we deserve without having out LGBT Republicans at all levels of public office, especially in Congress.


Importance of openly gay elected officials

Jim Graham, Washington, D.C., gay news, Washington Blade, gay elected

Gay D.C. Councilmember Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) (Washington Blade file photo by Jeff Surprenant)

Like so many others, I have gone through many stages as a gay man. Knowing who I am, and being comfortable with all that, has taken time. I have gone from denying my sexuality and marrying a woman (who I loved then and still do to this day), to divorce. What followed were awkward personal times working in the U.S. Senate where there was then zero tolerance for being gay.

But when I became the volunteer President of Whitman-Walker Clinic on April 1, 1981, I came out of the closet with a roar — for a time everyone (whether they liked it or not) had to be told by me that I was gay. Those were my “Billboard Years.” More change followed after 16 years as head of the Clinic. I became more “right sized.” Being gay was a key part but only one part of my make-up. When I ran for D.C. Council in 1998, I ran on that basis and got elected, and re-elected ever since.

With all that in mind, I was struck by a recent suggestion by a Blade columnist that it wouldn’t matter if the D.C. Council went from its current two gay members to none at all.

It’s amazing that a gay columnist for a gay newspaper would suggest that not having gay elected leaders is of no significance! Harvey Milk must be turning over in his grave.

I have never campaigned just as a “gay man.” Had I done so, I would never have won. When I was first elected in 1998, Ward One was 71 percent minority population — 46 percent black and 25 percent Latino. I ran against an incumbent, African-American male, well known for his leadership in D.C. and in the national Civil Rights Movement.  In 1998, one out of every four Ward 1 residents were living in poverty. My record at Whitman-Walker demonstrated a commitment to all people as well as poor people –especially those living with HIV and AIDS, from the earliest days of the pandemic.

Why do people vote a particular way? The reasons are limitless, and surely sexual orientation, race, gender, religion, are all part of it. “Identity politics” is hardly dead. It matters — sometimes positive, sometimes negative — that a candidate is gay. It can make a big difference.

My sexual orientation informs what I do and say. But being gay is only part of who I am. I work every day to integrate all aspects of my life.

Yet to suggest as the columnist did “that LGBT residents are fully integrated into the fabric of local life” — and that “sexual orientation of elected officials is inconsequential” is just plain wrong. LGBT candidates bring a unique experience to government.

For example, I was just honored by the DC Center for my work on a recently passed bill establishing an LGBTQ homeless services program with 10 beds for these kids only.

Would that have passed without the energetic support of a gay Council member? Maybe, maybe not. But the DC Center surely thought it made a positive difference.

And why else does the Victory Fund endorse openly gay and lesbian candidates?  It’s not because — as the columnist suggested — “that the gay community is fully integrated into our different communities.” It’s because that having one of our own at the table counts.

But that is just the start. I, along with hundreds of other out LGBT elected officials, cannot win without earning the trust of our communities to stand with them and fight for everyone.


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,” 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.


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,,” 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.


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, 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.


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.”


Queery: Grainne Griffiths

Victory Congressional Interns, Victory Fund, Grainne Griffiths, Gay News, Washington Blade

Victory Congressional Intern, Grainne Griffiths, 21, from Tucson, Az., outside of the U.S. Capitol building on Tuesday, July 23, 2013. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Washington is awash in summer interns from all over the country. One of this year’s crop is Grainne Griffiths, a 21-year-old Tucson, Ariz., native who’s getting ready to enter her senior year at Tufts University near Boston and is doing an internship on the Hill with the Victory Fund as one of its Victory Congressional Interns.

The past few months have been her first time living in Washington, a city the young lesbian says she enjoys and would consider moving to after graduation.

Her internship has her on the Hill working in a House representative’s office Mondays through Thursdays, then on Fridays the Fund has high-profile LGBT activists as guest speakers for the eight interns in the program.

“We’ve had a chance to see some LGBT-specific policy and we were here when DOMA was announced and also back in February when they had the arguments … so we’ve really had some great exposure to a lot of amazing things,” she says. “It’s been great.”

She’s a double major at Tufts in women’s gender and sexuality studies and philosophy. She’s not sure what she wants to do career wise after graduating but says she’s increasingly realizing that parlaying her academic theory work into the “real world” could be a challenge.

Griffiths’ family — she says they’re “100 percent supportive” — is in Colorado now. She’s single and enjoys roller skating, tattoos, movies and ice cream in her free time.


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

I don’t really make a habit of coming out to other people, but I am very open to answering questions and letting people into my identities. The hardest people to tell are usually non-queer competent health care providers.


Who’s your LGBT hero?

Gertrude Stein, Heather Love, Mara Keisling, Tammy Baldwin and Kyrsten Sinema, among many others.

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

I just turned 21, so I don’t really have the best answer for this question. I do love late night people watching sitting outside at a sidewalk café or waiting for the Metro. I’ve learned a lot about the people who live and work in this city.


Describe your dream wedding.

While I fully support people who want to get married, the only wedding-related dream I have is being able to visit my partner in the hospital or share my work benefits without needing to be married at all.


What non-LGBT issue are you most passionate about?

Respecting every single person’s right to bodily autonomy, be it preserving access to abortion, promoting consent culture on my university campus or supporting and empowering people to make the choices that are right for their individual circumstances.


What historical outcome would you change?

Right now, I would probably go back and add some language to the Constitution of the United States clarifying what separation of church and state truly means. There is a lot of ideological and physical violence done in the name of religion in this country and I wish the Constitution prohibited this more explicitly.


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

I would have to say Jodie Foster’s pseudo-coming out speech at the Golden Globes this year. I couldn’t really even explain why, it just had a visceral effect on me.


On what do you insist?

Candor balanced with respect and encouragement.


What was your last Facebook post or Tweet?

I just went to a Tegan and Sara concert, and so my last status was “Tegan and Sara = pure catharsis — at Merriweather Post Pavilion.” It was a phenomenal show!


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

I don’t think my life is nearly interesting enough to merit a book.


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

Nothing, except be confused as to why such a discovery was worthy of anyone’s time or money.


What do you believe in beyond the physical world? 

As a philosophy major, I want to say that I’m not even sure that I believe in the physical world. I believe in my own experiences and the experiences of those around me.


What’s your advice for LGBT movement leaders?

One of my mentors recently told me that I should never assume that my experiences and priorities are the default for other people, which I think is tremendously important. There are so many unique voices in the LGBTQ community and true progress requires valuing them all.


What would you walk across hot coals for?

A chance to meet Simone de Beauvoir.


What LGBT stereotype annoys you most?

The idea that asexuality is a myth or an identity that people take on to camouflage some sort of fixable flaw.


What’s your favorite LGBT movie?

What a difficult question! It’s a tossup between the lesbian vampire film “The Hunger” and the John Waters classic “Desperate Living.”


What’s the most overrated social custom?

Too many people are uneasy about lapses in conversation. I think silence is often more generative than meaningless chatter.


What trophy or prize do you most covet?

I would like to be an elected official someday. Nothing would mean more than being entrusted with the confidence of the people who voted for me.


What do you wish you’d known at 18?

I wish I had known to focus less time and energy on what I thought I was “supposed” to be doing and more of both on what felt right. I’m still working on that one.


Why Washington?

There are always so many simultaneously meaningful and sustaining things going on in this city. I’m not sure what else you could ask for.