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Thousands of right-wingers march in Paris, yelling `Jews, get out of France!`

France's Republican party, the UMP, and the country's religious right, have opened a Pandora's box of intolerance.

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03
Feb
2014

At last, signs of progress in Michigan

Chris Johnson, gay news, Washington Blade, Michigan

Washington Blade political reporter Chris Johnson. (Washington Blade photo by Damien Salas)

It was finally my turn: After years of covering LGBT politics at the Washington Blade and the advancement of marriage equality across the nation, my home state of Michigan became the latest place (albeit briefly) to grant same-sex couples the right to marry.

U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman’s ruling striking down Michigan’s 2004 ban on same-sex marriage last week is on hold as the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals considers the case, but the ruling marks the first time I’m aware of that gay people in Michigan, which doesn’t have a single major pro-LGBT law, were told they’re equal to their fellow Michiganders.

Without a doubt, I was beaming with pride for Michigan, where I was born and raised in Lansing and attended college at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. My home state became the latest ember the torch of marriage equality lit up in anticipation of a nationwide U.S. Supreme Court ruling next year. The ruling was a signal that when I return to the place where I grew up to see my parents and friends, I should expect to bring with me equal protection under the law for my (eventual) family.

That view is in line with a majority of Michigan residents. According to a poll last year from the Michigan firm Epic MRA, 55 percent of Michigan voters are behind same-sex marriage, and that number inches up to 57 percent when respondents were told a change in law wouldn’t mean religious organizations would have to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies.

But my excitement is tempered because Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and Attorney General Bill Schuette are appealing the decision and ensured no gay couple can marry in the state as the litigation moves forward by obtaining a stay from the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

In an op-ed for the Detroit Free Press, Schuette writes that it’s “fundamentally wrong” to treat people differently based on the color of skin, gender, race or ethnicity, but apparently has a different view on sexual orientation.

“The notion that marriage would be anything else has only emerged in the last few decades,” Schuette writes. “It is not irrational for voters to support the belief that a mom and a dad are not interchangeable.”

It’s the latest in a string of anti-gay actions from an administration that bills itself as moderate in nature. I suppose we must give Snyder some credit for distancing himself from the anti-gay views spewing from Republican National Committee member Dave Agema, but the governor also signed into law a bill stripping Michigan public employees of same-sex partner benefits — an action that was eventually overturned by the courts.

That hostility toward gay people, unfortunately, is much of the Michigan I remember growing up — at least in school. Just recently, I saw a study on the bullying of youth that found body type and sexual orientation are two of the most common reasons why kids are harassed at school. I had both going for me.

As a teen short of stature growing up in a blue-collar area who, for some reason, was not into girls like my classmates, I would often cry in my dad’s car before being dropped off for middle school in the morning and not want to go. Thankfully, I was never physically assaulted, but my fellow students intimidated me, excluded me from activities and spewed vitriolic comments about me (sometimes cloaked in religious proselytization) that made me and my education suffer.

But, as I and so many others who had a similar experience found, it gets better. That kid grew up to move to D.C. and join the White House press corps as political reporter for the Washington Blade. Someone who’d want to psychoanalyze me might see a link between my troubled youth and why I question sources so fiercely when the administration isn’t doing enough on LGBT rights.

I look forward to the day when the lawsuit is settled and marriage equality is the law in my home state. Until then, my feelings about the situation are as conflicted as I feel about Michigan, which, even though I had troubled experience growing up, is the place in many ways I consider still home.

27
Mar
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

Redefining marriage?

The Marriage Act, Liza Monroy, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, marriage equality, books, gay news, Washington Blade

(Image courtesy Soft Skull Press)

‘The Marriage Act: The Risk I Took to Keep My best Friend in America, and What It Taught Us About Love’

By Liza Monroy

Soft Skull Press

$16.95

320 pages

The room was crowded, yet filled with only two people.

At least that’s what it seemed as the groom looked at his beloved: there was no one else in the room but them. You could see it on their faces, the way their eyes danced together, alone in a sea of well-wishers, seeing only one another.

So what makes a marriage work? Is it effort, honesty, trust, acceptance, love? Or, as in the new book “The Marriage Act” by Liza Monroy, should you strive to marry your best friend — even if it’s illegal?

Throughout her life, Liza Monroy says there’ve been three important men: her father; her boyfriend, Julian; and her best friend, Emir. She’d barely seen her father since she was 6 years old, following her parents’ divorce. Julian was in Manhattan, far from Monroy’s L.A. home and, though they were engaged, their relationship was rocky. Emir, however, was nearby — just three blocks away — and Monroy saw him whenever she needed him.

She needed Emir a lot.

They met in college. He was in the U.S. on a student visa, from a country Monroy calls Emirstan. She’d been running from her mother’s influence. He was gay. She is not. They became fast friends. And in the weeks following September 11, 2001, when just being Middle Eastern was cause for suspicion, Emir’s visa was about to expire.

By that time, Monroy’s engagement had fallen apart. She was afraid of love, but more terrified of being alone. She asked Emir to marry her, which seemed like a great solution: Emirstan was intolerant of gay men and deportation was dangerous. Marrying her gay best friend would allow Monroy to practice at marriage. Never mind that the Immigration and Naturalization Service disallowed marriage for a green card’s sake and Monroy’s mother was an INS agent.

But what, exactly, makes a marriage? What characterizes it? If it’s love, then Monroy and Emir had that. If it’s needing one another, they had that, too. Did marriage have to be about sex and babies or is it possible to redefine it?

“The Marriage Act” should be a good book. Surely, it’s unusual enough since it chronicles a gutsy, illegal act that, accidentally, turned out well for all concerned.

It’s good, but not as good as I’d hoped.

With angst that would make Woody Allen proud and a near inability to keep secrets, author Liza Monroy writes of stress, misgivings and sabotaging plans to keep her gay best friend stateside. That would be tolerable, perhaps even madcap, if it wasn’t so repetitive and fussy. Add in many blame-the-parents passages and a falls-flat attempt at humor within a lack of culpability; mix in occasional, bumbling sweetness and not-so-subtle lessons, and you’ve got a memoir that’s, well, passably OK.

I think this book is worth a look-see. If you want to read an unusual story and you can handle the irritations, you might like it. If you’re looking for something a little slicker, though, “The Marriage Act” is an I do — NOT.

19
Feb
2014

Cartoon: Big shoes to fill

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

(Washington Blade cartoon by Ranslem)

22
Apr
2014

Gray says D.C. should recognize Utah marriages

Vincent Gray, gay news, Washington Blade

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray told a meeting of the Stein Club that the city should recognize same-sex marriages performed in Utah before the Supreme Court issued a stay and halted the weddings. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray told a meeting of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club Monday night that he believes the city should recognize same-sex marriages performed in Utah.

Gray said he would consult with D.C. Attorney General Irvin Nathan on the matter. But he said he sees no reason why the city shouldn’t recognize the Utah marriages performed prior to a Supreme Court decision putting same-sex nuptials on hold in the state until the courts resolve the issue.

“I’ll talk to Irv Nathan about it,” Gray said. “But my position would be unequivocally that we ought to do that.”

Gray’s statement on the Utah marriage issue came in response to a question by Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance President Rick Rosendall.

Gray’s response came three days after U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced on Jan. 10 that the federal government would recognize the Utah same-sex marriages. On that same day, Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler told the Blade that Maryland would also recognize the Utah same-sex marriages.

A spokesperson for Nathan told the Blade on Monday that Nathan and his legal team were reviewing the Utah marriage question and would likely develop a position for the District to take on the matter shortly.

A U.S. District Court Judge in Utah startled the state’s conservative political establishment on Dec. 20 when he ruled that Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage violates the U.S. Constitution and refused to put a stay on his ruling while state officials appealed his decision. The Tenth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals also refused to place a stay on the right of gay and lesbian couples to obtain marriage licenses in the state.

During the period between the District Court judge’s Dec. 20 ruling and the Supreme Court’s decision to issue the stay on Jan. 6, more than 1,300 gay and lesbian couples married in Utah. Utah’s Republican governor, Gary Herbert, responded to the Supreme Court stay order by declaring the same-sex marriages invalid.

Gay rights attorneys quickly disputed Herbert’s assertion, saying the marriages were performed at a time when the District Court ruled they were legal under the federal Constitution.

Stein Club President Angela Peoples said the club invited Gray to speak before its regularly scheduled monthly meeting Monday night as part of a series of appearances the club has arranged for mayoral and City Council candidates competing in the city’s April 1 Democratic primary.

She said other mayoral candidates, including City Council members Jack Evans (D-Ward 1), Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) and Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) have already appeared before the club.

Others who spoke at the Stein Club meeting on Monday were Council members Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who’s running for re-election; Anita Bonds (D-At-Large), who is also up for re-election; and Vincent Orange (D-At-Large), who is running for mayor.  Also speaking was shadow U.S. House member Nate Bennett-Fleming, who is one of four candidates running against Bonds, and Shadow U.S. Senator Paul Strauss, who is running for re-election.

Gray, who spoke for about 20 minutes before answering questions from club members, acknowledged that several of the eight candidates challenging him in the primary have strong records of support on LGBT issues.

“But the fact of the matter is I’m the only one who’s actually been in the seat where you really implement and have the ability to influence policy as the mayor,” he said. “And as a result, while I think they have done some good things, I don’t think they have come near matching what I have done and I don’t think they will.”

Gray said his support for the LGBT community dates back to his days as a student at D.C.’s Dunbar High School when he observed firsthand how his class valedictorian, who was gay and later realized he was transgender, was subjected to hostility.

“It was painful to me watching what he had to go through, what he had to endure as a human being,” Gray said. “And I said to myself if I ever had the chance I’m going to do something to be able to ensure equality for people who should have the opportunity to be themselves.”

Years later, when he was chair of the D.C. Council at the time the city’s same-sex marriage law came up for a vote in 2009, Gray said he experienced hostility and rejection from same-sex marriage opponents in response to his support for marriage equality.

“Frankly, what I went through as chairman nobody hopefully will ever have to go through,” he told Stein Club members. “I had people screaming at me. There were some ministers that supported me for Ward 7 Council member and then for Chair. And they don’t speak to me anymore,” he said.

“And I said fine. If that’s the way you want to row, that’s all right with me. I know who I am. I know what I stand for and I am not flinching. I am not blinking. This is the right thing to do and we’re going to continue to do the right thing in the District of Columbia. And you all let me know when you get on board, OK?”

The latter comment drew applause from club members, many of whom are supporting Gray’s re-election.

The Stein Club’s former president and current vice president for political affairs, Martin Garcia, announced at the meeting that the club will hold a joint candidate forum and endorsement meeting for City Council candidates on Feb. 26 and a combined mayoral candidate forum and endorsement meeting on March 5.

Garcia said the club has yet to decide whether to make endorsements in other races, including  the congressional delegate seat current held by Democrat Eleanor Holmes Norton; the races for “shadow” U.S. senator and U.S. representative; and Advisory Neighborhood Commission races.

14
Jan
2014

A reality check from Uganda

Yoweri Museveni, Uganda, gay news, Washington Blade

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed into law a bill that imposes harsh sentences on LGBT Ugandans. (Photo by the U.K. Department for International Development; courtesy Wikimedia Commons).

Our movement for full equality for LGBT people continues to gain momentum. We’ve seen tremendous strides in terms of marriage equality (a total of 17 states now grant the freedom to marry) and most recently with the increased visibility of black LGBT public figures. But Uganda’s current crisis and the close call in Arizona remind us that we must remain vigilant—that despite the many trails being blazed, we are still very much in the heat of the battle and all is not won yet.

Basketball star Jason Collins recently made history as the first openly gay male player in a major sports league when he joined the Brooklyn Nets. Earlier this year, Good Morning America anchor Robin Roberts spoke about her longtime girlfriend for the first time on national television. Trans legends-in-the-making Laverne Cox, breakout actress of the Netflix original series Orange is the New Black, hate crime survivor CeCe McDonald, and New York Times bestselling author Janet Mock are leading the national conversation around transgender equality.

On the policy front, a U.S. district judge ruled that Texas’ ban on marriage equality is unconstitutional. The Maryland State Senate recently passed the Fairness for All Marylanders Act, a bill that would prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity, which now heads to the House. And Washington, D.C. now requires insurance companies to provide health coverage to trans residents, including gender reassignment surgery.

Paints a pretty picture of progress, doesn’t it? Well, look a little closer.

Just this month alone, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed into law a bill that imposes harsh sentences on LGBT Ugandans; Arizona passed then vetoed a piece of legislation that would have made it legal for business owners to discriminate against LGBT customers; and the 2014 Olympics brought to light the persecution of our Russian brothers and sisters. This all happened in February, the shortest month of the year. Even worse, it happened on our watch.

Under Ugandan’s anti-gay law, anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts will be sentenced to life in prison. President Museveni has cited “science” and other unfounded claims to justify this atrocious injustice against our black LGBT family overseas. Not only is it imperative that the U.S. Department of State expedite the asylum process for all Ugandans affected by this oppressive and inhumane law, it is critical that the U.S. take responsibility for and address its ties to homophobia in African countries. The truth is that when the radical right started losing ground on American soil, they invested their anti-LGBT tactics elsewhere and capitalized on a painful legacy of colonialism and white supremacy.

Addressing what is happening in Uganda goes deeper than threatening to pull U.S. foreign aid. Furthermore, our national response to what is happening in the East African nation and in countries like Nigeria speaks to our complacency and lack of urgency around matters that are literally life and death for black and brown LGBT bodies.

After Arizona’s legislature passed the controversial SB 1062, some Ugandans pointed out our hypocrisy. Everyone from local advocates to President Obama condemned the Ugandan bill, but we could barely get our own affairs together stateside. The biggest irony was the hundreds of activists that rallied and urged Gov. Jan Brewer to veto the Arizona legislation. Where were the crowds for our Ugandan brothers and sisters who will be trying to seek asylum?

It’s time we truly treat a threat to injustice anywhere with the gravity it deserves. It’s time we recognize that progress takes full partnership. Despite of our recent advancements, we still need all hands on deck, especially when it’s the lives of black LGBT people at stake—because chances are the level of outrage and action will be utterly delayed, if present.

National campaigns launched around the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, speaking against the country’s ban on so-called “LGBT propaganda.” And rightfully so. There are laws that limit adoption by same-sex couples and Russian President Vladimir Putin has equated LGBT people to pedophiles. But where was the mass mobilization when a Ugandan tabloid printed a list of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Ugandans with their photographs—a “witch hunt” reminiscent of the 2010 paper that ran both photos and addresses with the heinous headline “Hang Them?” Where was the global outcry?

That is why here at the National Black Justice Coalition, we are revising our institutional policy to take a stand internationally. We have begun turning directly to advocates abroad and asking what is the international support that they need. Going forward, increasing acceptance and respect for black LGBT people in every corner of the globe will guide the organization’s agenda as we continue to build a safer and more inclusive nation and world.

Our movement has certainly come a long way but we have so much further to go. Uganda is our reality check. And it doesn’t get realer than that.

Sharon J. Lettman-Hicks serves as executive director and CEO of the National Black Justice Coalition, a national civil rights organization dedicated to empowering black LGBT people. For more information, visit nbjc.org.

19
Mar
2014

Gay marriage legalized in Pennsylvania by Santorum’s judge!

Federal judge strikes down state's DOMA law, wedding licenses already being granted to gay couples!

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20
May
2014

Anti-gay consultant working for Gray campaign

Bob King, National Organization for Marriage, NOM, gay news, Washington Blade

Vincent Gray’s campaign manager says Robert King is ‘not a political adviser’ to the campaign. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

A Ward 5 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner who was paid by an anti-gay group in 2010 to work on the unsuccessful effort to overturn D.C.’s same-sex marriage law in a voter referendum is working for Mayor Vincent Gray’s re-election campaign as a get-out-the-vote consultant aimed at senior citizens.

Chuck Thies, Gray’s campaign manager, said he hired Robert “Bob” King to assist with the effort to transport senior citizens to the polls on the day of the city’s April 1 Democratic primary.

“Bob is not a political adviser to this campaign,” Thies told the Blade. “He has no influence whatsoever on public policy, internal policy, or strategy — nothing — zero,” said Thies.

Instead, King, who has had ties to the city’s senior citizen community for more than 30 years, will organize logistics to transport mostly low-income seniors to the polls by bus on Election Day, Thies said.

King’s role as a paid consultant in 2010 for the National Organization for Marriage, which opposes same-sex marriage, surfaced last April when he emerged as an early supporter of the mayoral campaign of D.C. Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4). The Bowser campaign at the time listed King as a member of the host committee for the campaign’s kick-off celebration and fundraiser.

In a telephone interview on Tuesday, King said he’s been a longtime friend of the Bowser family and decided to support Bowser for mayor before Gray announced he was running for a second term, believing Bowser was the best candidate at that time.

However, he said the Bowser campaign never responded to a proposal he submitted last spring to do get-out-the vote work targeting senior citizens for her campaign. So after Gray announced his candidacy in December and Gray supporters approached him to organize Gray’s senior citizen outreach effort he decided to join the Gray campaign, King said.

“I looked around and I said the lowering crime rate, the improvement in the schools, the bond ratings – and I thought he had done a great job in advancing Mayor Williams and Mayor Fenty’s blueprint” for the city were factors that prompted him to switch his support to Gray, King said.

The Gray campaign’s Jan. 31 report filed with the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance shows that the campaign paid King $2,500 on Jan. 8 for his services during the campaign’s first reporting period.
King told the Blade last April, at the time he was supporting Bowser, that he has never taken a public position for or against the city’s same-sex marriage law. He said he was retained as a consultant by the National Organization for Marriage to coordinate a campaign to place the marriage law on the ballot in a referendum.

“My position was to give the people the right to vote on the issue,” he said. “My personal view is not the issue. The issue was democracy and whether the people should be given the right to vote.”

Rick Rosendall, president of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, said at the time that King and others who clearly opposed marriage equality for same-sex couples have sought to “hide behind the ‘let the people vote mantra’ in their efforts to kill same-sex marriage laws in D.C. and elsewhere.

“The fact is that no other people’s rights are put to a plebiscite,” Rosendall said.

Thies noted that Gray is a strong supporter of marriage equality and LGBT rights and has taken heat from clergy members and many residents – including black senior citizens – for his outspoken advocacy for gay marriage.

“And so when it comes to Mayor Gray’s position on same-sex marriage and other LGBT issues, I don’t think anyone can question his commitment and his dedication to equal rights,” Thies said.

According to Thies, King told him he now accepts the city’s marriage equality law as the “law of the land.”

“I talked to him before I hired him,” said Thies. “I said Bob, I have a problem with this and you need to address this. And he said that’s the past. I accept the law and that is the status quo now.”

King reiterated that on Tuesday, saying he’s interested in meeting with representatives of the LGBT community to open the door to working together on future projects. He said he’s also doing senior citizen outreach on behalf of the re-election campaigns of D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large) and Council member Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5).

“They are marriage equality supporters and I am working with them,” he said.

Thies said King’s efforts to arrange transportation for senior citizens to the polls will be open to everyone regardless of who they are supporting for mayor.

“We will hire buses and bring them to the senior centers and anyone can board them, including someone wearing a sticker that belongs to one of our opponents,” he said.

04
Feb
2014

Mozillagate grows

Firefox parent-company Mozilla has hired a new CEO who donated $1,000 to the anti-gay Prop 8 in California.

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27
Mar
2014