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‘Love Song’ singer to headline LGBT DNC gala

Sara Bareilles, music, gay news, Washington Blade

Sara Bareilles will be the musical talent at upcoming LGBT DNC Gala (Photo by Amw9991 via Wikimedia Commons)

A pop singer best known for her 2007 hit “Love Song” will be the musical guest for an upcoming Democratic National Committee fundraiser in New York City.

Sara Bareilles is scheduled to perform at the DNC LGBT Annual Gala, which this year is set for May 29 at 5 p.m. at an event space in New York’s Upper East Side.

She headlines the fundraiser following release of her new single “Brave,” which she wrote for a gay friend struggling with coming out.

As previously reported, Jason Collins, an NBA player who recently came out as gay, is also headlining the event.

First lady Michelle Obama and gay television personality Andy Cohen will also make an appearance. President Obama isn’t scheduled to attend.

According to The Huffington Post, tickets start at $1,250 per person and go up to $32,400 per couple to chair the event.



Center has Fall Reception Friday night

Ron Simmons, Us Helping Us, D.C. Center, gay news, Washington Blade

Ron Simmons of Us Helping Us speaks at last year’s event. (Washington Blade photo by Jonathan Ellis)

The D.C. Center hosts its Fall Reception at the Reeves Municipal Center (2000 14th St., N.W.) from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Friday night.

The reception benefits the D.C. Center and honors individuals who have contributed to the local LGBT community. This will be the first time the Fall Reception will be hosted in the atrium of the Reeves Center. Host Committee Chairs Holly Goldmann and Lynel Johnson and City Council members Jim Graham, Muriel Bowser and Vincent Orange will be in attendance.

Tickets range from $45-75. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit


What’s next for gay couples after court decisions on marriage?

Jeff Zarillo, Paul Katami, Sandy Stier, Kris Perry, David Boies, Chad Griffin, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, marriage equality, Proposition 8, Defense of Marriage Act, DOMA, Prop 8, California, Supreme Court, gay news, Washington Blade

Jeff Zarillo speaking to the press following the Supreme Court’s ruling on DOMA and Proposition 8. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Supreme Court rulings against the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8 are providing new momentum to the LGBT rights movement as advocates are pushing for officials to interpret the decisions as broadly as possible.

The court ruling against DOMA is complex because it means that new benefits will be available to same-sex couples if they’re married. But there still is an issue with some of these benefits even with DOMA gone.

Some of these benefits, like Social Security survivor benefits and tax benefits, are in question because federal law governing these issues looks at a state where a couple lives as opposed to whether they were legally married. That means a gay couple that marries in a state like New York, but moves to Florida, won’t be able to apply for these benefits while living there.

James Esseks, director of the American Civil Liberties Union LGBT Project, said while explaining the decision that the Obama administration can interpret the rulings in a broad manner to ensure all federal benefits flow to married same-sex couples regardless of the state in which they live.

In almost all contexts, the Obama administration has the ability and the flexibility to move to a rule where they look to the law of the state in which you got married, not the state in which you live,” Esseks said. “So we expect and hope that the federal government is going to update those rules … and that would mean that once you get married, you’re married for federal purposes forever. That’s what we think the right rule is, and that’s the rule we think the administration can get to.”

Esseks added there “are a small number of contexts” in which the administration can’t do it alone and Congress has a statute prohibiting certain benefits from flowing to married same-sex couples so passage of the Respect for Marriage Act is necessary to address those issues.

That sentiment was expressed by Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin, who in a statement called on the administration to interpret the DOMA ruling broadly.

“Federal recognition for lesbian and gay couples is a massive turning point for equality, but it is not enough until every family is guaranteed complete access to the protections they need regardless of state borders,” Griffin said. “The administration must take every possible step to ensure this landmark ruling treats every lawfully married couple across the country with the equality our Constitution guarantees.”

Following the court decision against DOMA, Holder issued a statement saying he’ll “work expeditiously with other Executive Branch agencies” to ensure they comply with the court decision. President Obama issued a statement earlier in the day indicating he had given Holder this task.

“As we move forward in a manner consistent with the Court’s ruling, the Department of Justice is committed to continuing this work, and using every tool and legal authority available to us to combat discrimination and to safeguard the rights of all Americans,” Holder said.

In a subsequent statement, Griffin said he spoke with Holder over the phone about the DOMA decision and was told the administration would go through a thoughtful and deliberative process to implement the ruling.

A White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Obama himself also held a call on Wednesday with “a group of marriage equality advocates, faith leaders, elected officials, and allies” on the rulings in the DOMA and Prop 8 cases.

With the court ruling, one change is certain. Bi-national same-sex couples will now be able to apply for visas through the I-130 marriage-based green card application. Immigration law looks to the state in which a couple was married as opposed to the state in which a couple lives in determining whether a couple is eligible for a visa.

Rachel Tiven, executive director of Immigration Equality, said in a statement praising the court ruling that no barrier remains precluding the granting of visas to ensure bi-national same-sex couples can remain together in the United States.

“At long last, we can now tell our families that yes, they are eligible to apply for green cards,” Tiven said. “Many of our families have waited years, and in some cases decades, for the green card they need to keep their families together. Couples forced into exile will be coming home soon. Americans separated from their spouses are now able to prepare for their reunion.”

Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano applauded the ruling.

“This discriminatory law denied thousands of legally married same-sex couples many important federal benefits, including immigration benefits,” she said. “ … Working with our federal partners, including the Department of Justice, we will implement today’s decision so that all married couples will be treated equally and fairly in the administration of our immigration laws.”

The ruling also means the issue of whether bi-national same-sex couples should be included as part of comprehensive immigration reform pending before the Senate is off the table. Senate Judiciary Committee Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) had filed the amendment in the event of a Supreme Court ruling against same-sex couples in the DOMA case.

Calling the Supreme Court ruling against DOMA “a major step toward full equality,” Leahy announced that he would no longer pursue the amendment for bi-national same-sex couples.

“With the Supreme Court’s decision today, however, it appears that the anti-discrimination principle that I have long advocated will apply to our immigration laws and binational couples and their families can now be united under the law,” Leahy said. “As a result of this welcome decision, I will not be seeking a floor vote on my amendment.”

Also expected to come to an end is the preclusion of major benefits — such as health and pension benefits — from flowing to gay employees with same-sex spouses.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a statement following the court decisions that the Pentagon “welcomes” the ruling on DOMA and is prepared to offer these benefits to troops with same-sex partners.

“The department will immediately begin the process of implementing the Supreme Court’s decision in consultation with the Department of Justice and other executive branch agencies,” Hagel said. “The Department of Defense intends to make the same benefits available to all military spouses — regardless of sexual orientation — as soon as possible. That is now the law and it is the right thing to do.”

The Pentagon was already in the process of granting additional spousal benefits to gay troops available under current law, such as military IDs, which was expected to come to an end this year. It remains to be seen what impact the court decision will have on this process.

Elaine Kaplan, a lesbian and acting director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, said her agency is beginning to examine the issue of benefits that will be afforded to federal employees for same-sex couples, but additional waiting time is necessary.

“While we recognize that our married gay and lesbian employees have already waited too long for this day, we ask for their continued patience as we take the steps necessary to review the Supreme Court’s decision and implement it,” Kaplan said.

The situation resulting from the ruling in the Proposition 8 case is less complex because it only involves whether the State of California can resume granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples. But California officials say they’re prepared to recognize marriage equality in the state.

California Gov. Jerry Brown (D-Calif.) said in a statement he’s prepared to allow clerks to distribute marriage licenses to same-sex couples as soon as the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals lifts its stay.

“After years of struggle, the U.S. Supreme Court today has made same-sex marriage a reality in California,” Brown said. “In light of the decision, I have directed the California Department of Public Health to advise the state’s counties that they must begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in California as soon as the Ninth Circuit confirms the stay is lifted.”

Both rulings have stirred calls for the expansion of marriage equality into additional states. Speaking before the Supreme Court, HRC President Chad Griffin cried out those who came to celebrate, “Let’s set a new goal: within five years, we will bring marriage equality to all 50 states in the U.S.”

Considering some states would need at least four years to lift their bans on same-sex marriage through the legislative process, Griffin’s call would likely require another lawsuit that would spread marriage equality throughout the country much like the 1967 case of Loving v. Virginia brought to an end all state bans on interracial marriage.

ACLU’s Esseks said the ruling in the case against DOMA might have an impact on new litigation seeking marriage equality in all 50 states, but said Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the opinion in a way that was restrictive in its implications.

“It certainly won’t hurt, but Kennedy was careful to write it in a way that doesn’t directly address the broader freedom to marry issue,” Esseks said.

Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, said he thinks the decisions would make an additional lawsuit more likely to succeed.

“The best way to win is not ‘just’ to file a lawsuit, it’s to bring that lawsuit on the strength of having won more states and more support, setting the stage for victory,” Wolfson said. “That’s the winning strategy that has brought us this far, and it is the winning Freedom to Marry strategy that will bring us to victory nationwide — if we keep doing the work.”


Cartoon: Victory in 2013

New Year's Day, New Year's Eve, victory, gay news, Washington Blade

Happy New Year! (Washington Blade cartoon by Ranslem)


Queery: Jim Garza

Jim Garza, HOPE, gay news, Washington Blade

Jim Garza (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

HOPE D.C., a social/support group for local poz gay men, has its 25th anniversary gathering Saturday night at 7 p.m. at a private residence in Arlington.

Jim Garza, the non-profit group’s vice president, discovered the group in 1993, though it had formed in ’88 when a small group of HIV-positive men met at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital during clinical trials of possible treatments. They started meeting outside the hospital for moral support and the group has grown tremendously over the years.

The HOPE Facebook page has about 700 followers. Garza says anywhere from 50 to 100 attend the monthly gatherings. The locations are kept private to protect members. Anyone interested can get information by calling 202-466-5783 or visiting A HOPE hotline is available at 202-466-5783.

Garza says even with the treatment options available now, the group is still important.

“Stigma and the social aspects of it are still a problem,” he says. “Coping with it, peer support, all those things. Even in this day and age, you feel alienated. We understand there have been huge medical breakthroughs, but there’s a social aspect to it and mental aspect and that’s what we focus on.”

The gatherings are informal, though the volunteer-led group has a board of directors and officers. At this weekend’s gathering, hot dogs and hamburgers will be served. Members will bring snacks and it’s BYOB.

“You can just be yourself and talk about anything there,” Garza says.

Garza came to Washington in 1993 and retired from the Navy in 1998. Just last week, the 48-year-old Beaumont, Texas, native started a job as a Lyft driver, giving people transportation around the city.

He’s single and lives in Arlington. In his free time, he enjoys Civil War sites, museums, visiting Virginia plantations, the Smithsonian museums and movies.


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

Twenty-three years and my mother (oh wait, my brother took care of that one).


Who’s your LGBT hero?

George Takei

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



Describe your dream wedding.

A bonfire on the island of Kau’i.


What non-LGBT issue are you most passionate about?

Hungry people


What historical outcome would you change?

I don’t believe in disrupting the space/time continuum.


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

“Men on Film” during Super Bowl 1991 half time.


On what do you insist?

If you’re still doing drugs, stay away from me.


What was your last Facebook post or Tweet?

“I just bought this groupon and can’t use it!”


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

“How am I still here?”


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

Not answer my mother’s call.


What do you believe in beyond the physical world? 

They see what we do and sometimes unhappily step in on our behalf.


What’s your advice for LGBT movement leaders?

Put your seat belt on.


What would you walk across hot coals for?

A hot 23-year-old Latino.


What LGBT stereotype annoys you most?

Not enough space here to type.


What’s your favorite LGBT movie?

“Prayers for Bobby”


What’s the most overrated social custom?

The block feature.


What trophy or prize do you most covet?

Nine years of not having any reason to get high.


What do you wish you’d known at 18?

That 30 years later you would be typing this.


Why Washington?

Retired Navy. Just decided to stay here and help people with drug addictions and HIV, which helps me.


Did Obama ask Leahy to delay gay-inclusive immigration reform?

Jay Carney, White House, gay news, Washington Blade

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney wouldn’t deny on Wednesday a media report that the Obama administration asked Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to hold off on the introduction of amendments to include same-sex couples as part of comprehensive immigration reform.

Under questioning initiated by the Washington Blade on the accuracy of the report, Carney restated that Obama supports a provision to immigration reform along the lines of the Uniting American Families Act, which would allow gay Americans to sponsor their partners for residency in the United States.

“I think the president supports that amendment, and he also made clear that he knows he won’t get everything, necessarily, that he wants in the final comprehensive immigration bill that he hopes the Senate will pass and the House will pass and will arrive on his desk,” Carney said. “But he will push for those things that he believes ought to be in it.”

Carney added if the measure were to come up again — suggesting the possibility of a floor amendment to immigration reform — Obama “would hope” it would have bipartisan support.

When the Blade pointed out that response doesn’t address the issue of whether the White House asked Leahy to hold off on the amendments, Carney said he doesn’t have the content of conversations on immigration reform.

“I think you saw the manner in which it was discussed in the hearing by Senator Leahy, who introduced it, and other members of the committee who discussed it,” Carney said. “We are obviously engaged in conversations with the main players on this issue on a regular basis. And I don’t have the contents of all those conversations.”

When CBS News’ Major Garrett jumped in to ask if Carney would deny the report, Carney replied, “I’m not aware of that conversation.”

“What I can tell you is the president supports the amendment,” Carney said. “The president also believes, as he made clear in Costa Rica, that we need to accept that we may not get everything we want. It doesn’t mean we’re not going to fight for the things that we believe in, and this president will.”

During the Senate Judiciary Committee markup of the bill, numerous Democrats on the panel who are known for supporting LGBT rights — Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) — said they couldn’t bring themselves to support the amendment out of fear of losing Republican support for the final bill.

Asked by the Blade if there was a reasonable expectation that Obama should have brought these senators on board in time for the vote, Carney deferred to the Senate.

“I think each senator expressed himself or herself and his or her own views, so I would refer you to them,” Carney said. “The president’s views are clear. He believes this amendment should be passed and has made his views clear on that. I can’t speak for other senators.”

Earlier during the briefing under questioning from Reuters’ Jeff Mason, Carney noted Obama’s support for the provisions when asked about possible areas of improvement the president would like see addressed when the bill comes to the Senate floor.

“I think he’s made clear that he supports that and would like to see Congress support that,” Carney said. “He’s also made clear that he doesn’t expect to get everything he wants in this bill. It doesn’t mean he won’t fight for everything he wants, but he understands that compromise means not getting every single thing that you want.”

A partial transcript of the exchange between reporters on Jay Carney on the issue follows:

Washington Blade: I want to go back to immigration reform. Senator Leahy yesterday withheld amendments that would have included gay couples as part of a larger package. Yesterday, the Associated Press reported that the White House had asked him to hold off on those measures. Did the White House, in fact, ask Senator Leahy to revoke those amendments?

Jay Carney: I think you heard the President address this issue — I think it was in an interview in Costa Rica. I think the President supports that amendment, and he also made clear that he knows he won’t get everything, necessarily, that he wants in the final comprehensive immigration bill that he hopes the Senate will pass and the House will pass and will arrive on his desk. But he will push for those things that he believes ought to be in it.

He thinks it’s important that we make sure that everyone who’s engaged in this process understands that they may not get everything they want, but I think he expressed very clearly his strong support for that amendment. He would hope that if it comes up again that there would be strong bipartisan support for it — and we’ll have to see. But his support I think he expressed very clearly.

Blade: It’s clear that the President supports that amendment, but that response doesn’t really get to the issue of whether the White House asked Senator Leahy to withhold the amendments.

Carney: I don’t have — I think you saw the manner in which it was discussed in the hearing by Senator Leahy, who introduced it, and other members of the committee who discussed it. We are obviously engaged in conversations with the main players on this issue on a regular basis. And I don’t have the contents of all those conversations. What I can tell you is that the President supports —

CBS News: But you don’t deny it?

Carney: I’m sorry.

CBS News: You don’t deny the report.

Carney: I’m not aware of that conversation. What I can tell you is the President supports the amendment. The President also believes, as he made clear in Costa Rica, that we need to accept that we may not get everything we want. It doesn’t mean we’re not going to fight for the things that we believe in, and this President will.

Blade: During the markup last night, it was one Democrat after the other — Senator Feinstein, Senator Durbin, Senator Schumer — said they couldn’t bring themselves to support the measure. And these are senators from the President’s own party. Isn’t there a reasonable expectation that the President should have worked to bring them on board in time for that vote in accordance with his vision for immigration reform?

Carney: Well, I think each senator expressed himself or herself and his or her own views, so I would refer you to them. The president’s views are clear. He believes this amendment should be passed and has made his views clear on that. I can’t speak for other senators.

Watch the video here:


Signorile discusses LGBT rights at Green Festival Sunday

Michelangelo Signorile, Green Festival, gay news, Washington Blade

Michelangelo Signorile discusses LGBT rights at the Green Festival Sunday (Photo courtesy of the Green Festival)

Michelangelo Signorile, host of an eponymous radio show on SiriusXM and former columnist for OUT magazine, is a keynote speaker at the ninth annual Green Festival at the Washington Convention Center (801 Mt Vernon Pl., N.W.) Sunday at 3 p.m.

In addition to Signorile’s speech, enjoy eco-friendly activities such as Ford Ride and Drive for electric and hybrid cars, eco-fashion shows, green business seminars, a sustainable beer and wine garden, organic food court, do-it-yourself workshops and a green kids zone. Signorile has been an outspoken advocate for LGBT causes for years and is gay himself.

Tickets range from $10-25. Students and seniors (65 and older) get a $5 discount. Those younger than 18 are free at the door. For more details, visit


OPM lays out post-DOMA plan for fed’l employee benefits

U.S. Office of Personnel Management has instituted new guidance for married gay federal employees in the wake of DOMA (photo public domain)

U.S. Office of Personnel Management has instituted new guidance for married gay federal employees in the wake of the DOMA court ruling. (photo public domain)

Gay federal employees in legal same-sex marriages will be eligible immediately for health and pension benefits in the aftermath of the Supreme Court ruling against Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, according to a new memo from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

The memorandum, dated June 28 and signed by OPM acting director Elaine Kaplan, identifies five new areas of benefits that will be available after the court decision for the legal spouses as well as newly qualified children and stepchildren of gay federal employees.

“There are numerous benefits that are affected by the Supreme Court’s decision, and it is impossible to answer every question that you might have,” Kaplan, a lesbian, writes. “Nevertheless, I want to assure you that the U.S. Office of Personnel Management is committed to working with the Department of Justice to ensure swift and seamless implementation of the court’s ruling.”

The five new benefits identified in the memo are:

• health insurance through the Federal Health Employees Benefits (FEHB) plan;

• life insurance through the Federal Employees’ Group Life Insurance (FEGLI) program;

• dental and vision insurance through the Federal Employee Dental and Vision Insurance Program (FEDVIP);

• long-term care insurance under the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program (FLTCIP);

• retirement benefits;

• and the ability to submit claims for medical expenses through flexible spending accounts.

For each of the four insurance benefits in the memo, gay federal employees must elect to make a change within the window of 60 days between June 26, 2013 and August 26, 2013 to enroll. With respect to health, dental and vision insurance, the next opportunity would be at the start of open season later this year.

For employees who already have health coverage under a FEHB plan, coverage will begin immediately. For those who don’t, benefits will be effective on the first day of the first pay period after the enrollment request is received.

To be eligible for retirement benefits for their same-sex spouses, gay federal employees have two years until after the Supreme Court decision, or June 26, 2015, to inform OPM they have a legal marriage that qualifies for recognition and elect and changes to benefits.

The OPM memo is the first of many pieces of guidance expected from federal agencies in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act. After the court ruling, President Obama said he instructed U.S. Attorney Eric Holder to work with other Cabinet members to implement the end to the Defense of Marriage Act.

In a statement, Obama called the OPM guidance “a critical first step” toward implementing the Supreme Court ruling that determined “all married couples should be treated equally under federal law.”

“Thousands of gays and lesbians serve our country every day in the federal government,” Obama said. “They, and their spouses and children, deserve the same respect and protection as every other family.”

In another statement, Holder said the Obama administration by offering these benefits “is making real the promise of this important decision” against DOMA, but there’s more to come.

“As the President directed, the Department of Justice will continue to coordinate with other federal agencies to implement this ruling as swiftly and smoothly as possible,” Holder said. “I look forward to sharing additional information as it becomes available. We will never stop fighting to ensure equality, opportunity, and – above all – justice for everyone in this country.”

Leonard Hirsch, a board member for the LGBT federal employee affinity group known as Federal GLOBE, called the guidance “an extraordinary result” for everyone’s who been working on the issue for decades.

“It opens up the key benefits that key benefits for federal employees that have been closed — health insurance, life insurance — to the same-sex spouses of federal employees and retirees,” Hirsch said.

Hirsch also emphasized the word must to get out to federal retirees that their same-sex spouses are eligible for federal benefits in the wake of the ruling against DOMA.

“This was included, so this is a wonderful, inclusive set of changes that OPM has been preparing for and announced today,” Hirsch said.

Thomas Richards, an OPM spokesperson, confirmed that the guidance applies to all employees in legal same-sex marriages — even those that live in states that don’t recognize marriage equality.

“These benefits will be available to any federal employee or annuitant who has a valid marriage license, regardless of their state of residency,” Richards said.

But the guidance doesn’t cover federal employees in same-sex relationships who aren’t married, such as those in domestic partnerships or civil unions. In July, gay Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) is expected to introduce the legislation known as the Domestic Partnership Benefits & Obligations Act to address this issue.

Richards noted the limitations of the new guidance is restricted to legally married federal employees, but recalled a 2009 memorandum from President Obama that offered limited benefits to employees in civil unions or domestic partnerships

“Acting Director Kaplan’s memo identifies certain benefits previously available only to opposite-sex spouses that are now available to all legally married spouses, including same-sex spouses,” Richards said. “OPM has already extended benefits to same-sex domestic partners to the extent permissible under the law.”


Remembering Sean Sasser

Sean Sasser, Real World, RIS, gay news, Washington Blade

Sean Sasser working as a pastry chef at RIS, his last job. Sasser died Aug. 7. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Sean Sasser memorial service

Saturday at 11 a.m.

National City Christian Church

5 Thomas Circle, N.W.

Michael Kaplan and his late partner Sean Sasser had a circuitous romantic life.

The two met in 1991 and worked together waiting tables at the same bar in Minneapolis. But both were dating other people at the time and several months later, Sasser moved to San Francisco, a move that would prove life altering. While there, he met, dated and eventually married Pedro Zamora, a romance memorably captured on MTV’s “Real World: San Francisco” during its third season in 1994.

Kaplan and Sasser met again in 1996 at a conference and dated for about two years, some of which was long distance. They were apart for several years but reconnected in 2006 and spent the last six years living together.

Sasser, a long-time AIDS activist and pastry chef, spent his final years in Washington with Kaplan. He died Aug. 7 of HIV-exacerbated mesothelioma, a rare lung cancer Kaplan says Sasser was likely exposed to while working with asbestos fixing up old houses in his native Detroit decades ago. Sasser, born Oct. 25, 1968, was 45.

A public memorial service is planned for Saturday at 11 a.m. at National City Christian Church at Thomas Circle in Washington. “Real World” cast members Judd Winick and Pam Ling will speak along with Phill Wilson, president and CEO of the Black AIDS Institute, and Douglas Brooks, chair of AIDS United’s Board of Trustees and a member of the President’s Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS.

Kaplan is the president and CEO of AIDS United. He spoke with the Blade at length this week about his relationship with Sasser.

After many years of working various jobs and each being in different cities at different times, Kaplan and Sasser moved to Washington last fall. Alarmed by a health scare in May, the two got married in June. Kaplan says it was a “long-term, committed serious relationship” in which “we both talked about and planned our futures together.” At one point in Oregon, the two were foster parents of a child named Alice who lived with them from the time she was 4 to 6.

Sasser had lived with HIV for 25 years; Kaplan for 20. Kaplan says Sasser “went quickly.”

“He probably lost 60 pounds in the last nine weeks of his life,” Kaplan says. “He was a real solid guy. On June 17, they confirmed that this thing in his lung was cancerous. By July, it was confirmed as stage four mesothelioma. He had one round of chemo, but it was just too aggressive. Doctors said he wasn’t strong enough for another round. And by Aug. 7 he was gone.”

Kaplan says he has “a strong network of friends” and is doing as well as can be expected.

“It’s a lot of change right now,” he says.

Sasser is survived by his mother, Pat Robinson Sasser, and a sister, Staci White. Both are expected to attend the service this weekend. Sasser’s father died a few years ago.

After Zamora’s death in November 1994 — just hours after the last episode of his season of “Real World” aired — Sasser, who’d been rejected by the Navy for an HIV-positive test, traveled widely speaking at colleges about HIV. He worked with Health Initiatives for Youth, GLAAD, Human Rights Campaign and the AIDS Alliance for Children Youth & Families. He was appointed by President Clinton to the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS.

Kaplan says after about four years of AIDS advocacy work, Sasser was ready to return to his first love — cooking.

He says Sasser never mentioned to people he met that he’d been on “Real World,” but would confirm it if people recognized him and brought it up themselves. He had a few boxes of “Real World” mementos and a couple photos with President Clinton packed away. He took them with him each time he moved, but never unpacked them.

“He didn’t hide it, but he’d moved on,” Kaplan says. “In Portland especially, he’d really built up quite a place for himself as a pastry chef at a hotel there, The Nines. They had two restaurants and he oversaw a lot of banquets and that type of thing there. … He loved the precision of baking and training others how to do it.”

The topic of Zamora wasn’t taboo among them, Kaplan says, and Zamora’s name would come up occasionally. Kaplan recalls watching the 2008 biopic “Pedro” with Sasser and remembers him saying how “hard it is to see someone else portray you” (DaJuan Johnson played Sasser in the film).

Although Kaplan says Sasser would have been shocked that so many media outlets reported his death, he says Sasser “was quite aware of the visibility” his “Real World” appearances had afforded him.

“He definitely knew that it was a real landmark for this young, gay couple, two men of color with HIV, to be shown getting married,” Kaplan says. “For so many people, it was some of the first public faces of HIV they’d seen. They were the first face of many things as young, queer men of color. Sean totally understood the magnitude of that and never shunned it. He didn’t seek attention, but he knew that if having his face out there would make a difference, he was happy to do so.”

Kaplan says one thing that might surprise people about Sasser was his love of children. He mentored several kids affected by HIV in both Portland and Atlanta.

“If Sean had had his way, we would have had three kids and a house,” Kaplan says. “He loved music, he loved baking, he loved traveling and he loved children. He was an incredibly humble person and he was just all about living his life.”

Donations to the Sean Sasser Endowment Fund can be made at


DNC treasurer defends Michelle Obama’s LGBT speech

Democratic National Committee Treasurer Andrew Tobias pushed back in email over ENDA, immigration criticism (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

DNC Treasurer Andrew Tobias pushed back against ENDA, immigration criticism. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The treasurer of the Democratic National Committee is defending first lady Michelle Obama for failing to address LGBT workplace discrimination and the exclusion of bi-national gay couples from immigration reform during a fundraising speech she gave Wednesday in New York.

Andrew Tobias, who’s gay, responded to concerns expressed in an off-the-record listserv for major LGBT donors in an email obtained by the Washington Blade on Thursday.

In the email, Tobias praised Obama for her speech, which did not mention her husband’s failure to issue an executive order barring LGBT workplace discrimination among federal contractors. She also didn’t directly address the exclusion of bi-national same-sex couples from the immigration reform bill.

“My own feeling is that she did it just right, and that almost everyone in the room – certainly including the First Lady and the DNC Chair – are very much aware of these specifics (as are the key players in the WH),” Tobias wrote to the listserv. “You and all the rest of us are absolutely right to be frustrated by the delays and to keep pushing (I’m hoping this Exxon/Mobil hook might be the one that puts it across the finish line).”

Tobias attempts to allay concerns about Senate Democrats rejecting the Uniting American Families Act by saying the Supreme Court will likely address the issue soon by striking down the Defense of Marriage Act — thanks in part to “two Justices McCain would never have appointed” — and by estimating that 500,000 LGBT people are among the 11 million undocumented immigrants who would obtain a pathway to citizenship if reform were passed. (The Williams Institute estimates a smaller number, 267,000, are LGBT.)

“Some are certain the Republicans in the Senate and House would NEVER have torpedoed the immigration bill over this or anything else, because they’d be crazy to,” Tobias wrote. “But the Tea Party types are getting ever more extreme and short-sighted, so I’m not certain either way.”

Tobias enumerates the many high-profile LGBT people who attended the event — including Edith Windsor, the New York widow who is the plaintiff in the DOMA case, and Super Bowl champ Brendon Ayanbadejo — before concluding by saying people are right to push for more rights, but the other major national party wouldn’t have held such an event.

“The RNC has never had a dinner like this,” Tobias writes. “We are truly not yet welcome in their party; they are still a huge obstacle to the equality we deserve; and until that changes, those of us who can afford to plant the seed corn for further success in 2014 and 2016 could not possibly make a more leveraged investment in equality.”

Tobias wrote the email days after one Democratic donor, Miami-based philanthropist Jonathan Lewis, said he is withholding donations to Democrats and asking others to do the same over the immigration issue and the executive order.

The first lady spoke at the annual LGBT gala for the Democratic National Committee, which she headlined along with gay NBA player Jason Collins. A DNC official said tickets were between $1,250 and $32,400 and approximately 350 people attended.

The DNC wouldn’t reveal the total amount raised at the event. It’s unclear whether Lewis’ email had any impact on the money raised.

After being introduced by Collins, Obama spoke for about 20 minutes, according to a pool report from the event, and touted the president’s achievements on LGBT issues and other matters.

“Because of you, we are taking on climate change, gun violence, comprehensive immigration reform,” the first lady said. “And because of you, yes, we have a president who stands up for our most fundamental rights, from ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to strengthening hate crimes to supporting our right to marry the person we love. Because of you.”

Obama urged the attendees to max out the donations they can offer the Democratic Party over the course of an election cycle. For the DNC, that’s $32,400 in each of the two years of this cycle, so $64,800 if someone maxes out both years.

“We need you to keep on writing those checks — and if you haven’t maxed out, you know, what’s my motto?” the first lady said. “Max out. Let’s say it together. Max out. And if you’ve maxed out, get your friends to max out. …  Sounds kind of baller, too — maxing out. Everyone here should be maxed out.”

The White House didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on why LGBT workplace discrimination and immigration were absent form the first lady’s speech.

LGBT groups working on these issues said they’d welcome the first lady’s help by the addition of her voice to efforts to protect bi-national couples and institute LGBT workplace discrimination protections.

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, said Michelle Obama’s voice would be a boon to efforts to pass ENDA over the course of this year and the campaign to institute an executive order barring LGBT workplace discrimination.

“I think the first lady’s a rock star, and she’s admired by many, many Americans,” Almeida said. “I admire her a great deal. In part, I admire her because she’s an incredibly effective advocate for many issues, and important issues, that she’s championed over the past years. It would be wonderful if the first lady helped our ENDA advocacy and made the case this year as we’re moving toward the full Senate vote that LGBT Americans should be able to build a career without fear of getting fired just because of who they are, or who they love.”

Steve Ralls, spokesperson for Immigration Equality, redirected attention to another speech from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg in which he called for UAFA-inclusive immigration reform.

“I wasn’t in the room with the first lady last night,” Ralls said. “But I can tell you that, as she was speaking, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg was addressing Immigration Equality’s supporters — just a few blocks away — at our New York gala. Mayor Bloomberg called on Congress to include LGBT families in immigration reform, putting one of the most important advocates for reform solidly on record in support of our families.”

The full email from Tobias follows:

My own feeling is that she did it just right, and that almost everyone in the room – certainly including the First Lady and the DNC Chair – are very much aware of these specifics (as are the key players in the WH).

You and all the rest of us are absolutely right to be frustrated by the delays and to keep pushing (I’m hoping this Exxon/Mobil hook might be the one that puts it across the finish line). One key player I spoke with praised Jeffrey Marburg’s Washington Post op-ed (posted here a few days ago) as exactly the right way to do it: respectful, well-reasoned, powerful.

But while I have you, a few other notes from the glass half-full side of the ledger:

1. It was a wonderful dinner, celebrating the progress we HAVE made since the last time, as a senator’s wife, the First Lady spoke at our dinner.  Here was the video we showed.  It begins with an excerpt from her remarks five years ago.

2. As frustrating as the UAFA situation is – and deeply wrong that anyone has to choose between love and country – I’m pretty sure that in part because of the two Justices McCain would never have appointed, DOMA will fall in a few weeks and a great many couples will no longer have to make such a choice.  We should keep pushing until we have an even better resolution, but I’m hopeful it will truly change the lives of most who’ve had to deal with this so long.

2a. Let’s not lose sight of our 500,000 undocumented LGBT brothers and sisters who, if the immigration bill does get signed into law, will have their lives transformed with legal status and a pathway to citizenship. (I’m assuming that 4% or 5% of the 11 million are LGBT.) They can’t afford to come to dinners like the one we had last night, but they count too.

Some are certain the Republicans in the Senate and House would NEVER have torpedoed the immigration bill over this or anything else, because they’d be crazy to.  But the Tea Party types are getting ever more extreme and short-sighted, so I’m not certain either way. (To borrow Barney Frank’s line from a different context: “We’re not perfect, but they’re nuts.”) This isn’t to say I’m not disappointed. But given the two points above, and what will be our continued efforts to get where we all want to end up, there’s reason, I think, to be less angry than some are.  And room for many of us, equally committed to equality, to be more supportive.

3. There were many highlights last night – Super Bowl champ Brendon Ayanbadejo was there!  Inaugural poet Richard Blanco was there!  P-FAW’s Michael Keegan, GLSEN’s Eliza Byard, Lambda’s Kevin Cathcart, and GMHC’sMarjorie Hill were there! A SINNER IN MECCA’s gay Muslim documentarianParvez Sharma was there!  Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum and Freedom to Marry’s Evan Wolfson and the ACLU’s James Esseksand the Victry Fnd’s Chuck Wolfe were there! Media Matters founder David Brockand Athlete Ally founder Hudson Taylor and All Out co-founder Andre Banks and SLDN’s Aubrey Sarvis were there! The first transgender member of the DNC’s executive committee, Babs Siperstein, was there!  Robbie Kaplan, who argued Edie Windsor’s case before the Supreme Court, was there! Edie Windsor HERSELF was there! – along with terrific elected officials, local and national, gay and straight, and Ambassador James Hormel . . .

. . . but the unexpected highlight of the evening (everyone knew Bravo’s Andy Cohen would do a great job emceeing and that NBA center Jason Collins would give the First Lady a great into and that the First Lady herself would leave the assembled on their feet cheering) was a 22-year-old transgender woman who did a lovely job of introducing DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (whose congressional district, she notes, which include South Beach, she now refers to as “straight friendly”) and then turned to where DWS was supposed to enter from backstage to give her remarks . . . and waited a little more . . . nervous, supportive laughter riding from the crowd . . . and then — far from freezing in the headlights — just won us over completely by telling us her story, taking questions . . . it was completely charming, and the transgender CEO of a multi-billion-dollar biotech firm seated next to me with her wife was just loving every minute of it, as were 280 others.  Young Evie Renee Arroyo was a star.

Anyway, and as always:  everyone is right to push, and also to support, because BOTH are in our self-interest to do.  The RNC has never had a dinner like this.  We are truly not yet welcome in their party; they are still a huge obstacle to the equality we deserve; and until that changes, those of us who can afford to plant the seed corn for further success in 2014 and 2016 could not possibly make a more leveraged investment in equality.