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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.




New digs on 14th Street

14th Street, real estate, gay news, Washington Blade

New condos and high-end apartments are being built on 14th Street. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The 14th Street corridor that runs from roughly Florida Ave. to Rhode Island Ave., N.W. is — as has been widely reported by the Blade and other media outlets — in the midst of a construction boom that is expected to have about 1,200 additional housing units and more than 85,000 square feet of retail space by the time it’s all finished in over the next couple years.

Most will be high-end apartments, but a few condo buildings are planned as well. Here’s an update on where the various projects currently stand. Thanks to for information on the various projects.

* Douglas Development
2221 14th Street, N.W.
Six-story, 30-unit apartment
Construction just starting

* View 14
Above Kapnos at 14th and W
185 apartments
Leasing now

* Louis at 14th
JBG Companies
14th and U streets, N.W.
Mixed use with 267 unit apartment building
Leasing soon

* Level 2 Development
1905-1917 14th Street, N.W.
144-unit apartment building with ground level retail
Under construction

* The District
Above the new bulletin and Lou Lou shop at 14th and S
Leasing now
About 70 percent full

* The Aston
Condos above M Cafe
14th and R
Sold out

*Central Union Mission space
1350 R Street, N.W.
51-unit condo project
Under construction

*Abdo Development
14th and Rhode Island, N.W.
Six-story, 30-unit apartment building with ground floor retail and second-floor office space
Construction not yet started


VIP Rooftop Party

New York City Pride held a VIP Rooftop Party at Hudson Terrace on Saturday. (Washington Blade photos by Michael Key) buyphoto 


Cartoon: long lines

D.C. Courthouse, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, marriage equality, gay news, Washington Blade

Long lines to get married (Washington Blade cartoon by Ranslem)



Stonewall Kickball held the third annual “DragBall” game between the JR’s and Cobalt divisions on Sunday in Stead Park. JR’s won the day by a score of 10-7. The halftime show included a game of tug-of-war, a food-eating contest and a run around the bases while putting together a drag outfit. Local performer Ophelia Bottoms served as the emcee. (Washington Blade photos by Michael Key) buyphoto 


Queery: Joshua Vogelsong

Joshua Vogelsong, GAY/BASH!, Black Cat, gay news, Washington Blade

Joshua Vogelsong (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

GAY/BASH!, a monthly gay rock/dance party at the Black Cat (1811 14th St., N.W.) started almost as a fluke.

Joshua Vogelsong, who co-DJs the event with his roommate Dean Sullivan, got into a conversation with the cashier at Smash Records in Georgetown about his love for vintage hair metal. Off the cuff, he mentioned wishing there was a gay rock party such as those he enjoyed during the two years (’04-’06) he lived in New York. Phone numbers were exchanged and passed on and before long, the Black Cat had the party penciled in for a trial night. It’s been rolling there monthly since February 2011.

It starts at 9:30 p.m. but around 11:30, revelers gather around the stage for performances by “D.C.’s most experimental and avant garde queens, giving them a platform to express themselves in the most unconventional ways.”

GAY/BASH! is the Black Cat’s first monthly drag show. Vogelsong, who works by day at gay-owned Comet Ping Pong and spins other events at Black Cat, says the Cat has “a good mix of gay and straight” patrons.

The next GAY/BASH! is Saturday at 9:30 and is open to all ages (though D.C.’s curfew law is in effect). Cover is $5. Find the party on Facebook for more information. Rumor Millz and Heidi Glum host this weekend’s installment.

“It’s kind of a genre fuck but with a harder rock edge,” he says. “And there’s a sense of humor about it. We do a lot of stuff people will know. They just get kind of discombobulated and thrash around. It’s cute.”

Vogelson, a 29-year-old Houston native, has been in D.C. off and on for about 10 years. He lives in a group home near Columbia Heights, has been dating boyfriend Kevin for about a year and enjoys music, movies, restaurants and live shows in his free time.


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

I’ve always been a total ‘mo. When I told my parents at age 14, they were basically like, “We were just waiting for you to figure it out and we love you.” I’m very fortunate and I love my family very much.


Who’s your LGBT hero?

Divine, forever and ever.


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

I really miss Asylum.


Describe your dream wedding.

Marry in a courthouse, then throw a huge party.


What non-LGBT issue are you most passionate about?

Women’s health care and women’s issues in general. I’ve always looked up to my mother and watched her struggle in the military and other male-dominated workplaces. She’s a strong, smart woman and has always been my hero.


What historical outcome would you change?

I don’t feel comfortable discussing things like that.


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

The 1997 VMAs, for Fiona Apple’s amazing “this-world-is-bullshit” speech and Marilyn Manson’s butt-cheek-baring “Beautiful People” performance. I was forever changed.


On what do you insist?



What was your last Facebook post or Tweet?

It was about how I’m sad that summer is ending. This has been a really good one!


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

“Oh My God, Whatever.” It would be a best seller!


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

Inform the self-hating closeted gays so they’ll shut the hell up and leave the rest of us alone.


What do you believe in beyond the physical world? 

Nothing, really. I’m not exactly spiritual.


What’s your advice for LGBT movement leaders?

Be more angry and militant. Start scaring people.


What would you walk across hot coals for?

A lot of things, probably. I get passionate.


What LGBT stereotype annoys you most?

For gay men: That we’re somehow weak or not masculine.

For gay women: That they haven’t found the right man yet.

For trans people: That they’re confused and/or impulsive.


What’s your favorite LGBT movie?

“Poison” by Todd Haynes.


What’s the most overrated social custom?

So much emphasis on first impressions.


What trophy or prize do you most covet?

My trophy for first place at the third grade spelling bee.


What do you wish you’d known at 18?

It gets harder, so apply yourself.


Why Washington?

It’s clean and people are well-educated.


NYC Pride Parade

buyphotoThe New York City Pride Parade wound through the streets of Manhattan on Sunday. (Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)  


Small, sassy SUVs

autos, BMW X3, gay news, Washington Blade


Like butt-hugger briefs and #BeTrue shoes, cute crossovers have become fashion faves. Such mini SUVs — with suitable storage and sedan-like rides — have higher platforms for better driver visibility. In other words, the better to see and be seen.

Strong engines and stepped-up styling add to the swagger, helping small crossovers haul ass and sass. That’s good news for gay and lesbian drivers looking to be stylish both inside and outside the Beltway.



MPG: 21 city/28 highway

0-to-60 mph: 6.8 seconds

Cargo space: 63.3 cu. ft.


Sure, BMW — which also makes the MINI Cooper — now has the uber-tiny X1 crossover. But the X3 is still the trendsetter, even if it was introduced 10 years ago. This is the second-gen model, with a more macho look that works in town or in the Hamptons. Call it Tom Ford chic. BMW also dropped in a new four-cylinder turbo, part of the automaker’s strategy to switch out some of its V6 engines with more fuel-efficient (but still peppy) four-bangers. It works here, saving more than just pennies at the pump. Plus, the engine shuts off automatically each time the X3 stops in traffic. Just step on the gas, and the engine starts right up again. Like all Bimmers, the cabin is Bauhaus sparse, with an upscale, utilitarian layout to the dash, knobs and switches. And there’s generous cargo room (a big plus, compared with the Lilliputian X1). Yet the X3 is still small enough to fit in most parking spaces. Biggest downside: the price. And yes, options add up quickly, too.


autos, Buick Encore, gay news, Washington Blade

Buick Encore


MPG: 25 city/33 highway

0-to-60 mph: 9.1 seconds

Cargo space: 48.5 cu. ft.


Once upon a time, only blue-hairs drove Buicks. But GM’s near-death bankruptcy caused the automaker to reinvent itself. By shedding the dowdy demeanor, Buick went from straight-laced to steamy. Think Ms. Jane Brodie transformed into a sexy school marm. The result: stunning vehicles like the all-new Encore, which practically sold out within the first six months. Snug handling and a superb interior also help, as does the lack of any creaks or rattles — a Buick bugaboo for decades. Add in crisp handling, quick brakes and a quiet cabin, and the Encore could pass for a high-priced Lexus. Even the Encore’s base model comes standard with rearview camera, heated side mirrors, 18-inch alloys and large seven-inch touchscreen. Must-have options: heated steering wheel, rain-sensing wipers and two crash-avoidance systems. The only thing that misfires is the tepid turbo, which could have used a bit more horsepower. Overall, though, the Encore is reliable, nimble and hip.



autos, Mazda CX-5, gay news, Washington Blade

Mazda CX-5


MPG: 26 city/35 highway

0-to-60 mph: 9.5 seconds

Cargo space: 65.4 cu. ft.


Like Abercrombie and Fitch, Mazdas have always been sporty yet affordable. But it’s not just the athletic styling; these vehicles often boast peppy engines and tuner-like handling. And while the full-size CX-9 has been a hit, the same wasn’t true for the midsize CX-7 (nixed last year). Enter the compact CX-5, which is smaller than the CX-7 but has more passenger room (especially in the backseat). It’s also lighter and — like the Buick Encore — full of standard features, even on the base trim. Three models available, though the top-of-the-line Grand Touring boasts heated seats, blind-spot warning system and nine-speaker Bose audio. The natty cabin — with no obnoxious faux wood or cheap chrome — is attractive yet uncluttered, a la the BMW X3. And braking and crash-test scores are stellar. As for power, the four-cylinder engine is more than adequate. For more of a racer’s edge, opt for the slick-shifting manual transmission.


Congressional LGBT Pride

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


Not forgotten

Michele Jouse, Matthew Shepard, gay news, Washington Blade

Filmmaker Michele Jouse with the late Matthew Shepard around the time they met in high school. (Photo courtesy Jouse)

The 15th anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s death, a college student who was tied to a fence and tortured for being gay, is being commemorated with the East Coast premiere of Michele Jouse’s documentary “Matthew Shepard is a Friend of Mine” at the Washington National Cathedral (3101 Wisconsin Ave., N.W.) on Oct. 4 at 7:30 p.m. and a month-long run of “The Laramie Project” at Ford’s Theatre (511 10th St., N.W.) beginning Sept. 27.

“Matthew Shepard Is A Friend of Mine” explores who Shepard was as a person, rather than the sensationalized LGBT rights icon he eventually became, through interviews with his family and close friends. Jouse, who met Shepard at boarding school, explains that making the documentary was therapeutic for her.

“It feels like yesterday sometimes,” she says. “I hadn’t really allowed myself to talk about it so much because it was so painful but its really helped with the healing process to talk about something that was so difficult.”

The film delves into personal moments between Shepard and his family and friends but also shows Jouse go through her own journey to better understand Shepard and the depression he dealt with before his death. Jouse visits Shepard’s home, the boarding school in Switzerland where they met and became friends and the University of Wyoming where Shepard was a student at the time of his death.

“The Laramie Project” begins its month-long run at Ford’s Theater today and goes through Oct. 27. Every Monday night at 7 p.m., a free panel discussion is scheduled with special guests Judy Shepard, Shepard’s mother, in conversation with Cokie Roberts Sept. 30 and former Laramie sheriff Dave O’Malley on Oct. 7. Ford’s hosts a special “Pay What You Can” preview performance Sunday at 7:30 p.m.

In celebration of National Coming Out Day, Dennis Shepard, Shepard’s father, will join leaders of the D.C. faith community in a candlelight vigil on Oct 11. There is also a world premiere exhibition showing through Nov. 3 of “Not Alone: The Power of Response” in which artist Jeff Sheng’s photograph “Where Matthew Lay Dying” is paired with a selection of letters sent to the Shepard family. Ford’s Theatre’s decision to participate in the anniversary is an important one for them.

“Matthew Shepard’s death in 1998 ignited a debate about the definition of hate crimes and strengthened the resolve of many to advocate for social justice,” says Paul Tetreault, Ford’s Theatre director.

Among these celebrations of Shepard’s life, the controversial new book “The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths About the Murder of Matthew Shepard” by journalist Stephen Jimenez has been released. The book claims the reason for Shepard’s murder was not because he was gay, but because he was a part of the “drug underworld” in Laramie, Wyo., the place of Shepard’s death. Jouse refutes the claim and says she has no plans to read the book because the sources are “anonymous and unreliable.”

“If people would really like to learn more about Matt as a real person and what happened to him, I would hope they watch our film and hear about it through the point of view of people who actually knew him and loved him,” Jouse says.

Since his death Shepard has become a symbol for LGBT rights and major LGBT equality efforts with The Matthew Shepard Foundation and the Matthew Shepard Act. Shepard’s death sparked an outcry for change from the public despite the large number of hate crimes that have occurred since. The documentary states that 33 hate crimes were committed during the year Shepard died alone. Jouse believes the reason for the interest in Shepard is a personal connection.

“I think people saw Matt and recognized him as someone they could have been friends with or saw something in Matt that reminded them of themselves,” Jouse says. “The idea of a hate crime can become an abstraction that you hear about in the news, but Matt made that personal and showed how hate can encroach in their lives and in their circles of friends.”

Tickets for “Matthew Shepard is a Friend of Mine” are $16. For more details and to purchase tickets, visit or For more information on “The Laramie Project” and to purchase tickets, visit