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2013: The year in superlatives

2013, Supreme Court, gay marriage, same sex marriage, marriage equality, Proposition 8, Hollingsworth vs. Perry, gay news, Washington Blade

Gay marriage advocates rallied at the Supreme Court earlier this year during oral arguments for two major cases. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The year 2013 will be remembered as the tipping point for LGBT rights, thanks largely to the Supreme Court’s rulings on DOMA and Prop 8. More states are marrying same-sex couples; we even have hints of a supportive new pope. So before we get too far into 2014, a look back at the 2013 year in superlatives.

Happy New Year and thanks for supporting the Blade.

 

2013, Edith Windsor, gay news, Washington Blade

Edith Windsor (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

PERSON OF THE YEAR: Edith Windsor. Forget Time and the Advocate — they both named Pope Francis person of the year — Windsor deserves this accolade for ignoring the advice of so-called experts and pressing ahead with her ultimately successful lawsuit that led to the demise of Article 3 of DOMA. She’s a remarkably courageous and fearless woman who deserves recognition and our gratitude.

 

MOST OVER-HYPED STORY: Hillary Clinton for president in 2016. President Obama had barely finished his eloquent, inclusive inaugural address when LGBT rights activists began laying the groundwork for Hillary’s inevitable 2016 run. Yes, she’s smart, tough and finally came around to endorsing marriage equality in 2013 but Obama represents a generational turning-of-the-page and we shouldn’t go back to the divisive, petty Clinton-Bush years. The U.S. isn’t a monarchy; we don’t need dynasties. We need new ideas, new leaders, a new generation stepping forward. Hillary has earned her place in history and the nation’s first female president will owe her a huge debt but let’s move on.

 

Anderson Cooper, CNN, gay news, Washington Blade

Anderson Cooper (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

MOST SANCTIMONIOUS JOHNNY-COME-LATELY ACTIVIST: Anderson Cooper. After hiding in the closet for 45 years, Cooper finally came out in 2012 and suddenly he’s our most prominent scold — bravely taking Alec Baldwin and others to task on Twitter for their homophobic slips. Cooper should let GLAAD enforce all the politically correct language rules and stick to reading his CNN teleprompter.

 

BIGGEST TOOL: MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts. Talk about delusional. Roberts in 2013 snapped up Andy Cohen’s sloppy seconds and agreed to host the cheesy Miss Universe pageant for Donald Trump in Moscow. In defense of taking a paycheck from the homophobic birther Trump, Roberts inexplicably likened himself to Harvey Milk, writing that going to Moscow would somehow give LGBT Russians “hope.” Of course, Roberts didn’t even mention gay rights from the Miss Universe stage. He dutifully did Trump’s bidding, all the while giving cover to Vladimir Putin and his anti-gay crackdown. Shame.

 

Pope Francis I, Catholic Church, gay news, Washington Blade

Pope Francis (Photo by Roberto Stuckert Filho via Wikimedia Commons)

MOST IMPROVED: The papacy. Just a few years ago, the Blade featured Pope Benedict on the year-in-review cover, labeled “Public enemy No. 1.” What a difference Pope Francis has made. In less than a year, he’s questioned the church’s attacks on marriage equality and contraception and turned the focus back to serving the poor. He’s questioned capitalism and is a welcome voice for challenging income disparities around the world, arguably one of the biggest challenges facing the U.S. economy.

 

LEAST CONVINCING CLOSET CASE: It’s a tie! Queen Latifah, who debuted her eponymous talk show in 2013, and longtime Fox News anchor Shepard Smith, share this dubious honor. Latifah could have followed Anderson Cooper’s lead and come out just in time to juice ratings for her talk show. Instead she stubbornly refuses to answer “the question,” and in the process fools no one. Smith, meanwhile, made headlines in 2013 when two New York Times columnists debated the ethics of outing him. (This was old news to Blade readers — I wrote back in 2005 of Smith’s efforts to pick me up at a NYC bar.) Like Latifah, Smith is fooling no one and should finally acknowledge what the rest of the world has been whispering about for years.

 

MOST ANTICIPATED 2014 LOCAL STORY: The Maryland gubernatorial election. The primary is scheduled for June 24 and on the Democratic side, three candidates are vying to replace Martin O’Malley: Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, Attorney General Doug Gansler and lesbian Del. Heather Mizeur. Most expect Brown to win the primary but don’t count Mizeur out. With Gansler prone to gaffes and his campaign likely to implode at any moment, Mizeur would remain the only alternative to the bland Brown who is merely waiting his turn. Mizeur has made several bold policy announcements and, if she can raise the necessary money, could shock the political establishment to become the nation’s first openly gay governor (we don’t count former New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey).

 

MOST ANTICIPATED 2014 INTERNATIONAL STORY: The Sochi Olympics. Will gay athletes protest? Who will lead the U.S. delegation? Will NBC do any tough reporting about Putin’s anti-gay crackdown or will the sunny, lobotomized Today show team engage in more Russia cheerleading? Will Rachel Maddow get to go? What will Johnny Weir wear? The anticipation is almost too much to bear.

01
Jan
2014

The story behind the Harvey Milk stamp

Harvey Milk stamp, gay news, Washington Blade

The Harvey Milk commemorative stamp is set to be released this spring.

While no specific date has been announced for the official release of the United States Postal Service’s first-ever Harvey Milk stamp, the Washington Blade has confirmed that the release date will be in May—not as late as June, as has been reported by several media outlets and as the postal service’s own Web site still indicates is possible.

“It will be May, not June,” said Susan McGowan, director of USPS Office of Stamps and Corporate Licensing. “And we hope people will turn out to experience a very special release ceremony.”

The stamp’s coming out party promises to be a big affair for the postal service—one that’s been nearly a decade in the making.

“Let’s just say it’s going to be a great celebration,” McGowan told the Blade.

Today, Harvey Milk may seem like a shoe-in as a candidate to be honored with the issuance of a U.S. postage stamp bearing his likeness.

But according to organizers of the National Harvey Milk Stamp Campaign, there was fervent opposition from some of the country’s most fundamentalist religious groups, as well as from some members of the Citizens Stamp Approval Committee (CSAC), which votes to approve about 25 stamp requests out of about 1,000 requests each year.

“I know for a fact that some of the stamp committee members were absolutely opposed to the idea of a Harvey Milk stamp or a stamp honoring any homosexual leader,” said San Diego City Commissioner Nicole Murray Ramirez, head of the International Imperial Court System, which led the national campaign to win approval for the stamp.

“That was early on, of course. I think as the process moved on and they saw how much support we had not only from Democrats, but from top Republicans, support grew.”

Although she couldn’t say whether the Citizens Stamp Approval Committee’s vote for the Harvey Milk stamp was divided or unanimous, USPS’s McGowan was adamant that there is no story of impassioned opposition to the stamp on the committee.

“I think you’re trying to find controversy where there wasn’t any,” she said. “It’s quite possible the vote was unanimous; we don’t keep those details because all that is needed is a simple majority for approval.”

What matters, says McGowan, is that the committee did approve the Harvey Milk stamp, and that it will be released in May.

Ramirez said the process for winning approval for the Harvey Milk stamp was arduous. But he added that he and his colleagues on the stamp campaign, including Stuart Milk — Harvey Milk’s nephew who is also a gay civil rights advocate — GLAAD, the Human Rights Campaign, the Harvey Milk Foundation, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, numerous senators and members of Congress, mayors and others, were gratified that it succeeded.

“I don’t think it was as hard as it would have been 20 years ago,” Ramirez said. “In the end, I think we were treated fairly and we got approval for the stamp faster than a lot of other stamp campaigns.”

Still, some organizations such as Save California, a right-wing religious group, plan to protest the postal service’s decision to commemorate Harvey Milk, whom they call a “sexual predator.”

Nevertheless, Ramirez said national symbols, such as commemorative stamps, speak louder and resound for longer than any words of hate or bigotry espoused by angry ultra-conservatives.

“The fact that we now have the image of one of our greatest GLBT leaders on a beautifully designed United States postage stamp says more than anything else about how far we have come as a country fighting against the hatred that we still face as gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people,” said Ramirez.

Ramirez knows about that history through his own experience. He helped lead historic marches for LGBT rights in the early 1970s in downtown San Diego and other California locales to protest police abuse of gay people.

“Young people don’t know how bad it was,” Ramirez said. “You could get beat up or worse by the police, just for being in a gay bar. This stamp honoring Harvey Milk shows that by fighting for our rights and never giving up, we can change the way the majority of people behave toward minorities, whether it’s racial minorities or GLBT people.”

According to McGowan, the postal service received thousands of letters of support for the Milk stamp.

“It was overwhelming,” she said. “We get about 30,000 letters of support for stamp proposals every year, but that’s for all of the thousand or so annual stamp proposals combined. The amount of public support for this stamp was really amazing.”

The stamp campaign began with a simple letter, dated Oct. 20, 2009, signed by Ramirez in his capacity then as chair of the City of San Diego’s Human Relations Commission, asking the Citizens Stamp Approval Committee to consider and approve the design and issuance of a U.S. postage stamp commemorating and bearing an image of San Francisco City and County Supervisor Harvey Milk.

In essence, the Harvey Milk campaign asked the postal service for the first time to specifically honor a person for being a tireless soldier in the battle for equal rights for LGBT people—and for having the courage and tenacity to become one of the nation’s first openly gay elected public officials.

Ramirez and his fellow signers of the San Diego Human Relations Commission’s letter to CSAC wrote in 2009: “The governor of the state of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, recently inducted Harvey Milk into the California Hall of Fame, saying ‘he embodies California’s innovative spirit and has made a mark on history.”

By citing California’s then Republican governor’s support for the stamp, the campaign hoped to demonstrate the principles Milk stood for crossed party lines.

“Harvey Milk is recognized nationally and globally as a pioneer of the LGBT civil rights movement for his exceptional leadership and dedication to equal rights,” the letter continued.

That same year, the film “Milk” won Sean Penn an Oscar for best actor in recognition of his critically acclaimed portrayal of the slain civil rights leader. The hit film also brought home an Oscar for writer Dustin Lance Black for best screenplay.

That was also the year that President Obama posthumously awarded Harvey Milk the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Now, five years later, a postage stamp featuring Milk’s smiling face will finally be released. The stamp will find its way into the stamp collections of philatelists throughout the world.

According to one gay stamp collector, given the fact that this is the first stamp expressly honoring an openly gay American hero, it is conceivable that the postal service may get a whole new generation of LGBT philatelists as stamp-collecting customers.

“Harvey Milk continues to inspire us all to strive for a society that provides unlimited and equal opportunities for all our citizens,” wrote Rep. Nancy Pelosi to CSAC when she was still speaker of the House of Representatives, imploring the committee to approve the stamp. “The United States Postal Service has yet to honor an LGBT American hero with a stamp, commemorating the life and efforts of Harvey Milk would be a testament to Harvey’s courage and a symbol of pride to anyone who has ever felt discrimination or cared about those who have.”

Recently, a new stamp campaign was launched for another openly gay Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient.

In January, the Blade broke the news that many of the same people and organizations that won approval for the Harvey Milk stamp have joined with Walter Naegle, Mandy Carter and the National Black Justice Coalition (which Carter cofounded), to win approval for a United States postage stamp commemorating the life and work of the late Bayard Rustin.

Along with A. Phillip Randolph, Rustin was chief organizer of the 1963 March on Washington for Freedom and Jobs, where Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his historic “I Have a Dream” speech.

“The current campaign is a new effort, but there have been letters written for more than a decade suggesting that Bayard be honored with a stamp,” said Walter Naegle, Rustin’s surviving partner. “Perhaps an increase in the number of supporters will help, but the postal service doesn’t seem to be influenced by such efforts.”

Naegle is currently engaged in an ongoing Rustin awareness campaign, focusing his efforts on a multitude of fronts. He promises to do what he can to help the Bayard Rustin National Stamp Campaign succeed.

19
Mar
2014

Closeted Fox News anchor attends gay fundraiser

Shepard Smith, NLGJA, gay news, Washington Blade

Shepard Smith is among those who posed for a selfie that CNN anchor Don Lemon took at the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association’s annual Headlines and Headliners fundraiser in New York on March 20, 2013. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

NEW YORK – Fox News anchor Shepard Smith on Thursday refused reporters’ requests to ask him about his sexual orientation during a National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association fundraiser.

“I’m going to walk over here,” he said as the Washington Blade asked him about his sexual orientation during NLGJA’s Headlines and Headliners fundraiser at the Prince George Ballroom in Manhattan.

A Gawker reporter with whom the Blade spoke outside the venue said Smith took a picture of him with his cell phone as he walked to his car. The Fox News anchor rushed past the reporter as he tried to ask him questions.

Blade Editor Kevin Naff outed Smith in 2005 after Smith hit on him in a Manhattan bar. That incident was featured in the documentary film “Outrage;” he recounted the experience earlier this month.

NLGJA invited Smith as a “special guest” to attend the annual Manhattan fundraiser. He appeared in a selfie with CNN anchors Don Lemon and Ashleigh Banfield, MSNBC host Ronan Farrow, Fox News anchor Jamie Colby, “Good Morning America” correspondent Amy Robach, who emceed the event, and others.

CNN reporter Jeanne Moos and Bryan Norcross of The Weather Channel are among those who also attended the fundraiser.

“Our company’s the sponsor,” Smith told the Blade. “I’m really happy to be here and it’s great to see a lot of old friends.”

LGBT rights advocates have repeatedly criticized Fox News over the network’s coverage of LGBT issues.

GLAAD earlier this month criticized Fox News host Jeanine Pirro after the group said she didn’t challenge Rev. William Owens of the Coalition of African American Pastors’ over his anti-LGBT rhetoric during a segment on whether U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder should be impeached. Media Matters for America in February highlighted a series of guests on “The O’Reilly Factor” and other Fox News programs who criticized New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s decision to not march in the city’s annual St. Patrick’s Day parade because organizers do not allow LGBT people to openly participate.

 

21
Mar
2014

UMass basketball player comes out as gay

Derrick Gordon, gay news, Washington Blade, basketball, Division I, University of Massechusetts

Derrick Gordon came out to fans on his Instagram account with the statement, “This is the happiest I have ever been in my 22 Years of living…No more HIDING!!!” (Photo via FlashGordon Instagram)

A University of Massachusetts guard has become the first member of a National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I basketball player to come out as gay.

“I’ve always loved sports but always felt I had to hide and be someone that I’m not,” Derrick Gordon told ESPN in an interview published on its website on Wednesday. “I am telling my story so that athletes never feel like they have to hide. You can be true to yourself and play the sport that you love.”

Outsports.com reported Gordon disclosed his sexual orientation to his teammates on April 2 after the team lost to the University of Tennessee in the NCAA tournament. The website said Wade Davis, a gay former National Football League player, and Gordon’s high school basketball coach, Anthony Nicodemo, worked with the UMass guard to help him come out.

“I was deeply moved watching Derrick open his heart to his UMass basketball family,” said Davis, who is the executive director of the You Can Play Project, in a GLAAD press release. “His desire to invite his teammates into his life speaks to how athletes view their teammates as their family,” said Wade Davis, Executive Director of the You Can Play Project.”

Gordon came out roughly two weeks after Mitch Eby, a football player at Chapman University in California, publicly announced his sexual orientation.

Michael Sam, a defensive lineman at the University of Missouri, in February came out.

The potential mid-round NFL draft pick is poised to potentially become the first openly gay professional football player.

09
Apr
2014

Time cover features Laverne Cox

Laverne Cox, gay news, Washington Blade, Orange is the New Black

Laverne Cox (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

NEW YORK — Actress Laverne Cox has become the first transgender person to appear on the cover of Time magazine.

Cox, who plays Sophia Burset in “Orange is the New Black,” is featured on the cover of the publication’s June 9 issue next to the headline “The Transgender Tipping Point” for Katy Steinmetz’s article on the trans rights movement as “America’s next civil rights frontier.”

“I realize this is way bigger than me and about a tipping point in our nation’s history where it is no (longer) acceptable for trans lives to be stigmatized, ridiculed, criminalized and disregarded,” wrote Cox on her Facebook page. “This is for my trans siblings out there and for anyone who has ever been told that who you know yourself to be at your core is not legitimate. You are who you know yourselves to be.”

Cox delivered the keynote address at the annual Equality Virginia Commonwealth Dinner in April. She also spoke at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s Creating Change conference that took place in Houston in April.

GLAAD and other LGBT rights advocates sharply criticized the Chicago Sun-Times for posting to its website an op-ed written by Kevin D. Williamson of the National Review that claimed Cox is not a woman. The newspaper on June 3 removed it.

04
Jun
2014

Anti-homophobia campaigns arrive amid World Cup hoopla

FIFA World Cup, Brazil, gay news, Washington Blade

(Photo by Marcello Casal Jr. of Agência Brasil; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

LGBT rights advocates in the U.S. and around the world have launched a series of campaigns and other initiatives during the World Cup that are designed to combat homophobia in soccer.

GLAAD last week released two videos in English and Spanish that show same-sex couples celebrating the end of a match with members of their families under the banner “The Game We Love Has No Room for Hate.” The campaign also contains the hashtag #StoptheSlurs.

“Yes to winning, no to homophobia,” says GLAAD spokesperson Wilson Cruz in the video.

A YouTube campaign titled #ProudtoPlay features Brooklyn Nets center Jason Collins, Michael Sam of the St. Louis Rams, Robbie Rogers of the Los Angeles Galaxy and other openly LGBT athletes and allies including late South African President Nelson Mandela and President Obama.

Gay Brazilian Congressman Jean de Wyllys appears in a Google campaign titled “Play with Pride” or “Jogue Com Orgulho” in Portuguese. The ad in which he appears was posted online on June 4.

“Sport should give us pride and never should come with discrimination or exclusion; regardless of ethnicity, social status, gender, sexual orientation or any other type (of factor,)” says Wyllys.

The LGBT Federation of Argentina last week unveiled its own campaign designed to combat homophobia in soccer. Retired soccer player Sergio Goycochea and Argentine sports reporter Juan Manuel Varela are among those who appear in the “Fair Play” spots that feature clips of fans using homophobic and racist chants to taunt players from opposing teams during games.

“We are launching this campaign that is an attempt to reclaim the best values of sports in general, and in soccer in particular, of inclusion, solidarity and equality,” said LGBT Federation of Argentina President Esteban Paulón.

FIFA rules specifically ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender, but homophobia remains pervasive in professional soccer.

A video posted to YouTube shows fans calling Spanish soccer player Diego da Silva Costa a “viado” or “faggot” in Portuguese during the match between Spain and the Netherlands that took place in Salvador on June 13.

GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis noted in a letter to FIFA President Joseph Blatter that T-shirts for sale in Brazil before the World Cup began in São Paulo on June 12 referred to retired Argentinian soccer star Diego Maradona as a “maricón” or “faggot” in Spanish and Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo as “gay.”

“As you can imagine, hearing this type of anti-LGBT language makes lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and our families and friends not only feel insulted, but unsafe,” wrote Ellis in her letter to Blatter. “As the world converges in Brazil, we want to ensure World Cup is a safe and celebratory event for everyone.”

Brazilian groups issue LGBT ‘manifesto’

Advocates also hope to use the World Cup to highlight the anti-LGBT discrimination, violence and persecution that continues to take in place in many of the countries that qualified for the quadrennial event.

Homosexuality is punishable by death in Iran and portions of northern Nigeria. Consensual same-sex sexual acts remain illegal in Algeria, Ghana, Nigeria and Cameroon.

Russian President Vladimir Putin last June signed a law that bans so-called propaganda to minors amid an ongoing crackdown of LGBT rights in his country. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan in January signed a draconian bill into law that punishes those who enter into a same-sex marriage with up to 14 years in prison and bans anyone from officiating a gay union, “amorous” same-sex relationships and membership in an LGBT advocacy group.

Walter Tróchez is among the dozens of Honduran LGBT rights advocates who have been murdered since a 2009 coup toppled then-President Manuel Zelaya and forced him into temporary exile.

Gays and lesbians can legally marry in Brazil, in spite of rampant anti-LGBT discrimination and violence that disproportionately affects transgender Brazilians of African descent. A report from Grupo Gay da Bahia, a Brazilian advocacy group, documented 313 anti-LGBT murders in the South American country last year.

Grupo Dignidade and nearly 20 other Brazilian advocacy groups in February signed what they described s a “manifesto in respect of LGBT people during the 2014 World Cup” that urges qualifying countries to guarantee the rights of their lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens. It also cites Brazilian government statistics that include 9,982 “homophobic human rights violations” in 2012.

Members of the groups plan to protest outside the matches between Iran and Nigeria and Algeria and Russia that are scheduled to take place in Curitiba on Monday and June 26 respectively.

“We will march together, in a democratic and peaceful manner, through the streets of Curitiba to demonstrate and give voice to our cry for help,” say the groups in their February announcement. “It is essential to make clear that we do not condone acts of violence, rioting or vandalism, nor are we against the football teams or the people of Iran, Nigeria, Algeria or Russia. Our intention is to denounce homophobia in the world and demand measures to curb it.”

Paulón last week reiterated his group’s position that this year’s World Cup is “an extraordinary opportunity” to highlight the “discriminatory situations that habitually occur on the soccer field” in Argentina and other countries.

“You have to leave the (soccer) fields and also reach supporters in the stands to forcefully combat discrimination — not only towards lesbians, gays, bisexuals and trans people.”

Russia is slated to host the World Cup in 2018.

The quadrennial sporting event is scheduled to take place in Qatar, which criminalizes homosexuality with up to three years in prison, in 2022.

16
Jun
2014

Closeted Fox anchor calls Robin Williams ‘coward’

Shepard Smith, Robin Williams, gay news, Washington Blade

Shepard Smith, on right, attended a National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association event in March. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael K. Lavers)

NEW YORK — A closeted Fox News host on Aug. 11 suggested Robin Williams was a “coward” for taking his own life.

“Something inside you is so horrible, or you’re such a coward or whatever the reason that you decide you have to end it,” Shepard Smith said on the air shortly after news of Williams’ death broke and reports he had been suffering from depression began to emerge. “Robin Williams at 63 did that today.”

Smith later expressed regret.

“I have no way of knowing the depths of Mr. Williams’ suffering, but I never meant to suggest that he acted in any such manner,” he said in a statement as the Associated Press reported on Aug. 12. “He was a one-of-a-kind American treasure and I regret using any word during the hour-long special, reflecting on his extraordinary career, that would appear I disparaged him in any way.”

Smith has faced persistent questions about his homosexuality over the years.

The Fox News anchor refused to answer the Washington Blade’s questions about his sexual orientation during a fundraiser for the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association in March. Blade editor Kevin Naff outed Smith in 2005.

“Shepard Smith has been cowering in Fox’s closet for years,” Naff said this week. “He gives new meaning to the word ‘coward.’”

GLAAD and Media Matters for America are among the groups and advocates that have criticized the network for its coverage of LGBT issues.

13
Aug
2014

Yogi Berra lends name to sports equality movement

Yogi Berra, gay news, Washington Blade

Legendary Yankees catcher Yogi Berra is an Athlete Ally ambassador. (Photo by Martyna Borkowski; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

In a little-noticed development, famed New York Yankees catcher Yogi Berra agreed last year to become a ceremonial ambassador for Athlete Ally, an organization that partners with big name sports figures to advocate for full acceptance of LGBT athletes in professional sports.

In addition to allowing Athlete Ally to use his name in promoting LGBT equality, the nationally acclaimed baseball Hall of Famer embraced a proposal to include an LGBT exhibit in the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center located on the campus of Montclair State University in New Jersey.

“Yogi is a wonderful example making good choices,” said David Kaplan, executive director of the Berra Museum. “All of our programs and exhibits are about fairness and respect. And our involvement with Athlete Ally and shedding some light on this cause was just so consistent with our mission,” he said.

Berra declined an interview request, due to health issues.

Athlete Ally is among at least a dozen organizations that have either sprung up or expanded their mission in the past several years to take on the cause of LGBT athletes in American sports, both on the professional level and on the high school and college level.

Sam Marchiano, Athlete Ally’s outreach director, said Berra is one of 100 professional athlete ambassadors the group has lined up to advocate on behalf of LGBT equality. She said another 100 college athlete ambassadors have been recruited.

Photos of many of them, including Berra, are prominently featured on the group’s website along with the text of a pledge that Athlete Ally asks all of its allies to sign.

“I pledge to lead my athletic community to respect and welcome all persons, regardless of their perceived or actual sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression,” the pledge says. “Beginning right now, I will do my part to promote the best of athletics by making all players feel respected on and off the field,” it says.

Cyd Zeigler, co-founder and editor of Out Sports, an online publication that reports on LGBT people in sports, said Athlete Ally is the only organization that currently operates exclusively as a straight ally group.

He noted that all the others, including longtime existing groups like Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and the National Center for Lesbian Rights, have sports-related programs that work with straight allies but are focused mostly on LGBT athletes.

According to Zeigler, the growing number of professional athletes that have come out as gay or lesbian in recent years has begun to change the focus of what he calls the LGBT sports movement from supportive allies to LGBT athletes themselves.

“I come from the perspective that straight allies are fading very quickly into the distance of this movement because there are so many LGBT athletes and LGBT people who are joining the sports movement that straight allies just aren’t needed anymore,” he said.

David McFarland, executive director of United for Equality in Sports and Entertainment, and Wade Davis, executive director of You Can Play Project, two recently formed groups that advocate for LGBT athletes, each agree that the growing number of LGBT athletes coming out publicly is an encouraging development.

But the two also said the number of LGBT athletes coming out is far less than what it should be and that most LGBT athletes on the high school, college and professional level remain reluctant to self-identify as LGBT.

“While many of the most powerful sports institutions have made great strides to publicly support and embrace LGBT equality such as the National Football League, the National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League, etc., the truth is that sexual orientation and gender identity remain problematic for many of these organizations within sports at all levels,” McFarland said.

“That’s the reality,” he said. “If this were not the case we would see hundreds if not thousands of LGBT athletes on the playing fields,” said McFarland. “And we would see many more coaches and sports administrators that felt safe enough to come out without the risk of losing their jobs.”

Davis is gay and a former NFL player who, among other teams, played for the Washington Redskins. He said he knows of a number of professional athletes in several different sports that are out to their teammates but are not out publicly.

Davis and McFarland said their respective groups either currently provide or plan to provide educational resources, including training sessions, for players and coaches to dispel myths about LGBT people and lessen the fears and underlying feelings that make it hard for LGBT athletes to come out.

Another of the newer generation of advocacy groups for LGBT athletes is ‘Go! Athletes,’ which consists of a nationwide network of mostly LGBT student athletes and their straight allies. With members in cities throughout the country, the group, which was founded in 2008, has been “spreading the word about LGBT athletes and our experiences with coming out, receiving support, fighting homophobia, transphobia, racism, sexism, and other anti-LGBT discrimination in the world of athletics,” a statement on the group’s website says.

The website says Georgetown University student Craig Casey Jr., who’s gay and was elected as an Advisory Neighborhood Commission member, serves as a Go! Athletes Collegiate Ambassador for Washington, D.C.

The group Br{ache the Silence also works with LGBT student athletes in its mission to “shift the focus from homophobia to inclusion,” it says on its website, freedomsounds.org.

“Br{ache the Silence (BST) advances LGBTQ inclusion in sports through professional college campus integration initiatives and public awareness campaigns,” a message on the website says.

The New York-based Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) advocates for LGBT youth in school sports programs beginning in grades K through 12 through its Changing the Game Project. Among other things, the project works with gym teachers and school athletic programs to curtail and eliminate anti-LGBT bias targeting students.

“What you see at the pro level really starts in kindergarten and on the playground in recess time,” GLSEN official Robert McGarry told the Blade in a past interview. “We’ve been doing training across the country with mostly high school coaches and physical education teachers who seem very receptive and anxious to have this kind of training because it’s not something they get in their preparation and they don’t know what to do.”

GLAAD spokesperson Rich Ferraro said GLAAD for several years now has worked closely with major league sports organizations to persuade them to adopt internal non-discrimination polices protecting LGBT athletes. Virtually all of them have done so, including Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League.

Ferraro said the GLAAD sports project has also lobbied professional sports leagues and teams to make public statements endorsing LGBT equality and condemning anti-LGBT bullying. In response to efforts by GLAAD and other groups, the New York Yankees recently adopted a strict policy prohibiting homophobic taunts and chants by fans at Yankee Stadium during games that calls for ejecting those who violate the policy, Ferraro said.

In its Athletes for Equality program, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation draws attention to LGBT rights by arranging for runners, both LGBT and straight, to participate in marathon races to raise money for the HRC Foundation, according to foundation official Jay Brown.

Brown said HRC sponsored a marathon and half marathon in Akron, Ohio, earlier this month as part of the Gay Games. He said Athletes for Equality will be participating in October in the annual Marine Corps Marathon in D.C.

Zeigler said another recent addition to the LGBT sports advocacy scene was the creation in 2012 by leaders of these and other groups of the LGBT Sports Coalition, which serves as an association of organizations and individuals working to end anti-LGBT bias in sports by 2016.

Last October, Nike Corporation, which bills itself as the world’s largest sports company, donated $200,000 to the LGBT Sports Coalition, expressing strong support for the coalition’s efforts to end bias and discrimination in sports.

Following is a partial list of LGBT athlete advocacy groups.

Athlete Ally
Changing the Game Project
You Can Play Project
United for Equality in Sports and Entertainment
Outsports
GLAAD Sports Project
Go! Athletes
Br{ache the Silence
Homophobia in Sports Project
LGBT Sports Coalition

20
Aug
2014

National LGBT groups: ‘Trayvon deserves justice’

Trayvon Martin, gay news, Washington Blade

Trayvon Martin (Photo released into the public domain by the family of Trayvon Martin)

A coalition of 34 national LGBT rights organizations and the ACLU issued a joint statement late Monday expressing solidarity with the family and supporters of teenage shooting victim Trayvon Martin following the acquittal on Saturday of the Florida man charged in his death.

“We cannot begin to imagine the continued pain and suffering endured by Trayvon Martin’s family and friends,” the statement says. “We stand in solidarity with them as they continue to fight for justice, civil rights and closure.”

The statement adds, “Trayvon Martin deserves justice and his civil rights. We support the organizations and community leaders who are urging the federal government to explore every option to ensure that justice is served for Trayvon and that his civil rights are honored and respected.”

The National Black Justice Coalition, a national LGBT group; and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force initiated the statement, which the groups are calling an open letter entitled “Trayvon Deserves Justice.”

Nearly all of the most prominent national LGBT groups signed on to the statement, including the Human Rights Campaign, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, GLAAD, the Transgender Law Center, and Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG).

The statement comes two days after a jury of six women in Sanford, Fla., found neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman not guilty of second-degree murder and manslaughter for the February 2012 shooting death of 17-year-old Martin, who was unarmed.

The case triggered a heated debate throughout the country over racial profiling, with back civil right leaders and many supporters arguing that Zimmerman assumed Martin was a criminal because he was black. Zimmerman is white and Hispanic.

Zimmerman told police he followed Martin after seeing him walking through his gated community. He claimed he shot Martin in self-defense after the two got into a fight and Martin allegedly knocked him down and began pounding his head into a cement sidewalk.

Prosecutors noted that Martin was living in the community with his father and had done nothing wrong. They told the jury Zimmerman was responsible for his death by starting a confrontation based on the false assumption that Martin was a potential criminal.

The statement by the LGBT organizations stops short of a national online petition circulated by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) that calls for the U.S. Justice Department to prosecute Zimmerman on one or more federal civil rights law violations.

Attorney General Eric Holder said on Monday that the Justice Department he heads is continuing an investigation into the case begun last year. He said the department would make a determination on whether or not to prosecute Zimmerman based on “the facts and the law.”

The national LGBT organizations said in their statement that the advocacy for justice and civil rights should not end with the final outcome of the Justice Department’s investigation into the Trayvon Martin case.

“[W]e will honor Trayvon Martin by strengthening our commitment to end bias, hatred, profiling and violence across our communities,” the statement says.

“We represent organizations with diverse lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender constituencies. Our community has been targets of bigotry, bias, profiling and violence,” says the statement. “We have experienced the heart-breaking despair of young people targeted for who they are, who they are presumed to be, or who they love…”

LGBT activists in the D.C. area were expected to participate in protests over the Zimmerman verdict planned for Saturday in cities throughout the country. Details on the time and location of any D.C. area protests had yet to be announced as of late Monday.

Following is the text of the statement by the national LGBT organizations and the names of the groups that signed it:

An Open Letter: Trayvon Deserves Justice

We cannot begin to imagine the continued pain and suffering endured by Trayvon Martin’s family and friends. We stand in solidarity with them as they continue to fight for justice, civil rights and closure. And we thank everyone who has pushed and will continue to push for justice.

Trayvon Martin deserves justice and his civil rights. We support the organizations and community leaders who are urging the federal government to explore every option to ensure that justice is served for Trayvon and that his civil rights are honored and respected. But our work does not end there: we will honor Trayvon Martin by strengthening our commitment to end bias, hatred, profiling and violence across our communities.

We represent organizations with diverse lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender constituencies. Our community has been targets of bigotry, bias, profiling and violence. We have experienced the heart-breaking despair of young people targeted for who they are, who they are presumed to be, or who they love: Rashawn Brazell, Lawrence King, Ali Forney, Brandon Teena, Brandon White, Matthew Shepard, Marco McMillian, Angie Zapata, Sakia Gunn, Gwen Araujo and countless others.

Every person, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity, must be able to walk the streets without fear for their safety.

Justice delayed is justice denied and in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “a right delayed is a right denied.” We honor Trayvon by seeking justice for all people.

All Out
American Civil Liberties Union
Believe Out Loud
BiNet USA
Bisexual Resource Center
Center for Black Equity
CenterLink: The Community of LGBT Centers
Consortium of Higher Education LGBT Resource Professionals
Equality Federation
Family Equality Council
Freedom to Work
Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network
Gay-Straight Alliance Network (GSA Network)
GetEQUAL
GMHC
GLAD
GLAAD
Harvey Milk Foundation
Human Rights Campaign
Immigration Equality
Lambda Legal
Movement Advancement Project
National Black Justice Coalition
National Center for Lesbian Rights
National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs
National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
National Minority AIDS Council
National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance
Out & Equal Workplace Advocates
PFLAG National
The Trevor Project
Trans Advocacy Network
Transgender Law Center
Trans People of Color Coalition

16
Jul
2013

Miss Universe Organization criticizes Russia LGBT rights record

Russia, anti-gay, gay news, Washington Blade

Protesters gathered outside of the Russian Embassy on Wednesday, July 31, 2013. (Washington Blade photo by Damien Salas)

The Miss Universe Organization on Tuesday expressed concern over a law that bans gay propaganda to minors in Russia and the ongoing anti-LGBT crackdown in the country.

“The Miss Universe Organization believes in equality for all individuals and is deeply concerned by the laws recently enacted in Russia and currently in place in several other countries,” it said in a statement GLAAD released. “Both the law, as well as the violence experienced by the LGBT community in Russia, are diametrically opposed to the core values of our company. Our organization has always embodied a spirit of inclusion and is a celebration of people from all countries and walks of life.”

The statement comes less than a week after Andy Cohen told E! News he turned down a request to co-host the 2013 Miss Universe pageant that will take place in Moscow in November, in part, because “he didn’t feel right as a gay man stepping foot into Russia.”

Francesco Pascuzzi, a gay man from Somerville, N.J., urged the Miss Universe Organization that Donald Trump co-owns with NBC Universal, in a Change.org petition to relocate this year’s pageant from the Russian capital over the country’s LGBT rights record.

“It is our hope this year’s Miss Universe contest in Moscow will help foster a common understanding and appreciation of the rights of all individuals, regardless of their nationality, race, religion or sexual orientation,” the Miss Universe Organization statement said.

Cohen could not be reached for comment.

Trump’s representatives last week did not return the Blade’s request for an interview.

“While I appreciate the Miss Universe Organization’s concern over Russia’s anti-gay policy, statements alone won’t protect gay staff and fans traveling to the pageant,” Pascuzzi said in a statement.

Growing outrage over the country’s gay rights record threatens to overshadow the 2014 Winter Olympics that will take place in Sochi, Russia, in February.

Russian chess champion Gary Kasparov and playwright Harvey Fierstein are among those who have called for a boycott of the Sochi games. Author Dan Savage, LGBT rights advocate Cleve Jones and others have called for a boycott of Russian vodka.

Gay Olympic diver Greg Louganis, who was unable to compete in the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow because then-President Jimmy Carter boycotted them over the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan the year before, is among those who feel the U.S. should compete in the Sochi games. President Obama, retired tennis champion Martina Navratilova and a coalition of LGBT advocacy groups that include Outsports.com and Athlete Ally also oppose an Olympic boycott.

Figure skater Johnny Weir, whose husband is of Russian descent, told CBS News earlier this month he is “not afraid of being arrested” while at the Sochi games.

American runner Nick Symmonds criticized the gay propaganda ban after he competed at the World Athletic Championships in Moscow last week. High jumper Emma Green Tregaro and sprinter Mao Hjelmer, who are from Sweden, painted their fingernails in rainbow colors as they competed in the same event.

The Miss Universe Organization said in its statement the “safety of our contestants, staff and crew is of the utmost importance.” It added it continues to work with “our Russian hosts to ensure the security and well-being of those traveling to Russia for the pageant.”

GLAAD said it plans to urge the Miss Universe Organization to continue speaking out against the gay propaganda law and anti-LGBT violence in Russia.

“Miss Universe is an organization with incredible impact all around the globe,” GLAAD spokesperson Omar Sharif, Jr., said. “Following this important first statement, Miss Universe has a unique opportunity to continue to speak out against the anti-LGBT violence and laws in Russia and demonstrate that the international community does not support Russia’s anti-LGBT brutality.”

20
Aug
2013