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‘It’s a new day’ in Virginia politics

Washington Blade, Terry McAuliffe

Virginia Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe takes office three days after the 2014 legislative session begins. (Washington Blade photo by Lee Whitman)

Efforts to ban anti-LGBT discrimination and repeal a state constitutional amendment that prohibits same-sex marriage are among the priorities for Virginia LGBT rights advocates during the 2014 legislative session that begins on Wednesday.

State Sen. A. Donald McEachin (D-Henrico County) has once again introduced a bill that would ban discrimination against state employees based on their sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.

The state Senate last January approved the measure by a 24-16 vote margin, but a Virginia House of Delegates subcommittee subsequently killed it. Governor-elect Terry McAuliffe has repeatedly said the first executive order he will issue once he takes office on Saturday is a ban on anti-LGBT discrimination against state employees.

“We definitely want to continue that momentum,” said Equality Virginia Executive Director James Parrish.

McEachin, state Sens. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) and Janet Howell (D-Fairfax County) and state Dels. Joe Morrissey (D-Henrico County), Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax County), Rob Krupicka (D-Alexandria), Ken Plum (D-Fairfax County) and Charniele Herring (D-Alexandria) have sponsored proposed resolutions that would seek a repeal of the commonwealth’s same-sex marriage ban that voters in 2006 approved by a 57-43 percent margin. Howell and state Del. Joseph Yost (D-Giles County) are expected to introduce bills in their respective chambers that would extend second-parent adoption rights to gays and lesbians.

Parrish told the Blade that more than 50 families have already said they want to testify in support of the measure.

“We expect that to be a big bill in the House and in the Senate,” he said.

State Del.-elect Marcus Simon (D-Falls Church) has pre-filed a bill that would ban anti-LGBT employment discrimination in the commonwealth. State Del. Ron Villanueva (R-Virginia Beach) has introduced an identical measure.

Simon has also proposed a measure that seeks to add sexual orientation and gender identity and expression to the Virginia Fair Housing Law.

State Del. Patrick Hope (D-Arlington County) next week is expected to introduce a bill that would ban so-called “ex-gay” conversion therapy to minors in the commonwealth.

The Alliance for Progressive Values has worked with the Arlington County Democrat to write the bill that Ebbin is expected to introduce in the Senate.

Hope told the Blade on Tuesday similar bills that California Gov. Jerry Brown and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed into law last year “certainly inspired me that this is the right time to bring this to Virginia.”

Parrish said Equality Virginia would support the proposal, but Hope conceded it will likely face resistance.

“This is an uphill battle,” he said. “This is Virginia that we’re talking about, so I expect some stiff opposition and some hurdles.”

Christopher Doyle, director of the Maryland-based International Healing Foundation, singled out the Southern Poverty Law Center and other organizations that oppose “ex-gay” therapy for encouraging Hope and other state lawmakers to introduce measures that seek to ban the controversial practice.

“No one has ever tried to ban a specific therapeutic modality for any mental health issues,” Doyle told the Blade. “The foundations of the bill are incorrect and politicians are being misinformed and deceived.”

Krupicka and state Sen. Barbara Favola (D-Fairfax County) have introduced bills that would allow the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles to issue license plates to Equality Virginia supporters that contain the slogan “Equality for All.”

Parrish said his group will also oppose a measure state Del. Bob Marshall (D-Prince William County) introduced that would require married same-sex couples to file their Virginia income tax returns as single individuals because the commonwealth does not recognize their unions. This measure seeks to codify the policy outgoing Gov. Bob McDonnell announced in November.

“We have been reaching out to the new administration though about what we can possibly do about that very punitive tax opinion that came out of the [outgoing Gov. Bob] McDonnell administration,” said Parrish.

The 2014 legislative session will begin three days before McAuliffe, Lieutenant Gov.-elect Ralph Northam and Attorney General-elect Mark Herring take office.

All three men publicly support marriage rights for same-sex couples. It remains unclear whether McAuliffe and Herring will defend Virginia’s gay marriage ban in two federal lawsuits that challenge it.

“It’s a new day,” Ebbin told the Blade as he discussed McAuliffe, Northam and Herring. “We’ll be dealing with people who are looking to help us instead of looking to harm and stymie us.”

Parrish said the tone from the governor and the attorney general’s offices will be “a 180” compared to McDonnell and outgoing Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. He added the House will continue to remain a barrier to advancing LGBT-specific legislation during this legislative session.

“Now that we have a friendly administration in the governor and the attorney general’s office, it will allow us to better make the narrative that the Senate and the governor and the attorney general and the Virginia public are all on the same page,” said Parrish. “And it’s the House of Delegates that’s blocked any forward movement for the LGBT community.”

08
Jan
2014

Delaware to recognize Utah same-sex marriages

Beau Biden, Delaware, gay news, Washington Blade, gay marriage, same sex marriage, marriage equality, HB 75, marriage equality

Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden on Wednesday said his state will recognize same-sex marriages performed in Utah.

“Marriage equality is the law in Delaware and I strongly believe that individuals outside our state borders should be equally free to choose whom to love and whom to spend their lives with,” said Biden in a statement that announced his decision. “More than 1,300 marriages of same-sex couples were legally performed in Utah between Dec. 20, 2013, and Jan. 6, 2014, after couples received marriage licenses by Utah authorities. It is our position that these marriages are and should be recognized as valid under Delaware law.”

Biden made the announcement hours after Equality Delaware President Lisa Goodman and Equality Delaware Foundation President Mark Purpura sent him a letter that urged the Democrat “to confirm that same-sex marriages validly solemnized in Utah from Dec. 20, 2013, to Jan. 6, 2014, are recognized as valid marriages for all purposes of Delaware law.”

“The Biden family has been strong supporters of marriage — both in Delaware and nationwide,” Goodman told the Washington Blade after Biden made his announcement. “We are very happy and not surprised that Attorney General Biden would rule that Utah marriages, which we believe are and continue to be valid in the state of Utah, are valid and will be recognized as such in the state of Delaware.”

The U.S. Supreme Court last week blocked any future same-sex marriages from taking place in Utah pending the outcome of an appeal of U.S. District Court Judge Robert Shelby’s Dec. 20 ruling that struck down the state’s gay nuptials ban.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert on Jan. 8 announced his state would not recognize same-sex marriages performed between Dec. 20 and Jan. 6 pending the outcome of his administration’s appeal of Shelby’s ruling. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder two days later said the federal government will recognize these unions.

Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler and his counterparts in Maine and Washington subsequently announced their states will follow suit. D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray on Monday said the nation’s capital should also recognize same-sex marriages performed in Utah.

Delaware’s same-sex marriage law took effect last July. It is now among the 18 states and D.C. in which gays and lesbians can legally marry.

“We hope that other attorneys general nationwide will follow Attorney General Biden’s lead and recognize these Utah marriages as valid in their states as well,” Goodman told the Blade.

Biden is among those who attended a gay Wilmington couple’s wedding that took place on the first day same-sex couples could legally tie the knot in the state.

“Today we are witnesses to a historic event for Delaware and for our community and quite frankly our future,” said Biden before Joseph Daigle, II, and Daniel Cole exchanged vows at the Gibraltar Mansion in Wilmington.

15
Jan
2014

Carney silent on Putin’s latest anti-gay remarks

White House Press Secretary, Jay Carney, Gay News, Washington Blade

White House Press Secretary, Jay Carney dismissed question on the anti-gay situation in Russia (Washington Blade file photo by Damien Salas).

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney had no comment on Thursday regarding a series of questions about the anti-gay climate in Russia, saying he had not seen new media reports on which the inquiries were based.

Under questioning from the Washington Blade, Carney had no comment on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent remarks that Russia must “clean up” anything that would impair the nation’s birth rate in regards to the anti-gay atmosphere in the country.

“Well, I didn’t see that report,” Carney said. “Our views on this issue and legislation that’s been passed in Russia have been clearly expressed. So I can’t comment on that particular report except that we obviously believe it is very much in the interest of Russia to conduct an Olympics that welcomes everyone.”

Amid calls on President Obama to invoke the Magnitsky Act to freeze the assets of Russian lawmakers who are fostering the anti-gay atmosphere in the country, Carney again professed to have no knowledge of those calls.

“I haven’t seen that report and I don’t have any update on our position on the Magnitsky Act,” Carney said. “But you can be sure that our views about universal rights and specifically LGBT rights are clearly expressed with regards to, whether it’s Russia or elsewhere, actions taken by countries that are in conflict with those principles.”

Russia has come under international scrutiny as the Winter Olympic approach in Sochi because of the reports of the anti-gay climate, especially the recently enacted law barring pro-gay propaganda.

Carney was also unable to say whether President Obama had discussed the anti-gay atmosphere with Putin during a phone call between the two presidents on Tuesday. According to a White House readout of the call, the two talked about Olympics security, Iran and efforts to disarm Syria of chemical weapons.

“I don’t have a further readout beyond what we provided,” Carney said.

Jamie Kirchick, a gay journalist who has urged the Obama administration to employ the Magnitsky Act against those behind anti-gay abuses in Russia, expressed dismay with Carney’s remarks.

“It is sad to see the administration continue to sacrifice America’s national interests — which includes promoting the human rights of all Russians, LGBT ones included — in pursuit of the chimera of improved U.S.-Russian relations,” Kirchick said. “From Syria to gay rights, Putin is spinning circles around us. The administration should answer the queries of those in Congress wanting to know why it failed to name any more Russian human rights abusers to the Magnitsky List.”

24
Jan
2014

W.H. adviser says ENDA executive order ‘under consideration’

White House adviser John Podesta says the ENDA executive order is "under consideration." (Screenshot via Bloomberg News).

White House adviser John Podesta says the ENDA executive order is “under consideration.” (Screenshot via Bloomberg News).

In a departure from previous public comments from the Obama administration, White House counselor John Podesta said on Friday an executive order barring LGBT discrimination among federal contractors is “under consideration.”

During an interview with Bloomberg News’ Al Hunt, Podesta made the remarks when asked if President Obama would issue a heavily sought-after executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

“Well, what he said in the State of the Union was he was going to require federal contractors to pay a minimum wage of $10.10,” Podesta said. “The order that you’re talking about is under consideration at the White House. We’re looking at that.”

Asked by Hunt what Obama is likely to do, Podesta said, “Well, you know, I’m not going to prejudge that.”

Podesta’s assertion the executive order is “under consideration” is consistent with an email from Democratic National Committee Treasurer Andy Tobias leaked to the Washington Blade in June in which he said a “process” is holding up the directive. It’s also consistent with a one-time statement from White House spokesperson Shin Inouye that the administration “continue[s] to study the issue.”

When questioned about Podesta’s remarks on Saturday, Inouye repeated the more familiar refrain that the administration has no updates on an executive order.

“We continue to urge Congress to pass ENDA,” Inouye said. “We have no further updates on this issue.”

While LGBT advocates continue to scratch their heads over why Obama hasn’t issued the executive order and maintain the directive is one of his campaign promises, Podesta couldn’t identify a reason to withhold the order when pressed by Hunt.

Saying the administration continues to push for passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act — legislation that would bar LGBT discrimination in the workforce — Podesta maintained the White House wants to see “whether that’s possible.”

“I think the argument against doing it — there is no real argument against non-discrimination in the workplace,” Podesta said. “I think the question is we’ve been putting the forward the effort to get a comprehensive ENDA through the Congress. We’ll see whether that’s possible.”

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, welcomed the comments from Podesta, but said the time for consideration of the executive order is over.

“It’s great to hear Mr. Podesta say that the LGBT executive order is still under consideration at the White House, and I know that many LGBT organizations plan to keep pushing until this long overdue campaign promise becomes a reality,” Almeida said. “But I don’t think there’s anything left to study or consider: both Republican and Democratic presidents before President Obama have signed orders banning discrimination at federal contractors and they’ve always been upheld in the courts. This order fits perfectly with the White House plans for a ‘year of action,’ and the time to sign is now.”

Podesta, who recently joined the White House staff as counselor after serving as president for the Center for American Progress, has a reputation for supporting executive action for U.S. presidents. In a 2010 report titled, “The Power of the President: Recommendations to Advance Positive Change,” Podesta advocates for the use of executive power for Obama to advance job creation and economic competitiveness as well as to improve education, health care and security.

The assertion the executive order is “under consideration” contradicts statements from the White House that the directive is “hypothetical” in nature. On the same day Podesta made the remarks, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney characterized the directive as “hypothetical” when questioned by the Blade.

01
Feb
2014

Police gay liaison unit transferred to patrol duty

Cathy Lanier, Metropolitan Police Department, MPD, GLLU, gay news, Washington Blade

D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier has reassigned members of the department’s GLLU to street patrol duties. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

A decision by D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier to indefinitely reassign members of the department’s Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit to street patrol duties in the Sixth and Seventh Police Districts is hindering their ability to respond to LGBT-related calls throughout the city, according to sources familiar with the Metropolitan Police Department.

A statement released on behalf of Lanier by MPD spokesperson Gwendolyn Crump disputes this claim, saying the GLLU and at least one other specialized unit whose officers have also been detailed to other assignments “are still operational and doing what they have done in the past” to serve the LGBT and other communities.

But the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the GLLU’s four active officers previously assigned to the GLLU headquarters office in Dupont Circle have most recently been assigned to patrol a single location deemed a high-crime area – the 1500 block of Alabama Avenue, S.E. – and must obtain permission to answer a GLLU call outside that location.

“That permission is not always granted,” said one of the sources.

The GLLU and the three other specialized units serving the Latino, Asian-Pacific Islander, and deaf and hard of hearing communities routinely have been temporarily detailed to street patrol and other assignments since former D.C. Police Chief Charles Ramsey created the units in the 1990s.

The latest change, believed to have been initiated by Assistant Chief Diane Groomes, who heads the department’s patrol division, is different than past detail assignments because it has no known termination date and appears to be an indefinite reassignment for the units, the sources said.

One of the sources said the department also rearranged the work shifts for members of all four liaison units. Prior to these changes, the four units collectively had officers on duty seven days a week, 24 hours a day except for one hour, the source said. Now, according to the source, no core liaison officer is on duty during a period from 4 a.m. to 10 a.m. every day.

“Specific units such as the GLLU and the Asian Liaison Unit have been deployed to the Sixth and Seventh Police District over the last several weeks to enhance community outreach in areas of the city that have seen a high demand and call volume from specific communities represented by the Liaison Division,” Crump said in her statement.

“Even though the officers were given specific areas to patrol and provide community outreach in, the officers are still available to respond to any area of the city to assist when calls for service come in as well as follow up with victims as they have in the past,” Crump said.

She noted in her statement to the Blade that the latest change came in response to a review of last year’s calls for service to the GLLU. She said a “large volume” of calls came from the Sixth and Seventh Districts and that many of the calls were for incidents of domestic violence.

“Domestic/family violence is a huge concern, and the number of domestic/family violence crimes and incidents that are taking place in the Sixth and Seventh Police Districts involving members of the LGBT community is something that urgently needs to be addressed by the members of the GLLU and Special Liaison Division,” Crump said.

The Seventh District is located in the far Southeast section of the city east of the Anacostia River. The Sixth District consists of a section of far Southeast and part of far Northeast D.C.

The sources familiar with the GLLU who spoke to the Blade said GLLU officers are committed to responding to domestic violence calls and doing all they can to assist victims of domestic violence. But two of the sources said deploying the GLLU’s four currently active core officers to a single block on Alabama Avenue would do little to help curtail domestic violence.

“So how do they respond more quickly to domestic violence if they’re told not to leave the area that they’ve been assigned?” asked one of the sources.

Another source said that since the GLLU officers were detailed nearly two months ago “they haven’t been doing what they normally do and that’s to go out to all wards of the city and all the districts and do outreach and crime patrols and stuff like that,” said the source. “So that’s why they haven’t been around” and seen in the LGBT community in other parts of the city, the source said.

Capt. Edward Delgado, commander of the Special Liaison Division, has in the past issued a weekly and sometimes biweekly report sent by email describing the types of calls to which each of the four liaison units responded and the location of the calls. Delgado’s report also described specific patrol locations where the units, including the GLLU, were assigned each week.

The Blade stopped receiving the reports around the time the GLLU officers were detailed to their new assignments in the Sixth and Seventh Districts.

One of the sources said all four special liaison units had been detailed to areas in the Sixth and Seventh Districts. Crump’s statement only mentions the GLLU and the Asian Liaison Unit as having been detailed to the new locations.

Sterling Washington, director of the Mayor’s Office of GLBT Affairs, said Delgado told him the changes were limited to the GLLU and the Asian Liaison Unit.

The MPD website page for the Special Liaison Division included a chart early this week that showed there were six “core” members of the GLLU and 110 affiliate GLLU members based in the seven police districts and in other police units.

Lanier created the affiliate program for the liaison units shortly after becoming chief in 2007 as a means of strengthening the reach and capabilities of the units. Affiliate members receive special training related to the specific liaison unit to which they join, the chief has said. She has said they are trained to respond to liaison unit calls but remain assigned to their regular police duties in the police districts.

The sources, however, said the core GLLU officers, who are in charge of training the affiliate members, aren’t informed by police officials about how many affiliate members respond to GLLU-related calls. One source wondered whether most of the officers listed as affiliate members actually respond to any GLLU calls or are involved in LGBT related police matters.

The sources said the list of core GLLU officers shown on the website was outdated in that only four of the six listed were currently active with the unit. The website chart identifies the core GLLU members as Officers Kevin Johnson, Justin Markiewicz, Joseph Morquecho, Zunnobia Hakir, Juanita Foreman, and Sgt. Carlos Mejia. The chart shows Mejia as serving both the GLLU and the Latino Liaison Unit.

According to the sources, Officer Hakir is on indefinite maternity leave and Sgt. Mejia was no longer with the GLLU or the Latino Liaison Unit. Sgt. Matthew Mahl, who had been serving as acting supervisor of the GLLU in the recent past, is currently working with the GLLU three days a week on limited duty while recovering from a work-related injury, the sources said.

In her statement, Crump said plans are under way for new activities for the GLLU and other liaison units.

“In the coming months, members of the GLLU and the Special Liaison Division as a whole will launch various community outreach initiatives throughout all of the police districts focusing on the different concerns within each specific community and geographic location,” she said.

“Each police district has different needs, so the Special Liaison Division remains flexible to provide the best possible service and community outreach everywhere,” Crump said.

12
Feb
2014

Anti-gay advocates launch global ‘pro-family’ group

Scott Lively, anti-gay, gay news, Washington Blade

Anti-gay activist Scott Lively spoke at the Coalition for Family Values press conference at the National Press Club on Feb. 21. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Two anti-gay advocates on Friday announced a new organization designed to combat the global LGBT rights movement.

Scott Lively of Defend the Family International and Peter LaBarbera of Americans for Truth About Homosexuality unveiled the Coalition for Family Values at the National Press Club in downtown Washington. Greg Quinlan and Diane Gramley of the American Family Association of Pennsylvania spoke at the press conference.

Matt Barber of Liberty Council Action, Oklahoma state Rep. Sally Kern and Brian Camenker of MassResistance are among the more than 70 anti-gay activists and religious leaders from the U.S., Canada, Australia, the U.K. and Brazil who have thus far joined the coalition.

“We share a Biblical world view and speak the plain truth of the LGBT agenda and its destructive influence on society,” said Lively. “Our goal is to promote and protect the natural family as the essential foundation of civilization, and family values as the sources and guide to mainstream culture in every society, while advocating reasonable tolerance to those who choose to live discretely outside the mainstream.”

The press conference took place against the backdrop of ongoing outrage over Russia’s LGBT rights record that includes a 2013 law that bans gay propaganda to minors.

Authorities earlier this week twice detained transgender former Italian Parliamentarian Vladimir Luxuria who protested the controversial statute during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Police in St. Petersburg and Moscow on Feb. 7 arrested 14 LGBT rights advocates who marched with a banner in support of the campaign to add sexual orientation to the Olympic charter’s anti-discrimination clause and sang the Russian national anthem near Red Square while holding Russian and rainbow flags.

Lively, who said during the press conference he has been to Russia three times, last August applauded Russian President Vladimir Putin for signing the gay propaganda law.

“On behalf of millions of Americans and Canadians who are concerned about the seemingly unstoppable spread of homosexuality in our countries and internationally, I wish to respectfully express my heartfelt gratitude that your nation has take a firm and unequivocal stand against this scourge by banning homosexualist propaganda in Russia,” wrote Lively in an open letter to Putin.

Lively reiterated his praise of the Russian president during the D.C. press conference.

“We want to praise the Russian Federation for providing much-needed leadership in restoring family values in public policy,” he said, adding he hopes other governments will enact laws similar to the gay propaganda law that Putin signed. “By taking these steps in the face of intense criticism and hostility by some Western governments and NGOs, the Russians have demonstrated the high value that they place on their children and the natural family model of society. We believe that God will bless the Russian people for their faith and courage.”

LaBarbera echoed Lively.

“The United States of America, especially under President Barack Obama has nothing to teach Russia and the world when it comes to homosexuality-based so-called rights and sexual morality,” he said. “Russia has enough problems of its own to be worrying about U.S. liberals who are obsessed with promoting the normalization of homosexuality and gender confusion, even to children.”

Ellen Sturtz and Slava Revin of the Spectrum Human Rights Alliance heckled Lively and LaBarbera for several minutes after they spoke. The LGBT rights advocates prevented Gramley from speaking for several minutes before security personnel escorted them from the room in which the press conference was taking place.

Ellen Sturtz, Coalition for Family Values, National Press Club, Washington Blade, gay news

Ellen Sturtz joined with other activists in interrupting the Coalition for Family Values press conference. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

“When it comes to their children and the efforts by homosexual activists to tell kids that gay is okay, Russia has made the right decision,” said Gramley. “Last year Russia sent a message to the world that their children are important.

Lively: We ‘unequivocally oppose any violence’ against anyone

Reports that emerged on Thursday suggested Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed his country’s so-called Anti-Homosexuality Bill that would impose a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts.

The Center for Constitutional Rights in March 2012 filed a federal lawsuit against Lively, who is running to succeed outgoing Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, on behalf of a Ugandan LGBT rights group that accuses the evangelical Christian of exploiting anti-gay attitudes in the East African country and encouraging lawmakers to approve the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Judge Michael A. Posner of the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts last August ruled Sexual Minorities Uganda’s lawsuit can move forward.

“I certainly disagree with the controversial legislation that Uganda may enact in the coming days,” U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), who met with Museveni in the East African country on Jan. 23, told the Washington Blade on Thursday. “As I’ve said before, it is my hope that the country will abandon this unjust and harsh legislation.”

Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, the Human Rights Campaign and other LGBT and human rights groups have also criticized Museveni over the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. They have also spoken out against the draconian bill Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan signed last month that bans nuptials for gays and lesbians, same-sex “amorous relationships” and membership in LGBT advocacy groups.

Lively said in response to the Blade’s question about whether the coalition will contribute to additional anti-LGBT violence in Nigeria, Uganda and other countries that he and other members “unequivocally condemn any violence against anyone, including homosexuals.”

“We do not support the promotion of hatred,” said Lively. “We believe that existing laws in every country are sufficient to protect people from that kind of violence. Anyone who engages in violence against people like that should be prosecuted and punished.”

Lively further described the Center for Constitutional Rights that filed the federal lawsuit against him on behalf of Sexual Minorities Uganda as a “Marxist law firm from New York City.”

“The purpose of the lawsuit is to shut me up because I speak very articulately about the homosexual issue from a pro-family perspective,” said Lively in response to the Blade’s question.

21
Feb
2014

Louganis: Russian Open Games marred by disruptions

Gay News, Washington Blade, Greg Louganis

Retired Olympian Greg Louganis last December took part in a Russia briefing on Capitol Hill. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Retired Olympic diver Greg Louganis is among those who participated in the Russian Open Games that ended in Moscow on Sunday.

Louganis, who competed in a table tennis tournament during the five-day event that drew more than 300 LGBT athletes from Russia and other countries that include the U.S. and Sweden, arrived in the Russian capital early last week after he received a last-minute visa.

He left Moscow on Feb. 28.

The gay retired Olympian who won two gold medals during the 1998 Summer Olympics in Seoul and in the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles participated in a Feb. 27 press conference at a Moscow gay nightclub that opened the Russian Open Games. A bomb threat forced him and organizers to speak with reporters outside in the building’s parking lot.

The Washington Post reported the U.S. Embassy hosted a basketball game between participants and diplomats on Sunday after a smoke bomb disrupted a tournament two days earlier.

Louganis, who learned he was living with HIV six months before competing in Seoul, told the Blade police escorted him and more than 30 other Russian Open Games participants out of an ice rink on Feb. 27 after someone reported a group of “strange people” had arrived. He said they had simply gone to the rink for what he described as a “group workshop” about “teaching us some skating skills.”

“They made it clear we were not welcome,” said Louganis. “Just the looks of disdain as we were escorted off the premises was just really concerning.”

Louganis told the Blade he was sending e-mails from a coffee shop across the street from the building where the Russian LGBT Network was holding a panel after the ice rink incident when Konstantin Yablotskiy of the Russian LGBT Sport Federation, which organized the Russian Open Games, said the event had been interrupted. He said Yablotskiy told him somebody suddenly turned off the lights and told them the venue would have to close if they didn’t leave.

Louganis said Yablotskiy and Elvina Yuvakaeva of the Russian LGBT Sport Federation told only one person about venues they had secured for various competitions – and this person escorted participants to them after they met at a Metro station. Louganis told the Blade that Yablotskiy told him to take precautions that included not saying anything specific during telephone conversations because he was sure “others were listening.”

“It was a very interesting environment,” said Louganis, noting he had last been to Moscow more than a decade before the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. “It kind of reminded me of that; that everything was watched, was observed, scrutinized.”

The Russian Open Games took place a few days after the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi ended.

The Kremlin’s LGBT rights record that includes a 2013 law banning gay propaganda to minors overshadowed the Sochi games. Organizers of the Russian Open Games did not allow anyone under 18 to participate – they also included a disclaimer on its website that read “the information on this site is intended only for the use of those aged 18 and over.”

St. Petersburg Legislative Assemblyman Vitaly Milonov, who spearheaded his city’s gay propaganda ban that inspired the law Russian President Vladimir Putin signed last June, denounced the Russian Open Games. The lawmaker also urged Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin to cancel the event.

Yuvakaeva last week said four venues that had initially agreed to host the games abruptly cancelled their agreements. The hotel where the Russian LGBT Network had planned to hold its forum also cancelled the scheduled event.

Louganis told the Blade he had not heard about the 10 LGBT rights advocates who were arrested near Moscow’s Red Square on Feb. 7 as they tried to sing the Russian national anthem while holding rainbow flags before the Sochi opening ceremony. He said a gay couple he met in the Russian capital told him about the arrests – and the officers who reportedly beat and threatened to sexually assault the activists while inside a local police station.

St. Petersburg police on Feb. 7 arrested Anastasia Smirnova and three other LGBT rights advocates as they tried to march with a banner in support of the campaign to add sexual orientation to the Olympic charter’s non-discrimination clause.

“I really wanted to be a participant [in the Russian Open Games] just to get an objective view rather than the propagandized vision of what it was in Sochi,” Louganis told the Blade, discussing Russia’s LGBT rights record. “Sochi I heard was wonderful and everybody was bragging and the media was over-reacting and all of this. You don’t know until you’re there.”

Louganis was also in Moscow as Russian troops prepared to take control of Ukraine’s Crimea region amid outrage from the U.S. and Europe.

The Kremlin on Monday reportedly issued an ultimatum that demanded the surrender of the crews of two Ukrainian warships on the predominantly Russian-speaking peninsula where Russia’s Black Sea Fleet is based. Secretary of State John Kerry is scheduled to arrive in the Ukrainian capital on Tuesday as tension between Washington and Moscow continues to escalate after the country’s Kremlin-backed president went into hiding following the deaths of dozens of anti-government protesters in Kiev.

“We were aware of what was going on with the borders being enforced,” said Louganis. “There was talk of invasion. There was this thing going on, but we were just focused on the event… with every turn we had to adjust and adjust and adjust. We were constantly trying to adjust to the immediate present and trying to make the Open Games as successful as we possibly could.”

Louganis added he was repeatedly impressed with the games’ organizers’ resilience against efforts to disrupt events.

“It was very impressive,” he told the Blade. “It was also very eye-opening for me from my personal experience.”

03
Mar
2014

Catania enters race for mayor

David Catania, gay news, Washington Blade

David Catania is the first serious openly gay contender for the office of D.C. mayor. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

D.C. Council member David Catania (I-At-Large) filed papers on Wednesday to become a candidate for mayor in the November general election, saying he has the “values and the vision and the tenacity” to tackle the challenges facing the city.

As a 16-year veteran on the Council with a long record of legislative accomplishments, including his role as author of the city’s historic marriage equality law, Catania becomes the first serious openly gay contender for the office of D.C. mayor with a shot at winning.

“This is a city that believes strongly in equality of opportunity, a strong sense of fairness and the importance of playing by the rules,” Catania said at a news conference outside the city’s Reeves Center municipal building, where he registered his candidacy.

“These are the values we all share and these are the ones that have guided me since I was elected,” he said.

In what many LGBT activists will likely view as a twist of fate, a large segment of the city’s LGBT community has already lined up behind the re-election campaign of Mayor Vincent Gray, who they consider the most LGBT-supportive mayor in the history of the city.

The potential dilemma of LGBT voters having to choose between an out gay candidate with a longstanding record of support on their issues and a pro-LGBT mayor they consider a longtime friend and ally was likely heightened on Wednesday when Catania reiterated his call for Gray to resign.

When asked by reporters at his news conference what he thought about revelations by the U.S. Attorney earlier this week that Gray was aware of an illegal “shadow campaign” orchestrated by businessman Jeffrey Thompson to benefit Gray’s 2010 mayoral campaign, Catania said he believes the allegations to be true.

“I made my feelings known about the mayor’s shadow campaign when it was first disclosed nearly two years ago,” he said. “I said he should have resigned then and I believe that today.”

Catania, however, said the timing of his declaration of candidacy for this week was set in motion over a week ago, before the revelations of the U.S. Attorney were known, when he set up a campaign bank account that required him to formally enter the race this week.

Catania said he’s ready to run against Gray or any of the other seven Democrats challenging Gray in the city’s April 1 Democratic primary, including four of Catania’s Democratic colleagues on the Council.

In response to questions by reporters, Catania said he’s not at all deterred by the fact that he’s an independent and former Republican running in a city with an overwhelmingly Democratic electorate. No non-Democrat has ever won election as mayor in the District of Columbia.

“I want to be as clear as I can be,” he said. “I won more citywide races than everyone else in the race combined. I’ve won five times citywide. I’ve represented every corner of the city since 1997.”

Catania added, “I believe I have the values and the vision and the tenacity to tackle the challenges facing the city and I have the record of accomplishments that supports it. So I’m not worried about who prevails in the Democratic primary. I’ve got a record that I’m very proud of and that I’m very excited to share, and I’m very excited to talk about my vision for the city.”

The most recent poll on the Democratic primary, which was conducted before the latest revelations about Gray’s alleged 2010 shadow campaign, show Gray leading his closest rival, Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), by a margin of 28 percent to 20 percent. Council members Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), and Vincent Orange (D-At-Large), were trailing with 13 percent, 12 percent and 4 percent respectively.

Businessman Andy Shallal had 6 percent, attorney and former State Department official Reta Jo Lewis had 3 percent, and civic activist Carlos Allen had less than 1 percent.

Political observers, including Bob Summersgill, former president of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, said that if Gray squeaks out a victory in the primary with around 30 percent of the vote or less, many of the Democratic voters that backed his rivals could turn to Catania in the November election.

When asked by the Blade where he thinks the LGBT vote would go in the general election, Catania said he believes he would be a strong contender for that vote based on his record on a wide range of issues.

“I think people are going to vote their interests and their values,” he said. “And I hope we can refrain from having constituency voting blocs. I don’t think that’s good for anybody.”

But he added, “I’m happy to put my record as an LGBT advocate against anyone. I hear in these forums how everyone takes responsibility and credit for same-sex marriage. But I was there. I know members who never showed up for the hearings and never said a word on the dais,” he said.

“I know the difference between those who have revisionist history and those who were there,” he said. “And so whether it’s having been the first openly gay elected member of the Council, from championing everything from HIV education and treatment to same-sex marriage to adoption to transgender rights, I’ll put my record against anyone’s.”

When asked about a recent independent report indicating shortcomings in the D.C. Police Department’s handling of anti-LGBT hate crimes, Catania praised Police Chief Cathy Lanier but said he would not discuss personnel issues before the election.

“I think Cathy Lanier has been an excellent chief,” he said. “Now we can all do better and learn from our mistakes…[T]here’s always room for improvement both in terms of the reaction of the LGBT community, internal affairs and others,” he said.

A transcript of Catania’s news conference follows:

Reporter: So you just filed your papers today to run?

Catania: Actually, this has been in the works for some time. We decided in January that this would be the week we would announce. In fact, just last Wednesday, before any of the latest revelations came out, we opened our bank account and by law we have five business days to file. And so last Wednesday we opened our bank account, always with the intention of filing this week. And of course you know what has happened in the intervening time known to all of us.

Reporter: What do you think about what’s happened with the mayor this week?

Catania: Well, I made my feelings known about the mayor’s shadow campaign when it was first disclosed nearly two years ago. I said he should have resigned then and I believe that today.

Reporter: What is your path to victory at this point? Does the mayor have to win the primary?

Catania: No. I want to be just as clear as I could be. I won more city wide races than everyone else in the race combined. I’ve won five times citywide. I’ve represented every corner of the city since 1997. I believe that I have the values and the vision and the tenacity to tackle the challenges facing the city and I have the record of accomplishments that supports it. So I’m not worried about who prevails in the Democratic primary. I’ve got a record that I’m very proud of and that I’m very excited share and I’m very exciting to talk about my vision for the city.

Reporter: This is a city that remains hugely Democratic.

Catania: That’s right. And I would be delighted to put my record against any of those who have Democrat by their name as it relates to democratic values. I think my record more embodies democratic values than the field of candidates running as Democrats. If you look at what I’ve done for marriage equality, medical marijuana, smoke free D.C., cutting the rate of uninsured children and adults in half in this city, my work with HIV, and most recently my work with respect to education, including a fair funding bill which is finally going to give the resources for poor kids to catch up. And so labels are fine but I think the people are looking for a leader who’s actually delivered. And there’s one thing I can say – I’ve delivered.

The others have talked a good game and good for them for having labels. But I’ve actually delivered.

Reporter: You’re a former Republican and you’re also a white person. How does that play into the racial mix of this city?

Catania: Well I think the citizens of this city want a leader that shares their values. And it doesn’t matter what label you have. Clearly I do. This is a city that believes strongly in equality of opportunity, a strong sense of fairness and the importance of playing by the rules. These are the values we all share and these are the ones that have guided me since I was elected. So with respect to labels, you know, I think they may matter with some but by and large if you look at where we are in the city and if we’re going to secure our future we need a leader who shares our values, has a vision, and has the tenacity to get the job done.

Reporter: You’re campaigns have actually taken money from Jeffrey Thompson and then I guess you had a really serious falling out with him. Would you give back the money you took from Jeffrey Thompson or did you give the money back?

Catania: You know, Mr. Thompson held a fundraiser for me in 2006. And so the bulk of the funds that were raised through that fundraiser were in 2006. Unfortunately, as you know, we, unlike federal campaigns, we close each of our campaigns out – by law we’re required to – at the conclusion of the election. So the money has simply been closed out. Now the money – whatever was left over – went to a constituent services fund. And so it’s not like I have additional monies lying around to do that. And I think we’re prohibited by law from taking our existing campaign funds to pay back the debts of another campaign.

Reporter: Were you the chairman of the Health Committee when the agreement to give Jeffrey Thompson more money signed out? You fought that, didn’t you?

Catania: I think what’s interesting is that we’re here today because of the work of the Committee on Health when I became chairman. In 2005 when I became chairman of the committee the first thing I wanted to do was kind of survey the landscape of the area of responsibility that I had, which included the city’s three largest contracts for managed care and for Medicaid. And so I actually put the money in in 2005 to conduct an audit of our three managed care organizations, including Jeff Thompson’s. That audit is what ultimately led to Mr. Thompson having to settle with the city with $17 million in 2008. So it’s not about having a falling out one way or another. I was doing my job. I wanted the city’s largest contracts to be subject to an audit. They were. It demonstrated that he was helping himself, candidly, and that resulted in him having to pay some money back. I suspect that’s part of what inspired him to try to find leaders that were more malleable. I wasn’t one of them.

Reporter: The mayor calls him a liar. He says everything he says is a lie, lie, lie.

Catania: Well I think this whole subject, this whole drama we’ve had with Jeff Thompson – this great drama – the time has come for this to end. And you know we need to be talking about how we’re going to make sure our kids are ready to succeed. We need to be talking about an affordable housing plan and a public safety plan of action for Fire and EMS. The less we talk about Vince Gray and Jeff Thompson the better. That’s for others to talk about. I’m talking about my vision for the city, which doesn’t include serving as a human lie detector for Jeff Thompson or Vince Gray.

Reporter: What about this settlement. Did you think that settlement that was reached with Chartered Health was good and above board or did you think –

Catania: Which settlement, the first one or the second?

Reporter: The one that was agreed to [by the city] and paid him.

Catania: This was obviously an attempt to square accounts with the shadow campaign as far as I am concerned. It was laid out as meticulously as it could be. Jeff Thompson in 2008 had to pay $12 million because he stole from the city. And then two weeks after he wins his primary his group begins putting in motion the very settlement that ultimately, that Mayor Gray advanced – that we paid him the money from the false claims actions against the city. Do I believe the mayor knew it and participated and do I believe the city actually paid the shadow campaign money back? Yes, I believe that…

Reporter: You have a reputation for being a little difficult. I won’t even say the words that some – [Tom Sherwood interrupts: The Rahm Emanuel of D.C.?]

Catania: Well listen, we’re not cutting the crusts off cucumber sandwiches here. This is not a garden party. This is about running a $12 billion organization where the lives of 640,000 people depend on someone being honest, having values and a vision and being faithful to those values and those visions. And so I’m not going to apologize for the passion that I take to this job. I think most of us are outraged when they have Fire and EMS officials just standing by while our citizens are in harm’s way. I think most of our citizens are outraged when the see half of our African American males not graduating on time for high school. I think most of our citizens are outraged when they see our homeless in rec centers. So I’m not going to apologize for that outrage. I’m not going to apologize for the passion. It’s helped me get though some of the toughest measures in the last 15 years, 16 years on the Council…

Reporter: Concerning the police department, there was an independent report that just came out saying there are some shortcomings in their handling of hate crimes and that the chief may have caused the Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit to not be able to do its job as well as it could. If you were elected, have you decided whether you would retain the police chief?

Catania: Look, I think Cathy Lanier has been an excellent chief. Now we can all do better and learn from our mistakes. But I want to make clear I’m not talking about personnel decisions until after the election. It is the right of every mayor to select those individuals that he or she wishes to work with. I think that Chief Lanier has been an excellent chief but there’s always room for improvement both in terms of the reaction of the LGBT community, internal affairs and others.

Reporter: We’re now in the primary. Will you be out campaigning or will you wait to see who wins the primary?

Catania: No, the race starts today, Tom. The race starts today.

…If we’re electing leaders rather than administrators I think it’s time for people to look at the record. And among those who are running for mayor if you look at what have they done in the last 15 months. I think that’s a fair subject for discussion and it’s what I intend to talk about during this race. But look, it isn’t about who the Democratic nominee might be. I have an affirmed agenda that I believe is consistent with the values of our residents. I think we can do better. We have incredible fundamentals. When I look at our economy and I look at the values of our citizens and we have yet to capture the entire trajectory, the entire direction of those values…

Q: The leading candidates in the Democratic primary are all very supportive on LGBT issues. The mayor says he’s very supportive. Whoever wins the primary, how do you think the LGBT vote will go in the general election?

A: Lou, I think people are going to vote their interests and their values. And I hope we can refrain from having constituency voting blocks. I don’t think that’s good for anybody. I’m happy to put my record as an LGBT advocate against anyone. I hear in these forums how everyone takes responsibility and credit for same-sex marriage. But I was there. I know the members who never showed up for the hearings and never said a word on the dais. I know the difference between those who have revisionist history and those who were there. And so whether it’s having been the first openly gay elected member of the Council, from championing everything from HIV education and treatment to same-sex marriage to adoption to transgender rights, I’ll put my record against everyone’s or anyone’s.

Q: Can you say something about the EMS?

A: You know, I’m very open to the idea of separating the EMS and putting it candidly under the Department of Health because I see the EMS as the front line of the Department of Health. These are the front line deliverers of health services. The way it has been organized, specifically it’s been subsumed by the Fire Department and has not been able to stand on its own. And so I’m open to the idea of separating the two…

Q: Would you retain Chief Ellerbe as fire chief?

A: No. I’ll make an exception because that’s so glaring.

Q: How do you assess your chances?

A: Good.

Q: Why do you think they’re good?

A: Well I think this is an election about change. I think the electorate is eager to have a leader instead of an administrator and I think the work that I’ve done touches many constituencies across the city. Who else can claim that they saved our public hospital? Who else can lay claim to a marriage equality bill that finally made all of our families equal before the law? Who else can claim that they produced the lowest rate of uninsured children in the country? Who else championed medical marijuana or the most comprehensive mental health system for young people in the country? So I think it’s time to ask some of those who are running on the inertial of a label why they believe they have a chance of winning having accomplished so little.

12
Mar
2014

Will the 6th Circuit allow Michigan marriages to continue?

Regnerus, gay juror, National LGBT Bar Association, Gay News, Washington Blade

The Sixth Circuit will consider whether to stay marriages in Michigan this week. (Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Marriage equality advocates are watching the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals this week as it decides whether to stay same-sex weddings in Michigan or allow them to continue as the court considers marriage equality litigation.

Experts say the Sixth Circuit — and the Supreme Court if the stay request is appealed — have room to allow the Michigan same-sex weddings to continue because the Supreme Court’s stay on weddings following a similar ruling in Utah isn’t controlling and many district courts have now ruled in favor of marriage equality.

Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, was among those saying he doesn’t believe a stay is warranted in the case, known as DeBoer v. Snyder.

“The Supreme Court did not explain the reasons for its stay in the Utah case, so it provides little guidance and certainly should not be construed as requiring stays in other cases,” Minter said. “Utah was the first federal court in the country to strike down a state marriage ban post-Windsor, but many others have since followed suit, so the legal landscape is already quite different than when the Supreme Court issued a stay in that case.”

U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman, a Reagan appointee, issued the ruling striking down Michigan’s 2004 constitutional ban on same-sex marriages on Friday, but unlike similar rulings against laws in Texas, Virginia and Oklahoma, Friedman didn’t include a stay in his ruling.

Vickie Henry, a senior staff attorney at Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders who helped plaintiffs for the Michigan trial, said the lack of a stay from the judge came as no surprise given the concern he stated in his ruling for children raised by same-sex couples.

“At this point, all the recent decisions have all come out the same way,” Henry said. “So at some point I think you recognize there’s a high human cost, a high people cost, in the denial of these rights. I can’t speculate what he was thinking, but that seems like a great reason to not enter a stay.”

But Attorney General Bill Schuette filed a stay request before the Sixth Circuit to halt the same-sex marriages in Michigan as he and Gov. Rick Snyder filed notice they would file an appeal to the court.

After allowing plaintiffs the opportunity to respond to the stay request by Tuesday, the Sixth Circuit issued a temporary stay on the same-sex weddings until at least Wednesday — but only after an estimated 315 gay couples received marriage licenses on Saturday.

A similar situation has happened before just recently. After U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby struck down Utah’s marriage ban in the case of Kitchen v. Herbert, Gov. Gary Herbert sought a stay request from the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. The appeals court denied the stay, but the Supreme Court later instituted it after U.S. Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor referred the matter to the entire bench.

Henry said she thinks the same outcome won’t necessarily befall Michigan despite the stay from the Supreme Court in the Utah case.

“It’s not directly controlling,” Henry said. “In other words, the Sixth Circuit’s not bound by it, but it’s certainly suggestive to the court of what at least one member of the Supreme Court would want them to do.”

Equality Michigan is circulating a petition calling on Snyder and Schuette to drop their appeal of the ruling. As of Monday afternoon, the petition had more than 10,000 signatures.

“We must end the second-class treatment of LGBT families in Michigan,” the petition states. “Rather than siding with the people of Michigan, Schuette and Snyder are wasting taxpayer dollars defending a ban on marriage equality that harms Michigan families — and that the people of Michigan no longer even want.”

But now that the Michigan case has been appealed, all four states in the Sixth Circuit — Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee and Kentucky — have marriage equality cases before the appeals court.

The Sixth Circuit has ruled on an LGBT-relevant case before, but the outcome and the precedent it set wasn’t favorable to LGBT people.

In the case of Equality Federation v. Cincinnati, the court in 1996 upheld an anti-gay ordinance in Cincinnati forbidding the city from enforcing civil rights ordinances based on sexual orientation. The judges issued this decision despite the Supreme Court ruling in 1992 in Romer v. Evans, which found that a similar measure, Colorado’s Amendment 2, was unconstitutional.

But the Cincinnati ordinance has since been repealed in 2004, and that ruling was delivered years ago before the Supreme Court issued precedent protecting gay people in Lawrence and Windsor.

If the Sixth Circuit denies a stay, state officials could appeal the stay request to the Supreme Court justice responsible for stays in the Sixth Circuit: U.S. Associate Justice Elena Kagan. In that event, Kagan could refer the request to the entire court. If she declines a stay on her own, the state could ask any justice on the court for a stay, including anti-gay U.S. Associate Justice Antonin Scalia.

Jon Davidson, legal director for Lambda Legal, expressed uncertainty about whether the Supreme Court would take similar action as it did with the Utah same-sex marriages.

“The Supreme Court did not explain why they issued the stay in Kitchen previously, however, so there is no way of knowing for sure what motivated them to do that or whether a majority of them would do the same thing in the face of the tidal wave of decisions in favor of marriage equality that we are seeing in the lower courts,” Davidson said.

Not all legal experts foresee a possibility in which neither the Sixth Circuit nor the Supreme Court would refuse to grant a stay on same-sex weddings.

Nan Hunter, a lesbian law professor at Georgetown University, predicted the Supreme Court would continue to issue stays on same-sex marriages throughout the country until it delivers it final determination on same-sex marriage.

“My view is that the Supreme Court will continue to grant stays until they resolve a case on the merits,” Hunter said. “Earliest that is likely to happen is June 2015.”

In the event a stay is granted by either the Sixth Circuit or the Supreme Court, another question would emerge similar to the situation in Utah: Would the federal government and state of Michigan recognize the same-sex marriages already conducted in the state?

In Utah, the decision was split. Herbert announced that his state wouldn’t recognize the estimated 1,300 same-sex marriages conducted in Utah pending the final outcome of the litigation. But U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced the Obama administration would consider those marriages valid for the purposes of federal benefits. Several state attorneys general, including Maryland’s Doug Gansler, announced their states would also recognize the marriages.

According to the Associated Press, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder is holding off on the determination on whether his state will recognize the unions. His spokesperson is quoted as saying the governor will wait for a stay decision to be reached before deciding whether Michigan will recognize the marriages.

Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum and East Lansing Mayor Nathan Triplett, who performed same-sex marriages in Michigan over the weekend, sent a letter Monday to Holder insisting the federal government should recognize those unions.

“Many of the couples that were married on March 22 waited decades for that opportunity,” Byrum and Triplett write. “Their marriages complied with Judge Friedman’s order and all relevant provisions of Michigan law and should be recognized as such by state and federal authorities without delay.”

The Justice Department didn’t yet have a definitive answer in response to the Washington Blade’s request to comment on whether the federal government will recognize same-sex marriages performed in Michigan.

“We are closely monitoring the situation,” said Allison Price, a Justice Department spokesperson.

24
Mar
2014

Meet the 8 House Dems who don’t co-sponsor ENDA

Democratic Party, United States House of Representatives, U.S. Congress, Dan Lipinski, Illinois, John Barrow, Georgia, Pete Gallego, Texas, Gene Green, Nick Rahall, West Virginia, Jim Costa, California, Mike McIntyre, Henry Cuellar

Clockwise from top left, Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.), Rep. John Barrow (D-Ga.), Rep. Pete Gallego (D-Texas), Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas), Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), Rep. Jim Costa (D-Calif.), Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-N.C.) and Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) (Photos public domain)

Amid the push to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, much has been said about the daunting task of advancing the bill against Republican opposition — including from U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) himself — in the GOP-controlled chamber of Congress.

But the Democratic caucus isn’t unanimous in its sponsorship of the legislation despite a push from the White House and Democratic leaders to advance ENDA. A total of eight Democrats have so far declined to co-sponsor the bill, although at least two said they would vote for it and one has said he’s inclined to vote for it if it comes to the House floor.

The eight Democrats who don’t co-sponsor ENDA are Reps. Dan Lipinksi (Ill.), Jim Costa (Calif.), John Barrow (Ga.), Mike McIntyre (N.C.), Pete Gallego (Texas), Henry Cuellar (Texas), Gene Green (Texas) and Nick Rahall (W.Va.).

Of these eight Democrats, most are from Texas, the largest state without any laws providing non-discrimination protections on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Chuck Smith, executive director of Equality Texas, said the three Texans who don’t co-sponsor ENDA — Gallego, Cuellar and Green — likely have “a misplaced fear” about opposition to non-discrimination in their districts.

“When Texans go to work each day, they want to be judged on their professionalism, their experience, their performance, and their ability to get the job done,” Smith said. “With hard work, fulfilling their responsibilities, and playing by the rules, they are striving for a fair chance at achieving a piece of the American Dream. And in Texas, fully three-fourths of voters support prohibiting employment discrimination.”

But two of these lawmakers, Gallego and Green, have signaled they would support ENDA if it comes up for a vote on the House floor, even though they have yet to co-sponsor the legislation.

Jose Borjon, a Gallego spokesperson, said his boss “from the beginning” has said “he will vote for ENDA” on the House floor.

“Congressman Gallego’s family has a long history of protecting civil rights and opposing discrimination,” Borjon said. “Like his parents before him, Congressman Gallego is also opposed to any form of discrimination, including discrimination against individuals based on race, color, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, sex, religion, age, disability or personal beliefs.”

Borjon didn’t respond to a follow-up email asking why Gallego won’t co-sponsor ENDA if the lawmaker would vote for the bill.

Green’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment. But according to Hair Balls, a Houston-based political blog, he’ll vote for the legislation if it comes to the House floor.

“I am opposed to discrimination in the workplace, whether based on gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation, and will vote in support of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act when it comes to the House floor for a vote,” Green is quoted as saying.

Cuellar has made no such commitment to voting for ENDA. His office didn’t respond to the Blade’s request seeking comment on the bill.

According to LoneStar Q’s John Wright, Dallas activist Jeff Strater expressed disappointment about a meeting during a Capitol Hill lobby day when he and others sought to discuss ENDA with Cuellar staff and a proposed letter seeking an executive order barring LGBT workplace discrimination.

“We had an appointment with Henry Cuellar’s office last Thursday in D.C. to talk about the letter, ENDA and other LGBT legislation,” Strater was quoted as saying. “They refused to meet with us in the office for our appointment (unlike other members of Congress) and we met in a busy hallway. The meeting was also with a legislative fellow and not a legislative aide. This was worse than our meeting with Ted Cruz’s staff. The sad part is that in our small group we had people with long ties to Cuellar’s congressional district and Laredo.”

Another Democrat in another state has also signaled he’ll likely support ENDA, even though he hasn’t yet signed on a co-sponsor to the bill.

Jessica Kahanek, a Costa spokesperson, said the lawmaker is still reviewing the legislation, but is “inclined” to vote for the bill should it come to the House floor.

“Rep. Costa is still reviewing the bill and its implications for small business owners before he makes a final decision on co-sponsoring,” Kahanek said. “He is inclined to support ENDA should there be a vote held on the bill.”

Costa supports marriage equality and co-sponsors the Student Non-Discrimination Act, which would bar schools from allowing discrimination or harassment of LGBT students.

One notable House Democrat who doesn’t co-sponsor ENDA is Lipinski, who withholds support for ENDA even though he voted for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and LGBT-inclusive hate crimes legislation. However, Lipinski opposes same-sex marriage.

Bernard Cherkasov, CEO of Equality Illinois, called on Lipinski to support ENDA as he touted his organization’s work in ”building stronger and stronger support” for the legislation among his state’s delegation to Congress.

“Congressman Lipinski represents a district where many employers, community leaders, and clergy members are very vocal about their support for ENDA; and LGBT workplace protections have been the law in Illinois for almost a decade,” Cherkasov said. “In a state with broad bipartisan support for ENDA, we hope that Congressman Lipinski will carry those values to Washington and sponsor ENDA.”

Not helping in the case of Lipinski — as well as Costa and Cuellar — is the fact that they’re Catholic and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has come out in opposition to ENDA when it came up for a vote in the Senate, saying it threatens religious liberty, would enable legalization of same-sex marriage and rejects the biological basis of gender.

Other House Democrats who don’t co-sponsor ENDA have a history of assuming anti-LGBT positions as members of Congress. Most notable among them are Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) and retiring Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-N.C.), the only Democrats who currently co-sponsor a U.S. constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage in the country. Their offices didn’t respond to a request for comment on their position on ENDA.

Another longtime House Democrat who doesn’t co-sponsor ENDA and who was a one-time supporter of a Federal Marriage Amendment is Barrow. Despite voting “yes” on this amendment, Barrow has taken pro-LGBT positions, such as voting in favor of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal. His office didn’t respond to a request for comment on ENDA.

Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality, said Barrow has assumed more anti-LGBT positions after redistricting, when Barrow’s district was drawn to become more conservative.

“The politics behind this, not that it excuses it, but for the last several times that he has run for office, he has been redistricted into a district that is majority Republican,” Graham said. “And so, he actually has a voting record on LGBT issues, as well as a lot of other issues that are important to many of us, where he did not support them or voted against them. His lack of sponsorship of ENDA is not actually a surprise; it’s a disappointment, but it is not a surprise.”

Graham said getting Barrow to support ENDA would require “an immense grassroots” effort among his constituents, but his organization is prepared to support the Human Rights Campaign in planned field operations to encourage him to back the bill.

Other groups behind ENDA have launched initiatives at the national level aimed at building support for the legislation as the push to pass it continues. The Senate last year passed ENDA on bipartisan vote of 64-32, so House passage is the only remaining step necessary for approval before it would go to President Obama’s desk.

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, said boosting the number of ENDA co-sponsors on both sides of the aisle is important “to clearly demonstrate” majority support exists for LGBT workplace protections in the House.

“We think that if a House vote were held today, ENDA would pass with more than 218 votes, but winning over the next batch of co-sponsors would help us prove that definitively to House leadership,” Almeida said. “Reaching 218 supporters would increase pressure on those who have been blocking an up-or-down vote.”

Almeida drew a distinction between co-sponsoring ENDA and merely articulating support, saying pledging a “yes” vote without co-sponsoring the bill is the “second-best option” for lawmakers.

A House Democratic leadership aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the only way to push these lawmakers to support ENDA is for constituents within their districts to ask their members to get behind the bill. The aide said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) personally whipped members to support ENDA, which is why all but eight Democratic members co-sponsor the bill this Congress.

The White House has continually called for passage of ENDA. The White House didn’t respond to a request for comment on whether it has reached out to these eight House Democrats to encourage them to support the legislation.

At a time when DNC is raising money on behalf of Democrats in the 2014 election, the DNC didn’t respond to the Blade’s request for comment on whether House Democrats who don’t co-sponsor ENDA are out of line with principles of the Democratic Party, even though the 2012 Democratic Party platform endorses the bill on the basis that “people should not be fired based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Although eight House Democrats aren’t co-sponsors of ENDA, a sea of Republicans continue to withhold support of the bill in a chamber of Congress where their party holds the majority. Of the 233 Republicans in the U.S. House, only six co-sponsor ENDA: Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.), Charles Dent (R-Pa.), Jon Runyan (R-N.J.), Chris Gibson (R-N.Y.) and Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.).

Americans for Workplace Opportunity, a coalition of groups seeking to pass ENDA, have launched a $2 million push aimed at passing ENDA in the House. Much of the money is coming from Republican superdonors Paul Singer and Seth Klarman, who each donated $375,000. Nonetheless, not a single Republican co-sponsor has signed on to ENDA since the start of the campaign last month.

Jeff Cook-McCormac, senior adviser to the pro-LGBT American Unity Fund, nonetheless predicted more Republican co-sponsors of ENDA in the coming days.

“In an authentically bipartisan way, we remain laser-focused on getting to the critical number of 218, demonstrating majority support in the chamber,” Cook-McCormac said. ”This much-needed engagement, member-by-member, in thoughtful and respectful conversations about the need for ENDA is what will enable support for the bill to grow, as we’ve seen it is a critical element of every successful effort that has advanced freedom for LGBT Americans in our country.  I expect you will see other Republicans indicate their support for ENDA in the weeks and months to come.”

02
Apr
2014