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Cartoon: Ellen Page comes out

Ellen Page, Human Rights Campaign, Juno, coming out, HRC, gay news, Washington Blade

Ellen Page comes out. (Washington Blade cartoon by Ranslem)

19
Feb
2014

Fired teachers request papal audience

Pope Francis, Catholic Church, gay news, Washington Blade

Pope Francis (Photo by Agência Brasil; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

WASHINGTON — The Human Rights Campaign on May 27 delivered a letter to the Vatican on behalf of nine teachers who have lost their jobs at Roman Catholic schools or churches because they are gay or lesbian or have supported LGBT family members.

Nicholas Coppola, a former religious education teacher at St. Anthony’s Catholic Church in Oceanside, N.Y., who was removed from public duties at the Long Island parish after he married his same-sex partner, is among those who signed the letter that requests an audience with Pope Francis.

“Unfortunately, we are a group bonded together not just by Catholic values,” reads the letter. “We are a group of teachers, administrators and lay people who have all lost our jobs simply because of who we love.”

LGBT Catholics have welcomed Francis’ more moderate tone on marriage, homosexuality and other gay-specific issues since he succeeded Pope Benedict XVI in March 2013. The Vatican’s position on the aforementioned topics has not changed in spite of the Argentine-born pontiff’s more conciliatory tone.

29
May
2014

Victory Fund’s dangerous endorsement

Richard Tisei, Republican, Massachusetts, gay news, Washington Blade

Gay Republican Richard Tisei is challenging a pro-LGBT Democrat for Congress in Massachusetts. (Photo courtesy of Tisei).

By JOE RACALTO

 

Recently, the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund endorsed former Massachusetts Republican Senate Minority Leader Richard Tisei, who is openly gay, for Congress. Although I applaud Tisei — and all LGBT political candidates who run for public office — this endorsement is not justified and sets a dangerous precedent.

Tisei’s opponent, Democratic Rep. John Tierney, has been a staunch champion for LGBT rights — even when it wasn’t popular. He backed marriage equality in Massachusetts, despite the criticism. He has supported the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” an inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act; he was a strong and early supporter of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act and he has a HRC score of 100 percent in the 112th Congress.

Tierney’s support for LGBT causes is clean, clear and perfect.

And, Congressman Tierney will do one thing Tisei will not do — vote for Leader Nancy Pelosi as the next Speaker of the House.

It is no secret that Speaker John Boehner does not support ENDA, claiming it is not necessary. Nor is it a secret that the GOP continues to block or stall every single LGBT advancement at all levels, and in all parts of the country. Given the recent events in Arizona, ENDA is needed now more than ever and if Democrats were in control, ENDA would be the law of the land. Make no mistake, Tisei’s potential vote for Boehner would be a vote to further delay justice for LGBT Americans who face employment discrimination.

Torey Carter, COO of the Victory Fund, said Tisei’s election to Congress would “shatter a glass ceiling for the Republican Party” and “further the dialogue within the GOP about LGBT issues.”  With all due respect to Carter, at what cost and at whose expense? Should those who fight for LGBT rights have to sit by and wait for the Republicans to understand? Additionally, in order to “further” one must “start.” They have had 40 years to start the dialogue and who is gullible enough to believe Tisei can help them with that process?

This country has moved on and the election of Tisei over Rep. Tierney would represent a major setback for LGBT Americans. We must never, ever turn our backs on those who have championed our causes, like Tierney, simply to “shatter glass” or “further dialogue (within the GOP)” or whatever other reason the Victory Fund uses to describe this dangerous endorsement.

Joe Racalto is president of Giesta Racalto, LLC. He served as former Rep. Barney Frank’s senior policy adviser and is a board member at Freedom to Work.

04
Mar
2014

HRC urges Obama to take action on Uganda

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Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin. (Washington Blade file by Michael Key).

Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin penned a letter to the Obama administration this week, asking the president to take a more aggressive stance against harassment, property loss and violence against LGBT Ugandans ever since the enactment of the Anti-Homosexuality Act, which imposes a life sentence on any person engaging in same-sex sexual behavior.

“I respectfully ask that you direct the Administration’s interagency review to begin issuing immediate, concrete results that will illustrate the United States’ commitment to protecting human rights in Uganda,” HRC President Chad Griffin said in the letter.

Patrick Ventrell, a spokesman for the National Security Council, told the Blade in a statement Tuesday that Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act “runs counter to universal human rights and to human dignity.”

For the past three months, the Obama administration has said it plans to “review” its relationship with Uganda.

Ventrell noted that when Uganda’s anti-gay law was first instituted, the administration responded by diverting funds away from anti-gay tourism programs and religious groups in Uganda. Additionally, the Department of Defense cancelled scheduled events in the country, and Secretary of State John Kerry said he planned to meet with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni to discuss “why what he did could not be based on any kind of science or fact.”

The HRC’s letter pushes the administration to take more definitive steps – not only in Uganda, but also in other nations with equally discriminatory legislation on the books.

“An immediate demonstration of significant consequences, moreover, will put other leaders who are considering similar bills on notice that enacting anti-LGBT laws will effect their country’s relationship with the United States,” Griffin wrote. “A further review that incorporates Nigeria, Russia, and Brunei – countries that recently passed heinous anti-LGBT laws – is also imperative to signal to the world that these consequences are not directed solely towards Africa.”

American leaders have said that diverting funds from Uganda – especially dollars previously aimed toward groups fighting HIV/AIDS like the anti-gay Inter-Religious Council of Uganda – could cause trouble for the country if it continues to cling to the Anti-Homosexual Act.

“The backwardness of the new law is damaging Uganda’s international reputation and could jeopardize progress in fighting HIV/AIDS, attracting foreign investment and promoting tourism,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in February.

“Africans do not seek to impose their views on anybody,” Museveni said in a statement Feb. 18. “We do not want anybody to impose their views on us. This very debate was provoked by Western groups who come to our schools and try to recruit children into homosexuality.”

Uganda is one of more than 70 countries where homosexuality remains criminalized and next week, the nation’s anti-gay ideals could gain more prominence on the international stage.

Uganda’s foreign minister, Sam Kutesa, who supports the anti-gay law, was elected president of the United Nations General Assembly. He’ll assume that post next week after being elected by the African Union “acclamation,” without a single ballot being cast.

04
Jun
2014

Mississippi city passes LGBT ordinance

Oxford, Mississippi, gay news, Washington Blade

Oxford, Mississippi. (Photo by Kathy Jean; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

OXFORD, Miss.–A third Mississippi city has passed a resolution in support of adding sexual orientation and gender identity and expression to its diversity statement.

The Oxford Board of Aldermen on March 4 unanimously approved the resolution.

“Tolerance and acceptance creates the strongest bonds between neighbors,” said Alderman Jay Hughes in a Human Rights Campaign press release. “I am proud to be on the right side of history in reaffirming Oxford’s long-standing commitment to that most fundamental principle.”

Hattiesburg last month added LGBT-specific language to its diversity statement. The Starkville Board of Alderman in January approved the state’s first pro-LGBT municipal resolution.

05
Mar
2014

LGBT wedding photos presented at HRC

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Cover image from ‘The New Art of Capturing Love’ by Kathryn Hamm and Thea Dodds. (Hudson River Photography image reprinted by permission from Amphoto Books)

“The New Art of Capturing Love,” a panel discussion that’s part of the Human Rights Campaign’s Equality Talks series with Politics & Prose, is Thursday from 7-9 p.m. at HRC Headquarters (1640 Rhode Island Ave., N.W.).

Gayweddings.com president Kathryn Hamm and photographer Thea Dodds will discuss what they say are the limitations of traditional notions of gender roles in wedding rituals and photography and the ways LGBT couples can help straight couples buck tradition. They will also consider how the mainstream wedding industry — a billion-dollar-plus industry per year — handles this niche market.

A photography show featuring shots from their new book of the same title, billed as the first LGBT wedding photography book, will also be on site. They will also answer questions and sign copies of the book. The event is free and open to the public. Visit hrc.org/capturinglove for details.

12
Jun
2014

Bowser’s gay campaign manager shuns spotlight

Muriel Bowser, Ward 4, Washington D.C., D.C. Council, gay news, Washington Blade

Muriel Bowser’s gay campaign manager says she’ll be a champion for LGBT issues if elected mayor. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

With D.C. Council member Muriel Bowser’s dramatic rise in the polls placing her in a statistical tie with Mayor Vincent Gray in the April 1 Democratic primary for mayor, some of Bowser’s LGBT supporters are pointing to the efforts of her campaign manager, Bo Shuff, who has shied away from the media spotlight.

Shuff, who’s gay and has worked in the past for the LGBT rights groups Equality Ohio and the Human Rights Campaign, has been serving as Bowser’s campaign manager since last September.
Beginning in 2000, as regional field director for the Florida Democratic Party, Shuff has worked on political campaigns for candidates and progressive advocacy groups for more than a dozen years as a specialist in grassroots organizing and field operations.

Since 2009 he has provided campaign-related consulting services to a wide range of clients as owner of the D.C. firm Top Shelf Consulting.

Shuff said he joined the Bowser campaign after mutual friends informed him that Bowser was looking for a campaign manager.

“They introduced us and I interviewed,” Shuff said, both with Bowser and former D.C. Council member William Lightfoot (I-At-Large), who is serving as chair of the Bowser campaign.

When asked about assertions by Gray’s LGBT supporters that Gray’s record on LGBT issues is far more extensive than Bowser’s, Shuff said Bowser would be a champion for LGBT people both on LGBT issues and other issues that impact their lives.

“Muriel voted for every piece of legislation that’s been positive for the LGBT community that’s come across her desk,” he said. “She’s going to be a strong advocate for minority populations across the board, not just LGBT but the full diversity of this city.”

31
Mar
2014

Snowden enters race for at-large D.C. Council seat

Courtney Snowden, gay news, Washington Blade

Courtney Snowden announced on Monday that she is running as an independent for an at-large D.C. Council seat. (Photo courtesy of the Raben Group)

Lesbian activist and public affairs lobbyist Courtney Snowden announced on Monday that she is running as an independent for the at-large D.C. Council seat being vacated by gay Council member David Catania (I-At-Large), who’s running for mayor.

“This city is, and has always been, full of promise and opportunity,” Snowden said in a statement. “I’m running because I want to give all of the District’s residents an independent voice, not beholden to party politics, but willing to stand up for progressive values.”

Her announcement that she’s running as an independent comes just over two months after she won election in the city’s April 1 primary as Alternate National Committeewoman to the Democratic National Committee. Her change in party registration from Democrat to independent requires her to resign from the committeewoman’s post.

“I share the values and vision of the Democratic Party, and in fact, have built my professional life on its principles,” she said in an open letter to D.C. Council member Anita Bonds (D-At-Large), who also serves as chair of the D.C. Democratic Party.

“I am committed to the Democratic principles on which I ran in April, and I have been honored to serve as the Alternate National Committeewoman, even if only briefly,” she said in the letter.

Snowden becomes the 12th independent to enter the at-large Council race. Like her, nearly all of the others changed their party registration from Democrat to independent to run for a seat that is reserved for a non-majority party candidate under a provision of the City Charter approved by Congress in the 1970s as part of the city’s limited home rule government.

Since Democrats hold a nine-to-one majority among D.C. registered voters, one of two at-large Council seats up for election this year must go to a non-Democrat. Bonds, who holds the “Democratic” seat, is expected to easily win re-election in November.

In the battle for the second seat, Snowden will also be competing with gay Republican nominee Marc Morgan, an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner from Adams Morgan, as well as Libertarian and Statehood Green Party candidates. She will also be competing with fellow Democrat-turned-independent Elissa Silverman, who received strong LGBT community support when she ran unsuccessfully for the same Council seat as a Democrat in an April 2013 special election.

Also running as an independent is D.C. restaurant owner Khalid Pitts, who received the endorsement of Joe Solmonese, longtime gay rights advocate and former president of the Human Rights Campaign, where Snowden worked from 2002-2003.

For the past 10 years, Snowden has worked as a lobbyist and public policy strategist representing corporate and non-profit clients for The Raben Group, a public relations and communications firm. The firm was founded by gay attorney Robert Raben, who served as an assistant U.S. attorney general in the Clinton administration.

Prior to joining the Raben Group, Snowden served as a senior lobbyist for the National Parent and Teacher Association. Prior to that she worked in various policy positions for the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), HRC, and Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) before Baldwin won election as the nation’s first openly gay U.S. senator.

Snowden, a lifelong D.C. resident, is the second known lesbian to run for a seat on the Council. In 1998, lesbian activist Sabrina Sojourner ran unsuccessfully for an at-large Council seat in the Democratic primary. She finished in sixth place in a 10-candidate race, receiving 12 percent of the vote.

17
Jun
2014

Team D.C. Sportsfest

Team D.C., the umbrella organization for D.C.-area LGBT sports teams and leagues, held its annual Sportsfest at Room & Board on Thursday. (Washington Blade photos by Michael Key) Sportsfest 

11
Apr
2014

Still fighting 50 years after Freedom Summer

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(Photo by Peter Pettus; courtesy Library of Congress)

Some things in life are unforgettable. I’ll never forget, when I was 11 and living in Southern, N.J., watching a CBS documentary called “The Search in Mississippi” with my parents in 1964.  On the show, Walter Cronkite reported on the search for three volunteers with the “Freedom Summer Project,” a campaign to register African-American voters in Mississippi, who had disappeared. One of the volunteers, James Chaney, 21,was black and from Mississippi. The other two volunteers – Andrew Goodman, 20, and Michael Schwerner, 24, were white New Yorkers.  They were among the hundreds of volunteers, black and white, who’d risked their lives to go to Mississippi that summer to non-violently fight for the right to vote for African Americans.  “They’ve probably been murdered,” my Dad said, choking up, about the volunteers who’d been missing.

Unfortunately, my Dad was right. They were killed by the Ku Klux Klan in Philadelphia, Miss. on June 21, the first day of Freedom Summer. Forty-four days after they disappeared, their remains were found.

“This is a wonderful town,” Goodman wrote on a postcard he mailed to his parents on the day he was murdered, “Our reception was very good.”

This summer is the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer. Like many such anniversaries, it’s bittersweet.

In 1964, voter suppression efforts targeting African Americans were among the highest in the country. In 1962, fewer than 7 percent of black people in Mississippi were registered to vote and there had been 539 lynchings of African Americans from 1882 to 1964. Over a 10-week period that summer, volunteers — black, white, Jewish and Christian — put their bodies on the line.  They were beaten and put in jail. The amount of fear and intimidation that they endured is impossible to adequately convey or imagine.

The beatings and murders of African Americans hadn’t received much publicity. The bodies of eight other black men were found with the remains of Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner. But, because Goodman and Schwerner were white, their murders enraged the nation and were covered widely in the media. President Lyndon Johnson and Congress used this outrage to pass the Civil Rights Act on July 2, 1964. Freedom Summer volunteers established more than 40 Freedom Schools. The schools taught math, reading, black history and other subjects to more than 3,000 African-American students in Mississippi. In 1965, the Voting Rights Act was passed. These successes are a wonderful vindication of the Freedom Summer Project — a non-violent, social justice movement. If only these victories had not come with unjust bloodshed and loss of human lives.

More important is that so much more needs to be done before justice will be achieved. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act. After that, “immediately a number of states moved to implement laws that would essentially reduce voter turnout among minority groups,” wrote David Goodman, Andrew Goodman’s brother, in a commentary for fdlreporter.com.

Today, half a century on from Freedom Summer, people worldwide, including members of the LGBT community, are still fighting for equality and justice. In the fight for same-sex marriage, the right to vote is vital.

“As a young, black, queer woman who directly benefits from the legacy of Freedom Summer, I commit to working towards a justice for all people that is yet to be realized,” Human Rights Campaign Youth and Campus Outreach Assistant Samantha Master, wrote on the HRC website.

This summer, the LGBT community has been marking the Freedom Summer 50th anniversary. HRC is organizing a Moral Freedom Summer voter registration campaign. This week (June 23-29), Master and other LGBT leaders, have been featured at the Mississippi Freedom Summer 50th Anniversary conference in Jackson, Miss.

In 1964, the young women and men of Freedom Summer “had the courage to go to the lion’s den and try to scrub the lion’s teeth,” Maya Angelou said.

The struggle for justice continues. I hope we have the courage to go to the lion’s den.

Kathi Wolfe, a writer and poet, is a regular contributor to the Blade.

26
Jun
2014