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In a LEAGUE of its own

Josh Hampshire, LEAGUE, AT&T, gay news, Washington Blade

Josh Hampshire is the new CEO of LEAGUE at AT&T. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

When Josh Hampshire was a teenager in Michigan, he lived the life of a nerd. His fascination with technology contrasted with his earlier years growing up “almost Amish” on the small dairy farm operated by his “old hippie” counterculture father.

Later developing an interest in the communications technology of the era, he would soon find himself rummaging through a dumpster to retrieve the discarded miscellany of a closing telephone switching station near the subsequent childhood small-town home he would share with his mother. He assembled the salvaged parts to create his own two-node hard-line network linking to a friend’s home next door.

Hampshire, beginning the year as the new CEO of LEAGUE at AT&T, now heads up the 30-chapter network of company LGBT employees, engaging more than 3,300 members across the country. The organization’s board of directors and chapter leadership gathered in D.C. last weekend to plan strategic priorities for the year.

Established in 1987, the trailblazing AT&T Employee Resource Group, one of 11 current internal associations, became the first gay workplace support and advocacy organization of its type in the country. It would survive the multiple evolutions of telephone industry re-configurations and re-brandings through which the company would transition.

Embraced by a welcoming corporate attitude from the beginning, the novelty of such a gay employee association was a natural fit for the telecommunications giant. AT&T management and personnel had, after all, been instrumental in establishing the Telephone Pioneers of America in 1911 – now the world’s largest industry-specific organization of employees and retirees dedicated to community service.

According to AT&T LEAGUE Foundation founder and president John Klenert, a retired Washington employee, the corporation’s embrace of equal protection policies was both immediate and organic. When the now-named National Gay and Lesbian Task Force wrote to the late and then AT&T chairman John deButts in early 1975 requesting that the company adopt sexual orientation employment protections, he quickly agreed – distinguishing the company as the first Fortune 500 enterprise to do so.

Hampshire, who began as an entry-level customer service rep, praises AT&T “for being a pioneer in LGBT workplace policies,” noting its additional distinction as “the first large company to provide employment protections for transgender employees.” AT&T is ranked as a Human Rights Campaign “Best Places to Work” and has long enjoyed a perfect score on the organization’s Corporate Equality Index.

“There are few businesses that have celebrated diversity like AT&T,” Hampshire points out, noting that the company “doesn’t ‘toot its horn’ about nondiscrimination policies and philanthropic activities,” that are the result “of a unique grassroots management culture from the bottom up.”

Hampshire, now a Dallas-based senior program manager for the 200-city AT&T Aspire high school mentoring program, recalls how being a techno-nerd and growing up gay was a dual estrangement from his peers. “At one point I thought I would drop out of high school,” he says, adding that those memories help him understand the importance of his current job. “AT&T has committed $350 million to the program over 10 years,” Hampshire notes, enthusiastically detailing the positive impact it has for at-risk students, the educational values it instills, and the opportunities the program provides through an emphasis on science and technology skills.

LEAGUE of AT&T is expanding its organizational foundation’s existing college scholarship program, funded by AT&T and private donors, by providing LGBT student mentoring in affiliation with the Aspire program.

For Hampshire, who is planning a New Mexico wedding with his partner of 10 years and with whom he is expecting twins in late August by in vitro surrogacy, that is a goal as clear as any modern-day mobile phone call.

Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow on Twitter: @MarkLeeDC. Reach him at OurBusinessMatters@gmail.com.

20
Jan
2014

House race divides LGBT advocates

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

Richard Tisei said he would serve as a strong advocate for LGBT rights within the ranks of House Republicans if elected. (Photo courtesy of Tisei).

The controversial decision earlier this year by the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund to endorse gay Republican Richard Tisei over pro-LGBT Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.) has prompted five openly gay or bisexual U.S. House members, all Democrats, to sign on as supporters of a fundraiser for Tierney.

The fundraiser, scheduled for June 25 in Washington, is being backed by at least two-dozen prominent LGBT Democrats and straight allies, including the entire Massachusetts congressional delegation, former Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese, and transgender advocate and Maryland State Senate candidate Dr. Dana Beyer.

Gay former Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) is among those signing on as an honorary co-chair of the fundraising event, which is being organized by two of Frank’s former staff members.

The former staffers, Joseph Racalto and Maria Giesta, principals in the Washington political consulting firm Giesta Racalto, said they initiated the event to “blunt” the Victory Fund’s endorsement of Tisei.

Tisei is a former Massachusetts State senator. He has a strong record of support for LGBT rights, including marriage equality. He backed a transgender rights bill that came up before the legislature.

Racalto and other LGBT Democrats supporting Tierney said they have no objection to an LGBT supportive gay Republican running for Congress.

But they said the Victory Fund should not have endorsed such a candidate in a race against a longtime straight ally such as Tierney, who has received a perfect 100 percent rating on LGBT issues from HRC.

“Although I applaud Tisei – and all LGBT political candidates who run for public office — this endorsement is not justified and sets a dangerous precedent,” Racalto said in a Blade commentary.

In a phone interview on Tuesday, Tisei told the Blade he would be a champion for LGBT issues if elected to the House and would serve as a strong advocate for LGBT rights within the ranks of House Republicans.

He said he would not hesitate to defy House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) by signing a discharge petition to force Boehner and other House GOP leaders to bring the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA, to the House floor for a vote.

ENDA, which calls for banning employment discrimination against LGBT people, has been stalled in the Republican-controlled House. The Democratic-controlled Senate passed the legislation last year.

Racalto said that while Tisei has personally been supportive on LGBT issues, his commitment to push for those issues came into question last month when he formed a joint fundraising committee with conservative Republican Frank Guinta, who’s running for a House seat in New Hampshire.

Guinta opposes same-sex marriage and abortion rights and had considered aligning himself with the ultra conservative Tea Party.

Tisei said the joint fundraising arrangement will enable the two candidates to share expenses and won’t in any way compromise his positions in support of LGBT rights.

“During the past 10 years I have seen a lot of people’s positions change and evolve, including the president’s, by the way,” Tisei said.

He added that he sees his role as an advocate for change within the Republican Party and the Republican caucus of the House.

“A lot of people are re-examining their positions on marriage equality and other LGBT issues,” he said. “And I’m going to work with as many different types of people on as many types of issues as I can…And I can serve, especially within the Republican caucus, as someone who helps bring people over to the right side of the issue.”

Gregory Angelo, president of the Log Cabin Republicans, said the group endorsed Tisei last week. Angelo said he isn’t troubled over Tisei’s joint fundraising effort with Guinta.

“The more interesting aspect of this story to me is that ‘Tea Party’ types who contribute to this fund will be donating money to a gay Republican running for the House of Representatives,” Angelo said. “That’s the real story here.”

Victory Fund press secretary Steven Thai said his group saw Tisei as a change agent for the Republican Party along with Tisei’s longstanding record in support of LGBT rights when it endorsed him.

“I think it is sometimes shortsighted for folks to focus on the kind of short-term gains that can be made right now instead of the long-term goal that this world would be very different if we had more Republicans that supported us on our issues,” Thai said. “And the only way we’re ever going to get to that point is by electing openly gay Republicans that care about our issues.”

D.C. gay Democratic activist Peter Rosenstein, who signed on as a member of the host committee for the Tierney fundraiser, said he agrees with the Victory Fund’s mission of helping to elect LGBT-supportive candidates but not at the expense of long-time LGBT-supportive incumbents like Tierney.

“I don’t see this as a conflict with my support for the Victory Fund,” he said in referring to his role in the Tierney fundraiser. “I support the Victory Fund but not all of their candidates.”

Political observers in Massachusetts say Tisei has a shot at unseating Tierney in part because he’s perceived by many voters as a moderate Republican with a progressive record as a state legislator for more than 10 years.

Tisei came within just one percentage point of beating Tierney in the 2012 election at a time when Tierney’s wife and two brothers-in-law became embroiled in an illegal gambling scheme that landed his wife and one brother-in-law in jail.

Tierney himself was cleared of any wrong-doing in the scandal, in which his wife, Patrice Tierney, pleaded guilty in 2010 to filing false tax returns in connection with a checking account belonging to one of her brothers. As much as $7 million in illegal gambling funds passed through the account, according to law enforcement officials.

Politico reported that Tierney blames his brothers-in-law for duping his wife into believing the funds were part of a legal sports gambling business based in the Caribbean island of Antigua, which the brothers claimed to have been operating.

Republican Party operatives both in Massachusetts and outside the state have been raising the gambling scandal in attack ads targeting Tierney.

As if that were not enough, Tierney is being challenged by two Democrats in the state’s Democratic primary in September. One of the candidates, former U.S. Marine and Iraq war veteran Seth Moulton, raised more money than Tierney in the most recent campaign reporting period, raising concern among Tierney supporters. On his campaign website, Moulton has expressed support for LGBT rights, including marriage equality.

The gay House members signing on as honorary co-chairs for the Tierney fundraiser are Reps. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Mark Pocan (D-Wisc.), and Mark Takano (D-Calif.). Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), the first openly bisexual member of Congress, also signed on as an honorary co-chair.

The name of Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), the first openly gay person to win election to the U.S. Senate, is conspicuously absent from the list of honorary co-chairs for the Tierney fundraiser. Racalto said organizers invited Baldwin to participate but have not heard back from her office.

A Baldwin spokesperson didn’t respond to a request from the Blade for a comment on why Baldwin hasn’t signed on to the fundraiser. The Victory Fund endorsed Baldwin in her hotly contested Senate race in 2012 and helped raise money for her successful campaign.

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) has signed on as an honorary co-chair for the Tierney fundraiser along with Tierney’s eight House colleagues from Massachusetts, all of whom are Democrats. The state’s other senator, Elizabeth Warren (D), has so far not signed on as an honorary co-chair.

Other supporters of the event, in addition to Solmonese, Rosenstein, and Beyer, include former Barney Frank staffers Peter Kovar and Diego Sanchez; Brad Luna; John Weinfurter; Tucker Gallagher; Lane Hudson; and Paul Hazen.

Racalto said he didn’t extend an invitation to participate in the event to Rep. Michael Michaud (D-Maine), who came out as gay last year and who has been endorsed by the Victory Fund in his race for governor of Maine.

“We didn’t invite him simply because of his run for governor,” Racalto said. “The Victory Fund played no part in that decision.”

Barney Frank, Massachusetts, World Bank, human rights, Democratic Party, United States House of Representatives, gay news, Washington Blade

Former Rep. Barney Frank and several of his former staffers are involved in a June fundraiser for Rep. John Tierney. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

07
May
2014

Shaheen poised to help gay veterans on Senate floor

Jeanne Shaheen, United States Senate, gay news, Washington Blade, New Hampshire, Democratic Party

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) filed the Charlie Morgan Act as an amendment to a veterans benefits bill (Pubic domain photo).

The senior U.S. senator from New Hampshire filed an amendment on Wednesday that would ensure married same-sex couples can access spousal veterans benefits wherever the go in the country, although the measure at this time seems unlikely to see a vote.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) submitted the measure, known as the Charlie Morgan Equal Treatment Act, as a potential amendment to S.1982, a veterans benefits bill under debate this week on Senate floor.

“No one who has served openly in our military and fought for our country should be denied benefits that they’ve rightfully earned,” Shaheen said. “The Charlie Morgan Act makes sure that we fulfill the commitment we have made to all of our veterans and military families so that finally no spouse, child or family can be denied the care and benefits they deserve.”

As the Washington Blade previously reported, seven months after the Supreme Court ruling against Section 3 of Defense of the Marriage Act, the Obama administration is still not affording to veterans benefits — such as disability benefits, survivor benefits and joint burial at a veteran’s cemetery — to married same-sex couples who apply for these benefits in non-marriage equality states.

The portion of the law governing spousal benefits for veterans, 103(c) of Title 38, looks to the state the residence, not the state of celebration, to determine whether a couple is married. The Obama administration has said it’s reviewing whether it can afford these to married same-sex couples in states without marriage equality following the DOMA decision, but no announcement has been made.

The amendment is cosponsored by Sens. Mark Udall (D-Colo), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis).

Udall said in a statement the amendment ensure veterans “receive the benefits they have earned regardless of whom they love or in which state they were legally married.”

“Despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision to strike down the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act, legally married veterans and their families are still being cut off from the benefits they earned through their service to our nation,” Udall said.

Just because the senators filed the amendment, the measure won’t necessarily come up on the Senate floor. Senate leadership has to come to an agreement to allow the amendment to come up for a vote.

Faiz Shakir, a spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), blamed Republicans and said at this time no amendments — including the Charlie Morgan Act — will be able to come up for a vote on the measure.

“The Republicans have been poisoning the debate by insisting that a vote on Iran sanctions be included as part of the bipartisan veterans bill,” Shakir said. “Sen. Reid has insisted that we should allow votes on relevant amendments from both sides (which the Shaheen/Udall proposal would certainly be a candidate for). But until Republicans can agree to the threshold of relevant amendments, we’re stuck in a situation where no progress on amendments can be had.”

Don Stewart, a spokesperson for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), in turn criticized Reid.

“First of all, we’re not even on the bill yet procedurally, so no amendments are in order at this time,” Stewart said. “And once we are, the expectation is that Sen. Reid will ‘fill the tree’ (which blocks ALL other amendments from being considered).

Udall has been vocal about the issue and has written at least two letters to the Obama administration urging federal officials to stop enforcing veterans law in a way that discriminates against same-sex couples.

Mike Saccone, a Udall spokesperson, said the introduction of the amendment shouldn’t be taken as a sign the senator has given up on pushing for an administrative fix to the issue.

“The administration can and should do this on its own, but until that happens Sen. Udall is going to pursue every avenue to fix this and prevent any more incidents of discrimination,” Saccone said.

The amendment is named after New Hampshire National Guard Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Morgan, a plaintiff in the one of the federal lawsuits against the DOMA who passed away last year after a battle with breast cancer. According to Shaheen’s office, Morgan’s spouse and daughter haven’t able to receive certain survivor benefits “due to restrictions in the federal code prohibiting the VA from administering benefits.

Last year, the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs approved the Charlie Morgan Act by voice vote as part of a package of additional bills.

Allison Herwitt, vice president for government affairs at the Human Rights Campaign, was among those calling for passage of the measure.

“While we have made great progress in extending the full range of federal benefits to married lesbian and gay couples, there is still uncertainty regarding the equal recognition of all the families of the brave men and women who have served our nation in uniform,” Herwitt said. “Sen. Shaheen’s bill will honor the memory of Charlie Morgan and ensure that all veteran families get the respect and benefits they deserve.”

26
Feb
2014

HRC urges Obama to take action on Uganda

South, Human Rights Campaign, American Foundation for Equal Rights, AFER, HRC, marriage equality, same-sex marriage, gay marriage, Virginia, Chad Griffin, Tom Shuttleworth, Carol Schall, Emily, Mary Townley, Adam Umhoefer, David Boies, Ted Olson, Tim Bostic, Washington Blade, Tony London

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

Taking sides in ‘painful’ mayoral race

Hillary Rosen, mayoral race, gay news, Washington Blade

Hilary Rosen, a longtime LGBT advocate and CNN commentator, endorsed David Catania for mayor. A Blade survey of prominent D.C. activists reveals a split in support for Catania and rival Muriel Bowser. (Photo courtesy of CNN)

An informal survey of 37 prominent LGBT advocates in D.C. found that 13 of them would vote for Council member David Catania (I-At-Large) for mayor if the election were held this week, 12 would vote for Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), and 12 were undecided.

All but five of the activists identified themselves in the survey conducted by the Washington Blade as registered Democrats This development suggests a significant number of LGBT Democrats who are normally loyal to their party in D.C. elections are considering voting for Catania, the openly gay independent and former Republican.

Veteran transgender activist Jeri Hughes, who was among those saying she’s undecided in the mayoral race, appeared to reflect the views of many in the LGBT community in weighing their choice between Catania and Bowser.

“Party lines become blurred when the independent candidate represents the Democratic Party line supporting the needy and social welfare to a greater extent and better than most Democrats,” said Hughes.

“I am inclined to vote along my party line, Democrat, but I need to know more about Council member Bowser’s vision for the District,” she said.

Hughes was also among about 30 mostly Democratic LGBT activists that met privately with Catania on Monday at Catania’s campaign headquarters on Connecticut Avenue, N.W., to engage in a “frank” discussion on a wide range of issues, including non-LGBT issues, according to those familiar with the meeting.

Others attending the meeting were transgender activists Earline Budd, Ruby Corado, and Alexandra Beninda and gay Latino activist Jose Gutierrez.

Gay Democratic activist Lane Hudson, who organized the meeting, said most of the attendees, including him, supported Mayor Vincent Gray in the April 1 Democratic primary and are now either undecided or are leaning toward Catania in the November general election.

Bowser beat Gray in the primary by a margin of 43 percent to 33 percent according to final returns released by the Board of Elections. Six other candidates, including another three members of the City Council, finished far behind Bowser and Gray.

Hudson said he now supports Catania. Although he said Catania’s record on LGBT rights is far more extensive than Bowser’s, his decision to back Catania is based on his belief that Catania is better qualified to lead the city.

David Catania, Muriel Bowser, mayor, D.C. Council, gay news, Washington Blade

LGBT advocates in D.C. are divided between David Catania and Muriel Bowser in the race for mayor. (Washington Blade photo of Catania by Michael Key; Blade photo of Bowser by Damien Salas)

Among the LGBT advocates supporting Bowser are Bil Browning, founder of the LGBT news blog Bilerico Project, and his partner, Jerame Davis, former executive director of the National Stonewall Democrats.

Other Bowser supporters, as identified in the Blade survey, include Kurt Vorndran and Lateefah Williams, both former presidents of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club; Courtney Snowden, public relations executive and former Human Rights Campaign official; A. Billy S. Jones, veteran gay rights activist; and Riley Temple, an attorney and gay rights advocate.

Gay Democratic activist and businessman Everett Hamilton, who serves as a communications consultant to Bowser’s campaign, said other Bowser supporters include Elizabeth Birch, former executive director of the Human Rights Campaign; Jeff Marootian, former LGBT outreach director for the Democratic National Committee; and veteran lesbian activist Sheila Alexander-Reid, a radio talk show producer and founder of the lesbians of color advocacy organization Women In the Life Association.

Also among Bowser’s LGBT supporters is Christopher Dyer, the gay activist who served as director of the City’s Office of GLBT Affairs under former Mayor Adrian Fenty.

Hamilton pointed to a statement released by Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz congratulating Bowser on the day following her primary victory. He said Wasserman Schultz’s strong backing of Bowser would prompt D.C. Democrats, including LGBT Democrats, to remain loyal to their party’s nominee.

“Muriel’s vision to move D.C. in a positive direction resonates with the District’s working and middle class families,” Wasserman Schultz said in her statement. “Her plans to invest in the city’s schools, infrastructure, and economic development embody the Democratic Party’s priorities to increase opportunity for all.”

Although Wasserman Schultz said she believes D.C. Democrats are committed to uniting behind Bowser following the April 1 primary, at least two nationally recognized lesbian and gay Democrats have come out in support of Catania.

Hilary Rosen, a communications firm executive, Democratic Party advocate and commentator on CNN, announced on her Facebook page last month that she’s backing Catania because, among other things, he’s a “candidate who can bring people together.”

Steve Elmendorf, chief of staff to former House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) and current principal in the Democratic leaning lobbying and public affairs firm Elmendorf-Ryan Communications, raised eyebrows in Democratic Party circles when he, too, announced his endorsement of Catania.

Among other things, Elmendorf serves as chairman of the board of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, which also has endorsed Catania. The group raises money for openly LGBT candidates for public office across the country.

“I think David is a candidate who can bring people together and most importantly has shown himself to be willing to do the work,” Rosen said in her Facebook statement. “For example, when he chaired the [D.C. Council] Health Committee he created accessible health clinics for residents all over D.C. but most importantly east of the River.”

Others who identified themselves as Catania supporters in the Blade survey include Deacon Maccubbin, former Lambda Rising bookstore owner; Joel Lawson, Dupont Circle civic activist; Roger Moffatt, Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner in the Southwest Waterfront area; Alexandra Beninda, transgender activist and member of the D.C. Human Rights Commission; and William Waybourn, former publisher of the Washington Blade. Each of them said they are Democrats.

Also identifying themselves as Catania supporters in the survey are Marvin Carter, CEO of the local LGBT charitable group Helping Our Brothers and Sisters; Charles Francis, public relations executive and founder of the Kameny Papers Project, which arranged for the preservation of the papers of the late gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny; and Berin Szoka, a Libertarian Party activist and 2012 supporter of presidential candidate Ron Paul. Carter and Francis said they are registered as independent voters. Szoka said he’s a registered Republican.

Among the 12 Blade survey participants who identified themselves as being undecided in the mayoral race, gay activist Bob Dardano, transgender activist Toni Collins, and gay ANC commissioner and Georgetown University student Craig Cassey said they are “leaning” toward backing Catania. Each said they are registered Democrats.

Gay rights advocate and journalist Isaiah Poole and gay Asian and Pacific Islander association director Gregory Cendana said they are undecided but are leaning toward Bowser. The two said they are also registered Democrats.

Others identifying themselves as undecided are A. Cornelius Baker, former executive director of the Whitman-Walker Clinic; Bob Summersgill, a Ward 3 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner and former president of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance; lesbian activist Barbara Helmick, a Ward 1 civic activist; attorney, tax preparer and Ward 1 civic activist Wallace Dickson; and attorney and Dupont Circle civic activist Edward Grandis. All five said they’re Democrats.

Another survey participant saying he was undecided was Robert Turner, the gay executive director of the D.C. Republican Party. Turner, a registered Republican, said the local GOP has the legal authority to nominate its own mayoral candidate and may do so in time for the June filing deadline for the November general election.

In addition to Bowser and Catania, gay Libertarian Party candidate Bruce Majors and Statehood-Green Party candidate Faith, a former Broadway musician and perennial D.C. mayoral candidate, will also appear on the November ballot for mayor.

Majors and Faith ran unopposed in their respective party primaries on April 1. However, Board of Elections returns show that Faith received 191 votes, 19 fewer than the 210 write-in votes cast for several people not yet identified by the Board.

A Board of Elections spokesperson said Faith was expected to be certified as the winner because she received more votes than any of the individual write-in candidates.

The returns showed that Majors received a total of 30 votes in the primary by Libertarian Party members. Three write-in votes were cast by members of his party.

The Blade’s survey included Majors’ and Faith’s names as mayoral candidates in the November election, but none of the LGBT advocates participating in the survey expressed support for them.

Majors, a D.C. real estate agent and longtime supporter of LGBT rights, has said he plans to wage an aggressive campaign espousing Libertarian Party principles and how they would benefit the city.

The Stein Club, the city’s largest LGBT political organization, did not endorse a candidate for mayor in the Democratic primary because no candidate received a required 60 percent of the vote of the club’s membership. Gray received the most votes but fell just short of the 60 percent threshold.

In a development that surprised some longtime Stein Club members, the club didn’t take immediate steps to endorse Bowser as the Democratic nominee at its regularly scheduled meeting on April 14.

Stein Club President Angela Peoples said the club’s officers would soon discuss plans for when to hold an endorsement meeting. She noted that the club’s bylaws prevent the club from endorsing a non-Democrat in races where a Democratic candidate is running.

Former Stein President Vorndran, who didn’t attend Monday’s meeting, said the club’s longstanding tradition since its founding in the 1970s has been to endorse Democratic primary winners at the club’s first meeting following the primary if the club had not already endorsed those candidates.

As a Democratic Party organization, endorsing primary winners almost never involved controversy assuming they were supportive on LGBT issues, Vorndran said.

“It was as routine as approving the minutes,” he said.

But he said the club’s apparent hesitation to endorse Bowser at its meeting this week suggests the club’s officers are uncertain that Bowser would garner the 60 percent threshold needed for an endorsement at this time.

With a number of club members supporting Catania, a sizable number of members would be expected to vote for the option of “no endorsement,” at least two club members told the Blade.

Peoples said the club and its officers are following an endorsement process adopted last year in which a club endorsement-political committee was formed to determine procedures for making endorsements.

“Our goal is to involve members in the process as much as possible,” she told the Blade. “At Monday’s meeting I said that we would take the feedback to the political committee and give them a chance to determine what the best next step is for the process,” she said.

“The only thing that can be inferred from that is that the Stein Executive Committee remains committed to an open and transparent endorsement process,” she said.

The possible complication in the Stein Club’s endorsement process is yet another example of how divisions within the LGBT community over the Bowser-Catania race may create tension between fellow Democratic activists.

“This race has been painful because I have been forced to make choices which adversely affect individuals whom I respect and admire,” said transgender activist Hughes.

“David Catania has been an LGBT champion, an exemplary and effective Councilman, and personally I love him,” Hughes said. “Muriel Bowser has supported LGBT rights and many in our community love her.”

Added Hughes, “It would be a relief to abdicate choice and rely solely on party line, but this choice will have a real impact on how the District will fare and prosper in the next four years.”

16
Apr
2014

Honduran LGBT advocate ‘fighting to stay alive’

Nelson Arambú, Honduras, gay news, Washington Blade

Honduran LGBT rights advocate Nelson Arambú (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

NEW YORK — A Honduran LGBT rights advocate told the Washington Blade that the top priority for members of his organization is to stay alive.

“We are fighting to stay alive; not to be killed,” said Nelson Arambú of the Diversity Movement in Resistance during a June 27 interview at a Manhattan coffee shop.

Arambú, who lives in Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital, co-founded the Violet Collective Association in 1999 and the Kukulcán Association in 2002.

Arambú currently conducts research on health and violence in Honduras for Doctors Without Borders. He studied rates of sexually transmitted diseases among female sex workers, men who have sex with men, transgender people and people with HIV for a Guatemalan university from 2005 to 2013.

Arambú, 29, met with LGBT rights advocates in New York after he arrived in the city on June 26. He traveled to Chicago before meeting with officials at the State Department, members of the Congressional Equality Caucus and staffers with the Human Rights Campaign and Human Rights First in D.C.

Arambú is scheduled to return to Honduras on Wednesday.

Life ‘quite hard’ for all Hondurans

Arambú told the Blade that anti-LGBT violence in the impoverished Central American country has skyrocketed since a coup toppled then-President Manuel Zelaya in June 2009.

He said statistics between 1994 and 2009 indicate only 20 LGBT Hondurans were reported murdered between 1994 and 2009.

Arambú told the Blade that 176 LGBT Hondurans have been reported killed between the 2009 coup and May. These include Walter Tróchez, a prominent LGBT rights advocate who was shot to death on a Tegucigalpa street in December 2009, and Erick Martínez, a journalist and activist who was strangled to death in 2012 after leaving a gay bar in the Honduran capital.

Arambú told the Blade police officers in Tegucigalpa killed 10 trans people in the three months after the 2009 coup. An Amnesty International report indicates a group of armed men wearing bulletproof vests and balaclavas kidnapped a trans sex worker in the city of San Pedro Sula and killed her before placing her body into a plastic bag and dumping it alongside a road.

The group has reported at least three Honduran LGBT rights advocates have received death threats or have been threatened at gunpoint since 2011.

Arambú told the Blade that unknown men broke into his Tegucigalpa home three times last December.

“These are very difficult things,” he said. “They are very ugly things.”

A report from the U.N. Office of Drugs and Crimes indicates Honduras in 2012 had the world’s highest murder rate.

Arambú told the Blade that 25,000 Hondurans have been killed in the country with a population of slightly more than eight million people since the 2009 coup.

“This means that life is quite difficult, quite hard for the entire Honduran population, not just gays, not just trans people,” said Arambú.

Arambú told the Blade there is a “mix of things” that caused this increase in violence.

He said ministries that had served children, women, indigenous people and Hondurans of African descent have been “systematically dismantled” since the coup. Arambú noted that Roberto Herrera, director of the Human Rights Commission of Honduras who was appointed in March in spite of concerns from Honduran human rights advocates, is a former military advisor.

“What has happened is human rights lost institutionalism, lost this presence within the structures of the government,” he said. “The reality is the topic of human rights has been weakened within the state.”

Another factor behind the violence is what Arambú described as the “loss of control” he said the Honduran government once had in the fight against organized crime and gangs that traffic drugs, weapons and people. Arambú said these groups “have been left to take advantage” of poor Hondurans who lack education and live in “precarious conditions.”

Hondurans ‘afraid to be there’

Arambú spoke to the Blade as an influx of undocumented children from Honduras and other Central American countries continues to cross from Mexico into the U.S.

The Associated Press last week reported that U.S. authorities have detained more than 52,000 children who have entered the country illegally without their parents or other family members since last October. The White House has launched a $1 million media campaign in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador that is designed to warn potential immigrants against traveling to the U.S. without the necessary documents.

“You have this situation of the population that is leaving the country,” said Arambú. “You have adults and children in this situation. And I think it is very important that the world recognizes that the condition of these people is not of an immigrant.”

He further discussed the plight of Central Americans who seek to immigrate to the U.S.

“It is not the same as if I migrated because I would like to go to improve my standard of living, to work or whatever,” said Arambú. “Here I am afraid of losing my life. What happens here in Honduras is that people are leaving the country because they are afraid to be there.”

Honduran lawmakers in February 2013 approved a bill that added sexual orientation and gender identity and expression to its anti-discrimination and hate crimes laws.

Suspects in Martínez’s death are in prison for stealing cars — and not for their alleged involvement in the gay journalist’s death.

Arambú told the Blade that two witnesses that received police protection in the case of the trans women killed in Tegucigalpa in 2009 were harassed by law enforcement and eventually murdered after someone leaked their identities. He said other witnesses to anti-LGBT crimes have fled the country because they “no longer feel safe.”

Arambú also described U.S. Ambassador to Honduras Lisa Kubiske’s May statements that included praise of the government’s efforts to investigate the high number of murders of what one newspaper described as “the most vulnerable members of society” in Bajo Aguán, an agricultural area near the country’s Caribbean coastline, as “an insult” because the country’s human rights situation remains bad.

“I would hope that the U.S. government would have a more clear position that is not so ambiguous toward the situation in Honduras, of the situation with the government,” he said.

In spite of all the challenges that he and other Honduran LGBT rights advocates continue to face, Arambú said he and his colleagues will continue their work.

“We are going to keep going to speak out, to regain ground on human rights not only for gays, but for the entire Honduran population,” he said. “We are going to keep pressuring and speaking out against the Honduran government because the Honduran government is an autocratic government. It is not a democratic government. We are going to keep seeking solidarity from other countries and international organizations.”

08
Jul
2014

Democrats poised to retake Va. Senate

Jennifer Wexton, Mark Herring, Virginia, gay news, Washington Blade

Jennifer Wexton and Attorney General Mark Herring appear at a campaign event in Sterling, Va., on Jan. 4. (Photo courtesy of Catherine Read)

A former Loudoun County prosecutor will succeed Attorney General Mark Herring in the Virginia Senate after she won a special election that will likely allow Democrats to regain control of the chamber.

Jennifer Wexton defeated Republican John Whitbeck by a 53-38 percent margin. Former state Del. Joe T. May, who ran as an independent, came in third with slightly less than 10 percent of the vote.

“It feels terrific,” Wexton told the Loudoun Times-Mirror after she defeated Whitbeck and May.

Herring in a statement congratulated Wexton on her “hard-fought and well-earned victory.”

“I could not be more proud to know that the citizens of Virginia’s 33rd Senate District will continue to be represented by someone who will always put problem solving over partisan politics and who will work tirelessly to strengthen our economy, improve our transportation system and who will support our public schools,” he said.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Lieutenant Gov. Ralph Northam, the Human Rights Campaign and EMILY’s List are among those who also endorsed Wexton.

“I look forward to working with her and the entire General Assembly to find common ground on issues that will grow Virginia’s economy and create more opportunities for all Virginians,” said McAuliffe.

State Del. Lynwood Lewis (D-Accomack County) defeated Norfolk businessman Wayne Coleman by nine votes in a Jan. 7 special election to fill the Senate seat that Northam vacated.

Coleman last week requested a recount.

22
Jan
2014

Gays behaving badly

Sean Eldridge, gay news, Washington Blade

(Washington Blade cartoon by Ranslem)

A squabble broke out at the Equality Forum panel discussion of national politics I moderated last week in Philadelphia.

A woman in the audience objected forcefully after the Victory Fund’s Torey Carter discussed his organization’s controversial endorsement of two gay candidates for Congress.

One is Richard Tisei, a gay Republican from Massachusetts seeking to unseat pro-LGBT (but straight) incumbent John Tierney. The race is dividing LGBT voters and donors, with some saying we should remain loyal to our allies in Congress while others like the Victory Fund see an opportunity to add an openly gay voice to the GOP caucus.

The other race is in New York where the Victory Fund and other LGBT advocates are backing Sean Eldridge over a Republican incumbent who opposes marriage equality. The race is controversial because Eldridge has a thin resume but deep pockets — he’s married to Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes.

The woman at Equality Forum nearly leapt from her seat, angry at the notion of a candidate buying a seat in Congress and questioning whether the LGBT community should play along with such unsavory tactics.

Her frustration is certainly understandable. Eldridge embodies much of what is wrong with our modern political system, which prizes money over achievement. LGBT advocates should reconsider supporting Eldridge’s vanity campaign for Congress from New York’s 19th congressional district.

Or is it the 18th district? It’s hard to keep track of where Eldridge and his wealthy husband — who won the lottery by ending up Mark Zuckerberg’s college roommate as he was creating Facebook — are buying their latest multi-million-dollar home.

We should abandon the term “carpetbagging” and call it “Eldridgeing” because he gives new meaning to the cynical practice of picking up and moving to a new district to buy a seat in Congress.

Eldridge is taking on incumbent Rep. Chris Gibson, a Republican who opposes marriage equality but is a co-sponsor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Of course, no one would mistake Gibson for a gay rights advocate — he earned a zero on HRC’s congressional scorecard — but gay voters and donors should resist lining up behind an alternative just because he’s gay and rich. Surely there’s a viable, experienced Democrat living in the district. We won’t know because anyone contemplating a run was scared off by the Hughes war chest.

In sharp contrast to most newbie politicians, Eldridge shuns the media. He has refused multiple Blade interview requests. Politico last month published a profile of Eldridge and noted that he not only refused its interview requests, but locked the campaign headquarters door when a reporter showed up knocking.

Despite Eldridge’s arrogant approach to campaigning, LGBT voices are embracing him.

“They are young, rich, smart and good-looking. It’s a pretty powerful combination,” Richard Socarides told the New York Times in a predictable display of sycophantic ass kissing.

There’s no disputing they are rich. Hughes’ net worth has been reported to be between $600-700 million. The money came from his connection to Facebook’s Zuckerberg. As the New York Times put it, “For Mr. Hughes, a history and literature student with no programming skills, it later seemed to outsiders a lucky break.”

The couple bought an estate in Garrison, N.Y. along with 80 acres in 2011 for $5 million, the Times noted, quoting Eldridge as saying that’s where they “put down roots.” But just two years later, when the congressional seat in that area appeared out of reach for Eldridge, they bought a new, $2 million spread just north in the 19th congressional district.

Eldridge is just 27 but has a “deep commitment” to public service, according to his bio on Victory Fund’s website. It continues, “He helped lead the successful campaign for marriage equality in New York State in 2011.” That’s almost as ridiculous and brazen as author Jo Becker comparing HRC’s Chad Griffin to Rosa Parks in her new book “Forcing the Spring.”

Much gnashing of teeth followed publication of the book last month. Part of the reason for the backlash is that the book played into a narrative of HRC swooping in at the 11th hour and taking credit for the work of grassroots activists. Many of them have complained (often privately and off the record, fearing retribution) of HRC’s tactics, from Maryland to Maine and California to New York.

We all know the marriage equality movement didn’t start in 2008 with the Prop 8 case and that Griffin is no Rosa Parks. In fact, that case fell far short of its goals; it’s an odd choice for Becker’s grandiose claims.

As gays find increasing acceptance and move openly into the halls of power, we mustn’t forget our own history, as HRC bet wrongly we would in the case of Becker’s book. That history has always been about a shared responsibility for helping each other overcome discrimination and hate. We all stand on the shoulders of a generation of gay men who died and the LGBT survivors who took care of them.

And, as the insightful Maya Rupert of the National Center for Lesbian Rights told our audience at the Equality Forum: We don’t need a gay Rosa Parks. The original belongs to everyone.

Kevin Naff is editor of the Washington Blade. Reach him at knaff@washblade.com.

08
May
2014

Business now greatest ally in LGBT equality pursuit

LGBT equality, corporate, cooperation, gay news, Washington Blade

Corporate leadership on LGBT equality should be embraced as an asset in broadening civil adoption and cultural acceptance.

“The Fortune 500 is the most effective lobby for gay rights.”

So declared television journalist George Stephanopoulos, a former Democratic Party adviser, last Sunday on the political news program he hosts.

Stephanopoulos was referencing the widely acknowledged role that business played in Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer’s veto last week of state Senate Bill 1062. The legislation would have extended the legal shield granted to religious institutions against being sued for denying service to persons based on religious beliefs. Existing law would have been broadened to include “any individual, association, partnership, corporation, church, religious assembly or institution or other business organization” provided the required religious beliefs were “sincerely held” and a lawsuit or other sanction would substantially burden the exercise of them.

Public focus on developments in Arizona, and to a lesser extent similar bills being considered in other states, was widespread – as was public disdain. Business leaders, industry organizations and corporate entities are credited with prompting Brewer’s decision.

Clarion corporate antipathy, both within the state and across the country, was decisive. Business pressure for a veto, both in the public arena and behind the scenes, was pervasive and engaged businesses both small and large. Brewer prominently referenced business opposition when announcing she had halted the law. The next day White House Press Secretary Jay Carney first identified business when enumerating those who had successfully contributed to the bill’s demise.

Government has long been a lagging indicator of popular opinion and tardy in implementing policy revisions. Public sentiment on LGBT civil equality has outpaced legislative action at the federal level and in most state and local jurisdictions. Large numbers of businesses have led the way in implementing a complement of now commonplace protections in the workplace, usually much earlier and often more broadly than those guaranteed by the actions of either elected officials or government bureaucracies.

Since the landmark adoption in 1975 of sexual orientation employment protections by AT&T, fair treatment has expanded exponentially among businesses. In its Corporate Equality Index for 2014, the Human Rights Campaign reports that historic numbers of American businesses “champion LGBT equality” – including 91 percent of Fortune 500 companies providing explicit protections on the basis of sexual orientation. Growth in recent years has accelerated at unprecedented rates.

Business leaders and organizations understand that embracing modern standards of equitable treatment is essential to attracting and retaining talent and best maintaining a corporate environment encouraging success. Companies also require the ability to relocate employees absent reluctance based on the territorial legal implications for workers and families. Larger enterprise with centers of commerce spanning geographic locations and political jurisdictions have little patience for the burden of managing the administration of variable tax and benefit policies or suffering inconsistencies in workplace matters.

Disgruntlement with differing jurisdictional same-sex marriage laws, for example, will likely speed laggard federal regulatory and benefit clarifications as well as spur national uniformity. Business advocacy could prove to be a notable incentive for encouraging both a national right to marry and consistent conveyance of privileges and obligations.

Ironically, should the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act be enacted its practical significance will be largely illusory, outpaced by wholesale prior corporate implementation as standard practice. The numerous exemptions stipulated in the long-languishing legislation will leave untouched the small segment of micro-businesses and other institutions most likely to include the relative few who would desire to resist compliance if affected. In local jurisdictions with similar laws, legal claims have been nearly nonexistent – softening business concerns regarding the potential volume of frivolous or retaliatory complaints and the expense of defending against them.

Business affirmation and advancement of fair and equal treatment offers benefit of normalizing the notion and strengthening community support. Corporate leadership on LGBT equality should be embraced as an asset in broadening civil adoption and cultural acceptance. It is imperative that allies be acknowledged instead of permitting those promoting a perpetual state of alienation to prevail.

Enterprise is not the enemy.

Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow on Twitter: @MarkLeeDC. Reach him at OurBusinessMatters@gmail.com.

04
Mar
2014

Gay Republican advances in bid for Congress

Carl DeMaio, gay news, Washington Blade

Republican Carl DeMaio will face incumbent Democrat Rep. Scott Peters in the general election. (Photo public domain)

There are seven openly gay members of the U.S. House – all of whom are Democrats. But Republican Carl DeMaio, who emerged as one of the top two candidates in a primary election for California’s 52nd congressional district Tuesday, hopes to change that.

DeMaio trailed one-term incumbent Democratic Rep. Scott Peters by about six percentage points in the four-way open primary Tuesday night, meaning the two candidates will face off in the general election in November.

“Tonight’s win sends a national message to the Republican Party: San Diegans are fed up and frustrated,” DeMaio, a former member of the San Diego City Council, said Tuesday. “We want the party to return to its traditional roots of standing up for personal freedoms where we allow individuals to decide social issues in the context of their own personal views on faith and family without interference from their government.”

DeMaio featured his husband in a campaign advertisement. He’s found himself the victim of smear campaigns: Shortly before the primary, his campaign office was vandalized, leaving computers destroyed and the floors flooded.

DeMaio has been by-and-large unable to win the backing of the mainstream LGBT establishment. The Human Rights Campaign endorsed Peters, noting his “stellar record on LGBT equality.” The Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, which works to elect openly LGBT candidates, stayed out of the race.

DeMaio, who was booed at a San Diego Pride parade when running for mayor of the city in 2012, has said in the past he wouldn’t “push the gay special agenda” if elected. He did, however, garner support from GOProud and the Log Cabin Republicans, two conservative LGBT groups.

Although he has said he “obviously” supports same-sex marriage, he has accepted donations from individuals who contributed to Proposition 8, the state constitutional amendment that banned same-sex marriage in California. Prop 8 has since been overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court — but DeMaio, who has a partner, never took a public stance on the controversial measure.

Here’s how other LGBT candidates fared in California’s Tuesday primaries:

• Lesbian candidate for San Diego county clerk Susan Guinn failed in her attempt to unseat Ernest Dronenburg. During his tenure, he tried to delay same-sex marriage after the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the lower court’s ruling to strike down Prop. 8.

• San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, a lesbian Republican, won her re-election effort.

• Long Beach, Calif., elected its first openly gay mayor, Robert Garcia. The 35-year-old is also the city’s first Latino mayor.

05
Jun
2014