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Maryland to recognize Utah same-sex marriages

Doug Gansler, gay news, Washington Blade

Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler on Friday said his state would recognize same-sex marriages performed in Utah.

“Maryland will continue to recognize valid out-of-state same-sex marriages as we continue to strengthen the Constitution’s promise of equal protection under the law,” said Gansler. “It is an affront to the idea of basic human rights that the battle for full marriage equality in this country remains in headlines and courtrooms.”

Gansler told the Washington Blade his office on Thursday received a call from a gay Maryland couple who married in Utah about whether the state would recognize their union.

Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin on the same day urged him and attorneys general in the 17 other states that have extended marriage rights to gays and lesbians to recognize the marriages of the more than 1,300 same-sex couples who exchanged vows after U.S. District Court Judge Robert Shelby struck down the Beehive State’s gay nuptials ban. The U.S. Supreme Court on Jan. 6 blocked any future same-sex marriages from taking place in Utah until the case is resolved.

“Should any of these couples be residents of, travel through, or relocate to your state, there is simply no reason to treat their marriage differently from any other,” wrote Griffin.

HRC spokesperson Fred Sainz described Gansler’s announcement to the Blade as “another win for justice, dignity and equality.”

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

Gansler in 2008 became the first statewide official to back marriage rights for same-sex couples in Maryland when he testified in support of gay nuptials during a state Senate committee hearing. He wrote an opinion in 2010 that said Maryland would recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in other jurisdictions.

“We’ve just said of course based on our previous opinion, we of course would welcome those couples here,” Gansler told the Blade. “Public policy would dictate that least in those 18 states (in which nuptials for gays and lesbians are legal) the marriages from Utah would be recognized.”

Gansler added he hopes the Supreme Court will agree to hear the Utah case and determine whether the denial of marriage rights to same-sex couples is constitutional.

“The hope is that this Utah case would be taken at the Supreme Court, which issued the injunction,” he told the Blade. “Staying the decision is indication the Supreme Court would take the case and finally put to rest the issue of whether or not the prohibition of same-sex marriage is constitutional. And clearly it’s not.”

Gansler is currently running to succeed Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley.

He will face Lieutenant Gov. Anthony Brown and state Del. Heather Mizeur (D-Montgomery County) in the Democratic primary in June.

10
Jan
2014

New book on marriage equality assailed as ‘travesty’

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 is lionized in “Forcing the Spring” for his role in the marriage movement. (Blade file by Michael Key)

A new book on the advancement of marriage equality and the lawsuit that overturned Proposition 8 is stirring controversy over its lionization of HRC President Chad Griffin and its depiction of the federal lawsuit he helped initiate against the California ban.

The book, “Forcing the Spring,” was written by Jo Becker, a New York Times journalist who was embedded with Griffin and the Prop 8 team as their lawsuit moved forward. The book hit shelves on Tuesday, but has already incurred the ire of many in the LGBT movement who say it heaps too much praise on Griffin and ignores others who led the marriage equality effort for decades.

The notion that Griffin, a board member of American Foundation for Equal Rights, is the hero who saved the marriage equality movement pervades the 437-page work.

One part of the book that addresses his move to D.C. in 2012 to become head of the Human Rights Campaign includes a farewell discussion in which fellow AFER board member Rob Reiner says of Griffin, “If there ever is going to be — and there will be at some point — the first gay president, you’re looking at him.”

As noted by gay blogger Andrew Sullivan in his tirade against the book, “Forcing the Spring” opens with a comparison of Griffin and civil rights icon Rosa Parks, saying a revolution begins when someone “grows tired of standing idly by” against the tide of injustice.

“It begins when a black seamstress named Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat on a bus to white man in the segregated South,” Becker writes. “And in this story, it begins with a handsome, bespectacled thirty-five-year old political consultant named Chad Griffin, in a spacious suite at the Westin St. Francis hotel in San Francisco on election night 2008.”

It’s this comparison between Griffin and the iconic figure of the black civil rights movement that Sullivan, who helped pioneer the idea of same-sex marriage in the 1990s, says is only the start of “jaw-dropping distortion” throughout the book.

Andrew Lane, a prominent New York-based gay donor, called the book a “travesty” and said Becker knew that was the case as she was putting the book together.

“She chose to give us a shallow and incomplete history that fetishizes the role of celebrities and PR hacks and either trashes or ignores the real heroes who fought for years to help make the moment possible,” Lane said. “That vapid gay men are attempting to re-write history by centering themselves is not news. That they conscripted a New York Times reporter to do the heavy lifting for them certainly is.”

HRC didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment on the perception that Griffin and the Prop 8 case are given undue credit in the book for their role in the marriage equality movement.

A significant portion of the book is devoted to the behind-the-scenes action leading to President Obama’s announcement in favor of marriage equality in 2012. Although Obama campaigned in 2008 in opposition to same-sex marriage (despite supporting it in 1996), he later said he could evolve on the issue, leading to his announcement in favor of same-sex marriage during his re-election campaign.

According to the book, when Vice President Joseph Biden appeared to endorse same-sex marriage on NBC’s “Meet the Press” just days before Obama’s announcement, the White House reacted furiously. In a chain of emails sent through the White House, senior adviser to the president Valerie Jarrett through an intermediary accused Biden of “downright disloyalty.”

Griffin gets credit as a key voice for moving these evolutions forward. A passage in the book recounts Griffin briefly asking the president during a fundraiser, “How can we help you evolve more quickly?” Obama gave a non-committed response, but pointed to his work on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and the Defense of Marriage Act as evidence of his commitment to LGBT rights.

Further, it recounts Griffin attending a Los Angeles fundraiser with Biden prior to his appearance on “Meet the Press.” After Griffin asked Biden what he really thinks about marriage equality, the vice president said being against it in the future will be a “political liability.” A top Biden aide is quoted as saying it was a moment when “his hard drive got erased.”

John Aravosis, editor of AMERICAblog, criticized the depiction of Griffin as being a driving factor in Obama’s evolution, especially because others who contributed to the effort — like his own blogger who got Obama to say he could evolve on marriage — are absent from the book.

“I had high hopes for Chad taking over HRC, and said so publicly, but I don’t honestly know what Chad did to get the president to evolve on marriage,” Aravosis said. “You wouldn’t know it from Jo Becker’s self-proclaimed ‘definitive account’ of the gay marriage battle these past five years, but the president used that word in response to a question from then-AMERICAblog deputy editor Joe Sudbay, who questioned the president in the White House in October of 2010. Becker gives neither Joe, nor AMERICAblog, any credit, for the now-famous answer.”

Also depicted as contributing to Obama’s evolution on marriage is Ken Mehlman, the former head of the Republican National  Committee who came out as gay in 2010. Mehlman attended Harvard with Obama, so the two had known each other for decades.

According to the book, Mehlman e-mailed Obama senior adviser David Plouffe some talking points and suggested soft lighting for the interview and that it be conducted by a female reporter (it ended up being Robin Roberts of “Good Morning America,” who was closeted at the time).

It’s not the first time the events leading up to Obama’s announcement in favor of same-sex marriage have been reported. The 2013 book “Double Down,” which chronicles Obama’s re-election campaign, also discusses the lead-up to the endorsement. The book similarly recounts the fervor in the White House after Biden’s words on “Meet the Press” and Mehlman’s advice to Obama for his interview, although Griffin makes no appearance in that narrative.

While praising Griffin, the book doesn’t present as favorable an image of other leaders in the marriage equality movement. Among them is Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, who spoke out on marriage equality when it was much less popular — even among LGBT rights groups — in the 1990s.

One portion of the book disparages Wolfson for having unkind words for “Milk” screenwriter and AFER board member Dustin Lance Black after he pledged in his Oscar acceptance speech that equal rights will come very soon for gay people across America.

“Wolfson had berated the younger man over his Oscar speech, explaining as though to a willing but ignorant child his ongoing, twenty-five year plan to build support for marriage equality,” Becker writes. “Twenty-five years? Black had practically gasped. But he had said little; it was intimidating, to say the least, to be dressed down by a pioneer of the marriage equality movement.”

In response to a Blade inquiry on whether he’s given a fair shake in the book, Wolfson spoke in holistic terms on progress made on marriage equality and future goals to advance it further.

“As a movement, we have secured a strong majority of public support for the freedom to marry and a critical mass of Americans living in marriage states,” Wolfson said. “Together, we gutted the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, and, as we again head toward the Supreme Court, have built irrefutable momentum showing America is ready. But we are not done. Freedom to Marry is going to stay focused on finishing the job and achieving the goal we’ve long been aiming toward: winning marriage nationwide.”

Another person whose role is minimized in the book is Mary Bonauto, the civil rights director at Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, who successfully argued the case almost 11 years ago that brought marriage equality to Massachusetts, making it the first state in the country with same-sex marriage. She has also led efforts against the Defense of Marriage Act.

Her role in “Forcing the Spring” is reduced to commending the Prop 8 lawsuit for enabling a trial of the issue of marriage equality. “They turned that trial into a truth commission,” Bonauto is quoted as saying of the attorneys behind the lawsuit.

Carisa Cunningham, a GLAD spokesperson, dismissed the omission of Bonauto’s work on marriage equality by saying the book was meant to capture the narrative of another effort to advance the cause.

“This book wasn’t Mary’s story, and it’s clearly not a history of the movement,” Cunningham said. ”Someday someone will write a book about Mary, and in the meantime, Mary’s story has been told in plenty of public ways and she and GLAD get a lot of well-deserved credit. We’re in it for the work – on principle and how it makes a difference in people’s lives.”

Cunningham also criticized the depiction of Griffin in the book, saying although he offered significant contributions to advancing marriage equality, the book “may do a disservice to those contributions by portraying him as a savior of the movement.”

But the crux of the book is that the lawsuit against Prop 8 litigated by Ted Olson and David Boies restructured the marriage movement. The title itself, “Forcing the Spring,” suggests the Prop 8 case was responsible for bringing marriage equality to the entire country — or at least getting the ball rolling for successes in other states besides California.

But it was the decision in the DOMA case — not the Prop 8 case — that established legal precedent enabling courts since that ruling to rule in favor of marriage equality in now 10 states. The U.S. Supreme Court on the Prop 8 case sidestepped the merits of whether a state can ban same-sex marriage, ruling that proponents of the law had no standing to defend the ban in court after California state officials declined to do so.

The conclusion of Becker’s account gives credit to the lawsuit against DOMA, but says the arguments in the Prop 8 case influenced U.S. Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy’s decision in striking down the federal law.

“By intertwining arguments from both cases, Kennedy gave the Windsor decision a heft and precedential value it might not otherwise have had, providing powerful legal ammunition for a slew of future challenges to state bans on same-sex marriage,” Becker writes.

It should be noted, as previously reported by the Blade, that Olson and Boies’ assistance in the Prop 8 lawsuit came with a hefty $6.4 million price tag. Moreover, HRC, now headed by Griffin, was among the nine signatories of a letter that came out the day before the Prop 8 lawsuit was filed and urged restraint in taking the case to court.

“It is by no means clear that a federal challenge to Prop. 8 can win now,” the letter says. “And an unsuccessful challenge may delay marriage even longer, not only in California but in other states, and seriously damage the rights of LGBT people on many other important issues.”

Nonetheless, HRC in the past week has been promoting the book and its depiction of the Prop 8 case in various blog postings on the organization’s website. One March 26 posting in the weeks prior to the publication of the book calls it “an unparalleled testament to the last five years in the American civil rights movement.”

Suzanne Goldberg, co-director for Columbia University’s Center for Gender & Sexuality Law, said she’s read the Becker book and faulted Becker for not telling the Prop 8 story in a way that better shows its place among other contributions to the marriage movement.

“I think the Perry case was, along with other cases, legislative and community-based advocacy, influential in shaping the marriage equality movement,” Goldberg said. ”The problem with Jo Becker’s book is not the up-close story she tells about the Prop 8 case and media work, which in itself is interesting, but rather the uncritical telling of that story as an account of the marriage equality movement. There are numerous places where she gives both the case and the media advocates far more credit for inventing advocacy strategies and changing the landscape than either deserves.”

22
Apr
2014

Olympics open amid outrage over arrest of Russian LGBT activists

Queer Nation, New York City, New York, Russia, Sochi, homophobia, Winter Olympics, gay news, Washington Blade

Members of Queer Nation NY protested outside the Russian consulate in New York City on Feb. 6, 2014. (Photo courtesy of Queer Nation NY)

The 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, officially opened on Friday amid outrage over the arrest of more than a dozen Russian LGBT rights advocates earlier in the day.

Police arrested 10 activists near Moscow’s Red Square who held rainbow flags as they sung the Russian national anthem just before the games opened. Authorities have released the advocates, but reports indicate police beat and threatened to sexually assault them while they were in custody.

Anastasia Smirnova is among the four activists whom St. Petersburg police took into custody on Friday as they tried to march across a bridge holding a banner that read “discrimination is incompatible with the Olympic movement. Principle 6. Olympic charter” in reference to a campaign in support of adding sexual orientation to the Olympic charter.

Officials later released Smirnova and the three other advocates, but they face charges of participating in an illegal public assembly. They are scheduled to appear in court on Saturday.

“Tonight’s about solidarity,” said Ty Cobb, director of global engagement for the Human Rights Campaign, as he read an e-mail from Smirnova at HRC’s Northwest Washington offices during an opening ceremony watch party his organization co-hosted with Team D.C., Capitol Pride and Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies and Pride House International that benefitted the Russian LGBT Sports Federation. “Let them know we stand in solidarity with them.”

Gay figure skater Brian Boitano and lesbian ice hockey Olympian Caitlin Cahow are among the members of the U.S. delegation to the Sochi games. Retired tennis champion Billie Jean King earlier this week dropped out because of her mother’s failing health.

“There is no doubt we wanted to make it very clear that we do not abide by discrimination,” President Obama told NBC’s Bob Costas during an interview that aired before the network broadcast the opening ceremonies.

Some of the Olympic athletes themselves appeared to show solidarity with Russian LGBT rights advocates during the opening ceremony.

Those who gathered at HRC to watch the opening ceremony applauded members of the Greek Olympic team who wore gloves with rainbow tips as they marched into Fisht Olympic Stadium in Sochi. Dutch snowboarder Cheryl Maas, whose wife is Norwegian, wore a helmet and gloves with a rainbow and unicorn on them during the slope style event in which she competed on Thursday.

A song from t.A.t.U, a Russian band whose members once claimed they were lesbians, played as the Russian Olympic team marched into the stadium during the opening ceremony.

Hudson Taylor, founder of Athlete Ally, unfurled a poster in support of adding sexual orientation to Principle 6 during the opening ceremony. Google on Thursday also changed its homepage to show its support of the initiative.

“It is surreal to be here in Sochi in the heart of the games and learn of the arrest of protesters using Principle 6 messaging,” wrote Taylor on his Facebook page after the Olympics officially opened. “It proves with undeniable clarity that these Russian laws contradict everything that the Olympic Movement stands for. We stand in solidarity with them.”

The International Olympic Committee has repeatedly said it has received assurances from the Kremlin that gays and lesbians will not suffer discrimination during the games. Russian President Vladimir Putin told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos last month those who protest his government’s LGBT rights record will not face prosecution under the country’s controversial law that bans gay propaganda to minors.

“We aren’t banning anything, we aren’t rounding up anyone, we have no criminal punishment for such relations unlike many other countries,” said Putin during a Jan. 17 meeting with Olympic volunteers in Sochi. “We have a ban on propaganda of homosexuality and pedophilia, I want to underline that, on propaganda among minors.”

IOC President Thomas Bach said during his speech at the opening ceremony that people should “have the courage to address your disagreements in a peaceful” way and “not on the back of these athletes.”

“Olympic games are always about building bridges about bringing people together,” said Bach before Putin officially opened the games. “Please respect the Olympic message of good will, of tolerance, of excellence, of peace.”

Human Rights Campaign, HRC, Sochi, Russia, gay news, Washington Blade, Winter Olympics

Hundreds attended a opening ceremony watch party at the Human Rights Campaign headquarters in Northwest D.C. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Those who gathered at HRC to watch the opening ceremony said they wanted to show their support for LGBT Russians.

“It shows our love and support towards our Russian friends,” Team D.C. President Les Johnson told the Blade.

Jessica Strother of Northern Virginia had a similar message as she watched the opening ceremony while holding Russian and U.S. flags.

“I’m here with the flag to promote good will,” she told the Blade. “I came down here to support gay rights for Americans and Russians.”

LGBT rights advocates in New York, Philadelphia and nearly 40 other cities around the world held similar events during the opening ceremony.

08
Feb
2014

ENDA’s long, frustrating path

Bella Abzug, ENDA, Democratic Party, New York, United States House of Representatives, gay news, Washington Blade

Rep. Bella Abzug (Photo public domain)

May 1974 — Rep. Bella Abzug (D-N.Y.), along with Rep. Ed Koch (D-N.Y.), introduce the Equality Act, which would have amended the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include sexual orientation under the protected classes for employment as well as housing and public accommodations.

 

Gerry Studds, ENDA, Democratic Party, Massachusetts, United States House of Representatives, gay news, Washington Blade

Rep. Gerry Studds (Washington Blade photo by Clint Steib)

June 1994 — Gay Rep. Gerry Studds (D-Mass.) introduces the modern version of ENDA, which includes protections only for employment.

 

Ted Kennedy, ENDA, Democratic Party, United States Senate, Massachusetts, gay news, Washington Blade

Sen. Edward Kennedy (Washington Blade photo by Doug Hinckle)

July 1994 — Under the leadership of Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), the Senate Committee on Labor & Human Resources holds the first-ever congressional hearing on ENDA. Lesbian attorney Chai Feldblum is among the witnesses.

October 1994 — Running for a U.S. Senate seat in Massachusetts, Mitt Romney pledges in a letter to the Log Cabin Republicans to co-sponsor ENDA “and if possible broaden to include housing and credit.” Romney would later say in 2006 he sees no need for ENDA before he pursued his presidential bid.

September 1996 — A deal is struck in the Senate to bring ENDA to a floor vote along with the Defense of Marriage Act. Although DOMA passes the Senate by a wide margin, ENDA fails narrowly by a 49-50 vote.

 

Bill Clinton, Democratic Party, Arkansas, gay news, Washington Blade

President Bill Clinton (Official White House Photo by Barbara Kinney public domain)

January 1999 — President Bill Clinton becomes the first U.S. president to call for ENDA passage during a State of the Union address, saying discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation “is wrong, and it ought to be illegal.”

April 2002 — Under the leadership of Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee reports out ENDA to the Senate floor. The legislation never sees a floor vote.

 

Barney Frank, Massachusetts, Democratic Party, United States House of Representatives, ENDA, gay news, Washington Blade

Rep. Barney Frank (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

April 2007 — Gay Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) introduces a version of ENDA in the House that for the first time includes language barring employment discrimination against transgender people.

September 2007 — Much to the consternation of LGBT advocates, Frank introduces a new version of ENDA that strips the bill of its transgender provisions, saying the votes are lacking in the House to pass a trans-inclusive bill.

October 2007 — Even though the bill has been stripped of its transgender protections, the Human Rights Campaign is a signatory to a letter from the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights urging members of Congress to continue to support ENDA.

November 2007 — The sexual orientation-only version of ENDA passes the House by a 235-184 vote. It’s never brought up for a Senate vote.

 

Barack Obama, ENDA, United States of America, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade

President Barack Obama (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

May 2008 — In a heated primary with Hillary Clinton, then-Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama vows in an open letter to the LGBT community to “place the weight of my administration” behind the enactment of a fully inclusive ENDA.

June 2009 — Following the inauguration of President Obama, Frank again introduces a transgender-inclusive version of ENDA, saying “we’re beyond” any possibility of removing that language.

August 2009 — Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) introduces a trans-inclusive ENDA. It’s the first time a Senate version of the bill contains protections for the transgender community.

 

Thomas Perez, Obama Administration, ENDA, gay news, Washington Blade

Thomas Perez (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

November 2009 — Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas Perez testifies on behalf of the Obama administration before the Senate, calling the bill “a top legislative priority for the Obama administration.”

 

Nancy Pelosi, ENDA, United States House of Representatives, California, gay news, Washington Blade

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

June 2010 — After the House votes on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) tells the Washington Blade a House vote on ENDA won’t take place until the Senate acts on the military’s gay ban. The House never acts on ENDA before Democrats lose control of the chamber.

 

Kylar Broadus (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Kylar Broadus (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

June 2012 — Kylar Broadus testifies on behalf of ENDA before the Senate HELP Committee, becoming the first openly transgender person to testify before the chamber.

April 2013 — Gay Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) introduces ENDA as its new chief sponsor in the U.S. House following the retirement of Barney Frank.

June 2013 — President Obama makes ENDA passage a major component of his speech during a Pride reception at the White House, saying, “We can make that happen — because after the last four and a half years, you can’t tell me things can’t happen.”

July 2013 — Under the chairmanship of Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions reports out on ENDA by 15-7 vote, marking the first time a trans-inclusive bill has passed out of committee.

November 2013 — The Senate votes 64-32 on a bipartisan basis to approve ENDA, marking the first time the chamber has passed ENDA and the first time either chamber of Congress has passed a version of the bill with transgender protections.

 

John Boehner, ENDA, United States House of Representatives, Republican Party, gay news, Washington Blade

House Speaker John Boehner (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

November 2013 — House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said he sees “no basis or no need” for ENDA when asked by the Washington Blade if he’ll allow a vote on the bill. The House has yet to vote on the legislation.

14
May
2014

The story behind the Harvey Milk stamp

Harvey Milk stamp, gay news, Washington Blade

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

19
Mar
2014

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

Olympic athletes urged to speak out against Russia LGBT record

Queer Nation, NYSE, Russia, Russia Day, New York Stock Exchange, gay news, Washington Blade

Members of Queer Nation NY protest outside of the New York Stock Exchange. (Image via Queer Nation’s YouTube Page)

With less than a month until the 2014 Winter Olympics begin in Sochi, Russia, LGBT activists hope athletes who take part in the games will speak out against the Kremlin’s gay rights record.

“It’s important for the athletes to speak out, in Russia, about their belief that the way the Russian government is treating its gay and lesbian citizens is unacceptable,” said Andrew Miller of Queer Nation NY, which has held a number of protests in New York over the last few months to highlight Russia’s LGBT crackdown.

Speaking out against Russia’s gay propaganda to minors law and other anti-LGBT measures while in Sochi could prove easier said than done.

The Olympic Charter that the International Olympic Committee adopted in 2001 states “no form of publicity or propaganda, commercial or otherwise, may appear on persons, on sportswear, accessories or, more generally, on any article of clothing or equipment whatsoever worn or used by the athletes or other participants in the Olympic games” outside of a manufacturer’s logo. Any athlete who violates this rule could face disqualification or a loss of their accreditation at the Sochi games.

“I am very reluctant to call on athletes to do anything that would explicitly jeopardize their ability to compete in the games or jeopardize their ability to win a medal,” Hudson Taylor, a former University of Maryland wrestler who founded Athlete Ally in 2010 to combat homophobia and transphobia in sports, told the Washington Blade on Tuesday.

Taylor, who is currently an assistant wrestling coach at Columbia University, described the Sochi games as “an enormous moment where international attention is going to focus on sport.” He also told the Blade the athletes who compete in the Olympics will have a platform they could potentially use to highlight LGBT rights abuses in Russia.

“I would like athletes if they are asked about their opinions on these laws, to give their opinion on the laws or give their opinion around support for the LGBT community,” said Taylor.

Ty Cobb, director of global engagement for the Human Rights Campaign, made a similar point.

“A lot’s on the line for athletes who may speak out in ways that the IOC does not like, such as losing their medal,” said Cobb. “I would never want to advocate for someone to put themselves in a situation to lose their medal or be chastised by the IOC, but at the same time we would support any athlete in their effort to really highlight what’s going on with LGBT Russians and to show solidarity with their fight.”

Retired tennis champion Billie Jean King, whom President Obama last month tapped alongside gay figure skater Brian Boitano and others to join the U.S. delegation to the Sochi games, discussed the issue on Tuesday during an appearance on “The Colbert Report.”

“I probably won’t protest,” King told Stephen Colbert. “But if the media asks me a question, I’m going to answer it.”

Doubts about enforcement of law remain

Russian President Vladimir Putin told reporters during an October press conference in Sochi with IOC President Thomas Bach that gays and lesbians will not suffer discrimination during the games. The IOC maintains it has received repeated assurances from the Kremlin the gay propaganda ban will not affect athletes and others who plan to travel to Sochi, even though Russian officials have previously said the statute will apply to those who attend the Olympics.

Taylor acknowledged it is highly unlikely Russia will repeal the gay propaganda law and other anti-LGBT statutes before the Sochi games begin.

“At this stage of things I think the most that we can hope for is to make sure these laws are not being enforced for the duration of the games,” he said, noting Russian officials have created specific areas where they say people can gather and protest. “I’m not convinced those same people protesting will be safe once they leave the protest zones.”

Miller told the Blade he would like to see the U.S. Olympic Committee, along with Coke and other Olympic sponsors pressure the Russian government to overturn the country’s anti-LGBT laws. He said members of Queer Nation NY will continue to hold protests and other actions during and after the Sochi games to highlight Putin’s LGBT rights record.

“He may be counting on the world’s attention focusing elsewhere after the Olympics,” said Miller. “It’s important to pressure them.”

He also said NBC, which will broadcast the Sochi games, can “cover what’s going on in Russia beyond the Olympics.”

Gay MSNBC anchor Thomas Roberts criticized Russia’s gay propaganda law in a series of interviews he gave before he co-hosted the Miss Universe 2013 pageant in Moscow last November with singer Mel B. Neither he, nor pageant participants discussed the Kremlin’s LGBT rights record during the broadcast of the event that NBC Universal co-owns with Donald Trump.

“They’ve done little to nothing about speaking out against the anti-gay laws and have done little to nothing about covering them or their effect,” said Miller.

Bob Costas, who will anchor the network’s prime time coverage of the Sochi games, told the Associated Press in November he welcomes the opportunity to directly ask Putin about the gay propaganda ban as opposed to offering his own commentary about it. He sought to clarify his comments during a Jan. 7 press conference in New York with NBC executives.

“If Putin doesn’t drag his butt into the studio, then we’ll talk about it without him,” said Costas as the Huffington Post reported. “But if he shows up, we’d rather talk to him. Wouldn’t you rather hear it from the horse’s mouth? I would. That’s what I was trying to say.”

State Department issues Sochi travel alert

The U.S. State Department on Jan. 10 issued a travel alert to Americans planning to travel to Sochi following two suicide bombings in the city of Volgograd late last month that killed 34 people. The advisory also highlighted the vagueness of Russia’s gay propaganda law.

“The U.S. government understands that this law applies to both Russian citizens and foreigners in Russia,” reads the State Department alert. “Russian authorities have indicated a broad interpretation of what constitutes ‘LGBT propaganda’ and provided vague guidance as to which actions will be interpreted by authorities as ‘LGBT propaganda.’”

Cobb acknowledged security remains a serious concern ahead of the Sochi games. He stressed, however, those who plan to travel to the Olympics need to know about the Kremlin’s ongoing crackdown of LGBT rights and other issues that include freedom of speech.

“It’s important for the State Department to be very clear with people traveling to Sochi about what the laws are in Russia,” Cobb told the Blade.

Hudson also said those who plan to attend the games should be “mindful of” the ongoing security concerns.

“We have to be careful and measured in how we are speaking out or how someone is protesting,” he said. “I don’t want somebody to expose themselves to potential physical harm. However, I think that there will be opportunities to speak your mind, to show support for the LGBT community without exposing yourself to those risks.”

15
Jan
2014

Jo Becker’s revisionist history on marriage

Proposition 8, Supreme Court, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, marriage equality, gay news, Washington Blade, Becker

(Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Jo Becker’s book “Forcing the Spring,” which lauds the work of the American Foundation for Equal Rights has generated much debate in the LGBT community. Andrew Sullivan trashed the book and its author and claimed some major credit for himself in the fight for marriage equality.

Elizabeth Birch, former president of the Human Rights Campaign trashed Sullivan in her Huffington Post column. But they apparently agree on one thing: The book by Becker is far from an accurate history of the fight for marriage equality.

Reading the excerpt published in the New York Times, it was easy to accept both Sullivan and Birch were right even if their language was harsh. Michael Calderone in his Huffington Post piece quotes Sullivan’s comments on Becker’s book in which he said it is “truly toxic and morally repellent,” and that it includes instances of “jaw-dropping distortion” and statements “so wrong, so myopic and so ignorant it beggars belief that a respectable journalist could actually put it in print.” I guess Sullivan and Becker won’t be going for brunch anytime soon.

Birch calls Sullivan “insufferable,” and notes, “While it is true that the struggle for marriage equality predates the Proposition 8 case and its aftermath, it also predates Andrew Sullivan. (Did anyone else notice no less than four of Sullivan’s books are pushed in the opening paragraphs of his diatribe against the Prop 8 team? So much for collective credit).”

But why is anyone surprised that Sullivan thinks the world revolves around him? I remember his New York Times magazine cover story on the AIDS epidemic, “When Plagues End,” in 1996 when he declared the AIDS epidemic over because the new medications worked for him. The millions who have died and been infected since may not see themselves in the same light.

Both Sullivan and Birch offered strong statements about what was left out of Becker’s book and after reading the excerpt, I was left wondering how much money AFER paid her to write it. It clearly is not a history of the fight for gay marriage but rather a book trying to create heroes of a select few. This is not to denigrate the work of Chad Griffin or the actual work of attorneys who fought the Prop 8 fight or the real heroes of that fight, the couples who brought suit.

But in the excerpt (I haven’t read the full book) she portrays Ken Mehlman as a hero, glancing over his personal responsibility for the anti-gay rhetoric and devastating policies of the Bush administration. She never mentions that while Olsen was one of the lawyers for these couples he was at the same time supporting the Romney/Ryan ticket that was promising to repeal all gay rights advances and to appoint justices to the Supreme Court who would be guaranteed to rule against this case.

There are so many people and organizations deeply involved in the struggle for marriage equality. The fact is, the case brought by AFER to the Supreme Court was a partial victory instead of a possible total loss because Walter Dellinger, former acting solicitor general in the Clinton administration, submitted a brief offering the court what some called an “off-ramp.” It was his brief quoted in Chief Justice Roberts’ opinion that allowed the court to reject the case and return it to the Appellate Court in California where the ruling would only impact that state.

The Becker book apparently leaves out nearly all the activists who have spent a good part of their lives fighting for full human and civil rights for the LGBT community. Many have spent the years working for marriage equality that Mehlman and Olsen spent developing and supporting policies to prevent it.

From Hawaii, where the Supreme Court first ruled in 1993 that marriage equality was constitutional beginning the long fight there, to Massachusetts, which became the first state to legalize marriage equality in 2004; to Iowa that legalized it in 2009 to D.C., the fight for marriage was an effort by thousands. D.C. advocates spent 20 years preparing the stage and working to elect a City Council that would vote yes when the right time came. The question Becker says Griffin put to Obama about when he would “evolve” was asked by many others at those small $37,500 a couple fundraisers. I myself put him on the spot with the same question, and got the same answer, at one of those events on Sept. 30, 2011.

I hope that when marriage equality becomes a reality across the entire nation that someone will write the real history of the fight that won it. That book will be beneficial to future generations in a way that the Becker book will never be.

24
Apr
2014

Russian LGBT rights record overshadows Olympics

GetEQUAL, Russia, Vladimir Putin, gay news, Washington Blade

Members of GetEQUAL on Feb. 9 protested outside the Russian embassy in Northwest D.C. (Photo courtesy of Cathy Kristofferson)

The 2014 Winter Olympics officially opened on Feb. 7 amid outrage over the arrest of 14 Russian LGBT rights advocates earlier in the day.

Police arrested 10 activists near Moscow’s Red Square who held rainbow and Russian flags as they sung the Russian national anthem just before the games opened in Sochi.

Elena Kostynchenko, who is among those taken into custody, told the Washington Blade during a telephone interview from Moscow on Feb. 8 that officers beat one activist and choked another once they arrived at a local police station.

She said authorities also threatened to sexually assault her and another female advocate. Kostynchenko told the Blade officers also made lewd comments about her body and spit in her face before her release.

“They didn’t care about anything,” said Kostynchenko.

St. Petersburg police earlier on Feb. 7 arrested Anastasia Smirnova and three other Russian LGBT rights advocates as they marched with a banner that read “discrimination is incompatible with the Olympic movement. Principle 6. Olympic charter” in reference to a campaign in support of adding sexual orientation to the Olympic charter.

Smirnova appeared on a U.N. panel in December that commemorated the 65th anniversary of the ratification of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. She later took part in a Capitol Hill briefing on Russia’s LGBT rights record.

Smirnova told the Blade she and the three other activists faced additional harassment after St. Petersburg officials released them from custody on Feb. 7. She said it took them three hours before local police officers and other authorities allowed them to retrieve their car that had been towed.

“We are sorry to learn of the detention of activists in Russia for making political statements,” Aaron Jensen, a spokesperson for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor at the State Department, told the Blade after Russian police arrested Smirnova and the other LGBT rights advocates in St. Petersburg and Moscow. “This is an example of the disturbing trend in the Russian Federation of legislation, prosecutions, and government actions aimed at suppressing dissent and groups that advocate for human rights and government accountability.”

Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is among those who also criticized the activists’ arrest.

“Tonight’s about solidarity,” said Ty Cobb, director of global engagement for the Human Rights Campaign, as he read an e-mail from Smirnova during an opening ceremony watch party his organization co-hosted with Team D.C., Capital Pride and Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies and Pride House International that benefitted the Russian LGBT Sports Federation. “Let them know we stand in solidarity with them.”

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Advocates showed their support for LGBT Russians in Berlin on Feb. 11. (Photo courtesy of David Ehinger)

Activists in New York, Philadelphia and nearly 40 other cities around the world held similar events during the opening ceremony. A handful of activists gathered outside the Russian embassy in Northwest D.C. on Feb. 9 to protest the Kremlin’s gay rights record.

Russian President Vladimir Putin told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos last month those who protest his government’s LGBT rights record during the Olympics would not face prosecution under the country’s controversial law that bans gay propaganda to minors. The International Olympic Committee has repeatedly said it has received assurances from the Kremlin that gays and lesbians will not suffer discrimination during the games that are taking place in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi.

The Blade’s attempts to reach the Russian government for comment on the arrests were unsuccessful.

“We understand that the protesters were quickly released,” said IOC spokesperson Sandrine Tonge on Feb. 9. “As in many countries in the world, in Russia, you need permission before staging a protest. I understand this was the reason that they were temporarily detained.”

IOC President Thomas Bach said during his speech at the opening ceremony that people should “have the courage to address your disagreements in a peaceful” way and “not on the backs of these athletes.”

“Olympic games are always about building bridges about bringing people together,” he said before he and Putin officially opened the games. “Please respect the Olympic message of good will, of tolerance, of excellence, of peace.”

Bach also said it is possible for competitors “to live together under one roof in harmony, with tolerance and without any form of discrimination for whatever reason.” NBC omitted this portion of the speech from its broadcast of the opening ceremony.

Hudson Taylor, founder of Athlete Ally, spent several days in Sochi highlighting the campaign in support of adding sexual orientation to Principle 6 of the Olympic charter.

David Pichler, a gay U.S. diver who competed in the 1996 Summer Olympics and 2000 Summer Olympics in Atlanta and Sydney, told the Blade during a telephone interview from Sochi on Feb. 9 that he had not seen any athletes publicly speak out in support of LGBT rights. Gay figure skater Brian Boitano, lesbian hockey player Caitlin Cahow and former Secretary of Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano are among the members of the U.S. Olympic delegation to the games.

“We haven’t been to a lot of the different games where somebody might try to flash a symbol,” said Pichler, who was in the Olympic host city with Shawn Gaylord and Mary Elizabeth Margolis of Human Rights First. “I imagine we would have heard if there had been something like that.”

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From left: Mary Elizabeth Margolis and Shawn Gaylord of Human Rights First and Olympian David Pichler in front of the Olympic torch in Sochi, Russia. (Photo courtesy of Human Rights First)

The group visited a gay nightclub on Feb. 8 where they met with Andrei Ozyorny, a 24-year-old man who wrote to Sochi Mayor Anatony Pakhomov last month after he said there are no gay people in the city. Pichler, Gaylord and Margolis met with Smirnova and two other Russian LGBT rights advocates in St. Petersburg on Feb. 6 – one day before police arrested her and three other activists.

Pichler noted to the Blade an anti-LGBT protest took place in Sochi before the games officially opened.

“[It] is kind of contradictory of the standards of the protest zone and everything that was set up,” he said. “There was not anything negative or any type of action taken on them.”

LGBT rights advocates continue to target Coca-Cola and other Olympic sponsors for not criticizing Russia’s LGBT rights record – HRC served Coke and other Coca-Cola products during its opening ceremony watch party in D.C. Queer Nation NY on Feb. 10 criticized lesbian speed skater Ireen Wust after she said she had a “cuddle” with Putin after winning a gold medal for the Netherlands.

“The Olympic athletes have said that they will not make political statements during the Games yet that is exactly what Ireen Wust did,” said Queer Nation NY member Duncan Osborne. “By embracing Vladimir Putin, a man who has trampled on the human rights of LGBT Russians, political dissidents, artists, undocumented immigrants, and others in Russia, Wust has endorsed his fascist agenda.”

12
Feb
2014

Supporters mark global day against homophobia, transphobia

International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, Hong Kong, gay news, Washington Blade

A poster promoting the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia in Hong Kong (Photo courtesy of Bess Hepworth/Pink Season HK)

LGBT rights advocates in more than 120 countries will commemorate this year’s International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT) with a series of vigils, conferences and other events.

Geena Rocero, a transgender Filipino fashion model who founded Gender Proud, a trans advocacy group, is among those who are scheduled to take part in an IDAHOT event outside of Manila, the country’s capital, that the Association of Transgender People in the Philippines has organized. Rocero on Thursday also participated in a candlelight vigil in Hong Kong that local LGBT rights advocates organized.

The Rainbow Pride Foundation, a Fijian LGBT advocacy group, on May 10 held its own candlelight vigil at a church in Suva, the Pacific island nation’s capital. Cuba’s National Center for Sexual Education on the same day held a “conga against homophobia” in the Cuban capital as part of a series of events throughout the country that will commemorate IDAHOT.

The Jamaica Forum of Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays on Friday will hold a symposium at a hotel in the Jamaican capital that will examine challenges that LGBT people in the Caribbean country continue to face. María Eugenia González, co-founder of the Georgia Safe Schools Coalition, is scheduled to attend an anti-bullying conference in the Peruvian city of Iquitos on May 21.

So-called rainbow flash mobs are scheduled to take place in at least 11 Russian cities on May 17. An estimated 100 people are expected to gather in Khabarovsk to release rainbow colored balloons in an IDAHOT demonstration that city officials have allowed to take place.

Svetlana Zakharova of the Russian LGBT Network told the Washington Blade earlier this week that her colleagues are “willing to defend their rights” in spite of the Kremlin’s ongoing crackdown on LGBT rights. These include a 2013 law that bans the promotion of so-called gay propaganda to minors.

“Whatever the difficulties, many LGBT (people) and their supporters in Russia are looking forward to participating in the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia,” said Zakharova.

Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays Executive Director Dane Lewis had a similar view, noting anti-LGBT violence and discrimination remain pervasive in the country.

“We need to begin to have discussions about the layers of stigma and discrimination experienced by LGBT Jamaicans and the challenges faced by those who identify as Christians,” he said.

Kate Montecarlo Cordova, chair of the Association of Transgender People in the Philippines, noted to the Blade that LGBT Filipinos lack legal protections and access to health care. She said hate crimes and speech, anti-trans harassment and bullying in the predominantly Muslim portion of the country that includes the island of Mindanao often go unreported.

“We, from the transgender community, feel that the IDAHOT celebration is important in our advocacy and in our lives,” said Cordova.

The Mexican government this year is officially organizing IDAHOT for the first time.

Enrique Torre Molina, an LGBT rights advocate and blogger in Mexico City, told the Blade earlier this week that he is hopeful that President Enrique Peña Nieto will speak at an IDAHOT event.

The British Council Mexico on Friday hosted an event that government officials, local LGBT activists and journalists attended.

“The conversation will go beyond the government’s official position and public policy on the subject of homophobia,” said Molina. “Fighting homophobia and promoting respect is, at the end, a task that concerns us all.”

The Finnish government on Thursday announced it will increase its contribution to the Global Equality Fund, a public-private partnership founded by C-SPAN co-founder John Evans that seeks to promote LGBT rights, by one million Euros. A State Department press release noted that Helsinki will continue to work with the governments of Croatia, Denmark, France, Germany, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden, the Arcus Foundation and other groups to “build on our shared commitment and partnership to advance freedom, equality and dignity for all.”

“Today of all days, we are reminded that the cause of justice can and must triumph over hatred and prejudice,” said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. “This is a day of action for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) communities and their allies all over the world. It is time to reaffirm our commitment to the equality and dignity of all persons, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Gays, trans people gain rights in 2013

IDAHOT first took place on May 17, 2005, to commemorate the World Health Organization’s decision to declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder.

This year’s commemoration takes place against the backdrop of significant progress in the LGBT rights movement in the U.S., Europe, Latin America and other regions of the world.

Ten U.S. states, Brazil, Uruguay, France, England, Wales and New Zealand have extended marriage rights to same-sex couples over the last year. The U.S. Supreme Court last June struck down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act.

The Dutch Senate last December approved a bill that would allow trans people to legally change the gender on their birth certificates and other official documents without undergoing sterilization and sex reassignment surgery. A similar measure advanced in the Chilean Senate earlier this year.

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley on Thursday signed a bill that bans anti-discrimination in his state. A similar measure took effect in neighboring Delaware last year.

The Indian Supreme Court last month issued a landmark ruling that recognizes trans people as a “third gender.”

Jamaican and Belizean judges last year heard lawsuits challenging their country’s laws that criminalize homosexuality. A Lebanese judge in March struck down the Middle Eastern nation’s anti-sodomy statute in the case of a trans woman who faced charges for allegedly having a relationship with a man.

Gay Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel was sworn into office last December. Angélica Lozano, a former Council woman in the Colombian capital, in March became the first openly LGBT person elected to the South American country’s Congress.

LGBT rights crackdowns continue in Africa, Russia

In spite of this progress, anti-LGBT violence and discrimination remain pervasive in many parts of the world.

The U.S. and several European countries cut aid to Uganda after the country’s president, Yoweri Museveni, in February signed into a law a bill that imposes a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan in January signed a draconian anti-gay bill that, among other things, bans membership in an LGBT advocacy group and punishes those who enter into a same-sex marriage with up to 14 years in prison.

The 2014 Winter Olympics took place in Sochi, Russia, in February against the backdrop of criticism over the Kremlin’s LGBT rights record.

Police arrested 10 activists who held rainbow and Russian flags as they sung the country’s national anthem near Moscow’s Red Square just before the games’ opening ceremony began. Authorities earlier in the day arrested four Russian LGBT rights advocates in St. Petersburg as they marched with a banner in support of adding sexual orientation to the Olympic charter’s anti-discrimination clause.

The Indian Supreme Court late last year recriminalized homosexuality — it announced in April it will consider a motion to reconsider the controversial decision. A new Brunei legal code that punishes those convicted of homosexuality by stoning them to death has sparked global outrage that includes calls to boycott hotels the Bruneian government owns.

A report the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission released earlier this week found discrimination and violence against lesbians, bisexual women and trans people in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, the Philippines and Japan remains pervasive. Grupo Gay da Bahia, a Brazilian LGBT advocacy group, noted more than a quarter of the 338 reported LGBT homicide victims in Brazil in 2012 were trans.

Carlos Vela of the Homosexual Community of Hope in the Loreto Region (of Perú) told the Blade that one LGBT person a week is murdered in the South American country. This violence continues to take place, even as Peruvian lawmakers debate a bill that would allow same-sex couples to enter into civil unions.

“It is the most extreme expression of systematic violence,” said Vela, referring to the murders of LGBT Peruvians.

Jasmine Kaur of Oceania Pride, which took part in the May 10 candlelight vigil in the Fijian capital, noted homophobia, anti-LGBT hate crimes and violence is “quite strong for the LGBTIQ community” in the South Pacific country. She said the Fijian constitution includes a non-discrimination clause, but it is “flawed.”

“The bill of rights has many limitations,” said Kaur. “It is not one that can guarantee its citizens protections.”

The Human Rights Campaign on Thursday released a report that documents advances and setbacks in the global LGBT rights movement over the last year.

“Despite entrenched homophobia and transphobia in many nations around the world, the global fight for LGBT equality made historic gains in 2013,” said HRC Director of Global Engagement Ty Cobb. “At the same time, last year included horrific new anti-LGBT laws as well as alarming trends in anti-LGBT harassment and violence. These serve as important reminders of the many challenges ahead and the tremendous amount of work left to be done.”

Henness Wong, a Hong Kong activist who helped plan IDAHOT events in the former British colony, said the climate for the city’s LGBT residents is slowly beginning to improve in spite of lingering institutional and cultural homophobia and transphobia.

“Hong Kong is definitely safer than Brunei who will stone gays,” said Wong.

16
May
2014