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Obama’s poetic choice of Richard Blanco

In American culture, few things are more obscure and less relevant to life to more people (other than poets) than poetry. Yet on Jan. 21, the world of Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson will come alive in the hearts and minds of millions, when poet Richard Blanco, a son of Cuban immigrants who lives with his partner Mark in Bethel, Maine, reads a poem that he wrote at President Obama’s second inauguration.

I’m among the many – from poets to social justice activists to “ordinary” people – who are thrilled that Obama chose Blanco to be the 2013 inaugural poet. We’re excited not only because Blanco’s work is intimate, yet universal; touching and engaging; but by the historic nature of his selection: Blanco, 44, is the youngest, the first Latino and the first openly gay man to be a presidential inaugural poet.

It’s been said that poetry can’t legislate. No poem that any of us poets might write, no matter how great, will undo anti-gay laws, end bigotry or eradicate poverty. Yet, poetry can make us care: it can tell stories. As the late historian Howard Zinn said, poets “wage the battle for justice in a sphere which is unreachable by the dullness of ordinary political discourse.”

“Richard Blanco was made in Cuba, assembled in Spain, and imported to the United States,” Blanco playfully writes in his bio on his website (richard-blanco.com).

Growing up in Miami, Blanco became a civil engineer. Later, he earned an M.F.A. in creative writing at night at Florida International University (where he earned his engineering degree). Recently, Blanco, the author of three poetry collections, began writing full-time.

As a boy, his family cautioned Blanco against becoming too feminine or appearing too gay. “Avoid hugging me, but if you must/ pat them real hard/on the back, even/if it’s your father,” he writes in the poem “Queer Theory: According to My Grandmother” from his latest collection “Looking for the Gulf Motel.”

In the same poem, Blanco writes, “What? No, you can’t pierce your ear/left or right side/I don’t care/You will not look like a goddamn queer/I’ve seen you…/even if you are one.”

Poet Sarah Browning, director of Split This Rock, became friends with Blanco when she took a workshop from him at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda. “He’s been an enthusiastic…supporter ever since, as he is to many poets all over the country,” Browning wrote in an e-mail to the Blade. “Poetry helps tell the truth of our country’s story, in all its complexity and mess and striking beauty. For too long, there has only been one public version of the story – triumphalist, white male. By choosing Richard Blanco – queer and Latino — President Obama recognized that too many of us have been excluded from the official version for too long.”

“Richard and I have something unusual in common; we have both written Latino Thanksgiving poems,” poet and essayist Martin Espada, wrote in an email to the Blade. “His is called ‘America’ from his first book ‘City of a Hundred Fires.’ That poem, and the book itself, should be required reading for anyone who wants to understand the Cuban-American experience or simply wants to read some damned good poetry. ”

It’s groundbreaking that Blanco is a Latino and openly gay poet, Espada, author of “The Trouble Ball,” said. “Poetry humanizes, and the presence of this poet at this inauguration will be a step forward in our collective recognition of Latinos and gays as full-fledged human beings deserving of full civil and human rights.”

Yet first and foremost, Blanco is “a damned good poet, as he will prove to the world at the inauguration,” Espada added.

When he has a good poem day, Blanco does a poetry dance, Blanco writes on his website. On Jan. 21, millions of people will, metaphorically, do their poetry dance when Blanco reads his inaugural poem.

16
Jan
2013

‘Pompous Circumstances’ at the D.C. Council

You’d think that D.C. elected officials could manage to get through a presidential inauguration without embarrassing District residents.

You’d be wrong.

The quadrennial ceremony focuses the nation’s attention on Washington. These days, and for good reason, much of the country hates this place.

Some D.C. Council members have now provided locals with reason to hang heads in dismay of peevish public antics.

At a briefing by federal agencies last week for the D.C. Council regarding inaugural security preparations and protocols, whining immediately ensued. Vehemently voiced by Jack Evans, legislators argued that arrangements bestowed them insufficient special accommodations. They were also disgruntled about a single ticket allotment each for the outdoor oath-taking event.

Evans complained that deference for city lawmakers allowing them to arrive by private car and park within the security perimeter wasn’t good enough. Security officials wanted them to arrive early, after street closures but before the crowds arrived. This would have necessitated getting up early to advantage this special privilege.

This child-like foot stomping, accompanied by declarations of being “totally unacceptable” by Evans on behalf of his colleagues, later won them a three-hour schedule concession from federal officials. Residents likely thought that they should have been sent to bed without dinner.

Impinging public safety and adding to security requirements is apparently secondary to their personal convenience.

Goddess forbid they be required to catch a cab, or – the horror of it all – use public transportation like the plebeian citizenry. Perhaps residents could be enlisted to transport them on covered litters for those last few steps beyond security checkpoints.

Of course, there’s also their desire for extra tickets for swearing-in seats. The public is left only to wonder how they would travel from their parking spots all the way down the Mall. Cue those elevated palanquins again, the local royalty is ready to move.

As it turns out, most Council members are now planning to skip the actual event on the U.S. Capitol steps. Understandable, as they have exclusive use of a glass-enclosed and heated temporary building constructed in front of the Wilson Building from which to view the subsequent parade. It wasn’t merely the recessed interior lighting that brought the structure’s cost to more than $350,000.

Transportation was also of concern when D.C. Council member Mary Cheh, to be accompanied by Council Chair Phil Mendelson, made plans to travel the two blocks from her Council office to the White House by car.

They had scheduled a meeting with an administration functionary to plead that the White House display the city’s “Taxation Without Representation” slogan-adorned license plate on the presidential limousine during the Inaugural Parade. The Council had busied itself unanimously approving such a resolution earlier in the week.

Better to have arranged car service utilizing Uber. A fool’s errand, after all, should arrive in style.

In anticipation of the five-minute trip by government sedan, Cheh had asked police officials about a siren-and-lights escort. The police balked at the suggestion, according to news reports, and Cheh is said to have dropped the inquiry.

When the duo traversed the short distance last Friday under clear skies to the White House gate, visible from their office building, a city employee drove them in a government car. Despite Cheh’s prior concern that they might be followed by a “trail of people” if they walked, their trip went unnoticed by the public. If only Lindsay Lohan had it so good.

The stupefying aspect of these behaviors is the sense of elite entitlement they represent. Council members appear so taken with their self-importance that they no longer exhibit any self-consciousness or regard for public perception concerning the pursuit of perks. Lest they forget, such notions of privilege are what resulted in two of their number having resigned office in disgrace.

Allegations of unethical behavior, possible fundraising violations and other lurking potential scandals continue to taint their collective reputation and fuel disrepute. The defeat of an incumbent colleague only two months ago by an insurgent self-styled reformer should have served as warning.

Continuing unseemly displays of inflated self-regard will only result in needing to worry about making arrangements for one last ride home.

Mark Lee is a local small business manager and long-time community business advocate. Reach him at OurBusinessMatters@gmail.com.

16
Jan
2013

Inauguration and more planned for MLK weekend

Presidential Inauguration, Washington Blade, gay news, United States Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps

2009 Presidential Inauguration Parade (Washington Blade file photo by Henry Linser)

Inauguration events galore planned for weekend

If you’re excited about the upcoming inauguration but have nowhere to go, here are a few parties happening over the weekend that will celebrate the inauguration in full LGBT fashion:

  • Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League and the D.C. Center host the 2013 Youth Inaugural Ball tonight at 6 p.m. at THEARC Community Center (1901 Mississippi Ave., SE). The party includes free food and drinks, including Chipotle burritos, a photo booth, a DJ and exciting performances. There will also be free and confidential HIV testing. Attendees are asked to “dress to impress.” The ball is open to youths between the ages 13-21. For more information, visit thedccenter.org.
  • Town (2009 8th St., N.W.) hosts DJ Hector Fonseca for the Inaugural Party Saturday night 10. Cover is $8 before 11 p.m. and $12 after. For more information, visit towndc.com.
  • Human Rights Campaign hosts a cocktail reception for supporters and leaders in town for the inaugural events Sunday at 6 p.m. at Number Nine (1435 P St., NW). For more information, visit action.hrc.org.
  • Bachelor’s Mill (1104 8th St., S.E.) hosts “Barack Obash” presented by DW Promotions tonight at 10 p.m. There will be a special surprise guest. A free buffet will be provided. Cover is $10. For more information, visit bachelorsmill.com.

MLK Freedom Walk slated for Saturday

To celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, Washington will host the 35th MLK’s Peace and Freedom Walk Saturday morning beginning at 7:30 a.m.

The first walk is the Freedom Walk beginning at Lansburgh Park. Assemble time is 7:30 a.m. Departure time is 8:45 a.m. Attendees are encouraged to make signs reflecting “peace.” For more information, email freedomwalkdc@gmail.com.

The next site is the “Peace Walk,” which begins at 2500 MLK Ave., SE. It departs at 10 a.m. Those who do not want to do the “Freedom Walk” can meet at this site at 8:30 a.m. For more information, visit info@mlkholidaydc.org.

The final destination is Shepard Park where the walkers will arrive at noon. Those who won’t walk may arrive at 10:30 a.m. for the program agenda. For more information, visit mlkholidaydc.org.

17
Jan
2013

Local activists reflect on Obama inauguration

The Washington Blade invited prominent LGBT activists in the D.C. area to share their personal thoughts about President Barack Obama’s second inauguration by answering this question:

“What is the significance of President Barack Obama’s inauguration on Jan. 21, 2013, as you see it, and what are your hopes for his second term as president?”

 

Martin Garcia, John Klenert, Sterling Washington, gay news, Washington Blade

From left, Martin Garcia, John Klenert and Sterling Washington (Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

The Latino GLBT History Project looks forward to the historic second inauguration of President Barack Obama, featuring the first-ever Latino and immigrant Inaugural Poet — Gay Cuban American Richard Blanco.

Obama’s re-election is an important turning point for America. Millions went to the polls last November knowing they were going to vote for a leader who believes in marriage equality and ordered his administration not to defend parts of DOMA, issued orders to keep DREAM Act students and foreign partners in bi-national same-sex relationships from being prioritized in deportations, and signed into law the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and hate crimes legislation.

His actions helped move public opinion in support of equality.

This inauguration is special for many of us who have worked hard for our civil rights advances that have materialized with this administration.   Mainstream America symbolically endorsed our movement by awarding a second term to a leader who is ready to sign into law Comprehensive Immigration Reform, a fully-inclusive Employee Non Discrimination Act, and the Respect for Marriage Act that invalidates DOMA.

From reauthorizing Ryan White Act to helping low-income HIV/AIDS patients access medication, to filming an “It Gets Better” video to prevent LGBT youth suicide, to hosting LGBT leaders at the White House every Pride Month, to appointing more than 250 LGBT Americans to his administration, this president has rightfully earned a spot in our LGBT history timeline. He and first lady Michelle Obama care about our families. LHP looks forward to the next four years.

David M. Pérez

President

Latino GLBT History Project

This weekend is a time to celebrate! Our country solidly re-elected a marriage-equality-do-ask-do-tell president of color and this is historic and good! Hurrah.

As we look to what Obama’s second term can bring, we look to how the stunning progress on our issues happened during the first term. And the answer is organizing. My hopes for the second term are high because I’m ‘high’ on our community’s sophisticated, disciplined, hard-working, creative, inclusive LGBTQ groups.

Our organizations are at the table – in states, in cities, in election strategy sessions, and in meetings at the White House. We are coalition partners with labor, with public action organizations, with religious organizations. We have a history with working with progressive groups on health care so as the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) gets implemented, we’ll be there representing our community’s needs.

Social Security – we’re there talking about the needs of our elders and the need to protect this successful, critical program. The economy – so important especially to lesbians (on average women still make less than men), and to the trans community, which has an unconscionable unemployment rate – a healthy economy that gives everyone a fair shot at a good job is critical to our community.

We as a community are positioned to have another amazing four years of progress, IF we continue to organize and to build coalitions and alliances.

So, dear queer community, re-up your memberships, join another organization or two or three, give time, give money. Seize. This. Moment.

Barbara Helmick

Lesbian feminist, Democratic activist

The inauguration is a chance to celebrate the re-election of the first black president of the United States. It’s also an opportunity to reflect on the progress we’ve made while recognizing the serious challenges that lay ahead.

Barack Obama made history by publicly announcing his support for marriage equality, repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and appointing a record number of openly LGBT administration officials.

President Obama’s victory, for me, meant that we are one giant step closer to realizing his vision of a more compassionate, generous and tolerant America. It provides us a chance to hold him accountable and gives Obama the opportunity to lead and continue pushing the envelope.

In Obama’s second term, I expect bold, visionary and transformative action.

People of color, women, youth & members of the LGBT community went from being the Rising American Electorate to THE electorate. We are committed to breaking down silos, being more proactive and staying grounded in our collective struggle for justice and equality.

Whether addressing the economy, immigration, gun violence or any other issue, we expect the president to not only be a supporter of our issues and communities, but to be a champion for them.

Gregory A. Cendana

Executive Director

Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance-AFL-CIO

The inauguration is a time for LGBT Democrats to celebrate all the hard work they put into re-electing President Barack Obama. It gives us a chance to reflect on the significant impact that the election has on DC, the LGBT community and our entire country.

Electing then re-electing our nation’s first black president is historic itself, especially as we pay tribute to Martin Luther King’s dream of justice. To add to that a president who unquestionably supports LGBT equality marks a path toward a future that brings us all a little closer to Martin Luther King’s vision.

Personally, re-electing President Obama, sending six LGB identified lawmakers to Congress and electing our first United States senator, Tammy Baldwin, fills me with joy and hope for our country. It shows that conversations about our lives are much more meaningful than smear attacks by corporate Super PACs.

While Barack Obama is the most pro-equality president in history, there is still much to be done by this administration and Congress. President Obama’s second term gives voters and our community a chance to push us even further toward equality. We must hold the president accountable and encourage him to champion our issues like comprehensive immigration reform, and lead this country with the passion and vigor we first saw from him in 2008.

Martin Garcia

President

Gertrude Stein Democratic Club

What is so significant about this inauguration? In our nation’s history, certain second-term presidents confirm that a major cultural shift or realignment of the electorate has occurred — Jefferson, Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, Reagan and now Barack Obama can be added to that list as America transitions to a majority minority populace. (I am not saying that President Obama is in the same league as those mentioned. It is far too early to see how history judges him.)

There are three areas of second-term hopes: international, national and local. In the foreign arena, in no particular order: details of the Middle East wars, the Arab Spring, Israel, Iran, Saudi Arabia and other countries will need a steady long term, non-Fox approach to our mutual security. In the Far East, our Pacific attentions with China’s continued rise in military, space and economic strength and the challenges on how to deal successfully with a mad North Korea will keep both State and Defense Departments busy. In our own hemisphere, it is long overdue that we admit our 50-year approach to Cuba needs some serious rethinking.

National wishes include the successful implementation of the health care program, slow and steady economic growth, a national voter registration program, an immigration program that both parties can agree to without building embarrassing walls against our Mexican neighbors, acceptable gun control programs that keep both hunters and school children safe, ENDA passage, more than just one openly LGBT ambassador and/or Cabinet member and federal judges at all levels, DADT transgender inclusion, and a carefully managed DOD downsizing.

Locally, hope that the president will finally speak up about the lack of true congressional D.C. representation. We must noisily demand what is only our American birthright: representation in our legislative body. While dining out at our restaurants is certainly appreciated, it’s time for the White House to speak out forcefully on this unsettled civil rights issue.

So, good luck, Mr. President! May the next two to three years bring the successes that all Americans want and deserve.

John Klenert

Gay Democratic and D.C. voting rights advocate

It is very fitting that President Obama’s second inauguration falls on the national holiday celebrating Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday. Besides his historic place as the nation’s first African-American commander-in-chief, President Obama is also the most pro-LGBT individual thus far to hold the nation’s highest office. I see clear correlations between the philosophy of Dr. King and President Obama’s commitment to fairness and equality for all Americans.

My hopes for his second term are that the nation will continue on the road to economic recovery, that the unemployment rate continues to fall, that the debt ceiling is raised enough to keep the nation from defaulting on its obligations, and that effective environmental and gun control measures are passed by Congress and signed into law by the president. I would also like to see an inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama.

Likewise, seeing the Student Non-Discrimination Act and the Domestic Partnership Benefits & Obligations Act become the law of the land is high on my list. With the possibility of at least one Supreme Court justice retiring in the next four years, I hope the president can appoint another LGBT-supportive justice to the high court.

Sterling Washington

Director

Mayor’s Office of GLBT Affairs

18
Jan
2013

Video: O’Donnell on the anti-gay inauguration preacher

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gJgNQsQDkqk

MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell tackles the resignation of Louie Giglio, the anti-gay preacher who was originally tapped to lead the benediction prayer during the inauguration.

18
Jan
2013

Strike up the band

D.C. Different Drummers, Lesbian & Gay Band Association, Presidential Inauguration 2013, gay news, Washington Blade

Members of the Different Drummers prepare to march with the Lesbian & Gay Band Association in the 2013 Presidential Inauguration Parade. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

It won’t be hard to pick out the Lesbian & Gay Band Association amid all the other contingents on Monday during the 57th Presidential Inauguration Parade.

The honor guard will be carrying a rainbow Pride flag as it leads the rest of the band members across Pennsylvania Avenue. One of the selections the band will play is “Edge of Glory,” a hit from gay icon Lady Gaga. And the band members will be clad in fitted black outfits with purple accents.

Adam DeRosa, president of the Lesbian & Gay Band Association, says the outfits were chosen with a nod to symbolism.

“Purple is in some ways, if you’re going to narrow it down to one color, a much more of a universal for the gay community,” DeRosa says. “And for the camera, again, we wanted it to be something that was really going to stick out.”

The band association — an organization of 32 local bands from across the country — will send 240 members to participate in the second-term inauguration of President Obama — a U.S. president who rode into re-election with a message of support from the LGBT community after, among other achievements, coming out in favor of same-sex marriage and repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

DeRosa, a 37-year-old French horn player with the Ft. Lauderdale-based South Florida Pride Wind Ensemble, said the LGBT achievements seen under the Obama administration are one of the reasons he and other association members want to take part in the inauguration — taking particular note of the victory on Election Day for marriage equality in Maine, Maryland and Washington State.

“Because we’re a national and international group, we have, for instance, a band that’s in Seattle, and we now have members of the organization that are married since that election in November,” DeRosa says. “This is very real to us, and we absolutely are honored to part of it in that respect.”

In addition to the rainbow flag at the head of the unit, the honor guard in front will bear an American flag and a flag representing the band association. Members will carry state flags to represent each of the local bands participating in the contingent — making for a total of at least 20 flags.

Besides Lady Gaga, other songs the band is set to play are standard brass tunes intermixed with modern songs. On the playing list is a mashup of “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “Simple Gifts” as well as “Gimme Everything Tonight,” a more recent song by Pitbull. When the band reaches the glass box where President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama will sit, the band will break into a rendition of “Tonight” from “West Side Story.”

Other local members involved in the association express similar excitement about participating in the parade based on work that President Obama has done on LGBT issues during his first four years in office.

Rachel See, a 37-year-old transgender French horn player for the Capital Pride Symphonic Band, says participating is “just a real honor” because, as an attorney for the National Labor Relations Board, she was helped by Obama’s memoranda instituting non-discrimination protections for transgender U.S. government employees.

“As a federal employee, I came out as transgender last year and the policy the administration has put into place supporting transgender federal employees and transgender people across the nation have been wonderful,” See says. “I’m glad to see that it was done and look forward to the next four years.”

Derrick Johnson, a 27-year-old black gay man and drum major in D.C. Different Drummers, says he feels “a symbolic connection” with Obama because they share the same race and because of the leadership Obama has exercised on LGBT issues during his first term.

“The correlation is definitely there,” Johnson says. “Breaking that barrier of the stereotypical president definitely helped to create a shift in thought and mindset in our country, and hopefully our world, in acceptance of differences and various demographics — and also coming down the pike and seeing his outright acceptance of gay rights definitely speaks highly toward the African-American community.”

D.C. Different Drummers, Lesbian & Gay Band Association, Presidential Inauguration 2013, gay news, Washington Blade

Members of the Lesbian & Gay Band Association marched in the 2009 Presidential Inauguration Parade. (Washington Blade file photo by Henry Linser)

It’s not the first time the association has participated in the inaugural parade. For the first time ever, the association was selected to march in the 2009 inaugural parade after Obama first won election to the White House. During the inaugural festivities for former President Bill Clinton, the group performed on the sidelines, but didn’t take part in the inaugural parade itself. The association didn’t participate in the inaugural festivities for former President George W. Bush.

Lacey Janet Rose, the Presidential Inaugural Committee’s deputy director of constituency press, says inauguration organizations are thrilled the association — which was selected among 2,800 bands that submitted applications — will have the opportunity to take part in the inaugural parade a second time.

“We are thrilled that the Lesbian and Gay Band Association has accepted their invitation to join President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden’s Inaugural parade,” Rose said in a statement. “The 2013 parade participants will showcase extraordinary talent and reflect the vibrant diversity of America. President Obama and Vice President Biden are proud to have the participation of the Lesbian and Gay Band Association for the second time in history.”

DeRosa, who’ll perform in the parade in a non-musical role as an honor guard, says despite the excitement, members were asked to commit to take part as the application was being compiled even before election results were known — regardless of whether the winner was Obama or Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

“We basically had a pre-registration for us to understand who really was committed to this, but again, that was all happening prior to the election results, so people were really committed to being part of this event really regardless of what the outcome was,” DeRosa says. “So the gist of that alone logistically has helped us out. We had a much firmer number in our application to know exactly how many people, and because of that, we see that we’re going to have a larger group than we did last time.”

A number of prominent public officials supported the band’s application to perform. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Rep. Ed Pastor (D-Ariz.) and Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) were among 30 lawmakers who sent letters to the committee advocating for the association’s participation.

Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wassserman Schultz, who represents DeRosa’s district of Fort Lauderdale in Congress, expressed similar excitement about the band’s participation in the parade in a statement issued by the association.

“I have been deeply heartened by President Obama’s commitment to creating one of the most open and inclusive administrations in history,” Wasserman Schultz says. “By choosing the LGBA for the Inaugural Parade this spirit will continue by treating Americans to the performance of a talented, worthy and deserving musical group.”

It’s because of this sense of openness and inclusion that DeRosa says association members are eager for a repeat performance in the nation’s presidential inauguration festivities.

“We feel a little bit more confident this time around since we’ve done it before,” DeRosa says. “But definitely still exciting, definitely still a lot of work to do. And really just trying to make it to be really representing the community as best as we can and see that we’re going to give an experience to our members that’s something they won’t forget.”

18
Jan
2013

Minister at inaugural pushed for D.C. gay marriage law

 

St. John's Episcopal Church, gay news, Washington Blade, Church of the Presidents, Lafayette Square

Rev. Luis Leon serves as the rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church at Lafayette Square. (Photo by AgnosticPreachersKid via Wikimedia Commons)

An Episcopal priest selected to deliver the closing prayer — or benediction — at President Obama’s inaugural ceremony at the U.S. Capitol on Monday was one of the leaders in 2009 of an interfaith group of clergy that campaigned for D.C.’s same-sex marriage law.

Rev. Luis Leon, pastor of St. John’s Episcopal Church at Lafayette Square, also known as the Church of the Presidents, served on the Steering Committee for D.C. Clergy United for Marriage Equality.

The group has been credited with boosting support for the same-sex marriage bill among people of faith as it made its way through the D.C. City Council, which passed the measure in December 2009.

The Presidential Inaugural Committee invited Leon to deliver the inaugural benediction after Pastor Louie Giglio of Passion City Church in Georgia, who was initially invited to give the benediction, withdrew from that role after news surfaced that he expressed anti-gay views in the 1990s.

Reports that Giglio had advocated for “ex-gay” therapy intended to change people’s sexual orientation from gay to straight and that he urged Christians to prevent the “homosexual lifestyle” from being accepted in society prompted LGBT activists to raise strong concern over his selection.

At the time Leon joined the steering committee of D.C. Clergy United for Marriage Equality, he signed a joint statement released by the group saying, “We declare that our faith calls us to affirm marriage equality for loving same-sex couples… We therefore affirm the right of loving same-gender couples to enter into such relationships on an equal basis with loving heterosexual couples.”

Luis Leon, Episcopal Church, St. John's, Church of the Presidents, Clergy United for Marriage Equality, gay news, Washington Blade

Rev. Luis Leon (Photo courtesy of St. John’s Episcopal Church)

A biography of Leon posted on the St. John’s Church website says he was born in Guantanamo, Cuba and came to the U.S. in 1961 at the age of 12 as part of a large number of Cubans who fled the island nation at that time.

He began his tenure as pastor, or rector, of St. John’s in 1995. People familiar with the church say it has the reputation of being LGBT-supportive and that it has hired openly gay priests.

When he spoke at one of the first public gatherings of D.C. Clergy United for Marriage Equality, Leon invited news photographers to take a “wide angle” photograph of the assembled clergy, who stood at the front of a church.

“Today we stand together as a diverse group of multi-racial, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic religious leaders in support of the marriage equality movement,” he said. “All of us gathered here today are grateful for the rich diversity of this group, which, by its nature, stretches our minds, deepens our hearts, broadens our faiths, and convinces all of us that no human being should ever be patient with prejudice at the expense of its victims.”

18
Jan
2013

Inaugural speech divides black community

President Barack Obama’s inaugural address was the most inclusive speech a president has ever given. It was delivered on the 27th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and the president honored King’s legacy when he eloquently spoke of how the many U.S. liberation movements, both current and historic, are interconnected.

“We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths — that all of us are created equal — is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall.”

As an African-American lesbian, whose identity is linked to all three movements, I felt affirmed. I applaud the president’s courageous pronouncement.

Some African Americans, however, felt “dissed” by the president’s speech. The linkage of their civil rights struggle to that of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) Americans did nothing to quell their dislike of the comparison. The fact that it was spoken by this president made it sting more.

New York Times reporter Richard Stevenson picks up the tension in his recent article, “Speech Reveals an Evolved and Unapologetic President” that Obama “After spending much of his first term ‘evolving’ on the question of same-sex marriage and doing too little in the eyes of many African-Americans to address poverty and civil rights, he invoked ‘Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall.”

For many African Americans, especially those male ministers who “professed” to have marched with Martin Luther King, Jr., the reason they scoff at comparing the black civil rights struggle to today’s LGBTQ civil rights struggle is because of the persistent nature of racism in the lives of black people and the little gains accomplished supposedly on behalf of racial and economic equality. They expected more gains under the first African-American president.

Also, some African Americans contend that civil rights gains have come faster for LGBTQ Americans, from the Stonewall Riots of 1969 in New York City to the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal of 2010.

The gains in the LGBT movement, some African Americans say, is largely because of the structural and cultural exclusion of people of color.

The LGBTQ movement has no doubt made some tremendous gains into mainstream society, a reality that has not been afforded to African Americans as a disenfranchised group, leaving many of them asking, especially after hearing President Obama’s second inaugural address the question, “What’s really in this American Dream for us?”

Many African-American ministers try to answer that question by either coming out for or against Obama’s stance on marriage equality.

Civil rights struggles in this country have primarily been understood, reported on and advocated within the context of African-American struggles—past and present—against both individual and systematic racism. Consequently, civil rights struggles of women, LGBTQ Americans, Native Americans and other minorities in this country have been eclipsed, ignored and even trivialized while educating the American public of other forms of existing oppressions.

While it is also true that employing a narrow understanding that all oppressions are interconnected ignores the salient points about differences within oppressed groups, it is also true that ignoring how oppressed groups can work together truncated the possibility for full and equal rights for all Americans.

LGBT activists of African descent, like myself, have long pondered what would be the catalyst to rally those African-American Christian ministers to support same-sex marriage and engage the black community in a nationwide discussion. Such a discussion would certainly assist them in seeing the link between Selma and Stonewall.

With the second and final term before him, Obama can be both unapologetically and unabashedly for marriage equality. I thank God with an enormous sigh of relief that Obama no longer has to do a delicate dance with a deeply divided black populace on the issue. He has momentum on his side whether black ministers and community activists side with him or not.

The momentum in support of same-sex marriage in the African-American community is seen nowadays along generational lines. It is ironically divided between the black civil rights era of MLK and post-black civil rights era of Obama.

Rev. Irene Monroe is a Boston-based freelance writer.

07
Feb
2013

Anti-gay pastor withdraws from inauguration

Louie Giglio, Passion Movement, gay news, Washington Blade

Pastor Louie Giglio has been removed from Obama’s inaugural celebration (Photo by Jesario via wikimedia commons)

A Georgia-based pastor who came under fire for expressing vehemently anti-gay views in a 1990′s sermon has withdrawn from President Obama’s inaugural celebration, where he was previously scheduled to give the benediction.

In a statement delivered to the White House and Presidential Inaugural Committee, Rev. Louie Giglio of the Passion City Church announces his decision to “respectfully withdraw” participation from the Jan. 21 celebration in the wake of revelations of the anti-gay comments.

“Due to a message of mine that has surfaced from 15-20 years ago, it is likely that my participation, and the prayer I would offer, will be dwarfed by those seeking to make their agenda the focal point of the inauguration,” Giglio said. “Clearly, speaking on this issue has not been in the range of my priorities in the past fifteen years. Instead, my aim has been to call people to ultimate significance as we make much of Jesus Christ.”

Giglio added he doesn’t feel it “best serves the core message and goals we are seeking to accomplish to be in a fight on an issue not of our choosing” and will “continue to pray regularly for the President.”

In a separate statement, Addie Whisenant, a spokesperson for the inaugural committee, said organizers of the event weren’t aware of the anti-gay sermon when the initial selection was made.

“We were not aware of Pastor Giglio’s past comments at the time of his selection and they don’t reflect our desire to celebrate the strength and diversity of our country at this Inaugural,” Whisenant said. “Pastor Giglio was asked to deliver the benediction in large part for his leadership in combating human trafficking around the world. As we now work to select someone to deliver the benediction, we will ensure their beliefs reflect this administration’s vision of inclusion and acceptance for all Americans.“

ABC News’ Jonathan Karl first tweeted out the news on Giglio Thursday morning, saying “Rev Gigilo, who had been selected to give the inaugural invocation, has been removed from the program.”

The news came after ThinkProgress, a blog for the liberal think-tank known as the Center for American Progress, reported Wednesday that in the 1990s, Giglio gave a 54-minute sermon — titled “In Search of a Standard – Christian Response to Homosexuality” — which backs widely discredited “ex-gay” therapy, references a biblical passage often interpreted to require gay people be executed, and calls on Christians to “firmly respond to the aggressive agenda” and prevent the “homosexual lifestyle” from becoming accepted in society.

On Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney declined to comment when the Washington Blade asked him about the anti-gay sermon, saying he hadn’t yet seen the ThinkProgress report.

Darlene Nipper, deputy executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, said her organization applauds Giglio’s removal and had previously expressed concern about his participation to the White House.

“We let the White House know of our grave concerns about the choice of the Rev. Louie Giglio — a minister with a history of anti-gay statements who has engaged in spiritual abuse of LGBT people — to deliver a prayer at the inauguration ceremony. Having him deliver the benediction was a divisive choice, and we applaud his removal from the program,” Nipper said. “Furthermore, we commend Obama’s selection of Cuban-American gay poet Richard Blanco as inaugural poet, which had also served to magnify how out of step the choice of Giglio was. We are hopeful that Obama will now choose a faith leader who embraces fairness, equality and the ideals the president himself has called the nation to uphold.”

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, also expressed satisfaction with the move.

“It was the right decision,” Griffin said. “Participants in the Inaugural festivities should unite rather than divide. Choosing an affirming and fair-minded voice as his replacement would be in keeping with the tone the president wants to set for his Inaugural.”

——————-

The full statement from Giglio follows:

“I am honored to be invited by the President to give the benediction at the upcoming inaugural on January 21. Though the President and I do not agree on every issue, we have fashioned a friendship around common goals and ideals, most notably, ending slavery in all its forms.”

“Due to a message of mine that has surfaced from 15-20 years ago, it is likely that my participation, and the prayer I would offer, will be dwarfed by those seeking to make their agenda the focal point of the inauguration. Clearly, speaking on this issue has not been in the range of my priorities in the past fifteen years. Instead, my aim has been to call people to ultimate significance as we make much of Jesus Christ.”

“Neither I, nor our team, feel it best serves the core message and goals we are seeking to accomplish to be in a fight on an issue not of our choosing, thus I respectfully withdraw my acceptance of the President’s invitation. I will continue to pray regularly for the President, and urge the nation to do so. I will most certainly pray for him on Inauguration Day.”

“Our nation is deeply divided and hurting, and more than ever need God’s grace and mercy in our time of need.”

NOTE: This article has been edited for clarity.

10
Jan
2013

Cartoon: Inauguration

Inauguration comic

President Obama may not be the nation’s first gay president, but he certainly has the appreciation of its gay divas. (comic by Ranslem)

16
Jan
2013