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House race divides LGBT advocates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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.


Should we always vote for the LGBT candidate?

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

Richard Tisei (Photo courtesy of Tisei).

A gay man is running for Congress in Massachusetts against a straight incumbent. The gay man has been endorsed by the Victory Fund. So why are so many members of Congress who are strong supporters of both the Victory Fund and LGBT rights holding a fundraiser in Washington on June 25 for the straight guy?

Those hosting the fundraiser include Sen. Ed Markey, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and participating are Steny Hoyer, Richard Neal, James McGovern, Michael Capuano, Stephen Lynch, Niki Tsongas, as well as members who are themselves gay or bisexual, including Reps. David Cicilline, Jared Polis, Mark Takano, Kyrsten Sinema, Mark Pocan and former Congressman Barney Frank. The easy answer is that the gay man is running as a Republican and the straight incumbent is a Democrat. But the answer is really much more complicated than that.

The gay Republican is Richard Tisei and he first ran and lost against the straight incumbent John Tierney (D-Mass.) in 2012. Tisei served in the Massachusetts Legislature for 26 years. He then ran and lost as the lieutenant governor candidate on Charlie Baker’s ticket in 2010. It was at that time that he came out. The Democratic incumbent is Tierney, who has served in Congress since 1997. He is a liberal member of Congress who has voted with other Democratic representatives from Massachusetts. He is the co-author of the Green Jobs Act of 2007 and the College Affordability and Accountability Act of 2008 and a strong supporter of LGBT rights.

The issue is more than just gay or straight because in Congress today, seemingly even more than in the past, party affiliation is paramount. That is the reason so many LGBT members are willing to raise money and support a straight person over a gay person. Should Tisei win and come to Washington, his first vote would be for the Republican leadership. Today that would be John Boehner for speaker and most likely even more conservative Republicans for majority leader and whip. Those votes alone will dictate what Tisei can or can’t accomplish during his tenure in office.

The man Tisei is committed to supporting for speaker is John Boehner. Boehner has so far refused to bring ENDA to a floor vote, even though it passed with bipartisan support in the Senate. So even if Tisei campaigns and says he supports ENDA it won’t matter. He will be casting that first hypocritical vote for leadership that controls the agenda and opposes what he says he supports.

Tisei’s supporters say that having an openly gay Republican in the House can impact others in his party. Tisei’s history suggests otherwise. When he ran for lieutenant governor with Baker in 2010, he wasn’t able to convince his running mate to support transgender rights.

The issue for many Democrats is simple: Electing another Republican just helps Boehner and the far right stay in power. We have often seen that contrary to changing the Republican Party, LGBT groups in the Republican Party like Log Cabin, went along to get along and supported Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan who campaigned on a pledge to appoint judges opposed to marriage equality.

Like many, I hope the Republican Party will change in the future. I believe that enough Republicans will decide that they can’t continue to support leadership and a platform that is consistently on the wrong side of history. They will see that a Republican Party that refuses to pass an immigration reform bill, continues to carry on a war against women’s rights, including denying equal pay for equal work, campaigns against raising the minimum wage and works to deny full civil and human rights to the LGBT community is not a path to a better future for America. But that fight will have to be carried on internally in the Republican Party.

Democrats shouldn’t be led to believe that they are helping by electing Republican members of Congress — gay or straight — who will support the current leadership.


Polis poised to start discharge petition for ENDA

Jared Polis, Democratic Party, Colorado, United States House of Representatives, gay news, Washington Blade, Victory Fund, Congressional LGBT Pride Reception

Rep. Jared Polis has positioned himself to start a discharge petition for ENDA (D-Colo.). (Washington Blade file photo by Damien Salas).

The chief sponsor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in the U.S. House has positioned himself to start a discharge petition for the legislation — both with the religious exemption in the Senate-passed bill and with a narrower carve-out identical to existing civil rights law.

Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), who’s gay and a co-chair of the LGBT Equality Caucus, has filed two resolutions for floor consideration of ENDA before the House Rules Committee, which is charged with governing debate for legislation that comes up on the House floor.

On June 23, Polis introduced before the committee a rule, H.Res.639, which would enable floor consideration of the version of the ENDA that the Senate passed in November.

That was weeks before the blow-out over the bill among several LGBT groups who dropped support from the legislation over its religious exemption, which, even if ENDA were to become law, would still enable religious organizations to discriminate against LGBT workers in non-ministerial positions.

But on Tuesday, Polis also introduced before the Rules Committee another resolution for the consideration of ENDA, H.Res.678. That resolution would also enable consideration of ENDA, but with an amended religious exemption that is the same as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

The introduction of these resolutions could be a sign that Polis is planning a discharge petition for ENDA because they would be the first steps necessary to start the process.

To start a discharge petition on a bill, 30 legislative days must have passed since the legislation was referred to committee. In this case, the Senate-passed version of ENDA was referred to the House Judiciary Committee on January 8, 2014.

Additionally, seven legislative days must have passed since a resolution to consider the legislation was referred to the Rules Committee. As such, the process for collecting signatures a discharge petition on the Senate-passed could begin at any time in the House, but the same process for a discharge petition for a bill with an amended religious exemption couldn’t begin until July 31.

Filing a resolution to start a discharge petition next week on an ENDA with a narrower exemption would enable the signature-gathering process in early fall in time for the Democrats to run on the measure leading up to the mid-term elections in November.

Dan Turrentine, chief of staff for Polis, was non-committal was asked Wednesday about the purpose of the introduced resolutions before the Rules Committee.

“A number of different options are under consideration by Mr. Polis,” Turrentine said. “This is not the first rule he has dropped on this topic as he considers various options for passing.”

A discharge petition for an ENDA with a narrow religious exemption would be consistent with what House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) declared during a news conference this month when she said he had a “plan” for ENDA that she couldn’t disclose at the time.

Drew Hammill, a Pelosi spokesperson, was also non-committal about a discharge petition when asked about the purpose for the resolution to consider ENDA with a narrower religious exemption.

“There has been no decision made about a discharge,” Hammill said.

Although a discharge petition may be one of the only ways to bring up ENDA in the House given House Speaker John Boehner’s refusal to bring up the legislation in the Republican-controlled chamber, the chances of its success are limited because it’s perceived as being a tool for the minority. A spokesperson for Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), a Republican original co-sponsor of ENDA, has said she wouldn’t sign a discharge petition for ENDA.

Although White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest has told the Blade the chances of passing ENDA this year are “not very good,” the White House spokesperson Shin Inouye has earlier backed the idea of a discharge petition, saying in Match, “We would welcome efforts to bring this legislation to the floor for a vote.”


Obama must protect undocumented LGBT families

Gay News, Washington Blade, undocumented

As President Barack Obama embraces the social, political and cultural equality of LGBTQ people here and abroad, we urge him to do right by all LGBTQ undocumented people. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

What has been a topic of rancor for Congress in recent months has, in the last couple of weeks, become inevitable: President Obama will take executive action to provide administrative relief to undocumented immigrants. And while this administration has exerted its authority in strengthening protections for LGBTQ people in areas like education, housing and healthcare, concern remains on whether and how inclusive the immigration executive order will be for the estimated 267,000 undocumented LGBTQ adults and our families living in the United States.

In particular, efforts to legitimize certain kinds of undocumented immigrants from others, we fear, will result in the exclusion of the most vulnerable members of the LGBTQ undocumented community.

In February, Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) called on President Obama to bring an end to deportations in a speech to the House of Representatives. He said, “Even if this body doesn’t act, the president can stop deporting non-criminal detainees. If somebody has violated our criminal laws, they should suffer the consequences of their crimes.”

Although Polis’s sentiments are in the right place, his misguided views don’t take into account how the criminal justice system often works to criminalize large portions of LGBTQ people.

For example, the Secure Communities program—which allows federal immigration authorities to identify “criminal” immigrants—and other efforts that deputize local law enforcement to function as immigration authorities, paired with unfair raids and dragnet operations has fostered bias and profiling in law enforcement.

LGBTQ people, especially transgender women of color, are frequently caught up in these programs. LGBTQ people face higher rates of criminalization and incarceration due to their involvement in underground economies. When many laws and policies fail to clearly protect LGBTQ people at work, many members of our community are forced to turn to criminal activity in order to get by. For example, more than half (54 percent) of respondents in a national survey of 6,500 transgender people have had some kind of contact with police. And 46 percent of those respondents indicated feeling uncomfortable seeking help from police.

Programs like Secure Communities and other immigration enforcement policies threaten this already frail relationship between undocumented LGBTQ people, immigration authorities and law enforcement. That is why organizations like ours—Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement (Familia: TQLM) and Southerners on New Ground (SONG)—have been on the front lines of these fights.

It is time to move beyond a binary conversation of “criminal vs. non-criminal” immigrants, and recognize that the survival decisions put in front of undocumented LGBTQ immigrants only range from bad to worse. From driving without a license, to using aliases to secure employment, to taking on high-risk jobs that often leave us sick, injured or disabled — these decisions have forced many of us into corners that criminalize our existence and deem us unworthy of redemption.

Polis and others have failed to see this connection. But the Obama administration has an opportunity, through this executive order, to avoid protecting some undocumented immigrants at the expense of others. To be clear, a fair and just executive order ensures that no undocumented person is marginalized, punished or deported because of survival decisions they’ve been forced to make.

Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement and Southerners on New Ground are working to ensure that those who are most affected by new policy are at the helm of the conversation—that we are here to voice the realities that remain unspoken.

We are in a position to move the needle forward against the criminalization of our communities, and administrative relief can be a modest step forward. As movement and progressive organizations in a position to advocate and weigh in on this issue, we need to ensure that those most affected and criminalized have an opportunity to advocate for ourselves and we must.

As President Obama embraces the social, political and cultural equality of LGBTQ people here and abroad, we urge him to do right by all LGBTQ undocumented people in the United States and provide real safety and security for all of our families.

Jorge Gutierrez is national coordinator for Trans Queer Liberation Movement and a queer undocumented immigrant activist from Nayarit, Mexico. He grew up in Orange County and graduated from California State University, Fullerton with a bachelor’s in English.


ENDA lands new Republican co-sponsor

Michael Grimm, New York, United States House of Representatives, Republican Party, gay news, Washington Blade

Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) has become a co-sponsor of ENDA (Photo public domain).

A new House Republican has signed on as a co-sponsor to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act as LGBT advocates continue to push for a vote in the Republican-controlled chamber, the Washington Blade has learned.

Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.), who represents Staten Island and parts of Brooklyn in Congress, elected to co-sponsor the bill Monday, according to sources familiar with the legislation.

Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), who’s gay and lead sponsor of ENDA, commended Grimm for supporting the bill, which would bar employers from discriminating against or firing workers based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

“I am happy to welcome Rep. Grimm as the 200th cosponsor of the bipartisan Employment Non-Discrimination Act,” Polis said. “This is common sense legislation that is supported by a majority of Americans and was passed overwhelmingly by the United States Senate. I look forward to working with Rep. Grimm and all of the co-sponsors on both sides of the aisle to pass this bill and protect all Americans from discrimination in the work place.”

Grimm’s office didn’t immediately respond to the Blade’s request to comment on the New York Republican’s decision to sign on as an ENDA supporter.

Counting Polis, Grimm’s support brings the total number of sponsors in the House to 201. A total of 218 votes is necessary to pass legislation in the chamber.

Grimm is the sixth Republican co-sponsor of ENDA. The other five are Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.), Charles Dent (R-Pa.), Jon Runyan (R-N.J.) and Chris Gibson (R-N.Y.).

Elected during the Republican wave in 2010, Grimm is generally looked upon as having an unfavorable record on LGBT issues. The Human Rights Campaign gave him a rating of “0″ in the latest congressional scorecard.

A former FBI agent who served in the 1990s Persian Gulf War as a Marine, Grimm is an opponent of same-sex marriage. He expressed his opposition in 2011 when the New York state legislature was preparing to legalize gay nuptials.

“I believe, by definition, that marriage is between a man and a woman, just as President Clinton did in 1996 when he signed the Defense of Marriage Act into law, defining it as such,” Grimm said.

Still, beyond his decision to back ENDA, he’s a co-sponsor of the Safe Schools Improvement Act, legislation that would require schools to develop to policies against bullying, including the discrimination and harassment of LGBT students.

Christian Berle, legislative director for Freedom to Work, said Grimm’s co-sponsorship of ENDA reflects growing Republican support for the legislation.

“We applaud Congressman Grimm for joining the growing number of Republicans supporting LGBT workplace protections, Freedom to Work along with Log Cabin Republicans have been lobbying broadly within the House GOP Conference and we hope to build momentum with more ENDA supporters in the weeks and months to come,” Berle said.

But Grimm also signs on as a co-sponsor to ENDA as he’s facing additional challenges and is being investigated for possible corruption.

The House Ethics Committee is deferring an investigation into Grimm for possible campaign finance violations to the Justice Department, which is conducting a criminal probe. The New York Daily News reported earlier this month Grimm may have used “donor swapping” to skirt fundraising limits.

The Senate last year already passed ENDA on a bipartisan basis by a 64-34 vote. Supporters have said the legislation already has the votes to pass the House, but House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has continually said he opposes the legislation when asked if he’ll bring it up for a vote.

Polis has previously said the best way to encourage Boehner to bring ENDA to a vote is adding additional Republican co-sponsors to the bill. Boehner’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request to comment on whether Grimm’s sponsorship changes things in terms of a possible House vote.


DNC to form Lesbian Leadership Council

Debbie Wasserman Schultz, DNC, Democratic National Committee, Lesbian Leadership Council, gay news, Washington Blade

‘We’re going to make sure we have a vehicle here at the DNC for lesbian leadership,’ said DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz told members of the DNC’s LGBT Caucus at a March 1 meeting in Washington that the DNC is in the process of creating a Lesbian Leadership Council to boost the leadership role of lesbians in the party.

Wasserman Schultz was among a number of high-profile Democratic Party officials that addressed the LGBT Caucus meeting on the final day of the DNC’s annual winter meetings at the Capital Hilton Hotel.

“No offense to gay men in the room, but just like in the straight community, where women sometimes have been left behind and men have vaulted ahead on the leadership track, my message was it’s time for lesbians to step up,” she said in referring to a speech she gave to a lesbian gathering last month.

“And we’re going to make sure we have a vehicle here at the DNC for lesbian leadership…so we can have lesbians catch up and get them the tools they need and make sure they can be a strong part of our leadership team,” she said.

Wasserman Schultz said more details about the Lesbian Leadership Council would be announced later.

The DNC created an LGBT Leadership Council in 2000 as a party entity charged mostly with raising money for Democratic candidates.

She told LGBT Caucus members at the March 1 meeting that she is proud of the role the Democratic Party has played in pushing for advances in LGBT rights during the years of the Obama administration, including advances in marriage equality

“And we have a lot more to do,” she said. “We need to pass a transgender-inclusive ENDA. That’s absolutely critical. We need to make sure that marriage equality” continues to move forward.

Others speaking at the LGBT Caucus meeting were Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake; gay U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), Speaker of the California Assembly John Perez, who’s gay; and New Hampshire Democratic Party Chair Ray Buckley, who’s also gay.

At the request of LGBT Caucus Chair Earl Fowlkes of D.C., the caucus voted unanimously to approve a resolution in support of D.C. statehood.

One issue that wasn’t discussed at the caucus meeting was the status of the position of director of the DNC’s LGBT Outreach Desk. The position became vacant when D.C. gay Democratic activist Jeff Marootian, who held the post since 2011, resigned recently to become White House liaison at the U.S. Department of Transportation.

DNC spokesperson Miryam Lipper said on Monday that she would inquire about the status of the vacant position with DNC officials this week and provide an update on the matter later in the week.

Fowlkes couldn’t immediately be reached to determine whether DNC officials have discussed the matter with him.

“We’re all kind of pushing that we want this now,” said LGBT Caucus member Barbra Casbar Siperstein of New Jersey. “But we want to make sure that we have truly qualified people because they will be filling big shoes. We were very happy with Jeff Marootian,” she said.

Siperstein said with the 2014 midterm congressional elections approaching, having an LGBT outreach desk at the DNC is important, especially following the shutdown just over a year ago of the National Stonewall Democrats, which closed due to financial difficulties.

Buckley told the Blade that he and other LGBT Caucus members were taking steps to re-launch National Stonewall Democrats but it was unclear when that might happen.


Queery: Torey Carter

Torey Carter, gay news, Washington Blade

Torey Carter (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

When Torey Carter joined the Victory Fund staff four years ago, he says the organization’s singularity of focus was the main draw.

“The thing that strikes me is that we’re now seeing victories in places where you don’t readily or quickly think of there being LGBT officeholders,” the 37-year-old Hertford, N.C., native says. “I’m not talking about California or New York but in the heartland and in the South, I have the opportunity to work for an organization that works to get people elected in the kinds of towns like where I grew up. It hasn’t happened there, but it’s a reality that’s completely possible now and it wasn’t then. That’s why I still come to work every day.”

Victory Fund has its champagne brunch, one of its key annual events, Sunday at 11 a.m. at the Washington Hilton Hotel (1919 Conn. Ave., N.W.). Individual tickets are $250 and several sponsorship brackets are available. Several LGBT elected officials such as Maine’s Rep. Mike Michaud and Rep. Jared Polis will speak. Tickets are still available at

Carter has been in the D.C. area for about 25 years and worked many years as an accountant before joining Victory Fund.

Carter and partner Mike Conneen live together in Washington’s Takoma neighborhood. Carter enjoys home improvement projects, gardening, cooking, exercise and playing with Rex, his 6-year-old Quaker parrot, in his free time.


How long have you been out and who was the hardest person to tell?

I’ve been out about 15 years. It was hardest to tell my grandmother because her health at the time was poor and I worried it would add to her worries. But she welcomed my truth and embraced me with unconditional love.


Who’s your LGBT hero?

Bayard Rustin was a man ahead of his time.


What’s Washington’s best nightspot, past or present?

Nothing compares to standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, gazing out at the stars over the reflecting pool with the Capitol Building in the distance, reflecting on the history that unfolded at that site.


Describe your dream wedding.

Matching suits, family, friends and lots of Beyonce on the dance floor.


What non-LGBT issue are you most passionate about?

Every child deserves a quality education. It’s the best resource for folks that come from a place like me to level the playing field.


What historical outcome would you change?

I’d change who shot J.R. It would have been more interesting if one of the main characters, like Sue Ellen, had done it. And I’d make sure the Bible was properly translated.


What’s been the most memorable pop culture moment of your lifetime?

I’ll never forget where I was when I found out who shot J.R.


On what do you insist?

No pork, no chocolate, no diet soda.


What was your last Facebook post or Tweet?

“What is this white stuff falling from the sky???” (Sunday, March 30, 2014)


If your life were a book, what would the title be?

“Torey Carter: A Model Life”


If science discovered a way to change sexual orientation, what would

you do?

I would welcome all newly converted straight people to the gay community.


What do you believe in beyond the physical world?

I was raised Baptist and I believe in a just but loving God. I also still believe Pluto is a planet, regardless of what scientists say.


What’s your advice for LGBT movement leaders?

The momentum is in the blue states. But the laws, minds and hearts to change are in the red states.


What would you walk across hot coals for?

My future children, and my children’s future.


What LGBT stereotype annoys you most?

That gay men and lesbians don’t/can’t get along.

What’s your favorite LGBT movie?

“Broken Hearts Club” has a special place in my heart.


What’s the most overrated social custom?

Family-style portions are excessive. And second and third place are unnecessary; there’s only one winner.


What trophy or prize do you most covet?

I should win an Oscar for my ability to impersonate select reality TV stars.


What do you wish you’d known at 18?

My father — I wish I would have known that we only had 10 years to fix almost 30.


Why Washington?

Washington is an international symbol of freedom and democracy. But when my mom and I moved here from North Carolina (at age 12), it was also a city of hope and opportunity. And it still is.


Recommitting to the Victory Fund mission

Chuck Wolfe, Victory Fund Champagne Brunch, gay news, Washington Blade

Victory Fund President Chuck Wolfe told Sunday’s crowd about his recent heart attack and thanked supporters for their work during his absence. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Last Sunday was the annual Victory Fund National Champagne Brunch and by all accounts it was a success. There were fewer people than last year but that could be attributed to the steep price increase for tickets.

Chuck Wolfe, president and CEO of the Victory Fund, began the program and spoke of his recent heart attack and thanked the staff and board for all their hard work during his illness. It was good to see him back. He is often seen as the heart and soul of the Victory Fund and deserves much of the credit for its success in recent years. He introduced Steve Elmendorf, board chair, along with Kim Hoover, board treasurer and event co-chair.

The brunch is often a moving event in which LGBT leaders from across the nation gather to celebrate how far we have come and remind each other how far we still have to go for full equality. Each year there is a featured speaker and this year it was Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine) who is running for governor and recently came out as gay. If elected, he would be the first openly gay person to be elected as a governor. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) introduced him and remarked that it is becoming increasingly difficult to be the first of anything in the LGBT community because of the successes we have had in recent years.

We had a New Jersey governor who came out in office and a gay governor who never came out in another state, but this would still be a first. Polis talked about how hard it must have been for Barney Frank when he was the only out person in Congress while today when Michaud came out there were others there to throw him a coming out party. They served pink cupcakes and the musical selections included “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

When Michaud spoke he said, “never before, and most likely never again will I eat pink cupcakes.” He also commented on the beautiful people in the room and reminded everyone that he is still single and was going to be in Washington all weekend. The line formed to the right.

Among the other candidates who spoke to the welcoming crowd were Maura Healey, who’s running for attorney general in Massachusetts, and Mary Gonzalez, a candidate for the House of Representatives in Texas. David Catania, D.C. Council member and mayoral candidate, also spoke and talked about his record in D.C. and how the Victory Fund has been instrumental in his past races. He commented on how far behind he is in the polls at this point but said he could make that up. The applause for him was definitely on the lighter side as many in the room are from D.C. and supporting the Democratic nominee.

It is my understanding that the Victory Fund will be going through a strategic planning process in the coming months. All good organizations do this and it is time for the Victory Fund to reaffirm its mission and to look at what they are doing well and what they need to work on. There were people I spoke to who didn’t come to this year’s brunch for reasons other than the cost. Some stayed home because of the Victory Fund’s endorsement of Republican Richard Tisei in his bid for Congress from Massachusetts. Others didn’t come because of the early endorsement of Catania, which occurred before he even announced. These and other issues surely will be part of the discussion during the strategic planning process.

The Victory Fund should find a way to let their huge mailing list and those visiting their website know about LGBT candidates they aren’t endorsing. There are many such candidates around the nation running for posts from county commission to school board to town council. They are running for the first time and may not meet the criteria for an endorsement. But these candidates deserve to have people know they are stepping up to the plate. Others, like longtime activist Dana Beyer, who is running for State Senate in Maryland against an LGBT incumbent endorsed by Victory Fund, at least deserves recognition on the website to let people know she is running even if she isn’t endorsed.

These candidates are part of the future and they make up, as they say in baseball, our bench.


Ros-Lehtinen won’t sign ENDA discharge petition

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen supports marriage equality (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has vowed not to sign a discharge petition for ENDA (Blade file photo by Michael Key).

As proponents of non-discrimination protections for LGBT workers seek ways to institute them at the federal level, one Florida Republican is throwing cold water on one means of advancing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), an original co-sponsor of ENDA in the U.S. House, said through a spokesperson that she would not sign a discharge petition to force House leadership to move the bill to the floor.

“Rep. Ros-Lehtinen will not be signing a discharge petition as it is a partisan political tool,” said Keith Fernandez, a Ros-Lehtinen spokesperson.

The Washington Blade reached out to all seven Republican co-sponsors of ENDA in the U.S. House to ask whether they’d be willing to sign a discharge petition, but Ros-Lehtinen’s office was the only one that responded.

In addition to Ros-Lehtinen, the Republican co-sponsors are Reps. Richard Hanna (N.Y.), Charlie Dent (Pa.), Jon Runyan (N.J.), Michael Grimm (N.Y.), Michael Coffman (Colo.) and Chris Gibson (N.Y.).

Ros-Lehtinen’s refusal to sign a discharge petition for ENDA means that the potential procedural move is almost certainly doomed. A discharge petition requires 218 signatures to move a bill forward, which is the same as the number of votes required to pass a bill in the House.

In the Republican-controlled House, at least some Republicans would be needed for the discharge petition to reach the 218 number to move ENDA to the floor. It’s hard to see how any other Republican would sign the petition if the original Republican co-sponsor of ENDA has vowed not to sign it.

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, said in response to Ros-Lehtinen’s position that “several options” remain to move ENDA in the House.

“Others include attaching it to the defense authorization bill and also pushing for a straight-up vote once we demonstrated that there are 218 supporters,” Almeida said. “We will keep pushing forward on all fronts.”

A House vote is all that’s necessary to send ENDA to President Obama’s desk; he has pledged to sign it. The bill passed last year in the Senate on a bipartisan basis, but continues to languish in the House.

Asked whether there’s any value in moving forward with a discharge petition even though Ros-Lehtinen says she won’t sign it, Almeida replied, “No option should be taken off the table.”

But there are difficulties with other options as well. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has continually said he opposes the legislation when asked if he would allow a vote on the bill. Members of the LGBT Equality Caucus who met with him at the start of the year said he told them it wouldn’t come up before Election Day, although some lawmakers left thinking a vote in the lame duck session is possible.

As for the defense authorization bill, that path didn’t work for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal in 2010. Republicans twice filibustered a vote on the defense bill with the repeal component. It wasn’t until repeal was removed that both the defense authorization and legislation to repeal the military’s gay ban could pass on their own.

Placing a measure inside the defense authorization bill did work for the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act in 2009, but that was when Democrats controlled both chambers of Congress.

Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo), who’s gay and chief sponsor of ENDA in the House, told the Blade last month at the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund’s annual brunch that a discharge petition may happen at some point with ENDA.

“We’re currently pushing one for immigration reform,” Polis said. “If the speaker and majority leader continue to fail to schedule a vote on ENDA, a discharge petition could be our only outlet to get it to the floor. It would still continue to be an uphill battle because ultimately for a discharge petition to succeed, you need 218 signatures.”

Asked at what point a discharge petition would become necessary, Polis said, “At this point, we’re focused on adding co-sponsors to show that it has support.”

There have been mixed reactions to the idea of a discharge petition in Congress. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) endorsed the idea as a means to advance ENDA in the House during a news conference immediately after Senate passage of ENDA. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said during a roundtable with LGBT press he doesn’t think a discharge petition would work because if it got close to 218 names, House leadership would back away additional Republican signers.

Under pressure because Obama hasn’t signed an executive order to bar LGBT workplace discrimination among federal contractors, the White House has hinted it supports the idea of a discharge petition. In March, Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, said, “We would welcome efforts to bring this legislation to the floor for a vote.”

Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, said his organization isn’t disappointed that Ros-Lehtinen won’t sign a discharge petition, but didn’t elaborate. The Human Rights Campaign has not endorsed the idea of a discharge petition.

Gregory T. Angelo, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, said he supports Ros-Lehtinen’s position on the discharge petition as other ways to pass ENDA are on the table.

“We support Rep. Ros-Lehtinen’s position,” Angelo said. “While all options should be on the table for passage of ENDA, a discharge petition is the option of last resort, and our options to pass ENDA are far from exhausted at this point. These Democrats need to hold their horses, otherwise they run the risk of turning what has been bi-partisan progress on ENDA into a polarizing political fight.”