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Maya Angelou remembered as ‘extraordinary human being’

Maya Angelou, gay news, Washington Blade

Maya Angelou (Photo by Damien Salas)

LGBT rights advocates continue to celebrate the life and legacy of writer, poet and actress Maya Angelou who passed away at her North Carolina home on Wednesday at the age of 86.

The National Black Justice Coalition noted Angelou “never shied away from embracing her LGBT brothers and sisters.”

“On the Pulse of Morning,” the poem she read at former President Bill Clinton’s first inauguration in 1993, specifically mentioned gays.

Angelou in 2000 spoke at a Human Rights Campaign dinner in Atlanta. She later lobbied members of the New York Senate to support a same-sex marriage bill that lawmakers ultimately struck down in 2009 — gays and lesbians began to legally tie the knot in the state two years later.

PFLAG in 2009 also honored Angelou during its first-ever Straight for Equality Gala.

“PFLAG will always cherish the memories of the time that we had with her and the lifelong lessons she taught us about the quest for equality and the bold courage to love,” said PFLAG Executive Director Jody Huckaby.

Rev. Meredith Moise, an ordained lesbian minister of color in Baltimore, told the Washington Blade on Wednesday that Angelou’s 1969 autobiography “I Know Why the Caged Birds Sing” is one of the first books she read as a child.

“She was an inspiration to me personally and to millions globally,” said Moise, noting the way she told stories in the African tradition. “She was an extraordinary human being whose example lights the way for others towards the path of liberation.”

President Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and HRC President Chad Griffin are among those who also paid tribute to Angelou who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011.

“She lived a life as a teacher, activist, artist and human being,” said Angelou’s son, Guy B. Johnson, in a statement posted to his mother’s website that officially announced her death. “The family is extremely appreciative of the time we had with her and we know that she is looking down upon us with love.”

Rev. Delman Coates of Mount Ennon Baptist Church in Clinton, Md., who testified in support of marriage rights in Maryland in 2012, described Angelou’s passing as a “tragic loss” on Wednesday during an interview with the Blade at his Prince George’s County church.

The Maryland Democratic lieutenant gubernatorial candidate said “our country is better” because of her example.

“Her spirit continues to live within all of us and we want to continue her commitment to civil and human rights and freedom and equality for all people,” said Coates.


LGBT Louisianans: ‘We’re family’

Baton Rouge, PFLAG, Louisiana, gay news, Washington Blade

Former PFLAG Baton Rouge President Carol Frazier greets fellow LGBT rights advocates at a restaurant in Baton Rouge, La., on July 12, 2014. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

BATON ROUGE, La. — Sergio Oramas, who’s gay, and Ksaa Tair, a transgender woman who identifies as “demisexual,” live in a two-bedroom apartment in the St. John neighborhood of Baton Rouge.

Their rent is $600 a month, but Oramas tries to get as much overtime as he can at the Sears warehouse where he has worked for two months to “substantiate” Tair who remains unable to get a job. She said half of the money she receives from Medicare each month pays bills and rent, while “another good section of that” goes to the hormones she buys from a website outside the U.S.

“We’re family,” Tair told the Washington Blade on Saturday, referring to Oramas.

Oramas and Tair are among the dozen LGBT residents of Baton Rouge, advocates from groups that include Equality Louisiana and the Louisiana Trans Association and allies with whom the Blade spoke on Saturday as they ate traditional Louisiana cuisine at a local restaurant.

Tom Merrill, chair of Baton Rouge Pride, grew up in Plain Dealing, a small town in northwestern Louisiana. He has lived in Baton Rouge for nearly 29 years.

“There are lots of things here that you just don’t find anyplace else,” Merrill told the Blade as his partner of nearly two decades, Rick Cain, listened. “Your family’s not necessary the people that are related to you by blood. That’s really true in a larger culture here, that everybody’s your family.”

That sense of family was palpable during a nearly two hour lunch with the group.

Carol Frazier, the former president of PFLAG Greater Baton Rouge, hugged Merrill and others after arriving at the restaurant. She also described this reporter’s lunch of thinly cut fried fish over rice with crawfish étouffée as looking “yummy” after a waitress brought it to the table.

Terri Higginbotham, who is the chapter’s secretary, told the Blade that her now 20-year-old son came out to her as gay when he was a freshman in high school.

She said she received Mother’s Day cards from some of the LGBT youth with whom she works. Higginbotham added some of them even list her as their mother on their Facebook pages.

“They don’t have families who will help take care of them,” she told the Blade. “That shouldn’t be the case. If you have a child, you should love and care for that child either way. It doesn’t matter who they love. It doesn’t matter who they want to marry. It doesn’t matter if they want to shave their head and move to Mozambique.”

Katrina prompts Baton Rouge Pride

Merrill and other LGBT rights advocates launched Baton Rouge Pride in late 2006, slightly more than a year after the city’s population swelled by nearly 200,000 because of the influx of those from New Orleans and other areas of southeastern Louisiana who had been displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

“We were in the post-Katrina period where Baton Rouge was the largest city in the state, but we had really nothing going on for Pride,” said Merrill.

Their first event was a picnic that took place in June 2007.

Baton Rouge Pride takes place in June because of the anniversary of the Stonewall riots and what Merrill described as “the historical significance of that.” The weather, however, quickly became an issue.

The heat index in Baton Rouge on Saturday was well above 100 degrees. Merrill told the Blade that paramedics ran out of chemical ice packs last year because of the high temperatures.

“They were throwing ice in latex gloves and putting them on people’s heads,” he said.

The annual event now takes place in a casino along the Mississippi River and features a resource fair and entertainment. Equality Louisiana also holds a march along the riverfront to the nearby state capitol alongside the Capital City Alliance, a local LGBT advocacy group.

Baton Rouge Pride last year honored Frazier and PFLAG Executive Director Jody Huckaby, who grew up in Eunice, La., as their grand marshals.

Roughly 20 people whom a fundamental religious group bussed into Baton Rouge protested this year’s Pride, compared to a handful of protesters who usually gather outside the event each year. Merrill told the Blade that they tell those pushing children in a stroller into the casino that they are “going to hell.”

“As adults we have no problem with that,” he said. “You don’t say that sort of thing to a three-year-old. We, particularly as Southerners, would never say negative things in front of small children. That affects their lives, but they don’t seem to have that same idea of politeness.”

family, gay news, Washington Blade

Tom Merrill and Rick Cain (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Baton Rouge ‘voice of sodomy’

Matt Patterson, research and policy coordinator for Equality Louisiana, moved to Baton Rouge to attend graduate school. He and his partner, Bobby Beaird, who is the vice president of PFLAG Greater Baton Rouge, celebrated their fifth anniversary on July 4.

Patterson told the Blade that he became the “voice of sodomy” last year after news that the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office had arrested at least a dozen men under the state’s sodomy law since 2011. He said he is one of the few people who are willing to speak to the local media about LGBT-specific issues.

“So somehow whenever shit happens in Baton Rouge, I always wind up being the person to go on the local news to talk about it,” said Patterson.

Frazier’s decision to launch PFLAG Greater Baton Rouge stems from her gay son’s suicide in 2002 when he was 37.

She told the Blade before eating her lunch that he moved from Baton Rouge to Nashville because he felt he wasn’t accepted. Frazier, a former journalist, said he had a “corporate-type job” that she said did not compliment “his real life.”

“I felt as though I were to represent the parents who may have not have been as kind to their gay child as I was,” she said. “It was my way of saying let’s all work together to make this a world we can all live in comfortably.”

Baton Rouge, PFLAG, Louisiana, gay news, Washington Blade

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)


Jeanne Manford, PFLAG founder, dies at 92

Parents & Friends of Lesbians and Gays, PFLAG, Jeanne Manford, gay news, Washington Blade

Jeanne Manford (Photo courtesy of PFLAG)

Jeanne Manford, the founder of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), died Thursday at her home in Daly City, Calif. She was 92.

A native of New York City, Manford became an overnight leader of the fledgling “straight ally” movement in 1972 when she spoke out publicly in support of her gay activist son, who was attacked and beaten at a gay rights demonstration.

“I have a homosexual son and I love him,” she stated in a letter published in the New York Post on April 29, 1972.

A flurry of publicity generated by the letter and subsequent press interviews was taken a step further less than two months later when Manford marched with her son Morty Manford in New York’s second annual gay pride parade while carrying a sign that read, “Parents of Gays: Unite in Support for Our Children.”

“This simple and powerful message of love and acceptance from one person resonated so strongly it was heard by millions of people worldwide and led to the founding of PFLAG, an organization with more than 350 chapters across the U.S. and 200,000 members and supporters, and the creation of similar organizations across the globe,” said Jody M. Huckaby, PFLAG’s current executive director.

In a statement released from the group’s Washington, D.C. headquarters, Huckaby called Manford a pioneer and “mother” of the LGBT community’s straight ally movement.

Manford, an elementary school teacher and the wife of a dentist, organized what is believed to be the first meeting ever of a group of parents of gay people shortly after the 1972 gay pride parade, which was then called the Christopher Street Liberation Day Parade.

“After many gay and lesbian people ran up to Jeanne during the parade and begged her to talk to their parents, she decided to begin a support group,” according to an article on PFLAG’s history posted on the group’s website.

“The first formal meeting took place in 1973 at a local church,” the article says. “About 20 people attended. In the next years, through word of mouth and community need, similar groups sprang up around the country, offering ‘safe havens’ and mutual support for parents with gay and lesbian children,” the article says.

The article says PFLAG added transgender people to its mission in 1998.

“All of us – people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and straight allies alike – owe Jeanne our gratitude,” Huckaby said in his statement. “We are all beneficiaries of her courage. Jeanne Manford proved the power of a single person to transform the world.”

In its statement, PFLAG says a private interment service would be held and details of a celebration of Manford’s life would be announced later.

“The family requests that any donations be made to the Jeanne Manford Legacy Fund to support the ongoing work of PFLAG National: 1828 L Street, N.W., Suite 660, Washington, D.C. 20036,” the statement says.


Obama awards Citizens Medal to PFLAG founder

Citizens Metal, Barack Obama, Jeanne Manford, Suzanne Manford Swan, gay news, Washington Blade, PFLAG

Suzanne Manford Swan receives the Presidential Citizens Medal on behalf of PFLAG founder Jeanne Manford (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

President Obama awarded the nation’s second-highest civilian honor on Friday to the recently deceased founder of Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians & Gays.

During a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, Obama offered the Presidential Citizens Medal posthumously to PFLAG founder Jeanne Manford, who died last month at age 92. Accepting the award on Manford’s behalf was her daughter, Suzanne Manford Swan.

Prior to presenting the award, Obama recounted the story of how Manford founded PFLAG out of love for her gay son, Morty Manford, who came home beaten after participating in a gay rights march.

“This was back in 1972,” Obama said. “There was a lot of hate, a lot of vitriol toward gays and lesbians and anyone who supported them.  But instead, she wrote to the local newspaper and took to the streets with a simple message:  No matter who her son was — no matter who he loved — she loved him, and wouldn’t put up with this kind of nonsense.”

Obama added with “that simple act,” Manford helped give rise to a national organization “that has given so much support to parents and families and friends, and helped to change this country.”

Speaking generally about the 13 awardees of the medal this year, Obama said the work these individuals have done is important because a sense of citizenship binds a country as diverse as the United States.

“In America, we have the benefit of living in this big and diverse nation,” Obama said. “We’re home to 315 million people who come from every background, who worship every faith, who hold every single point of view. But what binds us together, what unites us is a single sacred word: ‘citizen.’”

Following the ceremony, Swan, a San Francisco resident, told the Washington Blade during the ceremony she was thinking about future generations who won’t know prejudice against LGBT people thanks to the work of her mother.

“My granddaughter will grow up knowing nothing but love and respect because people are different,” Swan said. “It won’t matter if they’re left-handed, whether they’re homosexual, whether they’re any color. My mother believed that homosexuality was put in the same category. She liked people, and she thought that everybody deserved their civil rights.”

Asked by another reporter how Manford would have felt upon hearing Obama’s inaugural speech and his references to the Stonewall demonstrations and equal rights for gay people, Swan said her mother “would have been thrilled” and noted the progress that PFLAG has seen over the decades.

“The early meetings may have had two people, may have had 20 people,” Swan added. “If they had any, they were happy because they were helping somebody, and that has gotten to be this big. So many people, everyplace I go, people know PFLAG.”

Swan told reporters Manford was informed before she died that she may receive the medal, but didn’t live long enough to come to the White House for the ceremony.

“My mother learned of his award — that it was possibly going to happen, but didn’t know — soon before she died,” Swan said. “She smiled. She couldn’t even talk, but she knew what it meant, and it was very important to her.”

It’s not the first time President Obama has awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal to an LGBT activist. In October 2011, Obama presented the award to lesbian activist Janice Langbehn, a lesbian who was unable to visit her partner Lisa Pond as she died in a Florida hospital and whose activism led Obama to issue a memorandum requiring hospitals receiving Medicare and Medicaid funds to grant visitation rights to same-sex partners.

Jody Huckaby, PFLAG National’s executive director, called the awarding of the Citizens Medal “an extraordinary and unprecedented honor” for not only Manford but “her family, and PFLAG members and supporters everywhere.”

“The message is powerful: the voices of parents, family members, friends and straight allies, united with the voice of LGBT people, is critical to the advancement of acceptance and equality,” Huckaby said.


Gillibrand to reintroduce adoption anti-discrimination bill

Kirsten Gillibrand, New York, Democratic Party, United States Senate, gay news, Washington Blade, Every Child Deserves a Family Act, Martin Gill, adoption, foster care, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Republican Party, Florida, United States House of Representatives

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) announces plans to reintroduce the Every Child Deserves a Family Act (Washington Blade photo by Damien Salas)

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) is leading a group of lawmakers in the House and Senate who are preparing to introduce legislation that would prohibit bias in adoption services against gay couples seeking to adopt.

The legislation, known as the Every Child Deserves a Family Act, would restrict federal funds for public child welfare agencies if they have laws or practices allowing for discrimination in adoption on the basis of marital status, sexual orientation or gender identity. The bill would also prohibit discrimination against LGBT children seeking families.

Gillibrand emphasized the importance of the legislation on Tuesday during a news conference on Capitol Hill as a means to ensure LGBT families seeking to adopt can do so without fear of anti-gay bias.

As Gillibrand noted, no state laws protect LGBT families seeking to adopt in more than 30 states, although six states — California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Wisconsin and Oregon — explicitly ban discrimination in adoption based on sexual orientation.

“This patchwork of state laws often lead our children across the children across the country without the opportunity for a safe home and loving parents,” Gillibrand said. “Meanwhile, there’s an untapped pool of 2 million LGBT people, people who are willing to become adoptive or foster parents, according to the Williams Institute at UCLA.”

According to Gillibrand’s office, an estimated 400,000 children in the U.S. foster care system nationwide, and more than 104,000 children are currently waiting to be adopted, including 6,400 in New York.

Kirsten Gillibrand, New York, Democratic Party, United States Senate, gay news, Washington Blade, Every Child Deserves a Family Act, Martin Gill, adoption, foster care, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Republican Party, Florida, United States House of Representatives, John Lewis, Georgia

Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) speaks at news conference against anti-gay bias in adoption (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

In the House, the lead sponsor of the legislation is Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a leader in the 1960′s black civil rights movement, who’s taking over the bill along with Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) now that its former patron, former Rep. Pete Stark, has retired from Congress.

“I’ve fought too long and too hard against discrimination of every kind not to serve as a champion for this bill,” Lewis said. “Foster children are innocent bystanders when troubled families crash and burn. The foster care system does it best to rescue these little babies from the flames of abuse — neglect, drug addiction, domestic violence and some of societies worse problems.”

Among the chief LGBT organizations behind the legislation is the Family Equality Council. Emily Hecht-McGowan, the Family Equality Council’s, director of public policy, issued a statement saying the bill is important to find loving homes for children.

“Our country has an obligation to care for its most vulnerable children, and we can do better for the 104,000 youth in foster care who are searching for a home,” Hecht-McGowan said. “The time has come to fix the patchwork of adoption and foster care laws across the country and ensure that young people in care have every opportunity to find a forever home.”

The legislation wasn’t introduced on the same day as the news conference. Steve Majors, a spokesperson for the Family Equality Council, said a “Dear Colleague” letter went out on Tuesday asking lawmakers to sign on in support of the bill in anticipation of introduction at later date.

Speaking with the Washington Blade after the news conference, Gillibrand said the first step in the process to guiding the legislation toward passage this year is building co-sponsorship for the bill — particularly finding a lead GOP co-sponsor in the Senate.

“Right now, we’re working on co-sponsors,” Gillibrand said. “We’ll be working across the aisle to find a lead Republican, and hopefully then garner a broad base of support within the Senate, and then we’ll move forward in the Senate and move forward in the House and try to get this passed this year.”

Asked whether she’s spoken to Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who recently came out in favor of marriage equality after learning his son is gay, about the legislation, Gillibrand replied, “We’re still working on it.”

As noted by The Huffington Post, one potential supporter for the legislation in the House could be Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who said during a town hall that he supports adoption rights for gay couples, although he continues to oppose same-sex marriage.

“I do believe that if there are children who are orphans who do have a loving person or couple — I think if a person wants to love and raise a child they ought to be able to do that. Period. I would vote that way,” Ryan said.

Ryan’s office didn’t immediately respond to the Blade’s request to comment on whether he’d support the Every Child Deserves a Family Act.

During the news conference, a number of gay people and their children spoke out about the importance that adoption has meant for their families. Among them was Martin Gill, a gay foster dad, and his eight-year-old son, Nathaniel, who spoke publicly at the news conference for the first time.

Gill filed a lawsuit against Florida to allow him to adopt Nathaniel and his brother. That challenge led the state in 2010 to stop enforcing its 33-year-old law prohibiting openly gay people from adopting.

“It was not so much the fact that we were going to be discriminated against; it was the fact that they were going to split two young brothers up that had always been together, that had come together into our home, that by the time of our adoption, had been with us for six years at the time of our adoption,” Gill said. “That’s what really led to our journey. That’s something that no foster children should have to go through; it’s also something that no adoptive parent should have to go through.”

Also at the news conference was Mary Keane, a lesbian New York City resident and retired health care consultant, used her savings to buy a 12-bedroom house and intended it to become a safe-haven for LGBT teens rejected by their families. Instead, she became a foster mother for troubled adolescents. Keane has formally adopted six children and plans to adopt four more.

Philip McAdoo, adoption, foster care, Every Child Deserves a Family Act, U.S. Congress, gay news, Washington Blade, LGBT

Philip McAdoo and his seven-year-old son Zaden (Washington Blade photo by Damien Salas)

“Many of my kids, they never, never cared about my sexual orientation,” Keane said. “It was about as irrelevant as you could possibly get. Having parented for 13 years now, what I’ve found is that, if anything, they learn a lot. Some of my kids have written award-winning essays about marriage equality and why gays should be allowed to marry.”

Anni Keane, one of Keane’s daughters who’s now an adult, teared up during the news conference as she talked about the importance of having a mother, saying, “Thank God she decided to be a parent for me. Because she stepped forward, I have a mom, and my daughter has a grandmother.”

Philip McAdoo, a gay Atlanta, Ga., resident and graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania, talked about the experience that he and his partner, Sean Cavanaugh, had after the two-year process that led them to adopt their son Zaden, who’s now seven years old.”

“When we started talking about family, he said, ‘Oh, I what’s important in a family,’” McAdoo said. “We were like, ‘What’s that?’ He said, ‘Where there’s love.’ There was never a question that there were two dads; he always wanted to know who was going to play football with him.”

Jody Huckaby, executive director for PFLAG National, said in a statement his organization in its 40 years of existence has “seen the positive effects parental support” can have on a child — regardless of the sexual orientation of the parent.

“Why, then, should more than 400,000 children remain in foster care—104,000 of whom are eligible for adoption—when they could receive this support from loving, capable, and qualified lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender parents?” Huckaby said. “This is truly discrimination at its worst: hurtful to the people who are being denied the opportunity to become parents, and harmful to thousands of vulnerable children being denied the opportunity for stable, loving, permanent homes.”