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Grant money to help hoarders in San Francisco

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(Photo by Shadwwulf; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

SAN FRANCISCO — A local organization here that assists people with hoarding and cluttering issues will soon receive grant money to help it determine how to best help residents with this issue, many of whom are LGBT according to the Bay Area Reporter, a San Francisco-based LGBT newspaper.

The Mental Health Association of San Francisco offers support groups and other services to people who struggle with the issue. All services are free.

The association is partnering with the University of California at San Francisco, which is set to receive an estimated $2 million in grant funding over three years from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute. The Mental Health Association’s part of the funding will be about $200,000 a year, although the details are still being worked out, the Reporter noted.

The funds are meant to study the efficacy of peer-led treatment groups compared with therapist-led groups.

Experts say hoarding may be a problem when the accumulation of possessions has begun to affect someone’s quality of life and is keeping them from using their home for its intended purposes. Someone may be unable to sleep in their bed, not have access to their bathroom, or be prevented from using their stove.


U.S. lawmakers spurn Ugandan LGBT activists

Yoweri Museveni, Uganda, gay news, Washington Blade

A congressional delegation is scheduled to meet with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni in his country’s capital on Jan. 23. (Photo by the U.K. Department for International Development; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

The Washington Blade has learned a congressional delegation is expected to meet with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni next week amid outrage over the passage of a bill that would impose a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts.

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) will lead the delegation that includes U.S. Reps. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.), Ander Crenshaw (R-Fla.), Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Ariz.) and Erik Paulsen who are scheduled to travel to Uganda on Jan. 23. A source familiar with the trip told the Blade the lawmakers are scheduled to meet with Museveni while they are in the East African country.

A copy of an itinerary the source forwarded to the Blade indicates the lawmakers will also travel to Germany, Turkey, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Rwanda and Niger before returning to the U.S. on Jan. 26.

“The purpose of the CODEL’s (congressional delegation’s) engagements in Africa is to better understand how to address the ‘Arc of Instability’ through the center of Africa so the SASC (Senate Armed Services Committee) can support USG (U.S. government) efforts to address the underlying causes of our problems on the continent rather than just reacting to the symptoms,” it reads.

The source familiar with the trip told the Blade the delegation will focus on efforts to combat the Lord’s Resistance Army that led a bloody insurgency against the Ugandan government from 1986-2006. Inhofe and other U.S. lawmakers are also expected to discuss counter-terrorism efforts against the Somali Islamist militant group al-Shabab, the escalating conflict in South Sudan and “other U.S. interests.”

The source told the Blade the lawmakers have rejected Ugandan LGBT rights advocates’ requests to meet with them while in the East African country.

“We understand that Sen. Inhofe will be meeting with President Museveni and we believe other officials in Uganda on Jan. 23,” Maria Burnett of Human Rights Watch told the Blade on Friday. “We understand that they have been close for many, many years and maintain a great deal of dialogue on a range of issues. And given the recent events on the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, it seems like a crucial time for Sen. Inhofe to restate his lack of support of the bill quite clearly.”

Ugandan lawmakers on Dec. 20 approved the Anti-Homosexuality Bill that originally contained a provision that would have imposed the death penalty on anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts. The measure would also criminalize the promotion of homosexuality.

The White House, Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay are among those who criticized the measure’s passage. Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, announced after Ugandan lawmakers approved the Anti-Homosexuality Bill that his company would not do business in the country.

Museveni’s spokesperson told Agence France-Presse on Jan. 2 the Ugandan president “won’t rush” to sign the measure into law. A Ugandan newspaper on Friday reported Museveni has blocked the bill because Parliament Speaker Rebecca Kadaga allowed a vote on the measure without the required number of lawmakers needed for quorum.

Uganda is among the more than 70 countries in which homosexuality remains criminalized.

The Center for Constitutional Rights in March 2012 filed a federal lawsuit against Scott Lively in Massachusetts on behalf of Sexual Minorities Uganda, a Ugandan LGBT advocacy group, that accuses the evangelical Christian of exploiting homophobic attitudes in the East African country and encouraging lawmakers to approve the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. U.S. District Judge Michael A. Posner of the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts last August ruled the group’s lawsuit can move forward.

Ugandan Parliamentarian David Bahati, who introduced the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in 2009, has ties to the Fellowship Foundation, a Christian evangelical group that hosts the annual National Prayer Breakfast in D.C. Inhofe is also closely aligned with the secretive organization also known as “The Family.”

The Oklahoma Republican told MSNBC host Rachel Maddow during a 2012 interview he had “never heard” of Bahati when she asked him about the parliamentarians’ claims the idea for the Anti-Homosexuality Bill came from a conversation he had with members of the Fellowship.

“I do not, nor have I ever, supported or condoned this legislation,” said Inhofe in an Oct. 2011 statement to the website Red Dirt Report. “It is my hope that Uganda will abandon this unjust and extraordinarily harsh legislation.”

The Oklahoma Republican has not publicly spoken about the measure since Ugandan lawmakers approved it.

“Frankly this is not the only human rights issue that we think would be important for a high-level American delegation to raise with President Museveni,” Burnett told the Blade. “We have a lot of other concerns, such as obstacles to Ugandans rights to expression and assembly, but Senator Inhofe happens to be going at a particularly significant moment in the course of this bill.”

Inhofe’s spokesperson, Donelle Harder, denied reports the delegation will meet with the Ugandan president while in his country.

“It appears someone gave you a bad itinerary as the members are not meeting with Museveni,” she told the Blade. “Sen. Inhofe will be in Uganda briefly to meet with local officials regarding the [Lord's Resistance Army.]”

A U.S. State Department spokesperson deferred to the staffers of the delegation members.


GSAs reduce suicide risks study finds

Gay Straight Alliance, GSA, Bullis School, gay news, Washington Blade, GSAs

A GSA Student Summit was held last year at the Bullis School. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

BRITISH COLUMBIA — Students at Canadian schools that have gay-straight alliances (GSAs) are less likely to have suicidal thoughts and to attempt suicide according to a new study from the University of British Columbia, Health Canal reports.

This is true for both LGBT and straight students, researchers found.

LGBT youth and straight students in schools with anti-homophobia policies and GSAs had lower odds of discrimination, suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts, primarily when both strategies were enacted, or when the polices and GSAs had been in place for three years or more, Health Canal reports.

Published in the International Journal of Child, Youth and Family Studies and funded by the Canadian Institute of Health Research, the study drew on data from the British Columbia Adolescent Health Survey to test the link between school policies and programs, discrimination due to perceived sexual orientation and suicidal thoughts and attempts, the article said.


Former Italian lawmaker reportedly arrested again at Olympics

Vladimir Luxuria, Italy, gay news, Washington Blade

Vladimir Luxuria (on left) (Photo by Blackcat; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

A transgender former Italian parliamentarian on Monday was reportedly arrested for the second time in less than a day at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

Imma Battaglia of the Gay Project, an Italian LGBT advocacy group, told the Washington Blade that four police officers took Vladimir Luxuria and two members of the television crew who were with her into custody as they tried to enter the an arena where a semifinal match between the Canadian and Swiss women’s hockey teams was about to take place.

Initial reports indicate officers asked Luxuria, who was wearing a rainbow suit, not to show a rainbow flag with “being gay is ok” written onto it. Luca Possenti of Famiglie Arcobaleno, a group that advocates on behalf of Italian LGBT parents and those who want to have children, told the Blade that officers arrested Luxuria after she began shouting the slogan in front of cameras.

Battaglia, who has spoken with Luxuria several times since she arrived in Sochi, told the Blade authorities took “them away” in separate cars to an unknown location.

This reported incident took place less than 24 hours after Luxuria said she was arrested in Sochi after she unfurled a rainbow flag that said “gay is ok” in Russian.

Battaglia told the Blade that authorities released Luxuria late last night after Italian Foreign Minister Emma Bonino intervened. The Associated Press reported Luxuria visited a gay bar in Sochi after her release.

The 2014 Winter Olympics Organizing Committee earlier on Monday referred the Blade to the aforementioned AP story in which police officials denied Luxuria’s claims she was arrested. Spokesperson Alexandra Kosterina stressed the same point during a Sochi press briefing.

“We’ve talked to police and they have told us there is no record whatsoever to any detention or arrest,” said Kosterina as the AP reported.

The two reported incidents took place less than two weeks after authorities in Moscow and St. Petersburg took 14 LGBT rights advocates into custody hours before the games officially opened.

Elena Kostynchenko told the Blade during a Feb. 8 interview that officers took her and nine other activists into custody after they sang the Russian national anthem near Moscow’s Red Square while holding Russian and rainbow flags. Kostynchenko said authorities threatened to sexually assault her and beat and choked two other activists before they released them.

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

“Vladimir is fighting against the Putin anti-gay law,” Battaglia told the Blade on Monday after reports the police had arrested Luxuria for a second time began to emerge. “She doesn’t want to accept to eliminate the rainbow flag from her dress.”

Luxuria spoke to La Repubblica, an Italian newspaper, after she said authorities released her.

“If tomorrow I don’t have the opportunity to have a flag with written it’s okay to be gay, I will shout it,” she said.

Luxuria served in the lower house of the Italian Parliament from 2006-2008 as a member of the Communist Refoundation Party.

The Blade will have further details as they become available.


Poking the homophobic beehive in Botswana

University of Botswana, gay news, Washington Blade

University of Botswana (Photo public domain)



With Uganda, Nigeria and Zimbabwe being vocal with their homophobia, it seems University of Botswana students have felt left out of the action. The newly formed LGBT society, UB-LEGABI has subsequently threatened politicians who would not support LGBT issues. This is a drastic move in a country with an antiquated colonial anti-sodomy law. This new campaign has poked the proverbial homophobic beehive on a national level, especially as it’s an election year.

Last year, I debated the chair of the Evangelical Fellowship of Botswana on national radio after it employed similar bullying tactics. They warned politicians that it was the EFB’s duty to protect the moral fiber of the “Christian community,” therefore they would de-campaign anyone who supports what they call “gay rights.” Needless to say, the EFB chair’s citations of the Bible were met with well-informed retorts, proving that you don’t pick fights with people you underestimate.

Last year saw a surge in sensationalising homosexuality in Botswana. Each week brought a new “gay” headline, including a rumoured bill to register and imprison suspected homosexuals and sex workers to curb the spread of HIV/AIDS. What the UB-LEGABI committee has done with this tirade is enable the homophobes rather than boost any LGBT rights defences. They’ve declared war before understanding the battlegrounds.

Reading through the Facebook responses to the article published in the tabloid newspaper, The Voice, the roots of the homophobic comments are evident: religious bias, masculine insecurity and uninformed notions of homosexuality.

The (unedited) comments included statements like: “wats the use of gays and lesbians, if they cant make babies?”; “why must they force people to accept their lifestyle! this aint America…”; “B4 they come wth their stupid threats, they must b sure of 1 thing “WHETHER THEY ARE MALES OR FEMALES.” Some even blame gays for the lack of rain in southern Botswana, a country that is 80 percent desert.

The greatest shock comes when you read comments calling presidents like Robert Mugabe, Goodluck Jonathan and Yoweri Museveni to Botswana to instill laws like Uganda’s recent measure. Museveni’s declaration that the west is promoting homosexuality in Africa goes to show how uninformed, and religiously blinded, some of our leaders are.

This begs the questions: Is Western intervention in internal affairs worsening the situation? Are U.S. warnings to cut off aid simply making life more laborious for LGBT activists in these countries?

The homophobes fail to understand the far-reaching effects of such legislation as Museveni’s because of their obsession with the act of gay sex. Unfortunately, lesbians are sidelined in the conversation on homosexual acts. Some comments referred to two bearded men kissing, and “how can a man sweat to provide for another man?”

Statements such as these prove that the nation is in dire need of education on the nature of homosexuality before expecting citizens to support threats to de-campaign people they see as their protectors. The plethora of closed-minded comments that acknowledge homosexuality slows population growth, or that this will mark Jesus’ cue to return has made it seem, to the homophobes in Botswana, that they are not alone nor wrong for such ignorant thoughts.

The hive was poked, but of the 467 comments fewer than 10 were in defense of LGBT rights. There isn’t a visible united front of LGBT rights defenders. This only fuels the misconceptions such as Tshenolo Makakeng’s that: “There are less than 60 (which are mostly at UB) gays in Bots.” We must put facts before fury.

What’s been made evident is that we’re growing too impatient with the community we want to “accept” us. National acknowledgement of LGBT existence would suffice because it sets enough of a precedent for educating the laymen. It seems LGBT movements around the world have forgotten the baby steps that have led to U.S. victories over “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Prop 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act. It may seem as though background work is dormancy but it’s as important as making grand threats against politicians in an election year. Smoke works better on bees than sticks and stones.

Katlego K Kol-Kes is a writer and activist based in Gaborone, Botswana. She has recently begun covering Botswana LGBT life and has contributed to Afropunk’s Gender Bent blog. Follow her on Twitter.


BREAKING: Fred Phelps dies

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Fred Phelps, Sr., the founder of the Westboro Baptist Church, passed away on Thursday. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The founder of a Kansas church that stages anti-LGBT pickets across the country has died.

Shirley Phelps-Roper, daughter of Fred Phelps, confirmed to the Topeka Capital-Journal that her father passed away earlier on Thursday. The founder of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., had been in a local hospice for several days.

Nathan Phelps, the estranged son of Fred Phelps, wrote on his Facebook page on March 15 that his father was “on the edge of the death.”

Fred Phelps, 84, became the pastor of the Westboro Baptist Church shortly after its founding in 1955.

The small congregation gained national notoriety in 1998 after members picketed the funeral of Matthew Shepard, a gay college student who was beaten to death outside Laramie, Wyo.

Westboro Baptist Church members protested gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson’s 2003 consecration.

They picketed outside the U.S. Supreme Court last March as the justices heard oral arguments in cases challenging the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8. Members of the Westboro Baptist Church last July also gathered outside the New Castle County offices in Wilmington, Del., before state Sen. Karen Peterson and her partner, Vikki Bandy, exchanged vows on the first day same-sex couples could legally marry in Delaware.

A Maryland man, Albert Snyder, in 2006 sued Fred Phelps and other Westboro Baptist Church members after they protested the funeral of his son, U.S. Marine Lance Corporal Matthew A. Snyder, who died in a non-combat car accident in Iraq. The U.S. Supreme Court in 2008 cited the right to freedom of speech under the First Amendment in their ruling in favor of the church.

“MCC members do not celebrate the coming death of Fred Phelps,” said Rev. Nancy Wilson, moderator of the Metropolitan Community Churches, on Wednesday before Fred Phelps passed away. “We have lived under the shadow of his hateful messages, and we will not follow in his footsteps. Today, we pray for his soul and for his whole family.”

The Washington Blade will have more information on this story as it becomes available.


Jo Becker’s revisionist history on marriage

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

(Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thousands march in Cyprus’ first Pride parade

Cyprus, gay news, Washington Blade

(Image public domain)

Thousands of people on May 31 participated in Cyprus’ first LGBT Pride parade that took place in the country’s capital.

Costas Gavrielides, president of ACCEPT-LGBT Cyprus, a Cypriot advocacy group, told the Washington Blade on Monday during a telephone interview that he and other organizers expected only 300 people would attend the parade in Nicosia. He said roughly 4,000 people marched, with another 1,000 attending a post-parade event.

Whoopi Goldberg, co-host of “The View,” and actress Olympia Dukakis expressed their support of the parade in videos that Harry Mavromichalis, a gay Cypriot movie director who lives in New York, produced.

Former Cypriot President George Vassiliou and Parliamentarian Stella Kyriakides are among those who attended the parade. Gavrielides said diplomats from the U.S. and other countries also supported the march.

“It was a huge success,” said Gavrielides.

The Associated Press reported police clashed with a group of Orthodox Christians who protested it.

Gavrielides told the Blade there were a few dozen “vocal” protesters among the roughly 100 people who turned out to oppose the event, although he said he didn’t personally see them.

“The police basically stopped them,” he said. “We were very glad that it was understood that the parade should happen freely.”

Lawmakers on the divided eastern Mediterranean island decriminalized homosexuality in 1998. Northern Cyprus — formally known as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus — in January became the last European jurisdiction to make consensual same-sex sexual acts between adult men legal.

A law banning anti-gay employment discrimination took effect in 2004 before the country joined the E.U. Cyprus last year amended its penal code to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.

LGBT Cypriots lack many other legal protections found in other E.U. member states in spite of the aforementioned laws.

Interior Minister Eleni Mavrou last year said the government would propose a bill that would allow same-sex couples to enter into civil partnerships.

Gavrielides told the Blade that debate on the proposal has taken place “without any tangible results.”

The Cyprus Orthodox Christian church — which remains influential in the conservative country — has expressed its opposition to civil partnerships and marriage rights for same-sex couples. The Associated Press reported it described homosexuality as “an illness and not a natural way of life or choice” in a statement that strongly criticized the May 31 Pride parade.

“We realize that we have a lot of work to do,” said Gavrielides.

He said the parade not only showed LGBT Cypriots they can come out and “be proud,” but sent a message to the country’s politicians.

“It’s sad, but it was the people who had to give courage to the politicians for them to act instead of being the other way around,” said Gavrielides. “Even in this way we are pleased that there will be some change.”


LGBT activists rally for Gray at re-election kick-off

Vincent Gray, gay news, Washington Blade

‘Today, I apologize to you for the pain that my campaign caused. I ask for your forgiveness,’ Mayor Vincent Gray said of his 2010 mayoral campaign. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

At least a dozen LGBT activists joined more than 500 city residents on Saturday for Mayor Vincent Gray’s first rally to launch his 2014 re-election campaign.

Several of the activists said Gray’s mention of LGBT people two times in his speech at the rally highlighted his long record of support for the LGBT community.

The event was held in a packed auditorium at an arts and recreation center on Mississippi Avenue in Southeast D.C. known as THEARC.

“I look around this room and I see folks from every part of our city,” Gray told the gathering. “I see enormous talent and tireless dedication. I see white, I see black, I see brown, and every color in between,” he said.

“I see straight, I see gay, and I see transgender. I see rich and I see poor,” he said. “But above all, I see what makes us the greatest city in the greatest country on Earth — I see a community.”

In another part of his speech Gray said the accomplishments of his first term included his longstanding effort to unify the city’s diverse and growing population.

“We are bringing together young and old, black, brown and white, Latino, Asian, immigrants from throughout the world, gay, straight, able and disabled,” he said.

Gray is being challenged by eight candidates in the city’s April 1 Democratic primary, including four City Council members, all of whom have records of support on LGBT issues.

Much of the coverage of Gray’s speech by the media focused on his apology to the city for the campaign finance irregularities associated with his 2010 mayoral campaign, which led to criminal charges and guilty pleas by four of his top campaign staff members. Gray has said the campaign finance law violations by the four staffers happened without his knowledge.

“I know that the 2010 campaign caused many people great pain,” Gray said in his speech. “I know that our city suffered embarrassment. Today, I apologize to you for the pain that my campaign caused. I ask for your forgiveness.”

Gray added, “Although I cannot apologize for the misdeeds of others, the 2010 campaign was my campaign, and I am deeply sorry for the pain and embarrassment it caused.”

The LGBT activists attending the rally joined virtually everyone one else in the packed auditorium in rising to their feet to give Gray a prolonged ovation in response to his apology. Many in the audience chanted, “Four more years, four more years” before sitting down to listen to the remainder of Gray’s speech.

“I thought it went extremely well,” said gay Democratic activist Lane Hudson, a member of Gray’s 2014 campaign finance committee.

“It’s an overflow crowd. There are hundreds and hundreds of people here,” Hudson said. “The mayor gave a great speech. He addressed very well the 2010 election issue and laid out a real clear vision for the next four years.”

Asked how the LGBT vote is likely to break down in the April 1 primary, Hudson said, “I think it will probably split just like it did in the last election. But one thing that’s clear is Vince Gray is the best mayor in the entire country on LGBT issues.”

At least four prominent transgender activists attended the rally, including Earline Budd, Jeri Hughes and Alexandra Beninda. Budd and Beninda were appointed by Gray to the D.C. Human Rights Commission as the first-ever transgender people to serve on the commission.

“He has done what I think is vital to this city in so many ways in terms of economic development,” said Beninda. “Within our transgender community he definitely has a place in our hearts because he has done so much – with Project Empowerment, with the Transgender Awareness Campaign,” she said in referring to a city-sponsored job training program and a trans related non-discrimination campaign initiated by Gray.

“He has done more than anybody else has ever done in the city for the transgender community,” Beninda said.

Hughes and Budd said Gray, while breaking new ground in his support for the transgender community, has an exceptionally strong record in support of the entire LGBT community. The two also said the city as a whole has prospered under Gray’s tenure as mayor.

LGBT activists who are backing other candidates, including Council members Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) and Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), have said those candidates are also strong supporters of LGBT rights and that LGBT people should select a candidate based on non-LGBT issues.

Longtime gay activists Deacon Maccubbin and Bob Summersgill said they are backing Wells over Gray, among thing things, because Wells has a stronger record on ethics in government issues.

Gay rights advocate and D.C. Department of Health official Ivan Torres, who attended the Gray rally on Saturday, said he believes Gray comes out ahead on non-LGBT issues.

“You can have any preferences that you like,” Torres said in referring to LGBT people supporting candidates running against Gray. “But you cannot deny that in the past four years Washington, D.C. has gone forward — forward in so many ways — economic development, the unemployment rate has gone down, and development is there, and the integration of us gay people, the gay and lesbian community, the transgender community into governance.”


Smooth sailing on first Equality Cruise

Equality Cruise, gay news, Washington Blade

Sixty-nine passengers took part in the inaugural Equality Cruise. (Photo by Steve Charing)

A total of 69 passengers participated in Equality Maryland’s first Equality Cruise Jan. 12-19. Those participating were mostly from the Baltimore-Washington region but some came from Pennsylvania, Virginia and Tennessee. They included a diverse group of LGBT people and allies. Carnival Cruises donated a portion of the group’s proceeds to Equality Maryland.

Travel arrangements were made by Equality Maryland’s office manager, Vanessa Bowling, who also owns Vanessa Addrienne Travel. She, along with Doug Rose, communications volunteer for Equality Maryland, served as hosts for the group.

The cruise took place aboard the aptly named Carnival Pride, which departed from Baltimore. It sailed to Port Canaveral and then on to Nassau and Freeport in the Bahamas before returning. Both Bowling and Rose hosted a meet-and-greet as the ship departed Baltimore. They also arranged group gatherings including pre-dinner socials and organized a “red party” in the Pride’s dance club.

Tokyo Derekston of Glen Burnie, Md., enjoyed her first cruise.  “I’m having a great time,” she said during its midpoint. “As long as people stop asking me to sing.”

Bowling indicated that she intends to send out surveys about what people would like in the way of future cruises and ports of call. The Equality Cruise’s maiden voyage went well and there is optimism that the size of the group will increase next year.