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Terry McAuliffe sworn in as Virginia governor

Washington Blade, Terry McAuliffe

Terry McAuliffe was sworn in on Saturday as Virginia’s 72nd governor. (Washington Blade photo by Lee Whitman)

RICHMOND, Va.—Former Democratic National Committee Chair Terry McAuliffe on Saturday became Virginia’s 72nd governor amid hopes his administration will extend rights to LGBT Virginians.

“An open and welcoming state is critical to the 21st century economy, but it’s also imperative for justice and fairness,” said McAuliffe.

The former DNC chair stressed throughout his inaugural address the economy remains among his administration’s top priorities. McAuliffe also said the commonwealth needs to “ensure that someone can’t lose their job simply because they are gay.”

“As the legislature and my administration work to diversity our economy, we need to remember that our sense of urgency is driven by those Virginians who struggle each and every day just to get buy and whose dream is simply to give their children the opportunities that may never have had,” said McAuliffe. “My administration will work tirelessly to ensure opportunities are equal for all Virginia’s children no matter if you are a girl or a boy, no matter what part of the commonwealth you live in, no matter your race or your religion and no matter who you love.”

Lieutenant Gov. Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring were also sworn in.

Gay state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) told the Washington Blade in November after McAuliffe defeated then-Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli in the hotly contested gubernatorial race and Northam beat Chesapeake minister E.W. Jackson that the election results were a “clear victory for equality” that brings “the promise of a new day for Virginia.”

McAuliffe, Northam and Herring support marriage rights for same-sex couples. The former Democratic National Committee chair later on Saturday is expected to issue an executive order that would ban discrimination against LGBT state employees.

“We couldn’t be more ecstatic,” Maggie Sacra, chair of the LGBT Democrats of Virginia, told the Washington Blade earlier on Saturday during a brunch her group hosted at a downtown Richmond hotel.

Kathy Green of Henrico County said during the same event she feels former Gov. Bob McDonnell and Cuccinelli’s policies towards women’s reproductive health rights were “frightening.”

“Having Democrats in the statewide offices will really help to advance equal rights for our friends and co-workers and neighbors,” added Green.

Members of Public Advocate, an anti-LGBT group founded by Loudoun County Supervisor Eugene Delguadio, placed posters around the State House against the expected directive. They also handed out stickers that read “preserve traditional marriage” to passersby outside security checkpoints.

Lawmakers are expected to consider a number of LGBT-specific bills during the 2014 legislative session that began on Wednesday. These include measures that would ban anti-LGBT employment discrimination in Virginia, extend second-parent adoption rights to gays and lesbians and prohibit “ex-gay” conversion therapy to minors in the commonwealth.

Eight lawmakers have also introduced proposed resolutions that would seek a repeal of Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban that voters in 2006 approved by a 57-43 percent margin.

A federal judge in Norfolk on Jan. 30 is scheduled to hold the first hearing in a case challenging the commonwealth’s gay marriage ban that Ted Olson and David Boies, who argued against California’s Proposition 8 before the U.S. Supreme Court, joined last September. The American Civil Liberties Union, Lambda Legal and the ACLU of Virginia in August filed a separate class action federal lawsuit against the state’s ban on nuptials for same-sex couples on behalf of two lesbian couples from the Shenandoah Valley who were denied marriage licenses.

It remains unclear whether McAuliffe and Herring will defend Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban.

Equality Virginia Executive Director James Parrish told the Blade during a Jan. 8 interview the tone from the governor and the attorney general’s offices will be “a 180” compared to former Gov. Bob McDonnell and Cuccinelli. He said the state House of Delegates will remain a barrier to advancing pro-LGBT measures even with McAuliffe, Northam and Herring in office.

“Now that we have a friendly administration in the governor and the attorney general’s office, it will allow us to better make the narrative that the Senate and the governor and the attorney general and the Virginia public are all on the same page,” said Parrish.

Equality Virginia is among the groups that marched in the inaugural parade after McAuliffe, Northam and Herring took office. It is the first time an LGBT organization had been invited to take part in the quadrennial event.

Equality Virginia, gay news, Washington Blade, Richmond

Equality Virginia was among the groups that marched in the Inauguration parade in Richmond, Va., on Saturday. It was the first time an LGBT group took part in the quadrennial event. (Photo courtesy of Kirsten Bokenkamp/Equality Virginia)

11
Jan
2014

Grosso endorses Graham opponent

David Grosso, D.C. Council, gay news, Washington Blade

D.C. Council member David Grosso has endorsed Brianne Nadeau over incumbent Jim Graham. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

D.C. Council member David Grosso (I-At-Large) raised eyebrows within the city’s political establishment on Tuesday when he confirmed he has endorsed Brianne Nadeau, one of the candidates running against gay Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) in the city’s April 1 Democratic primary.

“I think it’s an opportunity for Ward 1 and the D.C. Council to get a strong, new, good-government voice on the Council,” Grosso told the Blade in a phone interview. “I think she’s a viable candidate who would step in and do a really good job as a Council member and be a strong ally up here on the Council.”

When contacted by the Blade for comment, Graham released a statement saying he didn’t think Grosso’s endorsement of Nadeau would make a difference in the race.

“Having a non-Democrat comment on a Democratic primary won’t mean much,” he said. “My opponent is grasping for straws and she got one.”

Graham has received strong support from the LGBT community in each of his four previous election campaigns for his Council seat. With Nadeau and another challenger, Ward 1 civic activist Bryan Weaver, having a record of support for the LGBT community, some observers think the LGBT vote could be split between Graham, Nadeau and Weaver.

But many observers believe Graham’s more than 30 years of advocacy on behalf of the LGBT community as an activist and Council member and his past role as a leader in the fight against AIDS as head of the Whitman-Walker Clinic will prompt most LGBT voters to stick with him.

Both Nadeau and Weaver have cited the Council’s decision to reprimand Graham last year over allegations that he violated a city ethics rule by improperly intervening in the contract approval process involving Metro and the D.C. lottery contracts were grounds for voting him out of office. Graham has disputed the allegation, saying he favored one contractor over another on grounds it was better qualified for the work.

Grosso said that while Graham played an important role as an openly gay member of the Council during his early years in office he doesn’t think his replacement by a non-gay Council member would have an adverse impact on the LGBT community.

“I think we’ve come to a point in this city where as leaders you’d better be accepting of every single human being and who they are as a person,” Grosso said. “And I certainly hope that whether you’re straight or gay you are standing up for that and standing up for all the people in the District.”

Added Grosso, “That doesn’t take away from having representation on the Council of every group of individuals in our city. But I think we can do a god job of representing folks ourselves whether you’re straight or gay, and that’s important to us.”

Grosso has a strong record of support on LGBT issues.

The Washington Post reported that Grosso has recorded a robocall message urging Ward 1 residents to vote for Nadeau that’s expected to be released shortly.

29
Jan
2014

Supporters rally for trans rights in Md.

Martin O'Malley, gay news, gay politics

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley was among those who expressed support for a trans rights bill. (Washington Blade file photo by Pete Exis)

Bob Brittain was doing fairly well in Chestertown, Md., with a wife and family, earning more than $50,000 per year as a certified boat captain, assistant dock master and boat carpenter.  But since the age of three, he knew he was not comfortable with his gender. Two years ago, Bob transitioned to Susan Brittain, now 57, but still with her wife who has been fully supportive.

However, when Susan applied for other jobs, “the rules had changed,” she explained. As soon as she identified as transgender, she was not hired for the positions she was seeking despite her qualifications. While Susan would benefit from a statewide law that would prohibit discrimination in employment, housing, credit and public accommodations, her concern is for others. “It’s for the younger generation,” Susan points out. “They should be productive and happy.”

To that end, on Feb. 17, the Maryland Coalition for Trans Equality—a group with 54 components including Equality Maryland, PFLAG, Maryland NOW and a host of other progressive and religious organizations—held its annual Lobby Day at Lawyers Mall in Annapolis. The goal is to rally trans activists and allies and to meet with individual legislators in an effort to persuade them to pass the bill, which has been unsuccessful the past seven years.

More than 150 braved the sub-freezing chill to hear remarks by Carrie Evans, executive director of Equality Maryland; Del. Bonnie Cullison (D-Montgomery County); Sen. Rich Madaleno (D-Montgomery) who introduced the Senate version of the Fairness for All Marylanders Act (SB 212); Sara Wilkinson from the Maryland chapter of NOW; Del. Luke Clippinger (D-Baltimore) who introduced the House version (HB 1265); Patrick Paschall, a member of the Hyattsville City Council, which passed a gender identity non-discrimination measure; Gov. Martin O’Malley, who, along with Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, Attorney General Douglas Gansler, Comptroller Peter Franchot, Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller, House Speaker Michael E. Busch among other leaders, support the bill; activist and mother of a trans child Bonnita Spikes; and Del. Heather Mizeur (D-Montgomery) who is a candidate for governor.

The theme for this event was “It’s time.” Evans stated to loud cheers, “We want to pass this bill this year and make this the last Lobby Day.”

Speaker after speaker alluded to the fact that this bill has languished in the legislature for too many years and it was time to break it free.  “This is the time to put the bill to rest,” said Madaleno.  “We’ve had eight years of pushing the bill.  If we don’t do it this year, we’re going to be back and back and back for however long it takes.”

Pointing to the successes in other Maryland jurisdictions—Baltimore City, Howard, Baltimore and Montgomery counties as well as Hyattsville — Hyattsville Council member Patrick Paschall stated, “Now is the time for the state of Maryland to follow the lead of local jurisdiction.”

Others highlighted the unnecessary discrimination faced by transgender people and offered a call for inclusion.  “It’s time for all Marylanders to be accepted for who they are,” declared Cullison. Sara Wilkinson said, “We believe the feminist movement can and should embrace transgender people. NOW stands against all oppression.”

A confident Clippinger predicted, “We are going to win this year because of the momentum we have.”

O’Malley said, “We’re all in this together. Everyone deserves to be treated equally with dignity and respect.”

The Senate’s Judicial Proceedings Committee is considering the bill and a vote is expected on Feb. 20. (Visit washingtonblade.com for updates.) SB 212 has 25 sponsors, more than enough to win on the floor. Last year, the bill died in the committee by a 6-5 vote.

18
Feb
2014

Gray wins vote but falls short of Stein Club endorsement

Tommy Wells, Vincent Orange, Vincent Gray, Jack Evans, Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, endorsement forum, gay news, Washington Blade

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray finished ahead of four rivals at the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club’s mayoral candidates forum. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray finished far ahead of four of his rivals at the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club’s mayoral candidates forum Thursday night but fell four votes short of the 60 percent threshold needed to win the club’s endorsement.

Gray beat D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), his closest rival, by a margin of 58 percent (112 votes) to 38 percent (74 votes) in a runoff ballot, with 4 percent voting for no endorsement.

“I am so happy about the number of people that came out and supported us tonight,” Gray said after the vote. “It really is an affirmation of our record and we’ll continue to do the things that got us here tonight.”

In a first ballot vote, Gray came in first with 115 votes, ahead of Evans, who received 56 votes. Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) came in third with 28 votes, just ahead of Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), who captured 26 votes. Council member Vincent Orange (D-At-Large) finished fifth with 8 votes. One person voted for no endorsement.

Under club rules, members have the option of holding a run-off vote between the top two vote getters in the first vote if no one obtains the 60 percent margin needed for an endorsement.

Paul Strauss, Pete Ross, U.S. Senate, District of Columbia, Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, endorsement forum, gay news, Washington Blade

Paul Strauss (left) and Pete Ross at the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club’s endorsement forum. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

In a separate endorsement vote on the contest for the city’s shadow U.S. Senate seat, challenger Pete Ross beat incumbent Paul Strauss by a vote of 93 to 85, with 33 people voting for no endorsement. Similar to the mayoral race, Ross failed to win the endorsement by falling 33 votes short of the 60 percent threshold needed for an endorsement.

Meanwhile, in a development that surprised some Stein Club members, mayoral contenders Andy Shallal and Carlos Allen were disqualified from participating in the forum because they didn’t return a candidate questionnaire that the club requires as a condition for being eligible for an endorsement. The two didn’t attend the event.

Democratic mayoral contender Reta Lewis returned the questionnaire but no one placed her name in nomination at Thursday night’s forum as part of another requirement for endorsement eligibility, according to Martin Garcia, the club’s vice president for political and governmental affairs. Garcia said Lewis also didn’t attend the event.

About 300 people, including D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large) and Council member Anita Bonds (D-At-Large), turned out to watch the forum, which was held at the Metropolitan Community Church of Washington at 474 Ridge St., N.W.

Mendelson and Bonds are running for re-election. Last week the Stein Club endorsed Mendelson but didn’t endorse in the at-large race in which Bonds and three other candidates are running in the April 1 Democratic primary because no one received the required 60 percent of the vote from the club’s membership.

Voting at Thursday’s endorsement forum took place after the participating candidates gave opening remarks and answered questions from the audience, which were submitted on index cards and read by Stein Club member Earl Fowlkes, who served as moderator.

Each expressed strong support for LGBT rights and each has a record of support for LGBT-related issues since the time they won election to the Council, with some, including Gray, pointing to their support for LGBT equality in previous jobs in government or in the private sector.

Evans, who has been on the Council for 23 years, brought with him a stack of 32 LGBT-related bills he said he introduced and helped pass during his tenure on the Council.

“I was the first elected official to support marriage equality at a time when no one was there,” he said.

Gray cited the LGBT-related initiatives he has put into effect since becoming mayor, including a first-of-its-kind transgender job training program. His LGBT supporters, who turned out in large numbers at the forum, have called him the nation’s strongest LGBT-supportive mayor.

“I’m proud to have stood up for what is right in the District of Columbia on behalf of the people who are LGBTQ in the District of Columbia,” he said. “I am proud to have led the fight on the Council of the District of Columbia to be able to approve marriage equality,” he said, referring to his role as chair of the Council in 2009 when the marriage bill came up.

Wells acknowledged that Evans, in his long tenure on the Council, and Gray, in his many LGBT-related initiatives as mayor, have done a lot for the LGBT community. Noting that his record and commitment to LGBT issues is also strong, he suggested that LGBT voters should consider turning their attention to issues such as ethics in government, that impact everyone.

“I am so proud of what we’ve done together to make this a fairer, just city for everyone,” Wells said. “Let me say that everyone on the dais has been part of that,” he said. “Your fight is my fight.”

Bowser said she is proud to have won the club’s endorsement in the past when running for her Ward 4 Council seat.

“I think Tommy is right,” she said. “There have been a lot of people who have worked long and hard so that all the institutions of the District of Columbia are equal.  Because of their hard work we’re talking about marriage equality tonight.”

Bowser, among other things, cited her role as co-introducer of a bill approved by the Council earlier this year calling for services for LGBT homeless youth.

Orange pointed to his role as a committee chair to help push through a bill introduced by gay D.C. Council member Jim Graham to add protections for transgender people in the city’s Human Rights Act.

In keeping with the club’s longstanding format for endorsement forums, the candidates were asked to leave the main hall where the event took place at the conclusion of the forum to give club members a chance to speak among themselves on who they support for the endorsement.

Among those speaking on behalf of Bowser was her gay brother, Marvin Bowser.

“Muriel has been up front in support of all of the LGBTQ issues in her campaign, including marriage equality, the anti-bullying law, and the homeless youth bill,” he said. “She’s about supporting the diversity and the vitality of the city,” he said. “She’s fully engaged in all the issues important to that.”

Martin Garcia, Angela Peoples, Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, endorsement forum, gay news, Washington Blade

Stein Club Vice President for Legislative and Political Affairs Martin Garcia (left) and President Angela Peoples. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Stein Club President Angela Peoples said that while she’s disappointed that the club was unable to make an endorsement in the mayor’s race, along with the shadow Senate seat and several Council races, the endorsement forum has been beneficial to LGBT voters.

“I’m really proud and humbled and excited to see so much energy from the entire LGBT community,” she said. “The turnout at this event really shows that our LGBT community is diverse. We have straight allies. We have transgender leadership in our organization. We have people who have been here for a long time and also people who are new and excited.”

Peoples said the strong support that all of the candidates have expressed for LGBT equality was a testament to the strength of the LGBT community.

07
Mar
2014

Maryland transgender rights bill receives final approval

Rich Madaleno, Maryland, Democratic Party, Montgomery County, gay news, Washington Blade

Maryland state. Sen. Rich Madaleno introduced Senate Bill 212 (Washington Blade file photo by Jeff Surprenant)

ANNAPOLIS, Md. – A bill that would ban discrimination against transgender Marylanders on Thursday received final approval in the Maryland House of Delegates.

The 82-57 vote on Senate Bill 212 – the Fairness for All Marylanders Act of 2014 – took place after lawmakers debated the measure that state Sen. Rich Madaleno (D-Montgomery County) introduced in January for more than two hours.

“What we are about to do today is important,” said state Del. Maggie McIntosh (D-Baltimore City) as she referenced the exclusion of trans Marylanders in a 2001 anti-discrimination bill that only included sexual orientation. “This is an important group of people today who frankly we left out 11 years ago. They’re beat up. They’re ridiculed. They are suffering and they need to hold their head up high just like I do.”

State Del. Michael McDermott (R-Wicomico and Worcester Counties) described trans Marylanders as “confused” as he spoke against SB 212.

“We are a confused state, voting for a confused bill,” said the Eastern Shore Republican.

State Del. Anthony O’Donnell (R-St. Mary’s and Calvert Counties) introduced a proposed amendment to SB 212 that sought to ban anyone from asserting their gender identity and expression to “enter a place of public accommodation for the purpose of committing an illegal activity.” House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga (R-Baltimore and Harford Counties) put forth a proposal that would have exempted bathrooms from the measure.

“Please protect women,” she said. “Please protect little girls.”

Lawmakers defeated both proposed amendments.

State Del. Gail Bates (R-Howard County) and McDermott introduced proposed amendments that sought to exclude “distinctly private and personal” places and “private facilities” from SB 212′s public accommodation provision.

Lawmakers rejected both proposals and others that sought to provide the public accommodation provision from the measure.

State Del. Neil Parrott (R-Washington County) and O’Donnell on Wednesday unsuccessfully sought to delay the second reading on SB 212 by a day. Szeliga sought to remove the measure’s public accommodations provisions, but she withdrew her two proposed amendments.

State Del. Kathy Afzali (R-Frederick County) recently said in a letter to her constituents that HB 1265 would “normalize abnormal behavior.” Parrott referred to the measure as the “bathroom bill” in a post to the website he runs under the banner “Do you want men going into the ladies room?” with a graphic that shows a man appearing to look at a woman in a restroom stall.

“What we could see could be a naked man in a girls locker room at a public pool,” said Afzali. “This is a bad bill. This does not protect women. This does not protect children.”

State Del. Heather Mizeur (D-Montgomery County) noted she has “never been more disappointed” during her eight years in the House as she said she has been listening to the debate over SB 212.

“We are talking about people who are suffering real harm in this state,” said the Montgomery County Democrat who is running against Attorney General Doug Gansler and Lieutenant Gov. Anthony Brown in this June’s Democratic gubernatorial primary. “We are talking about our brothers and sisters.”

The vote caps off an eight year effort to add gender identity and expression to Maryland’s anti-discrimination act.

The House in 2011 approved an anti-trans discrimination bill that did not contain protections in public accommodations. The Maryland Senate earlier this month passed a measure approved SB 212.

The House Health and Government Operations Committee on Tuesday approved a nearly identical bill to SB 212 that state Del. Luke Clippinger (D-Baltimore City) introduced.

“I’m thrilled that we’ve been able to accomplish another big victory for fairness and equality in the state of Maryland,” Madaleno told reporters after the vote. “It’s remarkable how far we’ve come in such a short period of time.”

“It took eight years, and a great deal of tenacity, perseverance, patience and skill, but today the Maryland transgender community can celebrate its equality, and feel like full partners in the LGBT community,” added Gender Rights Maryland Executive Director Dana Beyer. “Maryland joins with seventeen states, D.C. and Puerto Rico in providing comprehensive LGBT equality.”

Brown is among those who also applauded SB 212′s passage.

“Nobody should ever be forced to endure this kind of discrimination or harassment, and that’s why we’re taking this important step to protect all Marylanders,” he said.

Gansler, who submitted testimony in support of the measure, also praised lawmakers who supported it.

“Today 82 delegates voted against gender identity discrimination and for what is just and fair,” he said. “With their votes, the Fairness for All Marylanders Act can now become law, and our state can move much closer to ensuring equal protection for all. I congratulate all the legislators who worked so hard, led by Sen. Madaleno in the Senate and Del. Clippinger in the House, for the passage of this milestone legislation.”

Gov. Martin O’Malley is expected to sign SB 212 into law in the coming weeks.

Observers expect Parrott and others who oppose the bill will try to prompt a referendum on it once the governor signs it.

27
Mar
2014

Delaware to recognize Utah same-sex marriages

Beau Biden, Delaware, gay news, Washington Blade, gay marriage, same sex marriage, marriage equality, HB 75, marriage equality

Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden on Wednesday said his state will recognize same-sex marriages performed in Utah.

“Marriage equality is the law in Delaware and I strongly believe that individuals outside our state borders should be equally free to choose whom to love and whom to spend their lives with,” said Biden in a statement that announced his decision. “More than 1,300 marriages of same-sex couples were legally performed in Utah between Dec. 20, 2013, and Jan. 6, 2014, after couples received marriage licenses by Utah authorities. It is our position that these marriages are and should be recognized as valid under Delaware law.”

Biden made the announcement hours after Equality Delaware President Lisa Goodman and Equality Delaware Foundation President Mark Purpura sent him a letter that urged the Democrat “to confirm that same-sex marriages validly solemnized in Utah from Dec. 20, 2013, to Jan. 6, 2014, are recognized as valid marriages for all purposes of Delaware law.”

“The Biden family has been strong supporters of marriage — both in Delaware and nationwide,” Goodman told the Washington Blade after Biden made his announcement. “We are very happy and not surprised that Attorney General Biden would rule that Utah marriages, which we believe are and continue to be valid in the state of Utah, are valid and will be recognized as such in the state of Delaware.”

The U.S. Supreme Court last week blocked any future same-sex marriages from taking place in Utah pending the outcome of an appeal of U.S. District Court Judge Robert Shelby’s Dec. 20 ruling that struck down the state’s gay nuptials ban.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert on Jan. 8 announced his state would not recognize same-sex marriages performed between Dec. 20 and Jan. 6 pending the outcome of his administration’s appeal of Shelby’s ruling. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder two days later said the federal government will recognize these unions.

Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler and his counterparts in Maine and Washington subsequently announced their states will follow suit. D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray on Monday said the nation’s capital should also recognize same-sex marriages performed in Utah.

Delaware’s same-sex marriage law took effect last July. It is now among the 18 states and D.C. in which gays and lesbians can legally marry.

“We hope that other attorneys general nationwide will follow Attorney General Biden’s lead and recognize these Utah marriages as valid in their states as well,” Goodman told the Blade.

Biden is among those who attended a gay Wilmington couple’s wedding that took place on the first day same-sex couples could legally tie the knot in the state.

“Today we are witnesses to a historic event for Delaware and for our community and quite frankly our future,” said Biden before Joseph Daigle, II, and Daniel Cole exchanged vows at the Gibraltar Mansion in Wilmington.

15
Jan
2014

Witeck won’t run for Congress; backs Ebbin

Bob Witeck, gay news, Washington Blade

‘I plan to give my unqualified support to Adam Ebbin now,’ said Bob Witeck. (Photo courtesy of Bob Witeck)

Gay public relations executive Bob Witeck informed the Blade on Sunday that he won’t run for the U.S. House seat in Northern Virginia being vacated by retiring Democratic Congressman James Moran and will instead support state Sen. Adam Ebbin’s bid for the seat.

Ebbin, who’s gay and a Democrat, served for eight years in the Virginia House of Delegates before winning election in 2011 to the Virginia Senate. He announced his candidacy for the congressional seat last week.

“Over the weekend, and upon careful consideration and lots of conversations with my partner, I have decided not to run for the 8th District congressional seat,” Witeck said in a statement.

Witeck, a longtime LGBT rights advocate, was among more than a dozen Democrats who either announced their candidacy for the 8th District seat or said they were considering running for the seat  in the June 10 Democratic primary. The winner of the primary is considered the strong favorite to win the general election in November in the heavily Democratic district.

In a statement released to the Blade, Witeck said the race has attracted other highly qualified candidates.

“While I am sure that I can work hard, raise funds and be competitive, I am equally if not more happy to get behind the ultimate Democratic nominee – so long as that candidate is as committed to LGBT equality, human rights and economic fairness issues that I care about,” he said.

Witeck said he’s a longtime supporter of the mission of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, a national organization that helps elect openly LGBT candidates running for public office.

“I therefore plan to give my unqualified support to Adam Ebbin now,” he said. “He is working doggedly to win the primary, and I’ve spoken to him today to give him my help.”

03
Feb
2014

LGBT Wedding Expo in Frederick

wedding expo, wedding rings, gay news, Washington Blade

(Photo by iStock)

On March 16, Studio C Photography of Frederick presents “Over the Rainbow,” Frederick’s first LGBT Wedding and Fashion Expo. The show will feature more than 30 gay and gay-friendly wedding vendors in all categories. There will be a fashion show with same-sex couples in wedding attire to include M. Stein Tuxedo, private designer dresses, gowns, and suits, and “Under A Hundred” budget-conscious ensembles.

The Expo will be held in the Atrium at the FSK Holiday Inn, 5400 Holiday Dr. in Frederick from 1-4 p.m. There is ample free parking, and the Expo is conveniently right off I-270, I-70, and Rt. 15.

“To date, LGBT wedding shows have been made up of vendors who are there to sell their services, which of course is the point; but not all of them are truly gay friendly,” Susan Centineo, owner of Studio C Photography, told the Blade.  “This show promises vendors who have been screened and who are truly committed to providing red-carpet service for same-sex weddings, and we have added a same-sex fashion show to boot.”

Admission is free, and there will be drawings, raffles, and discounts for same-day bookings with vendors. You may RSVP in advance to qualify for a cash drawing. Email Susan at studiocphotos@yahoo.com or call/text 240-446-6085. A few vendor openings are still available.

24
Feb
2014

Graham, Nadeau fight for LGBT votes in Ward 1 race

Jim Graham, Brianne Nadeau, Ward 1, D.C. Council, gay news, Washington Blade

Gay D.C. Council member Jim Graham and challenger Brianne Nadeau face off in the Ward 1 Council seat primary April 1. (Washington Blade photo of Graham by Jeff Surprenant; Blade photo of Nadeau by Michael Key)

Gay D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) and challenger Brianne Nadeau are attracting citywide attention as the two battle over the LGBT vote and the vote from other diverse population groups in Ward 1 in a hotly contested race in the city’s April 1 Democratic primary.

Most political observers say Graham is facing his toughest re-election campaign since first winning the Ward 1 Council seat in 1998 as an openly gay man.

Nadeau is a former advisory neighborhood commissioner and vice president of a local public relations firm that specializes in promoting progressive causes. She’s an outspoken supporter of LGBT rights and has vowed to be a champion for the LGBT community if elected to replace Graham.

Graham has argued that his status as one of two openly gay members of the Council brings an important insight and sensitivity into his work on behalf of the LGBT community that straight allies, no matter how committed, don’t have. He also notes that his out gay colleague, David Catania (I-At-Large) is giving up his Council seat to run for mayor.

Thus if he were to lose his re-election bid, Graham has said, it would leave the Council without an openly gay member for the first time in 16 years.

In addition to his role as a strong advocate for LGBT equality, Graham has long been viewed as a champion of progressive causes such as tenants’ rights, low-income workers, and the needs of the highly diverse immigrant population of Latinos, Asian-Pacific Islanders and Ethiopians, among other immigrant groups, that have settled in Ward 1.

He has had longstanding support from these demographic groups as well as support among longtime black residents of the eastern part of the ward. Combined with past support from younger professionals moving into refurbished neighborhoods Graham says he helped bring about normally would have made him the odds-on favorite to win the Democratic nomination for a fifth term in office, according to Ward 1 political activists.

But the same activists and Ward 1 observers now say all bets are off due to a flurry of negative media reports about Graham over the past several years stemming from an allegation in 2008 that he interfered with the contract approval process for a Metro development project while serving on the Metro board.

Based on findings of an investigation by Metro, the D.C. Council voted 11-2 in February 2013 to reprimand Graham for violating a city ethics rule by improperly mixing his role as a Council member and Metro board member.

The investigation concluded that Graham favored one developer over another to receive a contract to develop a residential and commercial complex in his ward. He then urged the developer he didn’t favor to withdraw in exchange for Graham pushing for that developer to receive an unrelated city lottery contract, the investigation found.

Graham has long asserted he did nothing wrong, saying the developer he opposed was unqualified for the project and he acted in what he believed to be in the best interest of his constituents. He told the Blade he never favored the other developer and noted that ultimately a third developer emerged to carry out the project.

“If you look at the facts, there was no crime committed, there was no law broken, there was no money exchanging hands,” Graham told the Blade.  “And what we have is a conflict between two roles of a Metro Board member and Council member.”

Graham points out that the Metro contract matter happened nearly six years ago and that he was re-elected in the interim.

Nadeau has attacked Graham over the ethics issue since entering the Ward 1 race last year, saying the Council’s decision to reprimand Graham has decreased his effectiveness as a Council member.

She raised the issue again on Monday in a debate with Graham on News Channel 8’s Bruce DePuyt Show, saying Graham’s actions were another in a series of ethical lapses by D.C. Council members over the past four years that resulted in the criminal prosecution of three of Graham’s colleagues on corruption charges.

Her candidacy received a boost last week when the Washington Post endorsed her following earlier endorsements she received from the Current newspapers and Council members David Grosso (I-At-Large) and Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), who’s running for mayor. She also received an endorsement from former Ward 6 Council member Sharon Ambrose, the prominent feminist group Emily’s List, the Women’s Campaign Fund and the D.C. Association of Realtors.

The Post endorsement of Nadeau was expected because it came on the heels of a series of Post editorials criticizing Graham over the Metro contract and ethics allegation.

Graham, meanwhile, has received endorsements from prominent labor organizations including the Metropolitan Washington Council of the AFL-CIO; the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (ASCME); the Hotel and Restaurant Workers Union; the Service Employees International Union (SEIU); National Nurses United, and the Teamsters. The Hotel Association and the Sierra Club also endorsed Graham.

Graham has also received the backing of Ron Simmons, president and CEO of the Ward 1-based AIDS advocacy and service organization Us Helping Us, which reaches out to black gay men; and of Kurt Schmoke, the former Baltimore mayor who since 2003 has served as an administrator at Howard University in D.C.

Schmoke, who currently holds the position of Interim Provost and Chief Academic Officer at Howard, told the Blade he contributed to Graham’s campaign as an individual, not in his official capacity, to express his “thanks” for Graham’s support of Howard.

“My perception is that Councilman Graham has been very supportive of the university on a variety of issues that have arisen” over the past decade, he said.

Graham has said he believes his support remains strong among LGBT voters. But doubts over that assumption surfaced last month when Nadeau finished ahead of Graham at the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club’s endorsement meeting by a vote of 70 to 64. She didn’t receive the endorsement of the Stein Club, the city’s largest LGBT political group, because she fell short of capturing a required 60 percent of the vote needed to endorse.

However, her strong showing raised eyebrows among LGBT activists, who view Graham as a leader on LGBT issues for more than 30 years as a Council member, attorney, and past executive director of the city’s Whitman-Walker Clinic during the height of the AIDS epidemic.

Graham’s supporters say the Stein Club members voting in the Feb. 27 meeting aren’t representative of the LGBT community in Ward 1, which they predict will turn out for Graham in large numbers on Election Day.

Nadeau supporters, however, say the Stein Club vote reflects the view by many in the LGBT community that Nadeau would be a strong advocate for LGBT equality on the Council and that LGBT voters are now focusing on a wide range of non-LGBT issues on which to base their vote. They argue that just like all other Ward 1 residents, LGBT residents are also troubled over Graham’s alleged ethics breach.

Nadeau disputes arguments by Graham supporters that Graham’s motive in intervening in the Metro contract matter was to push for the best possible deal for his Ward 1 constituents, which boosted his reputation as a fighter for the interests of his ward.

Some Graham supporters have said Nadeau would be far weaker than Graham on constituent services issues because, unlike Graham, she wouldn’t be as aggressive and unafraid to step on toes to get things done as Graham is. Nadeau bristled over that claim in an interview with the Blade earlier this month.

“I will tell you, I will throw elbows,” she said. “I will fight. I will be tough. But I will never cross the lines that he has crossed,” she said. “And I will never – you will never, ever read about me for ethical lapses, quote unquote, which, by the way, are politician-speak for corruption.”

Graham’s supporters say the ethics matter, in which no law was violated, is being used by Graham’s critics to unfairly put him in the same category as three former Council members – Kwame Brown (D-At-Large) and Harry Thomas (D-Ward 5), who were forced to resign after facing criminal prosecution on corruption related charges, and Michael Brown (I-At-Large), who was prosecuted on bribery charges after losing his re-election bid in 2012.

“This is the only plank in my opponent’s platform,” Graham said in an interview with the Blade. “She is unable to point to anything that is significant that she’s accomplished in the ward. And so this is what I expect her to take advantage of.”

Graham also challenged Nadeau’s stated record of accomplishments for Ward 1 residents as an ANC commissioner.

“She has been an ANC member, but I went over my email during her time of service and it’s just email after email after email from her,” he said. “Council member, will you help me with this? Council member, will you set up this meeting? Council member, will you intervene on this matter?”

According to Graham, Nadeau benefitted personally from his constituent service work when she sought his help in obtaining a city subsidy under the D.C. Home Purchase Assistance Program, known as HPAP, to assist in her purchase of a condo. Graham said she encountered a bureaucratic “roadblock” that his office helped her resolve.

“I was happy to do it because I always respond that way to everybody who contacts me,” Graham said. “But she’s never acknowledged all the help she got from me as an ANC commissioner, which was very substantial and frequent.”

Nadeau fired back when asked to respond to Graham’s comments.

“It’s the job of a Council member to respond to constituent service requests and to work with ANCs to resolve issues in the community, and I’ve never suggested that Jim hasn’t done that,” she said.

“But we deserve to have a Council member who can deliver constituent services while also behaving ethically in office,” she added. “Jim has demonstrated his inability to behave ethically and his corrupt behavior led his colleagues to reprimand him and strip him of a leadership role that is important to our community.”

She was referring to a decision by Council Chair Phil Mendelson to remove from the portfolio of the committee that Graham chairs jurisdiction over of the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) at the time Graham was reprimanded. Nadeau said losing direct jurisdiction over ABRA reduced Graham’s ability to have a say over issues involving liquor licenses, which directly impacts Ward 1.

Graham has said he has continued to play a key role in ABRA matters as an individual Council member with years of experience working on liquor-related issues.

Prominent LGBT advocates have lined up behind both Graham and Nadeau, and without polling data measuring the gay vote it’s impossible to predict which of the two will capture a majority of that vote or whether the LGBT vote will split evenly between them.

Veteran lesbian activist and Ward 1 resident Barbara Helmick, who supports Nadeau, and gay businessman and Latino community advocate Jay Haddock, who is backing Graham, appear to represent the view of many in the opposing camps within the LGBT community over the Graham-Nadeau race.

Helmick is among those who believe Nadeau’s overall qualifications and strong commitment to LGBT equality outweighs the loss of an openly gay Council member if she wins her race for the Ward 1 Council seat.

“Brianne will bring a fresh new energy that the Council desparately needs,” she said in a statement to the Blade.

She notes that when Graham successfully challenged 16-year Council veteran Frank Smith in 1998 he argued that 16 years was a long time to serve and that it would benefit the ward to have a new face on the Council.

“I thought Jim was right then and now that Jim has served 16 years, I think it is apt today,” Helmick said. “Sometimes after so long, some politicians become more of the system than of themselves.”

Haddock, a native of Puerto Rico who serves as president of Capital Hotels and Suites, said he witnessed first-hand Graham’s dedication and effectiveness in the fight against AIDS during Graham’s tenure as head of Whitman-Walker Clinic. At the time, Haddock, among other things, served as chair of the city’s Latino Commission under then Mayor Anthony Williams.

“The Jim Graham I know would run to people’s side to do a will because they were dying,” he said. “The Jim Graham I know has really been on the first line of defense for minority communities.”

Graham was especially helpful to Latino community projects during his tenure on the Council, Haddock said, including with La Clinica del Pueblo, a health clinic that treats many LGBT clients.

“If some people don’t feel he should be around any longer in his ward, that’s entirely up to them,” said Haddock. “But I completely feel that he is very effective, very dependable and a good friend to the minority communities of Washington, D.C. And it’s very important to have that representation on the Council.”

18
Mar
2014

Mark Herring to challenge Virginia same-sex marriage ban

Mark Herring, gay news, Washington Blade

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring (Photo courtesy of Herring for Attorney General)

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring on Thursday will announce he will not defend the state’s same-sex marriage ban.

The Washington Post reported Herring will announce the state constitutional amendment that prohibits gay nuptials is unconstitutional. The newspaper also cited an official who said Herring will join a federal lawsuit challenging the ban that two same-sex couples from Norfolk and Richmond — Timothy Bostic and Tony London and Carol Schall and Mary Townley — filed last year.

Herring discussed his decision during an interview with NPR News.

“There have been times in some key landmark cases where Virginia was on the wrong side; was on the wrong side of history and on the wrong side of the law,” Herring told Steve Inskeep of “Morning Edition.” “And as attorney general I’m going to make sure that the person presenting the state’s legal position on behalf of the people of Virginia are on the right side of history and the right side of the law.”

State Del. Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax County) welcomed Herring’s announcement.

“Elections have consequences and the U.S. Supreme Court’s Windsor decision makes clear that we must give full faith and credit to non-Virginia gay marriages,” the Fairfax County Democrat told the Washington Blade after the Post published its story. “Attorney General Herring is simply enforcing the law of the land as reflected [and] interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court six months ago.”

Equality Virginia Executive Director James Parrish described Herring’s decision as “truly commendable.”

“This is a new day for loving gay and lesbian couples who want to marry the person they love in the state they call home,” Parrish told the Blade. “Thanks to Mark Herring, today we are one step closer to equality and fairness for LGBT Virginians.”

The expected announcement comes less than two weeks after Herring took office alongside Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Lieutenant Gov. Ralph Northam.

Former Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who ran against McAuliffe, vehemently opposed marriage rights for same-sex couples in the commonwealth. The former GOP gubernatorial candidate wrote in a non-binding opinion to state Del. Bob Marshall (R-Prince William County) one day before leaving office that a governor may not require any state government agency to allow gays and lesbians to receive “joint marital status” for state income tax returns.

Herring in 2006 voted against marriage rights for same-sex couples while in the state Senate. Virginia voters the same year approved a state constitutional amendment banning gay nuptials by a 57-43 percent margin.

State Del. Mark Cole (R-Fredericksburg), chair of the Virginia House of Delegates Privileges and Elections Committee, earlier this month announced it will not consider any proposed resolutions that sought to repeal the marriage amendment during the 2014 legislative session.

The House Civil Law Subcommittee on Monday narrowly struck down Surovell’s bill that would have repealed the commonwealth’s statutory same-sex marriage ban.

State Del. Rob Krupicka (D-Alexandria) earlier this month introduced a proposed resolution that sought to amend the state constitution to allow same-sex marriage in Virginia. The Alexandria Democrat’s proposal would have also allowed the commonwealth to recognize gay nuptials legally performed in neighboring D.C. and Maryland and other jurisdictions.

Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in Norfolk is scheduled to hold a hearing in the Bostic case on Jan. 30. The American Civil Liberties Union, Lambda Legal and the ACLU of Virginia in August filed a class action federal lawsuit on behalf of two lesbian couples who are seeking marriage rights in the state.

The Blade will provide further updates as they become available.

23
Jan
2014