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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.

22
Jan
2014

B’More Queer Fest presents Del Shores

Del Shores, Sordid Lives, gay news, Washington Blade

Del Shores will be in Baltimore next month. (Photo courtesy Shores)

The third event of B’More QFest will be a Del Shores double bill on April 6 that is called a Southern Tragic Double Bill: Del Shores’ “Sordid Lives” and “Southern Baptist Sissies”.

Guests will have the opportunity to meet Del Shores, writer/director of “Sordid Lives” and Emerson Collins, the producer/star of “Southern Baptist Sissies” and Bravo’s “The People’s Couch.” There will be a church potluck style meet and greet for $50.

If you come as your favorite “Sordid Lives” character you can win prizes like all access passes, tickets to other events and festival films. If you are just interested in the films the price is $15.

The event takes place between 2-8 p.m. at Chase Brexton Health Services, 1111 North Charles St. For tickets, visit bmorequeer.org.

19
Mar
2014

Delman Coates: We’re running ‘on making a difference’

Delman Coates, Maryland, gay news, Washington Blade

Rev. Delman Coates (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

CLINTON, Md. — Hundreds of people had already taken their seats inside the sprawling Mt. Ennon Baptist Church in Prince George’s County on May 28 for a concert to celebrate Rev. Delman Coates’ 10th anniversary as the congregation’s senior pastor as he began to make his way toward the sanctuary.

A church employee nervously tried to shield Coates from any surprises that might have been planned for him as he greeted some of his congregants. Staff and volunteers cheerfully spoke with him before he returned to his office to talk about his decision to become state Del. Heather Mizeur (D-Montgomery County)’s running mate in her gubernatorial campaign.

“I’ve been fully content with my work as a clergy leader in this community, across the state and around the country,” Coates told the Washington Blade. “It’s not something that I imagined and so I was really honored when Heather approached me about partnering with her.”

Coates spoke with the Blade 27 days before Mizeur faces Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and Attorney General Doug Gansler in the Democratic gubernatorial primary.

He repeatedly stressed to the Blade that he and Mizeur had already worked together on a number of issues before she first approached him last summer to become her running mate. These include reducing foreclosure rates in Prince George’s County that remain the highest in the state and opposing the expansion of gaming in the state.

Coates — whose church has 8,000 members — in 2012 testified in support of a same-sex marriage bill that Gov. Martin O’Malley ultimately signed. The Prince George’s County pastor later played a prominent role in the campaign supporting the law ahead of a referendum on it.

Rev. Delman Coates, Rev. Al Sharpton, clergy united for marriage equality

Rev. Delman Coates (center) joined Rev. Al Sharpton and other black clergy at a D.C. press conference in 2012 held to highlight their support of Maryland’s same-sex marriage law. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

“I led on marriage equality as a Prince Georgian, as a black Baptist pastor in Prince George’s County when it wasn’t popular in some quarters,” said Coates. “I led on the issue at a time when others did not.”

Equality Maryland late last year endorsed Brown’s gubernatorial campaign in an apparent snub of Mizeur.

Coates told the Blade he was “not able to comment” on the role Brown played in the campaign to secure marriage rights for same-sex couples in the state. The Prince George’s County pastor did say that many of his colleagues told him he had “committed professional suicide” when he testified in support of the gay nuptials bill.

Coates said more than 1,000 people joined his church in 2012.

“It’s convenient after the fact to say I supported an issue,” he said. “We were clear leaders — visible, vocal and unapologetic leaders on the question of marriage and I continue to be nationally.”

Wife, children ‘fully invested’ in campaign

Coates told the Blade that he spoke with his pastor, Rev. Cynthia L. Hale of the Ray of Hope Christian Church in suburban Atlanta, and former New York Congressman Floyd Flake, whose Jamaica, N.Y., church has 23,000 members, before he agreed to become Mizeur’s running mate. He said he and his wife of 18 years, Yolanda, also spoke with Flake and his wife about balancing his responsibilities to his church with the demands of a statewide political campaign.

Coates said his four children who range in age from 4 to 11 are “really excited” about the campaign.

“They’re really excited about what’s happening,” he said. “They’ve been fully invested; my wife as well.”

Mizeur and Coates have championed a number of progressive issues during the campaign.

The Montgomery County Democrat last November announced she supports the legalization of marijuana as a way to fund early childhood education in Maryland. The ticket also backs raising the state’s minimum wage to $16.70 an hour by 2022 and reinstating the so-called “millionaire’s tax” that Mizeur argues will allow for an income tax cut for middle class Marylanders.

She is also the first gubernatorial candidate in 20 years to accept public campaign funds.

“We need elected officials who are going to be accountable to the voters,” Coates told the Blade. “This issue of accountability is really why I felt it was important to join Heather.”

Mizeur would also become the country’s first openly gay governor if voters in November elect her to succeed O’Malley who is term-limited.

“We’re not running on making history,” said Coates. “We’re running on making a difference for the state of Maryland, but the idea of a black Baptist minister partnering politically with an openly gay member of the state legislature is a compelling national narrative. It dispels the myth that is often told about the relationship between blacks and gays that really fuels this presupposition that African Americans, African-American people of faith are opposed to LGBT equality.”

Coates: I believe in separation of church and state

Mizeur and Coates have received high marks during recent debates, but they continue to face questions about their viability as a ticket with recent polls showing they trail Brown and Gansler going into the June 24 primary.

Their first television ad debuted on Tuesday — and they hope to court the significant amount of undecided voters that remain during the campaign’s final weeks.

“Whenever we have the opportunity to be heard, they’re supporting our message, our vision for the state of Maryland,” Coates told the Blade.

Coates has also faced questions from some progressives and even other people of faith about whether a pastor should run for statewide office.

Democrats and LGBT rights advocates repeatedly criticized E.W. Jackson, a minister who unsuccessfully sought to become Virginia’s next lieutenant governor in 2013, over anti-gay statements he made that include comparing gay men to pedophiles and describing them as “very sick people.” Jackson also reportedly said during a speech at a Shenandoah County church last September that he disagreed with Pope Francis’ suggestion the Roman Catholic Church has grown “obsessed” with same-sex marriage, abortion and contraception.

“I’m a progressive,” Coates told the Blade. “I really believe in the separation of church and state.”

Coates noted he recently met with one of the men who filed a lawsuit against the Carroll County Board of Commissioners last year over its decision to open each of their meetings with a prayer.

“I affirmed his effort there,” he said. “I’m a progressive Christian. I believe that what makes America so great is that people have freedom of and from religion. And it’s a value that I affirm.”

Mizeur on Tuesday described Coates as “one of the great civil rights leaders of our state” during a telephone interview.

“He is a social justice advocate that has the courage of his convictions to stand up on a range of progressive priorities for helping Maryland live up to her full potential,” she said. “He’s just the total package that I was looking for to be the perfect teammate for me in this journey.”

Mizeur also responded to questions about whether a pastor such as Coates should run for statewide office.

“What he does on Sundays is one job and what he will do all the other days of the week is another job,” she told the Blade.

Heather Mizeur, Deborah Mizeur, Delman Coates, gay news, Washington Blade

Maryland gubernatorial candidate Heather Mizeur last November named Delman Coates (on right) as her running mate during a campaign rally in Silver Spring. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

04
Jun
2014

Gay activist Robert Coggin dies at 62

Robert Coggin, gay news, obituary, Washington Blade

Robertg Coggin (Submitted obituary photo)

Robert Mitchell Coggin, a longtime D.C.-area resident who played a key role in helping to pass a gay rights law in Montgomery County, Md., in 1984, died Jan. 19 from complications associated with Myotonic Muscular Dystrophy. He was 62.

His friends Tanner Wray and Karl Debus-Lopez said Coggin became active in gay rights activities in 1972 when he co-founded the first gay student group, the Gay Student Union, at the University of Virginia at Charlottesville, where he received a bachelor’s degree in 1976.

Wray and Debus-Lopez said Coggin became the founder of the Suburban Maryland Lesbian and Gay Alliance in Montgomery County in 1982 after becoming a resident of the county.

“He was a leader in the fight to have Montgomery County, Md., pass a non-discrimination law that includes gays and lesbians in 1984,” the two said. “Over the years, Robert continued to be active with numerous gay and lesbian rights groups in their efforts to move forward on civil rights legislation.”

Coggin, who lived in Silver Spring, Md., was born in Danville, Va. He worked for many years for the National Institutes of Health in Maryland as an administrative assistant, Wray and Debus-Lopez said.

“During his time at NIH, Robert received many awards for his outstanding performance,” the two said. “Despite the fact that he had a chronic and degenerative illness, Robert’s outlook on life was always positive,” they said. “He enjoyed movies, theater, dinners out with friends, and he was a pioneering crusader in the fight for gay rights in the mid-Atlantic region.”

Through his estate, Coggin made arrangements to establish a scholarship fund for LGBT students at the University of Virginia, according to Wray and Debus-Lopez.

He is predeceased by his parents, Belva Mitchell Coggin and Henry Ernest Coggin, and a brother, William Henry Coggin. He is survived by numerous cousins and friends, including Debus-Lopez and Wray and his former partner Don Crisostomo.

A memorial service is being planned for the near future. Donations can be made to the University of Virginia Fund of Charlottesville, Va., under the name Robert Coggin, and to the Muscular Dystrophy Association of Tucson, Ariz.

29
Jan
2014

Lawsuit by Gallaudet diversity official dismissed

Angela McCaskill, Wyndal Gordon, Maryland marriage petition, same sex marriage, gay marriage, Gallaudet University, Washington Blade, gay news

Angela McCaskill was suspended after she signed a petition to place Maryland’s same-sex marriage law on the ballot in a voter referendum. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

A federal judge has dismissed a discrimination and defamation lawsuit filed by Gallaudet University’s former chief diversity officer against the university and two out lesbian faculty members who were accused of damaging her reputation by implying she held anti-gay views.

The lawsuit stemmed from an October 2012 decision by the university’s president to suspend Angela McCaskill from her job as Associate Provost of Diversity and Inclusion after news surfaced that she signed a petition to place Maryland’s same-sex marriage law on the ballot in a voter referendum.

McCaskill, a Maryland resident, stated at the time that she signed the petition when it was being circulated at her church. She said her intention was to allow Maryland voters to decide on the gay marriage question and that she had taken no public position on the issue.

Some of the university’s gay students expressed concern that McCaskill’s decision to sign the petition was contrary to her role as chief diversity officer, which they said called for her to be sensitive to students and faculty who supported marriage equality.

The lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, accused Gallaudet faculty members Martina “MJ” Bienvenu and her partner Kendra Smith of pressuring Gallaudet President T. Alan Hurwitz into violating the D.C. Human Rights Act by illegally suspending McCaskill.

The lawsuit called the suspension a form of retaliation against McCaskill for her decision to exercise her constitutional right to sign a petition on a pending civic matter.

In a 24-page opinion handed down on April 14, U.S. District Court Judge James E. Boasberg approved a motion by Gallaudet’s attorneys calling for the dismissal of the case on grounds that McCaskill “has not sufficiently pled facts to support any of her claims” of retaliation or discrimination.

Among other things, McCaskill’s attorney, J. Wyndal Gordon, argued that the university’s decision to suspend McCaskill for signing the petition violated a provision of the D.C. Human Rights Act that bans discrimination based on “political affiliation.”

But Boasberg noted that the Human Rights Act defines “political affiliation” as belonging to or endorsing a political party. He said that provision of the act clearly didn’t apply to the university’s action toward McCaskill.

The judge similarly ruled that the university’s decision to suspend McCaskill because it believed her decision to sign a petition placing the gay marriage law before voters, where it could have been overturned, did not violate the Human Rights Act’s ban on discrimination based on her religion, race, or marital status as she claimed in the lawsuit.

McCaskill stated in her lawsuit that lesbian faculty member Bienvenu confronted her at a meeting and criticized her for signing an “anti-gay” petition.

McCaskill “attempted to shoehorn a First Amendment argument into her complaint against Gallaudet by dressing it up as an employment discrimination allegation,” Boasberg said in his decision.

“While a citizen has an unfettered right to petition her government, such a constitutional claim aimed at Gallaudet cannot succeed here, as the university and its employees are private parties not subject to the First Amendment’s strictures,” he said.

Boasberg’s ruling dismissing the lawsuit came several months after Gordon, McCaskill’s attorney, dismissed Bienvenu and Smith from the lawsuit while raising the possibility of filing a separate lawsuit against them in D.C. Superior Court.

Gordon couldn’t immediately be reached to determine whether he and McCaskill plan to file a separate lawsuit against Bienvenu and Smith. Justin M. Flint, the attorney representing Bienvenu and Smith, didn’t immediately return a call from the Blade seeking comment.

23
Apr
2014

Brown remains frontrunner as Marylanders head to polls

Heather Mizeur, Maryland, Anthony Brown, Doug Gansler, gay news, Washington Blade

Lieutenant Gov. Anthony Brown remains the clear frontrunner in the Maryland gubernatorial race going into Tuesday’s primary. (Photo courtesy of the Washington Post)

Maryland voters on Tuesday will go to the polls in their state’s primary election.

Lieutenant Gov. Anthony Brown, who remains the frontrunner in the race to succeed Gov. Martin O’Malley, will face off against Attorney General Doug Gansler and lesbian state Del. Heather Mizeur (D-Montgomery County) in the Democratic gubernatorial primary.

Larry Hogan, who was a member of former Gov. Bob Ehrlich’s administration, will face Harford County Executive David Craig in the Republican gubernatorial primary. The two men will also square off against state Del. Ron George (R-Anne Arundel County) and former congressional candidate Charles Lollar.

State Sen. Brian Frosh (D-Montgomery County) will face state Dels. Jon Cardin (D-Baltimore County) and Aisha Braveboy (D-Prince George’s County) in the Democratic primary for attorney general. The winner will face Towson lawyer Jeffrey Pritzker in the general election.

State Sen. Rich Madaleno (D-Montgomery County), who’s gay, will face Gender Rights Maryland Executive Director Dana Beyer, a longtime trans activist, in the 18th Senate District that includes Chevy Chase, Wheaton, Kensington and portions of Silver Spring and Bethesda. George Zokle is running to represent House District 20 that includes Takoma Park and Silver Spring.

Spencer Dove seeks to represent House District 32 that includes portions of Anne Arundel County.

Equality Maryland, the state’s largest LGBT advocacy group, late last year backed Brown with an endorsement that was an apparent snub of Mizeur who could be the country’s first openly LGBT governor if she succeeds O’Malley in November. The organization has also endorsed Frosh, Madaleno and Dove in their respective races.

The Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund also endorsed Madaleno, along with Zokle and Dove.

The group did not back Mizeur.

Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

24
Jun
2014

Mizeur not included in Victory Fund’s initial 2014 endorsements

Heather Mizeur, Delman Coates, Montgomery County, Silver Spring, Maryland, Maryland House of Delegates, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade

Del. Heather Mizeur is seeking to succeed Gov. Martin O’Malley. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Maryland gubernatorial candidate Heather Mizeur is not among those whom the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund backed in the first round of 2014 endorsements it announced on Monday.

The group endorsed gay Maine Congressman Mike Michaud in the race to succeed Republican Gov. Paul LePage. The Victory Fund also backed Massachusetts lieutenant gubernatorial candidate Steve Kerrigan and Maura Healey in her bid to succeed Attorney General Martha Coakley who announced her campaign to succeed outgoing Gov. Deval Patrick last fall.

Victory Fund CEO Chuck Wolfe described Michaud in a statement as the “nation’s first openly gay candidate to win a gubernatorial election,” although it will not take place until November. Michaud, who has represented Maine’s 2nd Congressional District since 2003, last November came out in an op-ed he submitted to the Associated Press, the Bangor Daily News and the Portland Press Herald.

“He’ll also be a strong voice for fairness, freedom and equality for all Americans coast-to-coast,” said Wolfe.

Mizeur could also become the country’s first elected openly LGBT governor if Maryland voters elect her to succeed Gov. Martin O’Malley in November.

“We will absolutely welcome their support,” Mizeur campaign manager Joanna Belanger told the Washington Blade.

Denis Dison, senior vice president of programs for the Victory Fund, said his organization generally does not comment on potential endorsements until one is made.

The Victory Fund endorsed the Montgomery County Democrat for the Maryland House of Delegates in 2006 and 2010. Steve Elmendorf, chair of the Victory Fund board of directors, last January hosted a fundraiser for Mizeur’s gubernatorial campaign at his D.C. home.

The Victory Fund’s announcement comes two weeks after Equality Maryland, the state’s largest LGBT advocacy organization, endorsed Lieutenant Gov. Anthony Brown for governor. Mizeur described the apparent snub to the Blade and other media outlets as a “puzzling choice.”

EMILY’s List last month announced it would encourage its members to contribute to Mizeur’s campaign.

“Heather Mizeur is a progressive powerhouse who will fight for the rights of Maryland’s women and working families from day one,” said EMILY’s List President Stephanie Schriock.

The Victory Fund on Monday also announced it has endorsed incumbent U.S. Reps. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Mark Takano (D-Calif.) for re-election. The group additionally backed North Carolina congressional candidate Marcus Brandon, former Freedom to Marry staffer Sean Eldridge who hopes to unseat incumbent Republican New York Rep. Chris Gibson, Florida state Rep. David Richardson and Pennsylvania state Rep. Brian Sims.

Maryland state Dels. Bonnie Cullison (D-Montgomery County) and Mary Washington (D-Baltimore City) and Howard County Register of Wills Byron Macfarlane are also among those whom the Victory Fund endorsed. Former Equality Maryland staffer Kevin Walling, who announced his candidacy to represent portions of Montgomery County in the House of Delegates last summer, also received the group’s backing.

06
Jan
2014

Maryland Senate committee approves transgender rights bill

Heather Mizeur, Maryland, House of Delegates, Annapolis, SB 212, transgender, gay news, Washington Blade

State Del. Heather Mizeur (D-Montgomery County) on Feb. 4 testified in support of a transgender rights bill.(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Maryland Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee on Thursday approved a bill that would ban anti-transgender discrimination in the state.

The 8-3 vote took place slightly more than two weeks after lawmakers held a hearing on Senate Bill 212 that state Sen. Rich Madaleno (D-Montgomery County) introduced last month. The measure would ban discrimination based on gender identity and expression in employment, housing, public accommodation and credit.

State Sens. Brian Frosh (D-Montgomery County), Lisa Gladden (D-Baltimore City), Jennie Forehand (D-Montgomery County), Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery County), Robert Zirkin (D-Baltimore County), Norman Stone (D-Baltimore County), C. Anthony Muse (D-Prince George’s County) and James Brochin (D-Baltimore County) voted for Senate Bill 212. State Sens. Nancy Jacobs (R-Cecil and Harford Counties), Christopher Shank (R-Washington County) and Joseph Getty (R-Baltimore and Carroll Counties) opposed it.

The committee by a 7-4 vote margin also approved Raskin’s proposed amendment to SB 212 that would allow for “private and functionally equivalent” spaces, such as locker rooms, for people of different gender identities.

“It’s our strongest vote ever out of that committee,” Madaleno told the Washington Blade as he applauded Equality Maryland, the Human Rights Campaign and the Maryland Coalition for Transgender Equality who lobbied lawmakers to support SB 212. “It reflects on the incredible hard work that people have done to educate members of that committee about the need for this bill.”

Gender Rights Maryland Executive Director Dana Beyer, who announced late last month she will challenge Madaleno in the June Democratic primary, specifically applauded Stone, Muse and Brochin who voted against a similar measure last year. She also thanked Raskin and attorney Jonathan Shurberg for securing the necessary votes on the committee to ensure SB 212′s passage.

“I thank Senators Brochin, Muse and Stone for joining their fellow democrats and taking a stand for fairness and decency today,” Beyer told the Washington Blade. “It is much appreciated.”

Equality Maryland Executive Director Carrie Evans and other LGBT rights advocates also applauded the vote.

“It is such a relief to finally have this bill come out of the Senate committee,” said Matt Thorn, executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Baltimore and Central Maryland. “I am looking forward to the Senate passing the bill next week.”

Gubernatorial candidate Heather Mizeur is among those who also testified for the measure. Her Democratic challengers – Lieutenant Gov. Anthony Brown and Attorney General Doug Gansler – submitted written testimony in support of SB 212.

“I am extremely pleased that the Maryland Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee has voted to send the Fairness for All Marylanders Act to the full Senate, and one major step closer to full equality for all Marylanders,” Gansler told the Blade in a statement. “I have been a supporter of this bill, and led the fight for marriage equality in our state. I congratulate Sen. Madaleno and Sen. Raskin for all their hard work and effort in helping tear down another wall of discrimination.”

Elaine McDermott of Maryland Citizens for a Responsible Government and Peter Sprigg of the Family Research Council are among those who spoke against the measure. The Maryland Catholic Conference and other organizations submitted testimony in opposition to SB 212.

Baltimore City and Baltimore, Montgomery and Howard Counties currently include gender identity and expression to their non-discrimination laws. Hyattsville in December became the first jurisdiction in Prince George’s County to pass a trans-inclusive anti-discrimination ordinance.

“This is a protection we want to make sure gets extended statewide,” said Mizeur as she testified in support of SB 212 on Feb. 4. “Protection against discrimination shouldn’t depend on your zip code.”

Madaleno told the Blade he feels the three major Democratic gubernatorial candidates who all supported the measure helped secure its passage in the committee. He added the fact that neighboring Delaware last year added gender identity and expression to its anti-discrimination law was another factor.

“It’s a number of things where we just had the momentum,” said Madaleno.

Delaware is among the 17 states along with D.C. and Puerto Rico that ban discrimination based on gender identity and expression. Lawmakers in Pennsylvania, New York and other states have introduced similar measures.

The Maryland House of Delegates in 2011 approved a trans rights bill. The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee last March narrowly killed an identical measure that Madaleno introduced.

SB 212 will now go before the full Senate where observers say it has enough votes to pass.

The Maryland House of Delegates in 2011 approved a similar bill that did not include public accommodations.

21
Feb
2014

Md. Democratic gubernatorial candidates hold first televised debate

Heather Mizeur, Maryland, Anthony Brown, Doug Gansler, gay news, Washington Blade

The three leading Maryland Democratic gubernatorial candidates held their first televised debate on Wednesday at the University of Maryland. (Photo courtesy of the Washington Post)

COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Maryland’s three leading Democratic gubernatorial candidates on Wednesday briefly touched upon marriage rights for same-sex couples during their first televised debate that took place at the University of Maryland.

Attorney General Doug Gansler noted in 2008 he became the first statewide official to back gay nuptials when he testified before a Maryland Senate committee — embattled state Del. Don Dwyer (R-Anne Arundel County) later tried to impeach him. Gansler in 2010 wrote an opinion that said Maryland would recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in other jurisdictions.

“I was five years ahead of most people on the issue of marriage equality,” he said.

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown said he and incumbent Gov. Martin O’Malley secured passage of laws extending marriage rights to same-sex couples and in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants that voters approved in 2012. The lieutenant governor further noted O’Malley signed a gun control bill into law less than six months after Adam Lanza killed 26 students and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

Maryland last May also repealed the death penalty.

“We live in a much more just society today than we did eight years ago,” said Brown.

“Meet the Press” moderator David Gregory moderated the hour-long debate that NBC4, the University of Maryland and Bowie State University sponsored. The candidates answered questions from NBC4 reporters Chris Gordon and Chris Lawrence and Jenna Johnson of the Washington Post.

State Del. Heather Mizeur (D-Montgomery County) did not discuss marriage rights for same-sex couples. She did reiterate her plan to legalize marijuana in order to fund universal preschool in the state.

“Our marijuana prohibition laws have been a failure; they have been enforced with racial bias,” said Mizeur.

Brown said he supports a bill that O’Malley signed last month that decriminalizes the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Both the lieutenant governor and Gansler said they do not currently support the drug’s legalization.

“There’s no rush,” said Gansler.

Neither candidate discussed a transgender rights bill that received final approval in the Maryland House of Delegates in March, even though they all support it. Brown and Mizeur earlier this year testified for the measure before various legislative committees.

Mizeur’s running mate, Rev. Delman Coates, told the Washington Blade after the debate that it was “surprising” the trans rights bill was not discussed.

“We were prepared for this issue to be addressed,” he said. “We’re delighted that Heather was able to work in Annapolis in this legislative session to pass this legislation.”

State Del. Maggie McIntosh (D-Baltimore City) also noted the lack of discussion on the trans rights measure during the debate. She told the Blade afterwards that marriage rights for same-sex couples “should have been mentioned.”

“It was an important initiative of the last administration,” said McIntosh. “I’m pleased to say that everyone whose running for governor had a role in that.”

She credited Brown with helping build support for the same-sex marriage law among black Marylanders. McIntosh also dismissed Gansler’s suggestion earlier this year that Equality Maryland “traded” its endorsement of the lieutenant governor for his support of the trans rights bill.

“They realize the important role that Anthony Brown played in the passage of both bills — same-sex marriage and transgender,” she told the Blade. “And they also know his overall record on equality and civil rights. There is no question Equality Maryland made the right choice.”

A St. Mary’s College poll conducted between April 10-13 found Brown ahead of Gansler by a 27-11 percent margin. Slightly less than 8 percent of respondents backed Mizeur, while 54 percent of them said they remain undecided.

The three candidates are scheduled to debate each other two more times before the June 24 primary. Bruce DePuyt of News Channel 8 is scheduled to moderate a debate between Brown and Gansler’s running mates — Howard County Executive Ken Ulman and state Del. Jolene Ivey (D-Prince George’s County) — and Coates in the coming weeks.

Mizeur could potentially become the country’s first openly LGBT governor if Maryland voters elect her to succeed O’Malley in November. Brown would become the state’s first African American governor if he wins the general election.

08
May
2014

Bold brews

Denizens Brewing, gay news, Washington Blade

Jeff Ramirez, Emily Bruno and Julie Verratti (Photo courtesy of Denizens)

Julie Verratti and Emily Bruno are not professional commercial beer brewers. But for the lesbian couple, opening Denizens Brewing Co., geared toward a younger, diverse generation of craft beer aficionados, is just the latest endeavor in a string of adventures.

Denizens, a term meaning a local or regular customer, is a fitting term for the new brewery, nestled among new high-rise apartment buildings on East-West Highway, a 10-minute walk from the Silver Spring Metro stop, which former same-sex marriage activists Verratti and Bruno opened this month with Jeff Ramirez, whose sister is married to Emily’s brother giving the operation a family feel. Ramirez, who’s been developing and fine-tuning beer recipes for his entire career, came up with the flavors.

The owners of the 200-seat brewery and beer garden, about 3,000 square feet, plan to brew five core styles and five seasonal styles out of its basement. A popular gay-owned food truck, BBQ Bus, will open a brick-and-mortar location inside the brewery this summer.

“Have I ever done something this big? No,” says Verratti, who’s had a series of careers in everything from political activism to personal training. “It’s the first time — the first time for all of us.”

Che and Tadd Ruddell-Tabisola, who own BBQ Bus, knew the Denizens owners from their time as LGBT activists. Going into business together seemed like the perfect next step, building upon an old friendship.

“It was a match made in heaven,” Che says. “I think Julie and Emily are great. Their concept and their approach is really thoughtful. There’s a lot of quality behind what they’re doing.”

Ruddell-Tabisola, BBQ Bus, Denizens, food truck, gay news, Washington Blade

BBQ Bus (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Che and his husband always wanted to open a physical location ever since their first day on the road in April 2011. But the opportunity didn’t immediately present itself.

“We got turned down for two loans and a few credit cards when we were trying to get this business going,” he says. “Nobody was lending money to a startup [during the recession], let alone a restaurant. The food truck really was a way to get into this business.”

Today, the food truck is well known across the D.C. area, an asset upon which Denizens, located at 1115 East-West Highway in Silver Spring (denizensbrewingco.com), hopes to capitalize.

“Everyone wants to eat when they’re drinking beer,” says Taylor Barnes, the brewery’s director of marketing and events. “Che and Tadd loved the pairing of beer and barbecue, and so did we. It’s a new model — two businesses coexisting in the same space. So it was really important for us that we just got along as people first, and second as business partners.”

“They’re fun, they’re super welcoming, and they love diversity just as much as we do,” Verratti says. “I love the fact that if you combine the ownership structure between the brewery and BBQ Bus, four out of the five owners are gay and gay married.”

 

A long journey

Denizens, gay news, Washington Blade

Denizens (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

 

Craft beer fans tend to be well educated, city-dwelling political progressives in their 20s and 30s, making the District and the surrounding metropolitan area an optimal place to open a brewery. But as the East Coast craft beer scene continues to boom, Barnes says craft beer is often marketed toward a “narrow slice of America.”

“One of the reasons we wanted to start Denizens Brewing Co. is that craft beer is for everyone,” she says.  

But plans to open the business were stalled in part because of the restrictive Defense of Marriage Act, leading Verratti and Bruno to draw upon their roots as activists.

“Emily and I met and started dating as political organizers,” Verratti says, referring to their time in Boston working on the 2004 presidential campaign and later, on the canvass program at MassEquality, an organization that helped secure and defend same-sex marriage in Massachusetts, the first state where it became legal.

“It was a pretty unbelievable time period,” she says, reminiscing on what she jokingly calls her “past life as a professional gay.” 

“Every day, you could feel the weight of the country on you. We were being attacked constantly from the right, and we did a full-scale ground war. We knocked on hundreds of thousands of doors. We created the model for how to win these types of battles across the country.”

Veratti, born and raised in Silver Spring, married Bruno in California during the short window before Proposition 8 was temporarily struck down, and moved back home with her wife to earn a degree from George Washington University Law School. Both women had toyed with the idea of opening a business, but it was their penchant for political activism and Verratti’s fluency in legal jargon that paved the way for the opening of Denizens.

The couple encountered their fair share of roadblocks along the way, starting with the Defense of Marriage Act, which, until it was struck down last June, prohibited the couple from enjoying mutual financial benefits even though they’ve been legally married since 2008.

“We had been making steady progress on our plans to open the brewery, but the striking down of DOMA enabled us to move forward more quickly because I knew I would have full access to Julie’s benefits as a federal employee during the unstable transition to becoming an entrepreneur,” Bruno says.

Opening a business together, Bruno says, wouldn’t have been possible if the law was still on the books.

 

Changing the law

 

The fall of DOMA allowed Bruno to quit her job and devote full attention to opening the brewery. But that wasn’t the last hurdle to overcome. Restrictive laws in Silver Spring made opening a brewery nearly impossible, gay or straight.

“One of the reasons why there hadn’t been more breweries opening up, specifically in Montgomery County, is that the laws had been archaic,” Verratti says, pointing to laws prohibiting breweries from offering take-out service and forcing them to sell pints to the county as a middleman instead of directly to bars and customers.

“We looked at that and thought, ‘Why don’t we just change the laws?’ I honestly think because of our political organizing background, it gave us the savvy to figure out how to do that.”

After testifying before the Montgomery County delegation, the couple was successful in making the county’s laws more business friendly. Denizens bills itself as a “craft brewery serving European-style lagers, American-style ales, Belgian-inspired beers, sour beers and barrel-aged beers to both the craft beer aficionado and those new to high-quality brews.”

For the first round of brewing, they contracted with Beltway Brewing Company but by September plan to brew everything in house with their own 15-barrel system. They decline to say how much they invested in the business but say they’ve been planning and developing since December 2012. Both Verratti and Bruno love beer and while Verratti has done some home brewing, they say Ramirez is the expert.

Brett Robison, the bar manager at Republic, a local bar that buys beer from Denizens, predicts the change will improve conditions for Denizens and future breweries.

“What’s going to happen because of this law change is overnight, Montgomery County is going to go from being one of the least favorable places to open any kind of alcohol business to being one of the most favorable places,” Robison says. “This law change now creates incentives for entrepreneurs.”

Although the doors have only been open for a few weeks, the brewery, which Barnes calls a local “job creator,” already has a diverse group of regulars.

“Everyone who works here is really gay friendly,” says Barnes, who is straight, pointing out that the nearly 40-person staff mostly identifies as LGBT. “I’m proud to be working at a lesbian-owned establishment. Because we are all diverse, it is more welcoming to everyone.”

“This community has really embraced us, and we’re so grateful for it,” Verratti says. “There’s been a strong contingent of the LGBT community that has come out and supported us. That makes me feel really happy and proud.”

23
Jul
2014