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40 years later, Bella Abzug’s daughter recalls mother’s support for Equality Act

Bella Abzug, ENDA, Democratic Party, New York, United States House of Representatives, gay news, Washington Blade

Rep. Bella Abzug introduced the Equality Act on May 14, 1974. (Photo public domain)

It was a very different world for gay people in 1974. Marriage equality was an unheard of idea. Five years earlier, the New York City police conducted another raid of a gay bar — this time at the Stonewall Inn in New York City — resulting in  demonstrations that started the modern gay rights movement.

But there was one member of Congress from New York who saw a promising future. Rep. Bella Abzug, then a two-term member of the U.S. House, introduced along with Rep. Ed Koch on May 14, 1974 legislation known as the Equality Act. It would have amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include sexual orientation as a protected class for the purposes of employment, housing and public accommodations.

Abzug died in 1998 after a battle with breast cancer, but one person who remembers the introduction of the bill is Liz Abzug, her lesbian daughter.

Mother and daughter share histories of working as civil rights lawyers and fighting on behalf of LGBT advocacy. Liz Abzug, now 60, has founded an organization to honor the memory of her late mother: the Bella Abzug Leadership Institute.

Speaking with the Washington Blade via phone from her home in New York City, Abzug recalled being a law student at that time and the heated reaction that the introduction of the Equality Act caused — both within Congress and the gay community itself.

“Nobody could believe it,” Abzug said. “My mother at the time was prescient, and the liberal groups understood, but still couldn’t believe that she did it. And that’s why it was so incredible. She was prescient in everything she did politically.”

Just five years prior, the Stonewall riots had taken place in New York City. Liz Abzug acknowledged those demonstrations played a role, but said the bill’s introduction was more about “her understanding as a leader, a civil rights leader and someone who broke barriers.”

“You got to get the sense of the person,” Liz Abzug said. “She had enormous courage and enormous intelligence and was radical as they come, and understood the process as a lawyer and as a leader.”

The decision to introduce the Equality Act, Liz Abzug said, was based on her mother’s belief that the civil rights movement was a movement for all people.

In the 1940s, Bella Abzug took on the case of William McGee, a black man who was sentenced to death in 1945 for the alleged rape of Willette Hawkins. According to Liz Abzug, McGee was falsely accused because he was having a long-term affair with Hawkins. Bella Abzug took the case to the Supreme Court, but lost, leading to Hawkins’ execution.

Upon becoming a member of the U.S. House in 1971, Bella Abzug became a proponent of the Equal Rights Amendment for women and an outspoken opponent of the Vietnam War. Adding protections for gay people within civil rights law, Liz Abzug said, was a natural extension of those efforts.

“If you’re going to fight, and you’re going to have a Civil Rights Act that’s going to protect African Americans, and you’re going to fight for women’s rights, and you’re going to fight to ban sex discrimination after you fight to ban race discrimination or religious discrimination, this would be totally the next natural legal, political sort of gut level extension of that,” Liz Abzug said. “What’s different between that and fighting for the rights of gay people and their civil rights?”

Bella Abzug had long been a favorite within the gay community, her daughter recalled. Upon campaigning for Congress, she ventured into not just New York City’s gay bars but its gay bathhouses, offering campaign buttons to patrons, which they would affix to their towels.

“She’s trying with her aides to give them buttons because it was big at that time; you’d give a campaign button no matter where you went,” Liz Abzug recalled. “And they’re all trying to grab her. They’re so thrilled that she came in there.”

A definitive moment of her relationship with the LGBT community, Liz Abzug said, took place sometime in the 1970s as Baptist singer Anita Bryant worked to repeal non-discrimination laws protecting gay people in various cities. A crowd of gay men came in candlelight to Bella Abzug’s home in New York City, calling out to the lawmaker to speak with them.

“She thought she was dreaming this, and my father kept saying, ‘You’re dreaming. Just go back to sleep. It’s the middle of the night,’” Liz Abzug said. “She went out with her nightgown and showed up with 400 guys mostly with candlelight asking her to speak to them. And that was the kind of period that we’re talking about.”

Even though her mother enjoyed a rapport with the gay community, Liz Abzug said her own coming out in the 1970s “was hard” for her to hear.

“In a way, there was conflict in her: personal vs. political,” Liz Abzug said. “But then she got it. She had come to overcome her understanding, the Jewish part of cultural understanding of our being.”

In 1976, Abzug left the House to run for U.S. Senate from New York, which ended her political career. She lost narrowly to a more conservative Democrat, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who went on to win the general election and serve four terms. Abzug lost the primary by 9,000 votes out of a million cast. Although she went on to run for mayor of New York City, she never again held elective office.

Despite the loss, Liz Abzug said her mother never regretted abandoning her seat in the U.S. House to pursue higher office. It would have broken a glass ceiling because, at the time, no woman was serving in the U.S. Senate.

“She never regretted it, but everybody else did,” Abzug said. “They told her she was crazy.”

In the four decades that passed since the introduction of the Equality Act, different iterations of the measure have taken its place in Congress. The measure, now known as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, is focused only on employment — having been stripped of protections related to housing and public accommodations.

Although it now includes explicit protections for transgender people, the bill also has a broader exemption allowing for religious organizations to discriminate against LGBT workers and forbids claims based on disparate impact.

That lessening of protections riled Liz Abzug. On the 30th anniversary of the Stonewall riots in 1999, she took part in a news conference calling for more expansive legislation, she said. And a few years ago,she said she had a conversation about its protections with former Rep. Barney Frank, who was then chief sponsor of the bill.

After she asked whether the bill would be strong enough in terms of the breadth of its coverage, Frank’s reply was “I think so,” which Liz Abzug said was so nebulous and unreassuring that it was “somewhat shocking, to tell you the truth.”

“For full equal rights for the LGBT community, you need to have the strongest civil rights act you can have,” Liz Abzug said. “So, ENDA should have covered every base that the original civil rights act did, and Title VII.”

Abzug also had stern words for LGBT rights groups, saying part of the reason no federal law protects gay people from employment discrimination is that they’ve been so marriage-focused in their efforts.

“They put this as a priority on their fight because everybody’s been focused on marriage,” Abzug said. “That’s the other thing, they’re the people that should be pressing for this, and getting young gays and lesbians to understand this.”

Following in her mother’s footsteps, Liz Abzug has considerable experience in activism and had her own political aspirations. In the 1990s, she ran against Tom Duane for his seat in the New York State Senate and in 2008 was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention.

Even though ENDA hasn’t been passed by Congress, the LGBT community has enjoyed a slew of victories within a short amount of time, including “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, the advancement of marriage equality and a Supreme Court ruling against the Defense of Marriage Act.

But Liz Abzug said if her mother were alive today, she would be less than impressed because employment protections aren’t law. Even though he’s since retired, she envisioned her mother taking Frank aside to tell him, “This isn’t enough.”

“To change the way a system is going takes a long time, but 40 years later, here we are,” Abzug said. “It’s unbelievable to me that we can’t get this done.”


Main stage mayhem

Main Stage, gay news, Washington Blade

Betty Who (Photo by Molly Cranna; courtesy RCA)

Capital Pride Festival
Capitol Main Stage
Pennsylvania Ave. between 3rd and 7th streets
Noon-7 p.m.

Betty Who’s song “Somebody Loves You” went viral when it accompanied the YouTube video that featured a gay marriage proposal set to a flash mob in a Home Depot in Utah. The 22-year-old Aussie native has two EPs out and is working on her first full-length album.

Karmin is 28-year-old musical and personal partners Amy Heidemann and Nick Noonan known for their No. 1 Billboard Dance Chart hits “Brokenhearted” and “Hello.” Their debut album “Pulses” was released in March.

And Bonnnie McKee, 30, has written a monster string of hits for artists like Katy Perry, Britney Spears, Ke$ha, Christina Aguilera, Kelly Clarkson and more, eight of which have gone to No. 1. Last summer, her breezy song “American Girl” inspired a 7-Eleven-set video and she continues to work on a debut album.

They’re three of the acts headlining on the Capitol Stage at the Capital Pride Festival Sunday. We caught up with them by phone from Los Angeles — where all happened to be at the time — this week. Their comments have been slightly edited for length.


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Betty Who (Photo by Shane McCauley)

WASHINGTON BLADE: Spencer and Dustin, the guys in the Home Depot video, said they wanted you to sing at their wedding? Has that happened yet?

BETTY WHO: Yes, I sang at their wedding in Utah in February and it was like the most perfect, beautiful day of my life. I can’t imagine my own wedding being any more perfect.

BLADE: How did you feel when they asked you?

BETTY: They are the most sweet, amazing men in the world. It was just one of those days where I thought, “I could not be doing anything better with my time. My boyfriend played guitar for me so it was kind of very sweet the two of us. I sang an acoustic version of “Somebody Loves You” as their moms walked them down the aisle so it was kind of this beautiful small moment in time.

BLADE: How did it come about that you developed such a strong gay fan base?

BETTY: I’ve always been supportive, but you know, I didn’t set out initially to have that as part of my platform, though I always knew I would support gay rights. It just so happened when I put out my first EP, that the first few bloggers who picked up on it were these gay pop music blogs in New York, so it kind of worked out perfectly that my biggest demographic is LGBT. I’ve just spoken up for what I feel is right.

BLADE: Did you know gay people growing up?

BETTY: Our next door neighbor was my mom’s best gay friend and his partner, so I have definitely been surrounded by a very kind of wholesome and well-rounded community my whole life and it’s always been this wonderful thing, gay, straight, bisexual, transgender, whoever it was, it didn’t really matter. I was never taught to think of anybody differently. Then I got a little older and I had friends who came from very conservative backgrounds and I was confused as to why they thought that being gay made you different. I just didn’t get it. It was funny, it wasn’t about becoming open minded but putting myself in the shoes of people who were less open minded and going, “Oh, like not as everybody was as lucky as me to have this great experience and this really kind of you know urban community I guess. I grew up in the middle of Sydney, so I had always been around everybody.

BLADE: Have you done many Pride festivals?

BETTY: This will be one of the first ones. I’m doing this little tour through June called the “Hopeless Romantic Tour” and I think something like 80 percent of the shows are Pride festivals. It will definitely be very fun and wonderful and drunk, I imagine. I play Los Angeles, then Salt Lake City, then D.C. on Sunday. So that will be my first one on Friday.

BLADE: Do you know how long your set will be?

BETTY: I’m not sure. I think maybe 30 or 45 minutes.

BLADE: You mentioned singing at the wedding with your boyfriend. Is that Peter Thomas, your collaborator or someone elseBETTY: No, people ask me that all the time. He’s a good friend, but this is somebody else.

BLADE: Often you don’t really hear accents much from British and Australian singers. In your songs, your accent is there. Is that a conscious choice?

BETTY: It was definitely a choice because I think even Adele sometimes, she sings and you don’t hear her accent. So much about being a star today or a popular artist in the industry is about dong what makes you different and what makes you special and to me I always thought being Australian was something that definitely made me different. And I never wanted to suppress that part of who I am and where I came from.

BLADE: I know you’ve been in the U.S. since you were a teen so you may not know, but do you think it would have been harder to break a pop career in Australia than in the U.S.?

BETTY: I think being a really famous person in Australia is actually much harder than to come over to America and make a go of it. I remember all of these really famous and beautiful singer/songwriters that I loved growing up and then I came over to America, only a handful of my friends knew about them. I thought, “What do you mean she’s like the most famous person in Australia, what do you mean you don’t know who she is?” So I think because it might be different now because the internet has made such a difference. Spotify wasn’t really a thing and Pandora was just sort of starting to be popular, so I think that it’s probably a little bit different. It looks easier and made more sense for me to start my career from the ground up in New York and have my biggest demographic of fans be there.

BLADE: Did you and Peter realize you had musical chemistry immediately?

BETTY: I think he and I have always been musical soul mates. When we met we were like, “Oh My gosh, we like all the same music, this is perfect.” Surely we knew as friends and creative partners we knew we would be great together. I remember being at a party at his house and he was in charge of the playlist and I was like, “Every song on this is a smash. …Who is this person, we are destined to be musical friends,” and it ended up being Peter. So I think that was really easy and was very immediate but it took us almost three years to write music that we knew was perfect or to get it to a point where we didn’t think, “Oh, we should keep rewriting it.” When we wrote “The Movement” EP, that was the first body of work that we put together and said, “Oh my gosh, this is it, this is how we meant to do it,” all of that. I think in that process we had been working together three years.

BLADE: When you get to that point and find pop songs that work, do you feel you’ve cracked a code in a sense?

BETTY: I think it is kind of like we cracked a musical code. We had been writing an working together so long that at some point you just work together so well and you understand each other so well and so deeply that you are like, “We have to put this here, that worked on this song so it will work here.” …When we’re writing a song now, if there’s something that’s not working, we can say exactly why it’s not working. And what we need to change, or if it’s going really well we know why and we know how to keep it going.

BLADE: Do you still play cello?

BETTY: I do, but not in public. Just kind of on my own in my bedroom.

BLADE: Did you initially plan a classical career?

BETTY: I was at a classical high school Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan and when I left I had only applied to colleges for voice and songwriting. So I knew when I was leaving I wanted to go into pop, but it definitely took me a second to kind of get out of that mind frame. Because I remember  my first two semesters at Berklee (College of Music in Boston), I performed more playing cello for other people than I did singing my own stuff. So it took me kind of about a year at Berklee to figure out I definitely didn’t want to keep playing cello for other people and I definitely want to be singing on my own and doing that.

BLADE: Are you planning a full-length album?

BETTY: Yes, I am currently working on it actually. We hope to have it out sometime in the fall.

BLADE: Was “Somebody Loves You” particularly hard to write?

BETTY: The verses and chorus were done, like, in a night. But we didn’t have a bridge. I didn’t worry about it. We were in the middle of a semester and we didn’t have anything out, nobody knew who I was, so I took a break from it for a couple months. We had written it in, like, February, then when we went to record it in summer, I remembered, “Oh, I need to sit down and write this bridge” and I wrote it in like 10 minutes. …I think because we gave it so much space, the song as a whole kind of just worked because there was no pressure. But it wasn’t ’til we recorded it that we were like, “Oh fuck, this is amazing and we love it and feel really passionately about it.”

BLADE: You’re straight, right?


BLADE: Do you have a gay best friend?

BETTY: Several, from all walks of life. My gay friend from college, from high school, from childhood. I kind of have a bunch of gay friends that have kind of all come to know and love each other which is perfect.

BLADE: Is Peter straight?

BETTY: Yes, to the dismay of many of gay best friendsBLADE: Is your family mostly here in the U.S.?

BETTY: It’s kind of split. My mom is American and my dad is Australian so my dad’s whole side is there but he and my mom and her side are all in America.


main stage, gay news, Washington Blade

Amy Heidemann and Nick Noonan of Karmin. (Photo courtesy of Epic Publicity)

BLADE: How long have you been rapping, Amy?

AMY HEIDEMANN: I want to say I’ve been free styling on the streets of Nebraska since I was a little girl, but that’s not the case at all. I was raised in a super Christian household so I wasn’t allowed to listen to most rap music that I love today, but I was able to sneak you know a couple burned CDs I got from school from my classmates. So I did learn to rap sort of on accident. I was practicing to be a singer and the rapping came later.

BLADE: You two met at Berklee (College of Music in Boston)?


BLADE: Were you planning a pop career then?

NOONAN: We were kind of all over the place. I was originally a jazz trombone player, believe it or not.

HEIDEMANN: I always had dreams of being an R&B superstar. My favorite singer growing up was Brandy. We started out more indie and kind of hipster when we were doing the covers and the pop thing just sort of happened. I don’t know if it was really intentional, but it’s been awesome.

BLADE: But do people go to school to study pop music?

HEIDEMANN: Actually it’s weird because at Berklee they kind of do. There aren’t many schools like it, maybe one in California. But yeah, like, they have hip-hop classes. I think the place Jessie J and Adele went to in London I think is really comparable.

BLADE: Did you immediately realize your musical camaraderie?

NOONAN: No, it took a minute. We were both doing music independently from each other and then after we graduated we decided to start the group.

HEIDEMANN: We literally had to learn new instruments.

NOONAN: Yeah, Amy started to rap and I started playing piano and she was playing guitar. It kind of started from the bottom up.

BLADE: Did you start dating first or making music together?

NOONAN: Dating.

HEIDEMANN: Yeah, dating three or four years before.

BLADE: What’s your current relationship status?

NOONAN: We’re still engaged and trying to figure out the marriage thing.

BLADE: Are you concerned that if things continue going well for you musically, there could be a Fleetwood Mac-type impassion on the personal front or are you far enough into it now to not worry about that?

NOONAN: That’s always kind of on our minds but honestly we’d been dating and knew each other so well before we got any attention that it was kind of like all the skeletons were out of the closet before. So there really isn’t much to hide anymore.

BLADE: “Brokenhearted” and “Hello” were both No. 1 dance hits. Did you realize you were onto something writing them as opposed to other songs?

NOONAN: We did know pretty early on. Even with the covers, the strongest thing for us is playing live, so we knew that if we had some kind of energy, some feeling to get behind and get on stage and play this, there are certain songs that have an energy there and really translate well live and that’s our biggest thing. We wanted to make sure that those songs had those elements. When it feels really good, feels right, usually those write themselves and they are a lot faster to write.

BLADE: Did you realize early on you had a strong LGBT following?

HEIDEMANN: Yeah, it was pretty early. I used to put the covers up and we used to read every single comment, which can be really bad because people can be super mean. But the gay audience early on, there was a lot of guys who were commenting on Nick’s attractiveness. We were kind of like, “Oh, this is awesome.”

NOONAN: We have a very theatrical performance style, there were kind of a lot of elements. We didn’t really go out trying to say, “OK, we’re going to go get the gays,” but it made sense and we started doing a lot of Pride festivals and you know how we feel about everything, it’s more of a civil rights issue for us. So it kind of just made sense.

HEIDEMANN: And those are the best shows. So we were kind of like, “Why are we wasting our time playing anywhere else?”

BLADE: How so? People are more relaxed at Pride events?

NOONAN: It’s just a completely different freedom and we’re able to feel that on stage, so they’re great shows.

BLADE: How so?

NOONAN: More celebratory, probably. The energy is more …


NOONAN: Free, I guess. We just did our first headlining tour and there actually was a lot of energy, we were kind of blown away, but still the Pride festivals, even if they didn’t know who we are, or people say, “I never heard of you before today,” they’re still — they want to love us, you know what I mean? That’s a very cool energy.

BLADE: How long will your set be at Capital Pride?

NOONAN: I don’t know. If it was up to us, it would be about 75 minutes, but I think we’re told maybe 30 or 40. So I don’t know.

BLADE: Your act obviously has gay sensibility. Was that something natural from your personalities, fashion sense and all that or did you play it up more when you started realizing you had gay fans?

HEIDEMANN: Definitely the first thing you said. Like I said, we had no idea that would be who we attracted, but that’s how we’ve been in our blood, in our veins, I’m very theatrical in my style. Fashion is incredibly important to me. We have this monochromatic thing. Even when you walk in our closet, it’s like a rainbow. Everything is organized by color so we didn’t really see it coming, but it’s the perfect fit, so it’s all worked out great.

BLADE: Why do you think LGBT rights are important?

NOONAN: Being gay is not new. it’s been around since the beginning of recorded history. It’s just a natural thing for us. Just kind of how we were raised and stuff to not see race or difference in religion to see people. … We really try to not have any of that stuff in our brains at all. … It’s crazy and very very cool how far it’s come in the last 10 years.

HEIDEMANN: Even four years ago. In my high school, there was only one guy who was semi-out. And it was like this huge taboo thing. I’m from the midwest. So it was super religious and pretty scary. I had a family member who came out recently and it was a struggle. So it is personal to us, but also exciting to be part of such an important part of history. And I know we’re going to be looking back and telling our kids about it and they’ll be like, “Really? Why would you ever discriminate against anyone?”

BLADE: You were born just a few days apart. Is there any astrological significance to that or is it just a random factoid?

NOONAN: It’s funny because we just went to an astrologer like last week. But we won’t go into that. We are both Tauruses, so there’s a lot of creativity but also a lot of stubbornness. Usually we get along very well, but when we butt heads, it’s like a colossal shitstorm.

BLADE: You said your parents were conservative, Amy. How are they now with what you’re doing?

HEIDEMANN: My parents are strict but they’re much better now. I know at the beginning it was a little stressful being from a little small town of 7,000 people, everybody is constantly asking about us, my parents are very protective and sometimes really worried about the stuff we encounter, but it’s getting easier. For a long time, it was hard for them to read like critical reviews of our music but it’s starting to become more of the norm I guess.

BLADE: Now that you’ve had a few hits, what’s your opinion of what it takes to break through on the U.S. pop landscape?

NOONAN: It’s mainly persistence. You look at the people now who are superstars, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, they bounced around from label to label for years before they had any success so persistence is definitely one of the biggest things. It is not the most talented people, it is not the best singers. It can help you for sure, but it does not guarantee you a damn thing. So that’s one of the things about the industry, you know, for us. We’re just now starting to semi hit our stride.

BLADE: I know your album is still pretty new. What’s next for you? More singles from that? What will you be doing the rest of the summer?

NOONAN: We’ll hopefully have more information for you soon but we’re always kind of writing and working on new music and obviously touring a lot.

HEIDEMANN: The album just came out and then we went on tour really quickly so it’s all really still fresh for us. There had been a lot of delays with the record  label.

BLADE: Is your appearance at Capital Pride a one-off or are you playing a couple Prides this year?

HEIDEMANN: We’ll be with you guys, then a couple dates in the midwest, then we’ll come back. It’s like a week-long mini-tour.

BLADE: Was there a tradeoff in signing with a major label?

NOONAN: It’s difficult, definitely.

BLADE: How so?

NOONAN: Just getting everybody on the same page.

HEIDEMANN: There’s a lot of turnover. You’ll work with a lot of different people, then they might move on to another company.

NOONAN: Differences of opinion. We’re not big fans of art created by committee.


BLADE: You just toured with Karmin this year, right?

McKEE: Yes, I’m excited to be reunited with them again. We did five weeks together and it was amazing. So much fun. They’re a really fun act and they have a great audience.

BLADE: Did you get to hang out much on the road?

McKEE: I knew them before. We had written songs together and we’re label mates, so it was fun.

BLADE: Was the “American Girl” video really shot in a 7-Eleven?

McKEE: It was actually an AMPM, but it was a quickie mart. We wanted to give some love to 7-Eleven, but they weren’t with me on that.

BLADE: You didn’t have to get permission to use Slurpee in the song?

McKEE: I never got a call about that.

BLADE: Obviously I know you could be playing a character in a video or even if it’s you, that’s not your entire persona, but the video presents you as this carefree girl sunbathing, changing clothes in a car wash and so on. Yet being a pop singer takes enormous work and discipline. Does your real life feel removed from that girl?

McKEE: I’ve been trying to take more time for myself recently. When you’re on tour, yeah, it’s a blast of course, but it’s also a lot of hard work. I’m trying to let myself be a little more carefree like the girl in the video.

BLADE: There was talk of you having an album out this spring. The first single was out last summer. What’s the status of that?

McKEE: Well, I want to do some more visual stuff. I’ve made a couple videos, I just put a single on iTunes and I’m also trying to sell “Sleepwalker” which I never officially put out. …So I don’t know when it’s going to happen. It’s all about timing, so when we get it set up properly, it will be out. I’m really a visual artist, so I think videos are really my sweet spot.

BLADE: Has there been label pressure to have a decent hit before putting the album out?

McKEE: It’s really up to them. I’m just showing up and playing for the people who want to hear me play. They’ll figure it out when they’re ready.

BLADE: How did you meet Katy Perry?

McKEE: At a thrift store in Los Angeles. We were both trying to sell our clothes and being rejected, so we kind of bonded over that and we’ve been friends ever since.

BLADE: When was that?

McKEE: Oh, maybe 10 years ago.

BLADE: When you write together, do actually sit down together or just send ideas back and forth?

McKEE: We it down in the room together, do a lot of spooning. We get in a bean bag chair together and kind of hash it out. We fight a lot over every line but that’s what makes it great. She’s a perfectionist and so am I.

BLADE: You’re friends too? You hang out?

McKEE: Yeah, when there’s time and if we happen to be in the same city, definitely. She always has extravagant birthday parties.

BLADE: Has your classical training growing up come in handy in the stuff you do now, like with knowing chord progressions and stuff like that, or is it apples and oranges musically?

McKEE? Really grateful to have the training I have but it doesn’t help much. I think the only way it really comes into play in my pop songwriting is, you know, keeping my voice healthy and knowing how to sing properly and not injure myself. That was the most valuable thing I learned. And also work ethic. It was just drilled into us in a world class choir. We were yelled at a lot. Really prepared me for real life.

BLADE: Some of the other acts who’ll be at Capital Pride who are eking out pop careers also had classical training. Do you think that’s just a coincidence or does the general rigidity of classical music make some people want to bust out and go crazy with fun pop stuff?

McKEE: I don’t know. Maybe the ones that are have had training, but so many just have the natural instinct and never had a lesson in their life.

BLADE: Did you always love pop music?

McKEE: Yes, always. I used to get in trouble because I’d have a solo and I’d sing it in a completely pop voice and they said, “You can’t sing like that in choir.” Well, why not? I didn’t know I was a pop singer until people started telling me that.

BLADE: Who were your favorite singers when you were 13, 14 or 15?

McKEE: I loved Whitney Houston, Fiona Apple. Mariah Carey of course. I really liked the divas. And Carole King. She was kind of the first person where I realized songwriting was something you could make a living doing and how important it is for the message to be coming from the artist.

BLADE: You identify as bi, right?

McKEE: Yes

BLADE: At the moment, though, you’re dating a man?

McKEE: Well up until a few years ago. I’m not seeing anyone now.

BLADE: Do people ever accuse you of saying you’re bi just to have street cred or something or do they take it seriously?

McKEE: I think it’s ridiculous. Do I have to prove to everyone that I’m bisexual? They want me to make out with girls publicly to prove it? That’s something I identified as when I was 12 years ago and I don’t feel I need to prove that to anybody. If I meet a girl I love, great. If I meet a boy I love, that’s great too.

BLADE: What do you have planned for D.C.?

McKEE: We get in kind of late the day before, unfortunately. I wanted to go to see all the monuments but I don’t know if we’ll have time for that. But I’m really psyched for Pride.

BLADE: You have a strong gay following?

McKEE: Yes, more than anybody else to be honest. I love it. I play a lot of gay clubs on tour. We did a lot of drag shows which are fun. Everyone there can just be themselves and that’s what I’m all about.

BLADE: Your hair is always these wild, great colors, but they tend to fade so fast. Do you have to constantly have it redone?

McKEE: Yeah, well luckily my friend is a hairdresser, I do it about every two and a half weeks but yeah, if you’re going to have crazy color, you have to — it’s a commitment for sure.

BLADE: Do you have times where you let it go more, like if you’ll be in the studio for awhile and not making as many public appearances?

McKEE: Oh, never! Never, no. I always keep it fabulous.

BLADE: Your publicist said you’re en route to the studio today. What are you working on?

McKEE: I’m writing a song for a movie but I can’t really talk about it yet. But it’s a song for a musical, which is fun. I’m looking forward to it.

BLADE: Why are gay rights important to you?

McKEE: It’s important for everybody to have a place where they can go and be themselves and celebrate themselves. I’m really grateful and excited to be part of that and to be in D.C. for that.


‘It’s easy to be gay as an athlete at GW’

Liam Huffman, gay news, Washington Blade

‘I wanted to be somewhere I’d feel comfortable and feel safe,’ said Liam Huffman about moving to D.C. to attend George Washington University. (Photo courtesy GW Athletics)

Liam Huffman says his favorite restaurant in Washington, D.C., is Nando’s Peri-Peri.

He always orders the plain grilled chicken breast, hot, with sides of french fries and corn.

In late August 2013, the George Washington University swimming team chose Nando’s for a team dinner. Huffman, a freshman last season, stepped away from his chicken, fries and corn to refill his drink downstairs.

He returned, and his teammates suddenly stopped talking.

Huffman looked around, sat down and said, “What are we talking about?”

“Dragon Ball Z,” someone said invoking the 1990s Japanese anime series to break the nervous tension.

Adam Rabe, an upperclassman on the team, decided to be straight with Huffman. He said, “Dude, we are just asking Matt how comfortable you were with gay jokes and stuff like that.”

Huffman had told some teammates that he is gay, including his roommate Matt McPherson. But Rabe’s statement informed Huffman that his sexuality was now common knowledge.

Twelve months earlier, it would have horrified Huffman for anyone to know he is gay. He only started telling his family and friends in January 2013.

But now it was a relief that his George Washington teammates knew.

“They were giving me a chance to set the boundaries and, basically, the precedent on how they handled it and addressed it,” Huffman said. “I thought it was a fair conversation for them to be having, because as far as I know, I’m the only out gay swimmer that GW has seen either in a really long time or ever.”

The 2013-14 season marked the 16th season for Dan Rhinehart as George Washington head swimming coach, and Rhinehart said Huffman is the first gay athlete he is aware of coaching.

“It isn’t anything that I even give any consideration to,” Rhinehart said of Huffman’s sexual orientation.

Huffman said picking an accepting college campus was a priority when deciding where to continue his swimming career. He expected being gay would be easier in the nation’s capital than in his suburban Kansas City hometown of Riverside, Mo. It took some time to find out for sure.

“That was a really crucial thing for me,” Huffman said. “I wanted to be somewhere I’d feel comfortable and feel safe. I knew that in D.C. that I definitely would, but GW for sure would be a very safe community to be gay.”

Huffman is pursuing a degree in economics with minors in political science and sustainability. He lived his freshman year in Thurston Hall with McPherson and two non-swimmers. Huffman told McPherson he’s gay before any of his other teammates.

“He was very comfortable with it,” Huffman said. “He wasn’t offended or bothered.”

Huffman never told his male teammates from his Kansas City club swimming team about his sexual orientation, so McPherson served as a barometer for Huffman being an out athlete.

“It was a good indicator to me that it’d be OK to officially come out to the team,” Huffman said. “I didn’t do a formal coming out when I did. I told a couple people and just kind of let it go how it did.

“I figured that if the guys on the team didn’t already know, they would find out soon enough. I’m very open about it. And Matt’s reaction definitely said that I could be open about it.”

Since sixth grade, Huffman said he was perceived to be gay by classmates. He tried to change the way he talked in junior high to mimic the football players. He tried to slow his speech and use fewer big words.

“I wanted to fit the standard of what a middle school boy, in my mind, was supposed to be,” Huffman said.

He said he did not start to grapple with his sexual orientation until he entered his senior year of high school. But in recent years, he says, he recognizes that he fits some gay stereotypes.

“I often fall victim to the T-Rex arms. They’re always up,” Huffman says. “I have a bit of a sway to my walk. My voice — the way I linger on certain words, the place that I put the accent — is all very typical gay stereotype.”

He once tried to suppress those behaviors. But he had three relationships that allowed him to grow and accept himself during his senior year of high school.

The first was exclusively online, and it helped Huffman confirm he is gay.

The second was with a student named Nick from a rival high school. Nick took him on his first date to California Pizza Kitchen on Jan. 3, 2013, and Huffman went home from that date and came out to his parents, Archie and Margaret — who were instantly accepting and anxious to meet the guy. Nick was Huffman’s first boyfriend, and they dated for about two months.

Huffman’s third relationship came that summer, and he was the first boyfriend to meet all of Huffman’s friends — that relationship stopped when Huffman left for school.

Those relationships prepared Huffman to live openly and let his George Washington teammates know he is gay when he arrived at school in August.

“I wasn’t sure how they would take it,” Huffman said.

But as he learned that night at Nando’s, he had nothing to worry about.

“He fit in perfectly right off the bat,” said Ryan O’Malley, a member of the George Washington swim team and Huffman’s roommate next year. “Everybody gets along with him, and everyone really enjoys having him at practice and having him around when we all hangout.”

Huffman swam well this season. He finished the season by scoring points in four events at the 2014 Atlantic 10 Conference meet led by a third-place finish in the 500-yard freestyle.

By the end of the season, Huffman felt no hesitation discussing in the locker room the guys he was seeing. He even attempted to explain the gay app Grindr.

Explaining Grindr turned into a bonding moment as Huffman described Grindr’s “tribes.” Suddenly, each guy on the team wanted to know where he fit.

“There are a lot, a lot of otters,” Huffman said. “We have a fairly hairy team.”

Until they shave for meets, he says: “In season, then we start turning into a more twink, jock team.”

His George Washington teammates and coaches showed Huffman the acceptance he desired moving from the Midwest to the East Coast.

“Everyone on the team has gay friends besides me,” Huffman says. “They’re all used to it, I guess, and so it’s really easy to be gay as an athlete at GW.”

Liam Huffman, gay news, Washington Blade

Liam Huffman swam well this season, scoring points in four events at the 2014 Atlantic 10 Conference meet. (Photo courtesy GW Athletics)


Will Obama’s job bias order include a religious exemption?

GetEQUAL, Employment Non-Discrimination Act, ENDA, White House, President Obama

GetEQUAL members gathered outside the White House on Feb. 10 to urge President Obama to sign an ENDA executive director. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

On the day of a scheduled meeting at the White House about a proposed LGBT non-discrimination executive order for federal contractors, supporters are insisting the measure not allow for continued discrimination at religious organizations.

Ian Thompson, legislative representative for the American Civil Liberties Union, said any executive order from Obama must omit exemptions for religious organizations.

“Simply put, this EO must apply, without exception, to all federal contractors,” Thompson said. “Taxpayer-funded discrimination is antithetical to our laws and basic American values. When a religiously affiliated organization makes the decision to request a taxpayer-funded contract with the federal government, it must be required to play by the same rules as every other federal contractor.”

On Monday, immediately after the White House announced President Obama intends to sign an executive order barring anti-LGBT job discrimination among federal contractors, concerns about a potential religious exemption in the measure emerged — along with arguments both for and against such language.

On one side, Heather Cronk, co-director of GetEQUAL, said exemptions would create “gaping holes” in a non-discrimination executive order, but on the other, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), one of 10 Republicans in the Senate who voted for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, said the executive order “must include the same religious protections” as ENDA, which includes a broad exemption, to ensure religious freedom.

In response to inquiries from the Washington Blade, LGBT advocates made clear they don’t want to see a religious exemption in the executive order or won’t accept an exemption beyond what has been afforded under the existing Executive Order 11246 to other protected groups — including race, religion, gender and national origin. That order was signed by President Johnson in 1964.

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said in response to an inquiry about objections to a religious exemption in the planned LGBT order that companies receiving federal funds should be barred from anti-LGBT discrimination.

“NCTE applauds President Obama on taking action to end LGBT job discrimination in federal contracting,” Keisling said. “It’s been something we’ve been working on for a long time. And NCTE believes that federal contractors who receive federal funding should not be allowed to discriminate.”

The religious exemption has already been an issue in the LGBT community with the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, legislation that would bar anti-LGBT bias among public and private employers, not just federal contractors.

To secure bipartisan support for the bill, the legislation includes a religious exemption that is more expansive than the one for other categories of workers under the Title VII of the Civil Rights of Act. Unlike protections for other groups under current law, passage of ENDA would still allow religious organization, such as religious schools or hospitals, to continue to discriminate against LGBT workers.

While many national LGBT groups — the Human Rights Campaign, the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, Freedom to Work and the ACLU, to name a few — continue to support ENDA even with the current exemption to extend LGBT non-discrimination protections in the workplace, other national groups — GetEQUAL, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the Transgender Law Center — say they won’t support the bill because the religious exemption is too broad.

Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, issued a similar warning that any executive order must exclude a religious exemption that is broader than it is for other groups under the existing executive order.

“We are confident the executive order will be principled and provide LGBT workers with the same protections given to others,” Minter said. “We are grateful to the president for moving this forward. We oppose the issuance of any executive order or any legislation that provides a discriminatory exemption for LGBT employees broader than the exemption for other protected groups.”

Executive Order 11246 actually does contain a religious exemption of sorts. In 2002, President George W. Bush amended 11246 to exempt any contractor that is a religious organization for the purposes of employing individuals of a particular religion. That effectively permitted religiously affiliated organizations contracting with the U.S. government to discriminate in hiring based on religion, but not on any other protected basis, such as race, color, sex or national origin.

Ilona Turner, legal director for the Transgender Law Center, said the LGBT executive order must be free of any language that will allow religious organizations receiving federal contracts to continue to discriminate.

“We are confident that the forthcoming Executive Order will apply, without exception, to all federal contractors,” Turner said. “Taxpayer-funded discrimination violates our laws and fundamental values. When a religiously affiliated organization makes the decision to request a taxpayer-funded contract with the federal government, it must be required to play by the same rules as every other federal contractor. That includes not making employment decisions based on who someone is or who they love.”

The executive order is acting as a unifier of sorts for national organizations that held differing views on whether to continue to support ENDA with its current religious exemption. Each group with whom the Blade spoke insisted the directive be free of any such language or consistent with the existing executive order.

Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, insisted the protections in the LGBT order be the same as they are for other groups under Executive Order 11246, despite his organization’s continued support for ENDA with the current religious exemption.

“We believe that when taxpayers funds are being used, the federal government should prevent discrimination,” Sainz said. “LGBT workers should be treated the same as other categories already protected by the existing executive order.”

But not every group took the opportunity to speak out against a religious exemption in the executive order. Freedom to Work, one of the groups that is building Republican support for ENDA based on its broad religious exemption, didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment on whether the executive order should contain similar language.

Even if the executive order were to contain a religious exemption, such a move would seem to have little impact on allowing continued discrimination. Sources have told the Washington Blade that religious organizations, such as religious schools and religious organizations, are not among the businesses that would contract with the federal government.

LGBT sources familiar with the White House say they expect the executive order to include both sexual orientation and gender identity, and unlike protected categories under Executive Order 11246, it won’t include an affirmative action provision that would apply to sexual orientation or gender identity.

Unknown is whether the measure would be an amendment to the existing executive order or a new directive. One advocate said the measure would be a standalone because the administration doesn’t want the affirmative action provisions in Executive Order 11246 to apply to LGBT people. Another said it’s entirely possible to include in the existing executive order sexual orientation and gender identity without affirmative action applying.

The timing for when Obama would formally sign the order and when it would be fully implemented is also unknown. Late on Wednesday, a White House official said he had no details to share about the specifics of an executive order.

More information about the executive order is likely to emerge during the meeting on Thursday, which is scheduled to begin at 4:30 p.m. In addition to discussing the executive order, the White House is set to provide an update to the administration’s implementation of the U.S. Supreme Court decision against the Defense of Marriage Act. The identities of the participants in the upcoming meeting yet aren’t public.

Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, also said the executive order must not include exemptions for any kind of federal contractor.

“The executive order should transparently and unequivocally tackle discrimination against LGBT employees of federal contractors — no exceptions and no special exemptions,” Carey said. “The alternative would be taxpayers’ money being used to practice discrimination, the very thing that this executive order is designed to help end.”


‘Burlesque-a-pades’ to feature Pontani Sisters

Angie Pontani, gay news, Washington Blade

Angie Pontani (Photo courtesy Angie Pontani)

The Pontani Sisters present “Burlesque-a-pades,” a burlesque show, at the Birchmere (3701 Mt.. Vernon Ave., Alexandria, Va.) Saturday at 7:30 p.m.

Angie Pontani, Miss Exotic World Champion, will perform along with lesbian couple Kitten N’Lou. Performers the Main Attration and Helen Pontani also perform. The show is a mix of classic strip tease, comedy, illusion and dance.

Tickets are $29.50. For more details, visit


STAYCATION: Feeling fit

The Trapeze School of Washington is a great place to work some upper-body muscles. (Blade file photo courtesy TSW)

The Trapeze School of Washington is a great place to work some upper-body muscles. (Blade file photo courtesy TSW)

Looking for fun, fit summer activities to do D.C. in summer? Here’s the latest edition of my “staycation” guide for those hot, humid summer days.

1. The Trapeze School of Washington. Located in the heart of the newly gentrified southwest Waterfront/Navy Yard neighborhood, the Trapeze School is a dream come true from anyone looking to take a fun trip back to the circus and get an amazing upper body workout at the same time.

To be honest, I was a bit scared going to the school because I am afraid of heights. Immediately, I was put at ease by the professionalism and knowledge of the staff and instructors. The instructors gave great guidance and support the whole way through my shaking and hesitation of taking the first leap off the platform. Although I did fall, I must say I felt OK knowing the net was there to catch me.

After a few tries, I got the hang of it and started to feel the rush and the adrenaline of flying through the air. I also began to feel the physical work required to complete such a task. With all the climbing, swinging, jumping and propelling through the air, both your legs and upper body get a tremendous workout. So what if you aren’t a fan of the trapeze? No worries! The Trapeze School caters to all of your inner-circus fantasies include juggling, balancing, trampoline and something called silks (dangling from two pieces of fabric).

2. Hains Point (East Potomac Park). Hains Point located at the intersection of the Potomac and Anacostia rivers. A staple of D.C. fitsters, this 328-acre island is packed with every summer activity you would want to do. There is so much to do in this park that you might have to come back multiple days to get it all in. From a golf course, to tennis courts, playgrounds, picnic tables and a fantastic public swimming pool, Hains Point has great outdoor summer activities for everyone.

If you’re looking for a new running route, give the Hains Point running trail a go. This running trail is great because it’s surrounded by water and you feel a great sense of calmness and solitude even though you’re running in the heart of downtown D.C.

A lot our gay sports teams practice here and therefore, it’s a great way to share your interest of a particular sport, meet new faces or just check out the eye candy. It’s also a fun spot to watch the plans fly in and out of Reagan National Airport.

3. The National Arboretum. Located on 446 beautiful acres in the northeast quadrant of the city between New York Avenue and Bladensburg Road, you’ll find this golden gem that is all things plants. The Arboretum  boasts nine miles of roadway that allow you to have a great day’s worth of exercise and learn about plants at the same time.

You can hike, bike, walk or tram your way around the grounds. What I like so much about the Arboretum is that there are plants in bloom for every season and generally, there are tours you can purchase that help you learn more about them. The Arboretum also has a very active calendar of events and there’s always something interesting or new to explore on the grounds. For instance, you can take a tram ride through the park to explore Capemyrtle trees in July or you can take a self guided or tram tour of plants from southern China that include ginger, bamboo, banana plants which flourish in the month of August.

4. Sundays in Meridian Hill ParkLocated at 16th Street and Florida Avenue N.W., you might thinking of passing the park because of its massive wall along 16th Street, but believe me you will want to go inside and see all of the activity that happens at Meridian Hill Park, especially on Sundays.

Whether you’re going to take in the neo-classically designed architecture or the beautiful views from the promenade to the fountain, there is something for everyone in the park.

Some of my favorites activities include a free yoga class this offered to the public every Sunday morning. Not only are the yoga instructors fantastic, but you get the advantage of being outside taking in the beauty of the park and the fresh air. There’s also a great running path that runs the perimeter of the promenade, down the steps and back up along the fountains. Believe me; it’s much harder than it looks! And if you just want to relax and doing something fun, you can try slacklining (like doing the tightrope) between the trees or listen to the great drum band.


Kerry: U.S. ‘deeply troubled’ over Gambian president’s speech

Gay News, Washington Blade, John Kerry

Secretary of State John Kerry says the United States is “deeply troubled” by the anti-LGBT rhetoric that Gambian President Yahya Jammeh used in a Feb. 18 speech (photo public domain).

Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday said the U.S. is “deeply troubled” over the anti-LGBT rhetoric that Gambian President Yahya Jammeh used during a speech that commemorated the country’s independence from the U.K.

Jammeh described gay men as “vermin” in remarks he gave in Banjul, the West African country’s capital, on Feb. 18. The Gambian president also said during his speech the acronym LGBT “can only stand for leprosy, gonorrhea, bacteria and tuberculosis; all of which are detrimental to human existence.”

“All people are created equal and should be able to live free from discrimination, and that includes discrimination based on sexual identity and sexual orientation,” said Kerry. “We call on the government of the Gambia to protect the human rights of all Gambians, and we encourage the international community to send a clear signal that statements of this nature have no place in the public dialogue and are unacceptable.”

Jammeh’s comments come less than six months after he said during a speech at the U.N. General Assembly that homosexuality is among the three “biggest threats to human existence.”

Gambia, which is sandwiched between Senegal, is among the more than 70 countries in which consensual same-sex sexual acts remain criminalized.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni on Feb. 14 announced he will sign a controversial bill that would impose a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of same-sex sexual acts in his country. A draconian measure that bans same-sex marriages, gay “amorous relationships” and membership in an LGBT advocacy group in Nigeria became law last month.

The Human Rights Campaign on Wednesday urged Kerry to recall U.S. ambassadors to Uganda and Nigeria in response to the aforementioned issues.

“The Ugandan and Nigerian governments’ decisions to treat their LGBT citizens like criminals cannot be accepted as business as usual by the U.S. government,” said HRC President Chad Griffin. “We urge Secretary Kerry to recall both ambassadors for consultations in Washington to make clear the seriousness of the situation in both countries.”

LGBT people in Cameroon, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Zambia and other African countries also continue to face systematic violence widespread discrimination because of their sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.

“It is all our responsibility to end hate and to end violence,” said Thandeka “Tumi” Mkhuma, a lesbian South African activist who was raped in 2009, during a U.N. panel last December that commemorated the 65th anniversary of the ratification of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Yahya Jammeh, Gambia, gay news, Washington Blade

President Yahya Jammeh of Gambia. (Photo courtesy IISD/Earth Negotiations Bulletin; courtesy Creative Commons)


Aussies waiting too long for HIV treatment: researchers

Australia, South Australia, HIV, AIDS,

Researchers say treatment rates for HIV Australians is a problem. (Image by MJC via Wikimedia)

LONDON — About 30 percent of patients with HIV are diagnosed well after they should have begun treatment, according to the latest Australian data, suggesting early-testing initiatives have not worked, the Guardian reports.

Despite 88 percent of the country’s new infections occurring in gay men, unprotected sex in that group continues to be a key driver of infections, making falling HIV testing rates among young gay men a concern, the article said.

There were 1,235 new cases of HIV diagnosed in Australia last year — an increase of 70 percent since 1999 when diagnoses were at their lowest, figures from the annual HIV surveillance report by the University of NSW Kirby Institute show.

Many of those were not being diagnosed early enough, allowing their immune system to fail and potentially posing a risk to others, the report found.

The best indicator of how long a person has had HIV for is their CD4+ cell count per microlitre, which declines on average by 50–60 percent per year in people with HIV. The proportion of late diagnosis cases, defined by a CD4+ cell count of less than 350 cells per microlitre at diagnosis, had not improved in the three years to 2013, the report found. In people without HIV, the count is above 500, the Guardian article said.

“These data are suggestive of no substantial shift in the disease stage at which people are diagnosed despite recent initiatives to increase HIV testing,” the report said.


Maryland House committee holds hearing on transgender bill

Luke Clippinger, Maryland House of Delegates, Democratic Party, Baltimore, gay news, Washington Blade

Del. Luke Clippinger (D-Baltimore City) (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

ANNAPOLIS, Md.–A Maryland House of Delegates committee on Wednesday heard testimony on a bill that would add gender identity and expression to the state’s anti-discrimination law.

Supporters and opponents of House Bill 1265 that state Del. Luke Clippinger (D-Baltimore City) introduced in January testified before the Health and Government Operations Committee.

“All Marylanders deserve to be treated and protected equally under the law,” said Lieutenant Gov. Anthony Brown as he spoke in support of the measure on behalf of Gov. Martin O’Malley’s administration.

State Del. Bonnie Cullison (D-Montgomery County) testified in support of HB 1265 alongside Jenna Fischetti of the Maryland Coalition for Trans Equality, Gender Rights Maryland Board Chair Sharon Brackett, Carrie Evans and Keith Thirion of Equality Maryland, Casa Ruby CEO Ruby Corado, Maryland Commission on Civil Rights Acting Executive Director Cleveland Horton, Hyattsville City Councilman Patrick Paschall and others. Attorney General Doug Gansler and state Del. Heather Mizeur (D-Montgomery County) – who are running against Brown in the Democratic gubernatorial primary – also support HB 1265.

“I have not had a job in my chosen career in nearly 10 years,” said Fischetti, telling lawmakers a suburban Baltimore car dealership fired her in 2004 because of her gender identity and expression.

The Maryland Catholic Conference, Archdiocese of Baltimore and the Diocese of Wilmington (Del.) that includes Maryland’s Eastern Shore are among the groups that oppose HB 1265. State Del. Nic Kipke (R-Anne Arundel County) asked Sister Jeannine Gramick, executive coordinator of the National Coalition of American Nuns, about the Vatican’s decision to sanction her because of her LGBT-specific advocacy.

“It’s opposite to the position of those bishops,” said Gramick after she testified in support of HB 1265.

Elaine McDermott of Maryland Citizens for a Responsible Government cited five reports of attacks and assaults committed by men in restrooms during her testimony against HB 1265. She also described Chrissy Lee Polis, a trans woman who was attacked at a Baltimore County McDonald’s in 2011, as a “prostitute.”

“This bill is unfair to me,” said McDermott. “My facilities should not become an open place, a free for all.”

The hearing took place one day after the Maryland Senate by a 32-15 vote margin approved a trans rights bill – Senate Bill 212 or the Fairness for All Marylanders Act of 2014 – that state Sen. Rich Madaleno (D-Montgomery County) introduced in January.

“I was very happy to see the bill come out of the Senate,” Clippinger told the Washington Blade on Tuesday. “We’ve got great momentum to get the bill out of the House.”

Clippinger, Evans and others continue to applaud Madaleno for introducing SB 212. Gender Rights Maryland Executive Director Dana Beyer, who announced her candidacy against the Montgomery County Democrat in January, has repeatedly praised state Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery County) for his efforts to secure the measure’s passage last month in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

State Sens. C. Anthony Muse (D-Prince George’s County), James Brochin (D-Baltimore County) and Robert Zirkin (D-Baltimore County) are among the committee members who voted against a trans rights bill in 2013. They backed SB 212 last month when Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee moved to advance it to the Senate floor.

“We’re pleased to see this is becoming a common sense issue that several senators on JPR who voted against the bill last year voted for it this year,” Sarah Warbelow of the Human Rights Campaign told the Blade last week. “They can see it is where we are headed as a country which is ensuring that everyone is treated fairly under the law.”

Baltimore City, Hyattsville and Baltimore, Howard and Montgomery Counties have already enacted trans-inclusive anti-discrimination ordinances.

Neighboring 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 in 2011 approved a trans rights bill with 86 votes. It subsequently died in a Senate committee.

The House Health and Government Operations Committee is expected to vote on HB 1265, which has 61 co-sponsors, on March 12.


HIV rates among MSMs still a problem: study

HIV rates remain a problem for men who have sex with men. (Photo courtesy Bigstock)

HIV rates remain a problem for men who have sex with men. (Photo courtesy Bigstock)

VANCOUVER — The number of new HIV diagnoses in British Columbia has steadily declined in the past decade, but not for gay and bisexual men, who have shown no meaningful decreases and accounted for nearly two-thirds of new cases in 2012, according to a new report from British Columbia’s provincial health officer, the Globe and Mail reports.

Perry Kendall released the report, co-authored with Mark Gilbert from the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, on Monday, noting a complex interaction of societal and structural drivers has resulted in gay and bisexual men carrying a disproportionate burden of HIV in B.C. These include individual factors such as sexual behavior and HIV testing, as well as outside factors such as stigma, marginalization, poor social supports and other systemic challenges to HIV prevention, the article said.

“While there has been considerable advancement in understanding and treating HIV, and related successes in reducing HIV incidence overall in B.C., existing programs and initiatives have not resulted in meaningful reductions in HIV incidence among gay and bisexual men since the early 2000s,” the report stated.

“This exposure group currently makes up the largest number and proportion of new HIV diagnoses in B.C. Renewing HIV prevention in B.C. requires working with gay and bisexual men to address the many drivers of the epidemic and making meaningful improvements in HIV prevention within this important exposure group.”