Gay What ?
Rest of site back up shortly!

Should we always vote for the LGBT candidate?

Richard Tisei, Republican, Massachusetts, gay news, Washington Blade

Richard Tisei (Photo courtesy of Tisei).

A gay man is running for Congress in Massachusetts against a straight incumbent. The gay man has been endorsed by the Victory Fund. So why are so many members of Congress who are strong supporters of both the Victory Fund and LGBT rights holding a fundraiser in Washington on June 25 for the straight guy?

Those hosting the fundraiser include Sen. Ed Markey, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and participating are Steny Hoyer, Richard Neal, James McGovern, Michael Capuano, Stephen Lynch, Niki Tsongas, as well as members who are themselves gay or bisexual, including Reps. David Cicilline, Jared Polis, Mark Takano, Kyrsten Sinema, Mark Pocan and former Congressman Barney Frank. The easy answer is that the gay man is running as a Republican and the straight incumbent is a Democrat. But the answer is really much more complicated than that.

The gay Republican is Richard Tisei and he first ran and lost against the straight incumbent John Tierney (D-Mass.) in 2012. Tisei served in the Massachusetts Legislature for 26 years. He then ran and lost as the lieutenant governor candidate on Charlie Baker’s ticket in 2010. It was at that time that he came out. The Democratic incumbent is Tierney, who has served in Congress since 1997. He is a liberal member of Congress who has voted with other Democratic representatives from Massachusetts. He is the co-author of the Green Jobs Act of 2007 and the College Affordability and Accountability Act of 2008 and a strong supporter of LGBT rights.

The issue is more than just gay or straight because in Congress today, seemingly even more than in the past, party affiliation is paramount. That is the reason so many LGBT members are willing to raise money and support a straight person over a gay person. Should Tisei win and come to Washington, his first vote would be for the Republican leadership. Today that would be John Boehner for speaker and most likely even more conservative Republicans for majority leader and whip. Those votes alone will dictate what Tisei can or can’t accomplish during his tenure in office.

The man Tisei is committed to supporting for speaker is John Boehner. Boehner has so far refused to bring ENDA to a floor vote, even though it passed with bipartisan support in the Senate. So even if Tisei campaigns and says he supports ENDA it won’t matter. He will be casting that first hypocritical vote for leadership that controls the agenda and opposes what he says he supports.

Tisei’s supporters say that having an openly gay Republican in the House can impact others in his party. Tisei’s history suggests otherwise. When he ran for lieutenant governor with Baker in 2010, he wasn’t able to convince his running mate to support transgender rights.

The issue for many Democrats is simple: Electing another Republican just helps Boehner and the far right stay in power. We have often seen that contrary to changing the Republican Party, LGBT groups in the Republican Party like Log Cabin, went along to get along and supported Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan who campaigned on a pledge to appoint judges opposed to marriage equality.

Like many, I hope the Republican Party will change in the future. I believe that enough Republicans will decide that they can’t continue to support leadership and a platform that is consistently on the wrong side of history. They will see that a Republican Party that refuses to pass an immigration reform bill, continues to carry on a war against women’s rights, including denying equal pay for equal work, campaigns against raising the minimum wage and works to deny full civil and human rights to the LGBT community is not a path to a better future for America. But that fight will have to be carried on internally in the Republican Party.

Democrats shouldn’t be led to believe that they are helping by electing Republican members of Congress — gay or straight — who will support the current leadership.


Pelosi hints at ‘plan’ for ENDA as supporters stand by bill

Nancy Pelosi, ENDA, United States House of Representatives, California, gay news, Washington Blade

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said the Senate version of ENDA is better than nothing. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

After prominent LGBT advocacy groups withdrew their support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act this week over its religious exemption, a number of other organizations and lawmakers who continue to support the bill are reasserting its potential to extend protections to LGBT workers.

During her weekly news conference, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) suggested she was still on board with ENDA by insisting the Senate-passed version is better than nothing.

“When you’re an advocate, 100 percent is your goal,” Pelosi said. “When you have to make a vote, the bill that we have is one that passed the Senate in a bipartisan way. I think that has a big value, and if we were able to pass it, send it to the president and get it on his desk.”

Pelosi, considered a strong supporter of the LGBT community, wouldn’t explicitly say whether she would vote for ENDA, despite repeated questioning from the Washington Blade and the Huffington Post, but maintained she’s “in consultation” with members and LGBT advocates and hinted at a plan that she wouldn’t convey at this time.

“Do we want to give up on this?” Pelosi said. “Because we have some Republican co-sponsors on the bill, overwhelming sponsorship among the House Democrats. We have an opportunity there. Or we can go to a place where we might not have Republican co-sponsors without the clause.”

On Tuesday, five major legal groups that work on LGBT advocacy issues and the LGBT labor group Pride at Work announced they were withdrawing support for ENDA over the religious exemption as the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force Action Fund announced it now opposes the bill.

The Human Rights Campaign, the National Center for Transgender Equality and Freedom to Work still support the version pending before Congress, but said they welcome a narrower religious exemption.

But the withdrawal of support complicated the chances of passing a version of ENDA in the Republican-controlled House, which was already an uphill task. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has repeatedly said he opposes the legislation.

Throughout her remarks, Pelosi acknowledged her objections to the religious exemption, calling it a “conscience clause” because she doesn’t know what to call language with which she doesn’t agree.

Like many others who’ve now expressed concerns about ENDA, Pelosi said the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Hobby Lobby case, which allows closely held corporations to deny contraception coverage for religious reasons, had an impact on her thinking on ENDA.

“Before the court decision, I would say, I would have voted for the bill as I celebrated its passage in the United States Senate because it’s a giant step forward,” Pelosi said. “Again, not what we want, but what we could get passed, and that’s what legislation is.”

Pelosi also insisted that votes in the House Democratic caucus for ENDA without a religious exemption are present, so the only question is whether Republicans and the Senate can pass a revised bill.

“Our Democratic votes are solid with or without the clause, so I just want to get Republican votes right now, or else win the election and then have a bill, but you still have to deal with 60 votes in the Senate and that’s hard for people to understand, but that is the case,” Pelosi said.

Speaking about the religious exemption, Pelosi told the Blade she has a plan, but wasn’t in a position to convey at the moment any information about it.

“I have a plan,” Pelosi said. “I’m not going to tell you right now what it is, because this is really important to me.”

According to The Huffington Post, House Democrats have begun talks about reintroducing ENDA with a narrower religious exemption to appease LGBT groups that bolted from the bill. Sources have told the Blade about the possibility of attaching ENDA to an appropriations bill in the Senate for the House to pass as a larger package.

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, praised Pelosi’s leadership on ENDA, saying he welcomes plans to push forward on LGBT protections.

“Leader Nancy Pelosi is an outstanding champion for LGBT Americans and it’s great that she and our allies in the House are creating plans to continue the fight against those narrow-minded politicians who are blocking LGBT workplace protections from getting a simple up or down vote in Congress,” Almeida said. “We want those plans to include a narrower religious exemption with absolutely no Hobby Lobby loopholes, and we want to keep pushing forward for a long overdue vote on LGBT workplace protections.”

Other supporters of ENDA are reasserting the importance of the legislation, despite the withdrawal of support from LGBT advocates.

In a statement to the Blade, Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), the only openly LGBT member of the U.S. Senate, emphatically said she remains a supporter of ENDA and will continue to fight for its passage.

“I’ve been fighting this fight long enough to know that no bill is perfect, but we found common ground to prohibit workplace discrimination against LGBT Americans simply because of who they are or who they love,” Baldwin said. “Every American deserves the freedom to work free of discrimination and I will continue to call on the House to put progress ahead of politics and give the Senate-passed ENDA bill an up or down vote because this legislation provides workplace protections that millions of LGBT people deserve and need today.”

Spokespersons for Republicans Mark Kirk (Ill.) and Rob Portman (Ohio), who voted for the bill in the Senate, also maintained they continue to support the bill. The office of Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) didn’t respond to a request to comment.

“Sen. Kirk has consistently been a vocal supporter of the LGBT community and will continue to back ENDA and the protections it affords countless Americans,” said Danielle Varallo, a Kirk spokesperson.

On Wednesday, the Third Way, a centrist group that supports the advancement of LGBT rights, delivered an advance copy of a memo to the Blade titled, “Don’t Abandon ENDA,” which urges advocates not to reject the legislation over the religious exemption. It’s written by Lanae Erickson Hatalsky, Third Way’s director of social policy and politics; and Sarah Trumble, Third Way’s policy counsel.

“While it is understandable that many Americans — gay and straight — feel worried about the right wing’s ever-expanding claims to opt out of laws based on religious liberty, ENDA’s religious exemption is not the problem, and abandoning ENDA in order to protest it is not the solution,” the memo states.

According to the memo, whether or not ENDA contains a religious exemption, religious organizations could still discriminate against LGBT workers if the organization deems they violated a tenet of the organization’s religion because Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 allows religious organizations to discriminate on the basis of religion. That means a religious organization could terminate for religious reasons a male employee if he decided to date or marry another man, the memo says.

“It is unlikely a male gay janitor who worked for a religious organization would feel better if his employers fired him for deciding to openly date or marry another man than if they fired him for being gay,” the memo says. “While that difference matters, it is not enough to throw the ENDA baby out with the bathwater.”

Meanwhile, Pelosi said the continuing debate over whether there should be LGBT non-discrimination protections enshrined into law is baffling to her.

“I can’t even believe that it should even be necessary to still need such a bill, but it is, and in states where it exists, it has not had any of the consequences that Speaker Boehner has said — job killer, whatever, this, that and the other thing,” Pelosi said. “No. It has worked very well. We want it be a national law, and so we’re going to carefully review what the options are.”


Conservative group blasts gay D.C. mayoral candidate

Bruce Majors, Libertarian Party, gay news, Washington Blade

Libertarian mayoral candidate Bruce Majors. (Photo courtesy of Bruce Majors)

The Republican Security Council, a conservative group that advocates for U.S. “military strength,” released a statement this week denouncing gay D.C. mayoral candidate Bruce Majors as an “avowed homosexual” whose positions on foreign policy are “well to the left” of President Obama and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.

Majors is running as a Libertarian Party candidate. The Republican Security Council says in its statement that Majors has embraced the Libertarian Party’s “anti-war” positions that it says would weaken U.S. foreign policy initiatives and hinder the fight against terrorism.

“I actually pledge, if elected mayor of D.C., not to remove any of the D.C. government military bases from Japan or Germany,” Majors quipped in a statement of his own. “So the Republican Security Council has nothing to fear.”

The RSC says on its website that it has no official connection with the Republican Party. In its statement about Majors, the group criticizes him for backing the Libertarian Party candidate for governor of Virginia last year.

The group says the Libertarian candidate took away votes from GOP gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli, who opposes LGBT rights, resulting in the election of Democrat Terry McAuliffe, a strong supporter of LGBT rights.

“He completely supports gay marriage and has worked against candidates who back the Defense of Marriage Act,” the group said of Majors.

Robert Turner, the gay executive director of the D.C. Republican Party, said the D.C. GOP supports marriage equality and its representatives testified in favor of D.C.’s marriage equality law in 2009.


Ryan White’s mother, others urge Congress to continue AIDS programs

Jeanne White-Ginder, Ryan White, gay news, Washington Blade

Jeanne White-Ginder (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Jeanne White-Ginder, the mother of Ryan White, the Indiana teenager who became an internationally recognized advocate for people with AIDS until his death in 1990, urged Congress this week to continue funding the AIDS program that bears her son’s name.

At a news conference at the National Press Club on Wednesday, White-Ginder joined leaders of the AIDS Institute, a national AIDS advocacy organization, in calling on Congress to approve a $2.3 billion funding package proposed by President Obama for the Ryan White CARE Act program for fiscal year 2015.

“When Ryan was a teenager living with AIDS in the early 1990s there was little the medical community could offer him, but we tried all we could,” White-Ginder said. “Today, with proper treatment, thanks to antiretroviral medications, people living with HIV can live relatively healthy lives if they are first tested and linked to and retained in care,” she said.

“I’m in Washington to urge members of Congress to fully fund the Ryan White HIV/AIDS program so the more than half a million people currently being helped by the program continue to receive life-saving care and the ones who are not can take advantage of AIDS treatment,” White-Ginder told the news conference.

Michael Ruppal, executive director of the AIDS Institute, and Carl Schmid, the group’s deputy executive director, said the healthcare reform program proposed by Obama and passed by Congress known as the Affordable Care Act has provided private insurance coverage for many people previously enrolled in various Ryan White programs.

But the two said gaps remain in health coverage for low-income people with HIV/AIDS under the Affordable Care Act. They said the Ryan White programs – especially the prescription drug program known as ADAP – are critical components to the overall care needed for at least 550,000 people currently enrolled in Ryan White programs.

Schmid said the Ryan White program, among other things, is helping low-income people who obtain private insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act pay for something that healthcare reform advocates initially didn’t expect from the so-called Obamacare program – high co-payments for prescription drugs and high deductible costs for medical treatment such as doctor visits.

White-Ginder and representatives of the AIDS Institute were scheduled to visit members of the House of Representatives on Wednesday afternoon to urge them to push for passage of the Ryan White appropriations package that the Senate passed earlier this year.

Among the lawmakers with whom they were expected to meet were House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Fred Upton (R-Mich.), the committee’s ranking minority member Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), and Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), who are members of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Health.

“For almost 25 years, the program has helped save countless lives,” White-Ginder said at the news conference. “I am here for Ryan to remind our leaders that we cannot forget him or the 650,000 others who have died of AIDS and the over 1.1 million people currently living with HIV in the U.S.”

Added White-Ginder, “It is my hope that during my visit to Capitol Hill, they will listen to the story of a mother and her son and the hope that people with HIV have today if they have access to the medical care, medications and other services that are offered through the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program.”

Carl Schmid, Ryan White, AIDS Institute, gay news, Washington Blade

Carl Schmid, the AIDS Institute’s deputy executive director, said gaps remain in health coverage for low-income people with HIV/AIDS under the Affordable Care Act. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)


Victory Fund’s dangerous endorsement

Richard Tisei, Republican, Massachusetts, gay news, Washington Blade

Gay Republican Richard Tisei is challenging a pro-LGBT Democrat for Congress in Massachusetts. (Photo courtesy of Tisei).



Recently, the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund endorsed former Massachusetts Republican Senate Minority Leader Richard Tisei, who is openly gay, for Congress. Although I applaud Tisei — and all LGBT political candidates who run for public office — this endorsement is not justified and sets a dangerous precedent.

Tisei’s opponent, Democratic Rep. John Tierney, has been a staunch champion for LGBT rights — even when it wasn’t popular. He backed marriage equality in Massachusetts, despite the criticism. He has supported the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” an inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act; he was a strong and early supporter of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act and he has a HRC score of 100 percent in the 112th Congress.

Tierney’s support for LGBT causes is clean, clear and perfect.

And, Congressman Tierney will do one thing Tisei will not do — vote for Leader Nancy Pelosi as the next Speaker of the House.

It is no secret that Speaker John Boehner does not support ENDA, claiming it is not necessary. Nor is it a secret that the GOP continues to block or stall every single LGBT advancement at all levels, and in all parts of the country. Given the recent events in Arizona, ENDA is needed now more than ever and if Democrats were in control, ENDA would be the law of the land. Make no mistake, Tisei’s potential vote for Boehner would be a vote to further delay justice for LGBT Americans who face employment discrimination.

Torey Carter, COO of the Victory Fund, said Tisei’s election to Congress would “shatter a glass ceiling for the Republican Party” and “further the dialogue within the GOP about LGBT issues.”  With all due respect to Carter, at what cost and at whose expense? Should those who fight for LGBT rights have to sit by and wait for the Republicans to understand? Additionally, in order to “further” one must “start.” They have had 40 years to start the dialogue and who is gullible enough to believe Tisei can help them with that process?

This country has moved on and the election of Tisei over Rep. Tierney would represent a major setback for LGBT Americans. We must never, ever turn our backs on those who have championed our causes, like Tierney, simply to “shatter glass” or “further dialogue (within the GOP)” or whatever other reason the Victory Fund uses to describe this dangerous endorsement.

Joe Racalto is president of Giesta Racalto, LLC. He served as former Rep. Barney Frank’s senior policy adviser and is a board member at Freedom to Work.


Will new voices call on Obama to sign ENDA exec order?

Debbie Wasserman Schultz, DNC, Democratic National Committee, Lesbian Leadership Council, gay news, Washington Blade

DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz is among those who haven’t articulated support for an ENDA executive order. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

A new letter is being circulated among members of Congress urging President Obama to sign an executive order barring discrimination against LGBT workers, raising questions about whether pro-gay lawmakers who have previously made no explicit calls for the directive will take the opportunity to do so.

Key members of the Democratic leadership have yet to call for the executive order as have Republicans who’ve already articulated support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, legislation that would bar workplace discrimination against LGBT people.

The letter that’s being circulated among lawmakers calls on Obama to sign the order in the wake of his declaration that 2014 will be a “Year of Action” through administrative means if Congress doesn’t act on his legislative agenda.

“As we continue to work towards final passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) with strong bipartisan support, we urge you to take action now to protect millions of workers across the country from the threat of discrimination simply because of who they are or who they love,” the letter states.

A source familiar with the letter said the opportunity to sign it would close at the end of Monday.

Although this is the first letter intended to include signatures from members of both the House and Senate, it’s not the first time lawmakers signed letters calling for the executive order. Last year, 110 House Democrats signed a letter seeking the directive and 37 senators signed a letter to that effect.

But neither of those letters included names of lawmakers in Democratic leadership or Republicans — even though many had previously articulated support for the executive order or ENDA in some capacity. The newly circulated letter presents an opportunity for those lawmakers to augment the call with powerful voices and create a bipartisan effort to push Obama to take administrative action to protect LGBT workers from discrimination.

The top members of the House Democratic Caucus — House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Assistant House Minority Leader Jim Clyburn (D-Calif.) — each refrained from signing the House version of the letter in 2013. None of the offices for those lawmakers responded to the Washington Blade’s request to comment on whether they’d sign the letter this time around.

[UPDATE: Mariel Saez, a Hoyer spokesperson, told the Washington Blade on Monday following the initial publication of this article that the Democratic Whip "is signing onto the letter."]

Even though she didn’t sign the letter, Pelosi has been on the record in support of the executive order since 2011, when the Blade asked her during her weekly news conference if she’d support that action. She also said Obama “of course” should sign the directive in January when speaking with The Huffington Post.

Clyburn was quoted as saying by The Huffington Post he feels “very strongly” that Obama should sign the executive order just months ago, reportedly adding “I don’t know where I would be today if the executive order had not been used to get rid of slavery.” The Blade is unaware of any public comments from Hoyer on the LGBT executive order.

At the time the 2013 letter was made public, Pelosi’s office cited a policy that she refrains from signing group letters because of her position in Democratic leadership. However, she had earlier signed her name to letters seeking action from the administration to help bi-national same-sex couples in addition to signing amicus briefs calling on federal courts to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act.

[UPDATE #2: Following publication of this article, Drew Hammill, a Pelosi spokesperson, said his boss won't sign the letter currently being circulated, noting she rarely signs group letters, and said she'll instead take her own course of action.

"Leader Pelosi has publicly expressed support for this executive order and will be sending her own private letter to the President on this matter," Hammill said.]

Also conspicuously absent from the 2013 letter is Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who also serves as chair of the Democratic National Committee and is known for her support of LGBT rights. In the past week, she’s announced the DNC would form a lesbian leadership council and hired a gay operative as the DNC’s national political director.

Neither Wasserman Schultz’s congressional office in D.C. nor the DNC responded to the Blade’s request for comment on whether she’d sign the letter this time around.

In January, Wasserman Schultz told The Huffington Post she broadly supports the idea of Obama using his executive authority, but refused to say whether that principle applies to an executive order for LGBT workers.

Wasserman Schultz’s name was also absent from letters seeking support of bi-national same-sex couples. At the time one letter was signed in 2011, Wasserman Schultz told reporters during an Immigration Equality fundraiser she supported the action, but didn’t feel comfortable making demands on the administration because of her position in the DNC.

“Given that I’m the chair of the DNC, it’s a little odd for me to be asking the administration to do specific things,” Wasserman Schultz said at the time. “So I personally support it, but because I’m also the political voice of the president, asking the president to do things publicly can get a little awkward.”

On the Senate side, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) also didn’t sign his chamber’s version of the letter in 2013. His office didn’t respond to a request for comment on whether he’ll add his name this time around.

Reid has offered a nuanced position on the executive order. In February, he told The Huffington Post, “If the president decides to do it, I’d be in favor of it.”

But on either the letter signed by the House or the Senate in 2013, not a single Republican signed their name. If a single one did so this time around, it would represent the first time that a Republican lawmaker had called on Obama to sign an executive order.

None of the offices of 10 Republican senators who voted for ENDA on the Senate floor responded to a request for comment on the letter. Those are Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Dean Heller (R-Nev.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.).

Despite being an original co-sponsor of ENDA, Kirk has previously spoken against an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT workers.

“If we load executive order upon executive order, all of which would be wiped out the day after the president of the other party takes power, you really haven’t advanced the ball much,” Kirk said in 2011. “That’s why the legislation is absolutely necessary.”

In the House, six Republicans co-sponsor ENDA: Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.), Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.), Chris Gibson (R-N.Y.) and Jon Runyan (R-N.J.).

According to the Huffington Post, Ros-Lehtinen has said she doesn’t support the executive order. Of those six Republicans, only Dent’s office responded to the Blade’s request to comment on the letter, and the response was negative.

“Congressman Dent believes that the regular legislative process is the best way to proceed in making this critical legislation outlawing workplace discrimination the law of the land,” said Dent spokesperson Shawn Millan.

Gregory Angelo, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, said he doesn’t know whether Republicans will sign the letter, but hopes to see some GOP names calling for the executive order.

“I’m not going to engage in speculation, but with declared GOP support for ENDA among House members of both the House and Senate, I would hope to see some Republican representation on any letter holding the president accountable to a promise he made to Americans six years ago,” Angelo said.

Neither the LGBT Equality Caucus, which is handling circulation of the letter in the House, nor the office of ENDA’s chief sponsor in the Senate Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), which is handling it in the Senate, responded to the Blade’s request for comment over the weekend about expected signers of the letter.


The story behind the Harvey Milk stamp

Harvey Milk stamp, gay news, Washington Blade

The Harvey Milk commemorative stamp is set to be released this spring.

While no specific date has been announced for the official release of the United States Postal Service’s first-ever Harvey Milk stamp, the Washington Blade has confirmed that the release date will be in May—not as late as June, as has been reported by several media outlets and as the postal service’s own Web site still indicates is possible.

“It will be May, not June,” said Susan McGowan, director of USPS Office of Stamps and Corporate Licensing. “And we hope people will turn out to experience a very special release ceremony.”

The stamp’s coming out party promises to be a big affair for the postal service—one that’s been nearly a decade in the making.

“Let’s just say it’s going to be a great celebration,” McGowan told the Blade.

Today, Harvey Milk may seem like a shoe-in as a candidate to be honored with the issuance of a U.S. postage stamp bearing his likeness.

But according to organizers of the National Harvey Milk Stamp Campaign, there was fervent opposition from some of the country’s most fundamentalist religious groups, as well as from some members of the Citizens Stamp Approval Committee (CSAC), which votes to approve about 25 stamp requests out of about 1,000 requests each year.

“I know for a fact that some of the stamp committee members were absolutely opposed to the idea of a Harvey Milk stamp or a stamp honoring any homosexual leader,” said San Diego City Commissioner Nicole Murray Ramirez, head of the International Imperial Court System, which led the national campaign to win approval for the stamp.

“That was early on, of course. I think as the process moved on and they saw how much support we had not only from Democrats, but from top Republicans, support grew.”

Although she couldn’t say whether the Citizens Stamp Approval Committee’s vote for the Harvey Milk stamp was divided or unanimous, USPS’s McGowan was adamant that there is no story of impassioned opposition to the stamp on the committee.

“I think you’re trying to find controversy where there wasn’t any,” she said. “It’s quite possible the vote was unanimous; we don’t keep those details because all that is needed is a simple majority for approval.”

What matters, says McGowan, is that the committee did approve the Harvey Milk stamp, and that it will be released in May.

Ramirez said the process for winning approval for the Harvey Milk stamp was arduous. But he added that he and his colleagues on the stamp campaign, including Stuart Milk — Harvey Milk’s nephew who is also a gay civil rights advocate — GLAAD, the Human Rights Campaign, the Harvey Milk Foundation, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, numerous senators and members of Congress, mayors and others, were gratified that it succeeded.

“I don’t think it was as hard as it would have been 20 years ago,” Ramirez said. “In the end, I think we were treated fairly and we got approval for the stamp faster than a lot of other stamp campaigns.”

Still, some organizations such as Save California, a right-wing religious group, plan to protest the postal service’s decision to commemorate Harvey Milk, whom they call a “sexual predator.”

Nevertheless, Ramirez said national symbols, such as commemorative stamps, speak louder and resound for longer than any words of hate or bigotry espoused by angry ultra-conservatives.

“The fact that we now have the image of one of our greatest GLBT leaders on a beautifully designed United States postage stamp says more than anything else about how far we have come as a country fighting against the hatred that we still face as gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people,” said Ramirez.

Ramirez knows about that history through his own experience. He helped lead historic marches for LGBT rights in the early 1970s in downtown San Diego and other California locales to protest police abuse of gay people.

“Young people don’t know how bad it was,” Ramirez said. “You could get beat up or worse by the police, just for being in a gay bar. This stamp honoring Harvey Milk shows that by fighting for our rights and never giving up, we can change the way the majority of people behave toward minorities, whether it’s racial minorities or GLBT people.”

According to McGowan, the postal service received thousands of letters of support for the Milk stamp.

“It was overwhelming,” she said. “We get about 30,000 letters of support for stamp proposals every year, but that’s for all of the thousand or so annual stamp proposals combined. The amount of public support for this stamp was really amazing.”

The stamp campaign began with a simple letter, dated Oct. 20, 2009, signed by Ramirez in his capacity then as chair of the City of San Diego’s Human Relations Commission, asking the Citizens Stamp Approval Committee to consider and approve the design and issuance of a U.S. postage stamp commemorating and bearing an image of San Francisco City and County Supervisor Harvey Milk.

In essence, the Harvey Milk campaign asked the postal service for the first time to specifically honor a person for being a tireless soldier in the battle for equal rights for LGBT people—and for having the courage and tenacity to become one of the nation’s first openly gay elected public officials.

Ramirez and his fellow signers of the San Diego Human Relations Commission’s letter to CSAC wrote in 2009: “The governor of the state of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, recently inducted Harvey Milk into the California Hall of Fame, saying ‘he embodies California’s innovative spirit and has made a mark on history.”

By citing California’s then Republican governor’s support for the stamp, the campaign hoped to demonstrate the principles Milk stood for crossed party lines.

“Harvey Milk is recognized nationally and globally as a pioneer of the LGBT civil rights movement for his exceptional leadership and dedication to equal rights,” the letter continued.

That same year, the film “Milk” won Sean Penn an Oscar for best actor in recognition of his critically acclaimed portrayal of the slain civil rights leader. The hit film also brought home an Oscar for writer Dustin Lance Black for best screenplay.

That was also the year that President Obama posthumously awarded Harvey Milk the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Now, five years later, a postage stamp featuring Milk’s smiling face will finally be released. The stamp will find its way into the stamp collections of philatelists throughout the world.

According to one gay stamp collector, given the fact that this is the first stamp expressly honoring an openly gay American hero, it is conceivable that the postal service may get a whole new generation of LGBT philatelists as stamp-collecting customers.

“Harvey Milk continues to inspire us all to strive for a society that provides unlimited and equal opportunities for all our citizens,” wrote Rep. Nancy Pelosi to CSAC when she was still speaker of the House of Representatives, imploring the committee to approve the stamp. “The United States Postal Service has yet to honor an LGBT American hero with a stamp, commemorating the life and efforts of Harvey Milk would be a testament to Harvey’s courage and a symbol of pride to anyone who has ever felt discrimination or cared about those who have.”

Recently, a new stamp campaign was launched for another openly gay Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient.

In January, the Blade broke the news that many of the same people and organizations that won approval for the Harvey Milk stamp have joined with Walter Naegle, Mandy Carter and the National Black Justice Coalition (which Carter cofounded), to win approval for a United States postage stamp commemorating the life and work of the late Bayard Rustin.

Along with A. Phillip Randolph, Rustin was chief organizer of the 1963 March on Washington for Freedom and Jobs, where Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his historic “I Have a Dream” speech.

“The current campaign is a new effort, but there have been letters written for more than a decade suggesting that Bayard be honored with a stamp,” said Walter Naegle, Rustin’s surviving partner. “Perhaps an increase in the number of supporters will help, but the postal service doesn’t seem to be influenced by such efforts.”

Naegle is currently engaged in an ongoing Rustin awareness campaign, focusing his efforts on a multitude of fronts. He promises to do what he can to help the Bayard Rustin National Stamp Campaign succeed.


ENDA’s long, frustrating path

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

Rep. Bella Abzug (Photo public domain)

May 1974 — Rep. Bella Abzug (D-N.Y.), along with Rep. Ed Koch (D-N.Y.), introduce the Equality Act, which would have amended the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include sexual orientation under the protected classes for employment as well as housing and public accommodations.


Gerry Studds, ENDA, Democratic Party, Massachusetts, United States House of Representatives, gay news, Washington Blade

Rep. Gerry Studds (Washington Blade photo by Clint Steib)

June 1994 — Gay Rep. Gerry Studds (D-Mass.) introduces the modern version of ENDA, which includes protections only for employment.


Ted Kennedy, ENDA, Democratic Party, United States Senate, Massachusetts, gay news, Washington Blade

Sen. Edward Kennedy (Washington Blade photo by Doug Hinckle)

July 1994 — Under the leadership of Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), the Senate Committee on Labor & Human Resources holds the first-ever congressional hearing on ENDA. Lesbian attorney Chai Feldblum is among the witnesses.

October 1994 — Running for a U.S. Senate seat in Massachusetts, Mitt Romney pledges in a letter to the Log Cabin Republicans to co-sponsor ENDA “and if possible broaden to include housing and credit.” Romney would later say in 2006 he sees no need for ENDA before he pursued his presidential bid.

September 1996 — A deal is struck in the Senate to bring ENDA to a floor vote along with the Defense of Marriage Act. Although DOMA passes the Senate by a wide margin, ENDA fails narrowly by a 49-50 vote.


Bill Clinton, Democratic Party, Arkansas, gay news, Washington Blade

President Bill Clinton (Official White House Photo by Barbara Kinney public domain)

January 1999 — President Bill Clinton becomes the first U.S. president to call for ENDA passage during a State of the Union address, saying discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation “is wrong, and it ought to be illegal.”

April 2002 — Under the leadership of Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee reports out ENDA to the Senate floor. The legislation never sees a floor vote.


Barney Frank, Massachusetts, Democratic Party, United States House of Representatives, ENDA, gay news, Washington Blade

Rep. Barney Frank (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

April 2007 — Gay Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) introduces a version of ENDA in the House that for the first time includes language barring employment discrimination against transgender people.

September 2007 — Much to the consternation of LGBT advocates, Frank introduces a new version of ENDA that strips the bill of its transgender provisions, saying the votes are lacking in the House to pass a trans-inclusive bill.

October 2007 — Even though the bill has been stripped of its transgender protections, the Human Rights Campaign is a signatory to a letter from the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights urging members of Congress to continue to support ENDA.

November 2007 — The sexual orientation-only version of ENDA passes the House by a 235-184 vote. It’s never brought up for a Senate vote.


Barack Obama, ENDA, United States of America, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade

President Barack Obama (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

May 2008 — In a heated primary with Hillary Clinton, then-Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama vows in an open letter to the LGBT community to “place the weight of my administration” behind the enactment of a fully inclusive ENDA.

June 2009 — Following the inauguration of President Obama, Frank again introduces a transgender-inclusive version of ENDA, saying “we’re beyond” any possibility of removing that language.

August 2009 — Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) introduces a trans-inclusive ENDA. It’s the first time a Senate version of the bill contains protections for the transgender community.


Thomas Perez, Obama Administration, ENDA, gay news, Washington Blade

Thomas Perez (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

November 2009 — Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas Perez testifies on behalf of the Obama administration before the Senate, calling the bill “a top legislative priority for the Obama administration.”


Nancy Pelosi, ENDA, United States House of Representatives, California, gay news, Washington Blade

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

June 2010 — After the House votes on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) tells the Washington Blade a House vote on ENDA won’t take place until the Senate acts on the military’s gay ban. The House never acts on ENDA before Democrats lose control of the chamber.


Kylar Broadus (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Kylar Broadus (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

June 2012 — Kylar Broadus testifies on behalf of ENDA before the Senate HELP Committee, becoming the first openly transgender person to testify before the chamber.

April 2013 — Gay Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) introduces ENDA as its new chief sponsor in the U.S. House following the retirement of Barney Frank.

June 2013 — President Obama makes ENDA passage a major component of his speech during a Pride reception at the White House, saying, “We can make that happen — because after the last four and a half years, you can’t tell me things can’t happen.”

July 2013 — Under the chairmanship of Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions reports out on ENDA by 15-7 vote, marking the first time a trans-inclusive bill has passed out of committee.

November 2013 — The Senate votes 64-32 on a bipartisan basis to approve ENDA, marking the first time the chamber has passed ENDA and the first time either chamber of Congress has passed a version of the bill with transgender protections.


John Boehner, ENDA, United States House of Representatives, Republican Party, gay news, Washington Blade

House Speaker John Boehner (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

November 2013 — House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said he sees “no basis or no need” for ENDA when asked by the Washington Blade if he’ll allow a vote on the bill. The House has yet to vote on the legislation.


Harvey Milk honored at White House as stamp unveiled

Harvey Milk, Stuart Milk, USPS, United States Postal Service, Nancy Pelosi, John Lewis, Tammy Baldwin, Ronald Stroman, Samantha Power, gay news, Washington Blade

The Harvey Milk stamp was unveiled in a ceremony on Thursday. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The cost of the new stamp commemorating Harvey Milk is 49 cents, but for those who attended a White House event Thursday unveiling the prize for philatelists and LGBT rights supporters alike, the legacy of the gay rights pioneer is priceless.

That was the sentiment expressed by the nine speakers at a two-hour White House event celebrating Milk, who won election as a San Francisco Supervisor in 1977, becoming one of the first openly gay people in the country to hold public office.

Stuart Milk, a gay nephew of Harvey Milk and president of the Harvey Milk Foundation, said his uncle never sought  to achieve an honor such as being on a stamp, but knew the importance his shattering of a glass ceiling in 1977 would have for gay people 36 years later.

“He did see this day because he dreamed it,” Milk said. “It’s what gave him the strength to go into work with death threats, and to remain loud and remain with that call that we have to come out.”

Anne Kronenberg, co-founder of the Harvey Milk Foundation, worked on Harvey Milk’s campaign for supervisor and said she’s excited that his image would appear on people’s mail throughout the country.

“I find it a little bit ironic in a wonderful way that during his campaign, we didn’t have enough money for postage,” Kronenberg said. “One beautiful brochure that we put together, we couldn’t get it out. We relied on our volunteers to get it out to our constituents.”

The U.S. Postal Service made the decision to mint the Harvey Milk Forever stamp as a result of a national campaign led by the San Diego City Commissioner — despite reported opposition from social conservative groups and some members of the Citizens Stamp Approval Committee.

The event took place on May 22, 2014, which would have been Harvey Milk’s 84th birthday; he was assassinated in 1978 by Dan White, who was acquitted of murder and instead convicted on voluntary manslaughter charges.

Although Harvey Milk predicted his own death, Stuart Milk said his uncle hoped that event — and the later acquittal of White — would pave the way for the judicial system to grant equality for LGBT people. Such a vision would be consistent with recent court rulings striking down same-sex marriage bans in Oregon and Pennsylvania.

“It was a wake-up call, and, I think, today we can say we heard it,” Staurt Milk said. “It was truly Uncle Harvey’s dream that we could see a different paradigm resulting from both his assassination and that equally mean-spirited verdict. He hoped our justice system could be moved to not only uphold the rights of LGBT people, but to live free from violence and scorn, and maybe our justice system could even uphold the equality principles for our Constitution.”

The highest ranking member of the Obama administration at the event was U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, who drew a connection between Obama and the legacy associated with Milk.

“I get to work for a president who is identified with two words: hope and change,” Power said. “But it is hard to think of words that more succinctly describe Harvey Milk the leader, the activist, the fighter, the elected official. Hope and change is about a deeply held and proud American tradition: a tradition of toil to ensure the triumph of progress; a tradition of love winning out over fear. Hope and change.”

Gautam Raghavan, the White House public engagement adviser and LGBT liaison, acted as unofficial emcee for the event. He said Milk would have welcomed the honor bestowed on him given his belief in being out.

“I wish he could have grown old and seen the legacy of the hope that he breathed into so many of our lives,” Raghavan said. “And I think he would have liked being a stamp because he knew the best way to change hearts and minds was for people to get to know us.”

Power also alluded to the administration’s support for passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act when talking about recent gains for the LGBT community, including the drafting of Michael Sam by the St. Louis Rams.

“While we now do live in an age where the National Football League has, for the first time, drafted an openly gay man, we still live in an age where the National Football League can fire him for being gay,” Power said. “Postage stamps will not change that. Legislation will.”

Other speakers at the event included Evan Low, a gay city council member from Campbell, Calif.; Ronald Stroman, deputy postmaster general; and Torey Carter, chief operating officer for the Gay & Lesbian Victory Institute.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) repeated her often-told narrative of the legislative process for repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” giving Obama credit for making it happen, but also remembered the death of Milk in 1978 before she was elected to Congress.

“I was thinking that day, ‘Is this how it ends? It this how it ends?’” Pelosi said. “But it really was the beginning, a sad sacrifice to pay, but it was the beginning of so much. And you all know what it is. I don’t need to elaborate.”

Pelosi said that Milk continues to be honored 36 years after his death because he believed in the “fundamental American value of equality” and “cared about the rights of everyone.”

Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a black civil rights leader in the 1960s and one of the lawmakers who voted against the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, said Milk’s fight and the fight for racial equality are one and the same.

“The activism for Harvey Milk came of age during the last social revolution in American history,” Lewis said. “It was a revolution of values and ideas that started in 1955 in the American South and gave rise to other movements in America. Good trouble, necessary trouble, that’s what Harvey Milk got involved in.”

Lesbian Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) attributed her success at being elected to the House in the 1990s and becoming the first openly gay person elected to the Senate to the election of Harvey Milk.

“It’s incredible to look at a time when running for San Francisco supervisor as an openly gay man seemed like a revolutionary act,” Baldwin said. “Harvey knew that. He welcomed the attention. He weathered the insults. He shoved off the death threats. And it wasn’t to satisfy his own ambition, but rather to answer the call he felt to move the cause of equality forward.”

Saying more work needs to be done on civil rights, Baldwin also recalled the controversy over the Sam kiss upon his entry into the NFL, saying we heard the “peanut gallery” of conservatives complain about how they’re supposed to explain that to their nine-year-olds.

“We live in country where most nine-year-olds could probably explain that kiss to their parents without batting an eye,” Baldwin said. “They understand what love is. They understand what fairness is. America is ready to take more steps forward, but it’s going to take more acts of courage and conviction, like the ones that made Harvey Milk a hero.”

A significant portion of the event was dedicated to international LGBT rights as an emerging issue.

Power noted that progress has been made on the international stage, such as by passage of a U.N. resolution in support of LGBT rights, but other countries have fallen backward.

“Hope is about envisioning a world where leaders do not target their most vulnerable citizens with laws that criminalize their existence, as is true, now, in 76 countries around the world, including Nigeria and Uganda, where new legislation, further targeting LGBT individuals, was signed into law earlier this year,” Power said. “Change is about standing up to them when they do. And under President Obama we have.”

Stuart Milk also acknowledged relationships between gay people are still criminalized under law in one-sixth of the world.

“Their very existence is now illegal just because of who they love, just because of who they are,” Milk said. “We cannot allow the backwards march in Asia, in Africa and Eastern Europe. We can’t allow it.”

Among the estimated 150 people attendees seated at the event were gay Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.); gay Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.); Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz; National Gay & Lesbian Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey; gay businessperson Mitchell Gold and gay New Hampshire Democratic Party Chair Ray Buckley.

Obama did not attend. At the same time the ceremony was taking place, Obama was speaking at an event at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y.


Anti-gay group decries Harvey Milk stamp

Harvey Milk, Stuart Milk, USPS, United States Postal Service, Nancy Pelosi, John Lewis, Tammy Baldwin, Ronald Stroman, Samantha Power, gay news, Washington Blade

The U.S. Postal Service unveiled the Harvey Milk stamp last week. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

If your mail comes with a new Harvey Milk stamp in the top right corner, you should tell your postman you won’t accept it. At least, that’s what a fundamentalist anti-gay Christian organization wants you to do.

“Honoring predator Harvey Milk on a U.S. postage stamp is disturbing to say the least,” read a release from the American Family Association, published Wednesday. “Harvey Milk was a very disreputable man and used his charm and power to prey on young boys with emotional problems and drug addiction. He is the last person we should be featuring on a stamp.”

The U.S. Postal Service made history when it unveiled a stamp featuring Milk, one of the nation’s first openly gay elected officials, at a White House event May 22.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was among those who honored Milk, stating that he believed in the “fundamental value of equality.”

But the AFA disagrees.

“This is not diversity; this is perversity,” the AFA’s release said. The group, which aims to “combat the homosexual agenda,” urges its members to request a stamp of the U.S. flag in lieu of the Milk stamp.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has listed the AFA as a hate group since 2010.

The AFA is not the first group to voice its opposition to a stamp featuring Milk’s likeness. San Diego City commissioner Nicole Murray Ramirez, head of the International Imperial Court System, which advocated in favor of the stamp, said that her group experienced blowback from some members of the Citizens Stamp Approval Committee, which approves stamp requests.

“I know for a fact that some of the stamp committee members were absolutely opposed to the idea of a Harvey Milk stamp or a stamp honoring any homosexual leader,” she told the Blade in March.

Milk was a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors before he was assassinated in November 1978.