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GOP remains at odds with LGBT Americans

John Boehner, Republican Party, Ohio, Republican National Convention, Florida, Tampa, United States House of Representatives, gay news, Washington Blade

2012 Republican National Convention. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)


One year ago, the Republican National Committee released a report — commonly known as the GOP “Autopsy Report” — that suggested that Republicans should show the LGBT community “that we care about them, too.” The report also said, “We have become expert in how to provide ideological reinforcement to like-minded people, but devastatingly we have lost the ability to be persuasive with, or welcoming to, those who do not agree with us on every issue.”

Their recommendations weren’t shocking, since Republicans had long seen large deficits in support among LGBT Americans. But one year later, nothing has changed. The simple fact is: the GOP has been on the wrong side of issues relating to LGBT equality for decades.

Republican rhetoric toward LGBT voters has been dismissive at best and truly offensive at worst.

For example, a candidate for a Michigan seat on the Republican National Committee said of gay Americans, Republicans “as a party should be purging this perversion and send them to a party with a much bigger tent.”

The Republican governor of Pennsylvania made an outlandish comparison between a same-sex marriage and the relationship between a brother and sister.

And in recent days, a prominent Republican accused the LGBT community of “bullying” Americans into opposing discriminatory measures.

But it’s not just their rhetoric, it’s their agenda. As marriage equality has become law in many states across the country, including in my home state of New Hampshire, the GOP remains firmly opposed to allowing every American to marry the person they love. In fact, in Oklahoma, Republican Gov. Mary Fallin even went so far as to order the Oklahoma National Guard to stop processing requests for military benefits for all couples just to prevent any benefits from being processed for same-sex couples – an action that directly defied a Pentagon directive.

Additionally, Republicans blocked legislation that would protect LGBT Americans from workplace discrimination, saying it has “no basis or no need.” In fact, New Hampshire’s newest Senate candidate, Scott Brown, opposed the Employee Non-Discrimination Act, which protects LGBT Americans from being fired just for being who they are.

It’s been a year since the Republican Party pledged to be more inclusive, but all it has done is highlight that the GOP continues to stand at odds with the values and priorities of LGBT Americans.

As Democrats, we will not stop fighting for equality for all Americans. We will fight any measure that would discriminate against people just because of who they are or who they love, and we will stand up and fight back against rhetoric that promotes discrimination and further divides Americans.

Raymond Buckley is vice chair of the DNC and chair of the New Hampshire Democratic Party.


House race divides LGBT advocates

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

Richard Tisei said he would serve as a strong advocate for LGBT rights within the ranks of House Republicans if elected. (Photo courtesy of Tisei).

The controversial decision earlier this year by the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund to endorse gay Republican Richard Tisei over pro-LGBT Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.) has prompted five openly gay or bisexual U.S. House members, all Democrats, to sign on as supporters of a fundraiser for Tierney.

The fundraiser, scheduled for June 25 in Washington, is being backed by at least two-dozen prominent LGBT Democrats and straight allies, including the entire Massachusetts congressional delegation, former Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese, and transgender advocate and Maryland State Senate candidate Dr. Dana Beyer.

Gay former Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) is among those signing on as an honorary co-chair of the fundraising event, which is being organized by two of Frank’s former staff members.

The former staffers, Joseph Racalto and Maria Giesta, principals in the Washington political consulting firm Giesta Racalto, said they initiated the event to “blunt” the Victory Fund’s endorsement of Tisei.

Tisei is a former Massachusetts State senator. He has a strong record of support for LGBT rights, including marriage equality. He backed a transgender rights bill that came up before the legislature.

Racalto and other LGBT Democrats supporting Tierney said they have no objection to an LGBT supportive gay Republican running for Congress.

But they said the Victory Fund should not have endorsed such a candidate in a race against a longtime straight ally such as Tierney, who has received a perfect 100 percent rating on LGBT issues from HRC.

“Although I applaud Tisei – and all LGBT political candidates who run for public office — this endorsement is not justified and sets a dangerous precedent,” Racalto said in a Blade commentary.

In a phone interview on Tuesday, Tisei told the Blade he would be a champion for LGBT issues if elected to the House and would serve as a strong advocate for LGBT rights within the ranks of House Republicans.

He said he would not hesitate to defy House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) by signing a discharge petition to force Boehner and other House GOP leaders to bring the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA, to the House floor for a vote.

ENDA, which calls for banning employment discrimination against LGBT people, has been stalled in the Republican-controlled House. The Democratic-controlled Senate passed the legislation last year.

Racalto said that while Tisei has personally been supportive on LGBT issues, his commitment to push for those issues came into question last month when he formed a joint fundraising committee with conservative Republican Frank Guinta, who’s running for a House seat in New Hampshire.

Guinta opposes same-sex marriage and abortion rights and had considered aligning himself with the ultra conservative Tea Party.

Tisei said the joint fundraising arrangement will enable the two candidates to share expenses and won’t in any way compromise his positions in support of LGBT rights.

“During the past 10 years I have seen a lot of people’s positions change and evolve, including the president’s, by the way,” Tisei said.

He added that he sees his role as an advocate for change within the Republican Party and the Republican caucus of the House.

“A lot of people are re-examining their positions on marriage equality and other LGBT issues,” he said. “And I’m going to work with as many different types of people on as many types of issues as I can…And I can serve, especially within the Republican caucus, as someone who helps bring people over to the right side of the issue.”

Gregory Angelo, president of the Log Cabin Republicans, said the group endorsed Tisei last week. Angelo said he isn’t troubled over Tisei’s joint fundraising effort with Guinta.

“The more interesting aspect of this story to me is that ‘Tea Party’ types who contribute to this fund will be donating money to a gay Republican running for the House of Representatives,” Angelo said. “That’s the real story here.”

Victory Fund press secretary Steven Thai said his group saw Tisei as a change agent for the Republican Party along with Tisei’s longstanding record in support of LGBT rights when it endorsed him.

“I think it is sometimes shortsighted for folks to focus on the kind of short-term gains that can be made right now instead of the long-term goal that this world would be very different if we had more Republicans that supported us on our issues,” Thai said. “And the only way we’re ever going to get to that point is by electing openly gay Republicans that care about our issues.”

D.C. gay Democratic activist Peter Rosenstein, who signed on as a member of the host committee for the Tierney fundraiser, said he agrees with the Victory Fund’s mission of helping to elect LGBT-supportive candidates but not at the expense of long-time LGBT-supportive incumbents like Tierney.

“I don’t see this as a conflict with my support for the Victory Fund,” he said in referring to his role in the Tierney fundraiser. “I support the Victory Fund but not all of their candidates.”

Political observers in Massachusetts say Tisei has a shot at unseating Tierney in part because he’s perceived by many voters as a moderate Republican with a progressive record as a state legislator for more than 10 years.

Tisei came within just one percentage point of beating Tierney in the 2012 election at a time when Tierney’s wife and two brothers-in-law became embroiled in an illegal gambling scheme that landed his wife and one brother-in-law in jail.

Tierney himself was cleared of any wrong-doing in the scandal, in which his wife, Patrice Tierney, pleaded guilty in 2010 to filing false tax returns in connection with a checking account belonging to one of her brothers. As much as $7 million in illegal gambling funds passed through the account, according to law enforcement officials.

Politico reported that Tierney blames his brothers-in-law for duping his wife into believing the funds were part of a legal sports gambling business based in the Caribbean island of Antigua, which the brothers claimed to have been operating.

Republican Party operatives both in Massachusetts and outside the state have been raising the gambling scandal in attack ads targeting Tierney.

As if that were not enough, Tierney is being challenged by two Democrats in the state’s Democratic primary in September. One of the candidates, former U.S. Marine and Iraq war veteran Seth Moulton, raised more money than Tierney in the most recent campaign reporting period, raising concern among Tierney supporters. On his campaign website, Moulton has expressed support for LGBT rights, including marriage equality.

The gay House members signing on as honorary co-chairs for the Tierney fundraiser are Reps. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Mark Pocan (D-Wisc.), and Mark Takano (D-Calif.). Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), the first openly bisexual member of Congress, also signed on as an honorary co-chair.

The name of Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), the first openly gay person to win election to the U.S. Senate, is conspicuously absent from the list of honorary co-chairs for the Tierney fundraiser. Racalto said organizers invited Baldwin to participate but have not heard back from her office.

A Baldwin spokesperson didn’t respond to a request from the Blade for a comment on why Baldwin hasn’t signed on to the fundraiser. The Victory Fund endorsed Baldwin in her hotly contested Senate race in 2012 and helped raise money for her successful campaign.

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) has signed on as an honorary co-chair for the Tierney fundraiser along with Tierney’s eight House colleagues from Massachusetts, all of whom are Democrats. The state’s other senator, Elizabeth Warren (D), has so far not signed on as an honorary co-chair.

Other supporters of the event, in addition to Solmonese, Rosenstein, and Beyer, include former Barney Frank staffers Peter Kovar and Diego Sanchez; Brad Luna; John Weinfurter; Tucker Gallagher; Lane Hudson; and Paul Hazen.

Racalto said he didn’t extend an invitation to participate in the event to Rep. Michael Michaud (D-Maine), who came out as gay last year and who has been endorsed by the Victory Fund in his race for governor of Maine.

“We didn’t invite him simply because of his run for governor,” Racalto said. “The Victory Fund played no part in that decision.”

Barney Frank, Massachusetts, World Bank, human rights, Democratic Party, United States House of Representatives, gay news, Washington Blade

Former Rep. Barney Frank and several of his former staffers are involved in a June fundraiser for Rep. John Tierney. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)


My partner is 34 years my senior — so what?

Michael K. Lavers, Andrés Dornberg, gay news, Washington Blade, senior

The writer (on left) and his partner, Andrés. (Photo by Damien Salas; courtesy Michael K. Lavers)

The way that some have reacted to British Olympic diver Tom Daley’s acknowledgement he is in a relationship with a man — rumored to be Oscar-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black who is two decades older — has certainly piqued this humble reporter’s interest.

“Creepy,” “strange” and “way too old” are some of the myriad adjectives and phrases used to describe Daley and Black’s rumored relationship that I have read in the media and online. I don’t find my beloved partner who is 34 years older than I “way too old.” And I most certainly do not find the life we share “creepy” or “strange.”

Sheer coincidence brought us together for the first time.

I met Andrés at a Northwest Washington gay bar on July 8, 2010. It was the last night of a three-day trip to the nation’s capital to visit a good friend and his partner. I was extremely happy because my father had just called me from New Hampshire to tell me that I was to become an uncle for the first time.

Andrés and I continued to chat as we left the bar and walked toward Logan Circle on that sultry July evening. I was momentarily surprised when he told me he was 62 – I was 28 at the time, but the age difference truly did not matter. I thought to myself as I returned home to Brooklyn, N.Y. – and my summer job as managing editor of the Fire Island News – the next morning that I had just met a genuinely nice man with whom I wanted to keep in touch.

Andrés and I reunited a few weeks later when he came to New York to visit his family and I quickly realized there was something more to our friendship than our daily phone calls and lengthy streams of text messages. We officially became a couple a few weeks later when he spent Labor Day weekend with me on Fire Island.

A handful of people noted our age difference when we began dating or when they saw us together. These include an airline ticket agent at BWI who asked me whether I was Andrés’ son when we were trying to get onto another flight to travel to a friend’s wedding in New Hampshire. A person who is thankfully no longer a part of my life rather foolishly concluded that I had a “sugar daddy.”

Andrés and I have done many of the same, mundane and dare I say boring things that I assume most couples do since I moved in with him here in D.C. in October 2011. These include kvetching over the day’s news while drinking our morning coffee; making weekly grocery lists and deciding who is going to pick up the dry cleaning or put gas in the car. He also takes a keen interest in my work as a reporter for the Washington Blade and the front-row seat to LGBT history that my colleagues and I continue to enjoy.

My nephew who turns three in March recently called Andrés to wish him happy birthday. And my parents routinely ask about him when we speak and send them their love.

There is certainly nothing “creepy” or “strange” about the life we share as an inter-generational couple. Our friends, family and other loved ones who knew us as single for way too long agree.

Andrés and I are comfortable enough with who we are as people and especially with our relationship not to worry about whether someone may have an issue with our age difference. The same argument should certainly apply to Tom Daley and his rumored boyfriend.

Those who concern themselves with the age difference of two adults who have made the decision to share their lives with each other almost certainly need to spend more time worrying about themselves and assessing their own issues, insecurities, fill in the blank. It is the very simple mantra of mind your own business as those of us from New Hampshire know all too well.

Michael K. Lavers is a news reporter for the Washington Blade. Reach him at


Shaheen poised to help gay veterans on Senate floor

Jeanne Shaheen, United States Senate, gay news, Washington Blade, New Hampshire, Democratic Party

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) filed the Charlie Morgan Act as an amendment to a veterans benefits bill (Pubic domain photo).

The senior U.S. senator from New Hampshire filed an amendment on Wednesday that would ensure married same-sex couples can access spousal veterans benefits wherever the go in the country, although the measure at this time seems unlikely to see a vote.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) submitted the measure, known as the Charlie Morgan Equal Treatment Act, as a potential amendment to S.1982, a veterans benefits bill under debate this week on Senate floor.

“No one who has served openly in our military and fought for our country should be denied benefits that they’ve rightfully earned,” Shaheen said. “The Charlie Morgan Act makes sure that we fulfill the commitment we have made to all of our veterans and military families so that finally no spouse, child or family can be denied the care and benefits they deserve.”

As the Washington Blade previously reported, seven months after the Supreme Court ruling against Section 3 of Defense of the Marriage Act, the Obama administration is still not affording to veterans benefits — such as disability benefits, survivor benefits and joint burial at a veteran’s cemetery — to married same-sex couples who apply for these benefits in non-marriage equality states.

The portion of the law governing spousal benefits for veterans, 103(c) of Title 38, looks to the state the residence, not the state of celebration, to determine whether a couple is married. The Obama administration has said it’s reviewing whether it can afford these to married same-sex couples in states without marriage equality following the DOMA decision, but no announcement has been made.

The amendment is cosponsored by Sens. Mark Udall (D-Colo), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis).

Udall said in a statement the amendment ensure veterans “receive the benefits they have earned regardless of whom they love or in which state they were legally married.”

“Despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision to strike down the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act, legally married veterans and their families are still being cut off from the benefits they earned through their service to our nation,” Udall said.

Just because the senators filed the amendment, the measure won’t necessarily come up on the Senate floor. Senate leadership has to come to an agreement to allow the amendment to come up for a vote.

Faiz Shakir, a spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), blamed Republicans and said at this time no amendments — including the Charlie Morgan Act — will be able to come up for a vote on the measure.

“The Republicans have been poisoning the debate by insisting that a vote on Iran sanctions be included as part of the bipartisan veterans bill,” Shakir said. “Sen. Reid has insisted that we should allow votes on relevant amendments from both sides (which the Shaheen/Udall proposal would certainly be a candidate for). But until Republicans can agree to the threshold of relevant amendments, we’re stuck in a situation where no progress on amendments can be had.”

Don Stewart, a spokesperson for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), in turn criticized Reid.

“First of all, we’re not even on the bill yet procedurally, so no amendments are in order at this time,” Stewart said. “And once we are, the expectation is that Sen. Reid will ‘fill the tree’ (which blocks ALL other amendments from being considered).

Udall has been vocal about the issue and has written at least two letters to the Obama administration urging federal officials to stop enforcing veterans law in a way that discriminates against same-sex couples.

Mike Saccone, a Udall spokesperson, said the introduction of the amendment shouldn’t be taken as a sign the senator has given up on pushing for an administrative fix to the issue.

“The administration can and should do this on its own, but until that happens Sen. Udall is going to pursue every avenue to fix this and prevent any more incidents of discrimination,” Saccone said.

The amendment is named after New Hampshire National Guard Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Morgan, a plaintiff in the one of the federal lawsuits against the DOMA who passed away last year after a battle with breast cancer. According to Shaheen’s office, Morgan’s spouse and daughter haven’t able to receive certain survivor benefits “due to restrictions in the federal code prohibiting the VA from administering benefits.

Last year, the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs approved the Charlie Morgan Act by voice vote as part of a package of additional bills.

Allison Herwitt, vice president for government affairs at the Human Rights Campaign, was among those calling for passage of the measure.

“While we have made great progress in extending the full range of federal benefits to married lesbian and gay couples, there is still uncertainty regarding the equal recognition of all the families of the brave men and women who have served our nation in uniform,” Herwitt said. “Sen. Shaheen’s bill will honor the memory of Charlie Morgan and ensure that all veteran families get the respect and benefits they deserve.”


Bipartisan organizations will shape our movement

LGBT Republicans, LGBT politics, gay news, Washington Blade

The Victory Fund supports the election of openly LGBT candidates, both Democrats and Republicans as well as independents, who have demonstrated leadership in advancing freedom and equal rights for all LGBT Americans.



As a Democrat from San Francisco and a Republican from New England, we have put our heads together on why the work the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund does is critically important to achieving LGBT equality.

From Arizona to Mississippi to Kansas, recent attempts to pass anti-LGBT legislation remind us of the adage “if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.” These examples illustrate why it is so important that we elect openly LGBT candidates to office: to ensure that our voice is heard, and that basic freedom and human rights are guaranteed for everyone, regardless of whom they are or who they love. That goal has remained the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund’s central credo ever since its founding in 1991.

Last week, the Victory Fund was proud to announce the endorsement of two openly gay congressional candidates: Dan Innis, running in New Hampshire, and Richard Tisei, running in Massachusetts. These two candidates were key players in their states’ push for marriage equality. They also happen to be Republicans. We understand the frustration that many individuals in our community are having with Victory’s endorsements of Republicans, particularly in races against strong Democratic allies. Victory’s endorsements do not take place without considerable amounts of forethought and planning.

This debate brings our community to a critical juncture. Without openly LGBT members of Congress from both parties, how will we continue to move full speed ahead toward the equality we deserve?  The answer does not lie in concentrating on short-term partisan gains, but by continuing to endorse openly LGBT viable candidates across the political spectrum who have a demonstrated leadership record in support of LGBT equality.

We believe it is important to acknowledge our appreciation for the significant contributions of our allies and what they have been able to accomplish at all levels of government, but it is Victory’s firm belief that to sustainably move the needle forward we must help create change in both cloakrooms. As we have seen with marriage equality in state legislatures, out LGBT legislators have to be at the table to help their colleagues understand how these votes affect them as people. Put another way, does anyone think Arizona Republicans would have had such an easy time passing anti-LGBT discrimination if an LGBT colleague sat alongside them in those caucus meetings?

If elected, Dan Innis and Richard Tisei will have the ability to speak to their colleagues about why DOMA needs to be fully repealed. As married men with same-sex spouses, they deserve to have the same privileges as their peers. They will be credible voices, spoken from personal experiences as openly gay Americans — about the need for progress on laws, such as ENDA to protect LGBT workers. We know this because their commitment to equality is not new; they both have considerable track records on LGBT issues.

Many in the LGBT community rightfully call on the Republican Party to drop its outdated opposition to LGBT rights. But to do so will require change to the GOP from the inside as well as the outside, and at all levels of government. That is why Victory supports the election of openly LGBT candidates, both Democrats and Republicans as well as independents, who have demonstrated leadership in advancing freedom and equal rights for all LGBT Americans. The election of openly LGBT candidates in recent years has helped bring that goal within reach — but we cannot expect to achieve all we deserve without having out LGBT Republicans at all levels of public office, especially in Congress.


Alan Simpson speaks out on gay rights

Alan Simpson, gay news, Washington Blade

Former U.S. Sen. Alan K. Simpson says he’s ‘pissed off everyone in America.’ (Washington Blade file photo)

Former U.S. Sen. Alan K. Simpson (R-Wyo.) said he is proud to have helped arrange for former President Gerald Ford, during Ford’s retirement years, to become the first U.S. president to become a member of a gay rights organization.

In an exclusive interview with the Washington Blade last week, Simpson talked about how he sees no contradiction in his longstanding role as a conservative Republican and his support for equal rights for LGBT people, including equal marriage rights for gays and lesbians.

“All I know is we have made great strides for gays and lesbians and transvestites,” he said when asked if he thought Congress would soon approve the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA, a bill calling for banning job discrimination against LGBT people.

Saying he isn’t always certain about the proper terminology to use in discussing LGBT issues, Simpson said he is certain about his longstanding commitment to fairness and equality, even if he is at odds with many of his Republican colleagues.

“Let’s just keep making these strides and it will happen,” he said referring to ENDA, which is expected to come up for a vote in the Senate before Thanksgiving.

“It will happen because other people know these people and they love them,” he said. “And I’m very pleased. Anyone who is on the side of justice and freedom and caring about fellow human beings is pleased about what’s going on.”

Simpson said his own views on gay rights were shaped by his and his wife of 59 years, Ann Schroll Simpson’s, longstanding belief in fairness and equality for everyone and by gay people they came to know over the years.

“I had a gay cousin who was a war hero in World War II — a wonderful man,” he said.

Simpson said he’s also proud to have been named about 10 years ago by the national gay magazine The Advocate as “one of the ten coolest straight guys in America.”

Simpson spoke to the Blade on Oct. 23 just before delivering opening remarks at a performance at D.C.’s All Souls Unitarian Church of a gay-themed mock trial of deceased former U.S. Sens. Joe McCarthy (R-Wisc.), Styles Bridges (R-N.H.), and Herman Welker (R-Idaho).

The script for the mock trial, which is performed as a play, was written by Wyoming writer, minister and former politician Rodger McDaniel, a friend of Simpson’s, who based the script on his recently published book, “Dying for Joe McCarthy’s Sins: The Suicide of Wyoming Senator Lester Hunt.”

In his book, McDaniel reports, based on extensive interviews and historical documents, that Hunt, a Democrat, committed suicide in 1954 after McCarthy and the other two senators conspired to blackmail him by threatening to publicize the arrest of Hunt in Washington one year earlier for allegedly soliciting an undercover vice police officer for gay sex.

McDaniel’s book and the mock trial describe in detail how the three senators, all Republicans, wanted to force Hunt to resign from the Senate, which would have tipped the closely divided body from Democratic to Republican control. A GOP-controlled Senate at the time would have strengthened McCarthy’s campaign to purge large numbers of gays and others he accused of being communist sympathizers from their government jobs.

The alleged scheme unfolded in the midst of the nation’s “red scare” triggered by McCarthy’s allegations that communists and communist sympathizers were working in high level U.S. government jobs and in the U.S. military.

Simpson told the Blade he was appalled over the facts that McDaniel brought to light in his book, prompting him to agree to write the forward for the book.

Simpson’s discussion with Gerald Ford over gay rights took place shortly after Simpson accepted an invitation by gay Republican activist Charles Francis to become chairperson of the Advisory Board of the Republican Unity Coalition, a gay-straight alliance that Francis and two other gay Republican advocates founded in 2001.

“I picked up the phone,” Simpson said in describing his conversation with Ford. “Charles asked me to call him. I said OK. And I called and I said, ‘Jerry this is Al Simpson.’ And he said, ‘I’m 80,’ or whatever it was. But he said, ‘I’ll do it.’”

According to Simpson, Ford told him among the reasons he would be happy to join the RUC’s Advisory Board was the false rumor he and his family endured in the 1970s that he ignored a gay man who saved his life in an assassination attempt in San Francisco. As Ford left a hotel where he spoke, the gay man, who was standing in a crowd of people watching Ford, saw a women point a pistol at Ford and deflected her arm, causing her to fire at the ground.

“He said, ‘That’s the biggest damn lie,’” Simpson quoted Ford as saying in referring to the rumors that he never thanked the man who deflected the gun. “So Jerry said just for that reason, sign me up. And he went right on the letterhead, and boy that helped,” Simpson said.

Francis said Simpson has continued his outspoken support for LGBT rights since becoming involved in the RNC. He noted that in 2003, Simpson signed on to an amicus brief that RUC filed with the U.S. Supreme Court in support of the case that led to the overturning of state sodomy laws known as Lawrence v. Texas.

Asked whether he has received flak from some fellow Republicans and others over his support for LGBT rights and same-sex marriage, Simpson said, “Everything I’ve done has had flak. I’m 82 now and I’ve effectively pissed off everyone in America. So yeah, but I just say we’re all God’s children. We’re all human beings.”

Simpson’s longstanding reputation for speaking bluntly emerged when he told the Blade how he reacted to attacks from the Rev. Fred Phelps, the anti-gay minister who heads Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan. For more than 10 years, Phelps has led protests of gay events, including funerals of gay people, while carrying signs saying “God hates fags.”

“I remember writing a letter to Rev. Phelps,” Simpson told the Blade. “And I said, ‘Dear Rev. Phelps: For all your good work for God and Christianity I want you to know that some dizzy son-of-a-bitch is writing me letters, homophobic letters, and signing your name,’” Simpson said, grinning. “’And I know that you wouldn’t want this to continue so I’m hoping you will help me track this person down and find out who it is — yours in God.’”

Added Simpson, “That must have really pissed him off. But I couldn’t imagine doing anything more delightful for him.”

Simpson continued: “So I have been called out by the goofys and the nuts. And they’re not all religious. So don’t blame it on religion. Don’t use that. That’s not fair. There are plenty of non-religious people that are homophobes.”

As a graduate of the University of Wyoming in Laramie, Simpson said he, like nearly all Laramie and Wyoming residents, was outraged over the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, then a gay student enrolled at the university.

“The two crazy sons of bitches that killed him are crazy sons of bitches,” he said. “They weren’t part of the university. They weren’t part of the community. They were a couple of sadistic bastards.”

Simpson praised “The Laramie Project,” a play about the Shepard murder and the response to it by Laramie residents.

“I see it’s playing at Ford’s Theater right now,” he said. “It’s a great portrayal.”

But he added, “There’s only one weakness in it. It didn’t show the power of the president of the university and how restive he was to the horror of the crime. It didn’t show the force of how he said this is appalling, it’s grotesque, and it didn’t involve the university students.”


Bishop Robinson to speak in Baltimore

Gene Robinson, gay news, gay politics dc, Washington Blade

Bishop Gene Robinson will talk about the role of faith and religion in public life. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop of the Episcopal Church and an outspoken advocate for LGBT rights, will speak on Sunday, Dec. 8 at 3 p.m. at Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian Church, 1316 Park Avenue, in the Bolton Hill section of Baltimore.  He will talk about his experiences and the role of faith and religion in public life. A free reception will follow.

When Robinson was elected bishop in the Diocese of New Hampshire in 2003, his consecration was so controversial it threatened to split the Anglican Church. Despite death threats, he became an activist for marriage equality and authored “God Believes in Love.” In 2009, President Obama chose him to give the invocation at the Lincoln Memorial that opened the presidential inaugural ceremonies.

Clergy wellness has long been a focus of his ministry, and he has led clergy conferences throughout the U.S. and Canada.  He has also done extensive work in helping congregations and clergy in times of conflict.

Co-author of AIDS education curricula for youth and adults, Robinson has done AIDS work in the United States and in Africa, and has been an advocate for antiracism training in the larger Anglican Church.

Robinson is now retired and works as a part-time senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. He lives in Washington with his husband Mark Andrew.

The Tiffany Series, sponsor of this event, is named for the church’s collection of 11 original Tiffany stained glass windows, which include two of the largest windows Tiffany ever made.

Tickets to this event are $15 ($5 for students) and are available at the door and online at For more information, call 410-523-1542.


Trans NH rep-elect withdraws

Gay News, Washington Blade, Transgender New Hampshire, Stacie Laughton

Stacie Laughton

A New Hampshire Democrat who in November became the first openly transgender person elected to a state legislature in the country announced on Wednesday she has ended her campaign to run for the state House of Representatives.

“Due to circumstances out of my control, I have decided to withdraw (from) the race for state representative,” Stacie Laughton wrote on her Facebook page.

Laughton, who would have represented portions of Nashua in the New Hampshire House after voters elected her on Nov. 6, announced in late November she would resign amid reports she pleaded guilty in July 2008 to conspiracy to commit fraudulent use of a credit card and identity fraud and falsifying physical evidence related to a police investigation into the allegations while living in Laconia. She served slightly more than four months in the Belknap County jail before her Nov. 2008 release.

New Hampshire law states a convicted felon cannot seek or hold public office “from the time of his sentence until his final discharge.” Laughton’s probation ended in Nov. 2010, but questions arose as to whether she was qualified to serve in the state House because she received two concurrent suspended 10 year sentences for good behavior in connection with the two other charges.

Laughton told the Union Leader on Nov. 28, the day after she said she would resign, that she had planned to take office this month. She filed paperwork on Friday to run for the seat to which she had initially been elected, but Laughton told the Washington Blade that Secretary of State Bill Gardner told her earlier on Wednesday he received a letter from state Attorney General Michael Delaney that concluded her sentences “have not been fully discharged under the law.”

Delaney recommended his office should forward Laughton’s case to the state Ballot Law Commission to make a final determination over her eligibility to run for political office.

“This is the same question we faced a few weeks ago after I won the election,” she noted. “It’s starting to wear on me and I’m not wanting to have to go through the whole Ballot Law Commission thing. And I just decided it’s time to put an end to all of this and just resign and try again in a few years.”

Gay New Hampshire Democratic Party Chair Ray Buckley, who initially applauded Laughton’s Nov. 6 election, responded to her decision to end her campaign in a brief statement to the Blade.

“Stacie has made the right decision to focus her energies on resolving her outstanding personal issues,” he said.

Laughton stressed she plans to take “a good several years off” before she considers another run for political office.

“I’m going to stay involved in my community and the other work that I do,” she said.

Laughton added she feels her criminal record has received too much attention.

“I understand those things will always be attached to my name and to my record, but human beings have the ability to change and that’s what I’ve done,” she said. “I’ve moved forward from my past. I’ve tried to live my life with honesty and respect. Too much emphasis has been placed on my past and what life was like for me in Laconia. I really wish people would just look at me for who I am today and judge that.”


Church of England to allow partnered gay bishops

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Bishop Gene Robinson became the Episcopal Church’s first openly gay Bishop in 2003, setting the stage for a decade of advances for LGBT people in the church. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The Church of England on Friday announced that clergy in same-sex civil partnerships can become bishops as long as they remain celibate.

“The House has confirmed that clergy in civil partnerships and living in accordance with the teaching of the church on human sexuality can be considered as candidates for the episcopate,” Rt. Rev. Graham James said on Friday on behalf of the House of Bishops of the Church of England. “The House believed it would be unjust to exclude from consideration for the episcopate anyone seeking to live fully in conformity with the church’s teaching on sexual ethics or other areas of personal life and discipline. All candidates for the episcopate undergo a searching examination of personal and family circumstances, given the level of public scrutiny associated with being a bishop in the Church of England. But these, along with the candidate’s suitability for any particular role for which he is being considered, are for those responsible for the selection process to consider in each case.”

The House of Bishops said in 2005 before a law that allowed same-sex couples to register as civil partners in the United Kingdom took effect that gay celibate men could become clergy. The body voted to extend the policy to bishops last month during a meeting outside London.

The ordination of gay bishops in the Church of England has remained controversial since Rev. Jeffrey John in 2003 became the first person in a same-sex relationship successfully nominated as bishop. He stepped down before he was to have been officially consecrated.

Gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson’s 2003 election sparked a firestorm of controversy that threatened to divide the broader Anglican Church — he wore a bullet proof vest during his consecration that took place inside a hockey area on the University of New Hampshire. Sharp-shooters were stationed on nearby rooftops during the ceremony, while protesters gathered outside the venue.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams barred Robinson from attending the decennial Lambeth Conference in England in 2008.

Los Angeles Bishop Mary Glasspool in 2010 became the first partnered lesbian to be ordained within the Episcopal Church. John had been considered a candidate to become Bishop of Southwark the same year, but his nomination was blocked.

LGBT rights advocates largely mocked the church’s statement — and especially its insistence on celibacy.

“We’re sure many Anglicans will be happy to hear of the church’s latest epiphany on gay clergy, although many lesbians will be disappointed that they remain unable to serve as bishops,” Ruth Hunt, spokesperson for Stonewall, an LGBT rights group in the U.K., told the Washington Blade earlier on Friday. “I’m sure celibate gay men will be thrilled by this exciting new job opportunity, if perhaps somewhat perplexed as to how it will be policed by the church.”

Reverend Colin Coward, director of Changing Attitude, an LGBT Anglican group, did not immediately return the Blade’s request for comment. He told the British Broadcasting Corporation that the church’s statement “will be laughed at by the majority in this country.”

Conservative Anglicans criticized any effort to allow gay bishops within the church.

“That would be a major change in church doctrine and therefore not something that can be slipped out in the news,” Rev. Rod Thomas, chair of Reform, an evangelical group within the Church of England, told the BBC. “It is something that has got to be considered by the General Synod.”

The church’s announcement coincides with the British government’s plan to introduce a bill later this month to introduce a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage in England and Wales. Scottish lawmakers are expected to consider a similar measure this year.


Don’t miss ‘Our Town’ at Ford’s

Until recently, I thought of Thornton Wilder as a famous, but avuncular American playwright and novelist and of his Pulitzer Prize winning play “Our Town” as an iconic, but comfy play. I knew it is performed almost daily in high schools and community theaters, and I’d read it as a teen. I’d have seen it if little else was playing, but, while nourishing, it seemed as surprising – as innovative to me – as mac and cheese.  My thinking changed dramatically after I saw the 75th anniversary production of “Our Town” playing at Ford’s Theatre through Feb. 24.

Why did I want to see Ford’s production of “Our Town?” Because in the wake of the 75th anniversary of the opening of “Our Town” on Broadway, Wilder is the talk of the town. A production of Wilder’s play “The Skin of Our Teeth” will be presented Feb. 14-16 at the Harold and Sylvia Theatre at American University and a new bio of Wilder “Thornton Wilder: A Life” by Penelope Niven is just out. I wanted to take a fresh look at Wilder’s life and his renowned play.

Wilder, who lived from 1897 to 1975, was of a generation that was often closeted about its sexuality. Known for his intellect, Wilder spent most of his life with his work and his friends (which ran the gamut from Gertrude Stein to boxing champion Gene Tunney) rather than in relationships. “… Art is not only the desire to tell one’s secret; it is the desire to tell it and hide it at the same time,” Wilder wrote.

Still, even with the limitations of biographical gaydar, it seems as if Wilder likely was queer.  Growing up, his father was concerned about Wilder’s “peculiar gait and certain effeminate ways.” In her splendid biography, Niven says, “a case can be made” that Wilder was bisexual.

The story of “Our Town” is known from Peoria to San Francisco to Tokyo. Set in the fictional New Hampshire small town of Grover’s Corner’s from 1901 to 1914, Wilder’s play not only illuminates daily life (from falling in love to marrying to dying) in a particular time in America, but opens our eyes to the interconnectivity of human beings and to the need to embrace life in the face of our mortality. Using deceptively simple language, “Our Town,” when staged well, stops us in our tracks. As we hear the Stage Manager’s narration and watch George and Emily love, marry and deal with death in the early 20th century, in the 21st century, we come face-to-face with the transience and timelessness of life.

Ford’s production of “Our Town,” featuring a racially diverse cast, is poignant and engaging.  The company’s lively staging, which used the minimalist staging Wilder had wanted for the play, removed the mothballs that too often encase “Our Town.” By play’s end, I found myself asking with Emily, “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?”

“I’m always interested in reexamining classics,” Stephen Rayne, the director of Ford’s production of “Our Town,” said in a telephone interview. “When Wilder wrote the play, he saw himself as being in the forefront of the modernist tradition. He had become dissatisfied with theater on Broadway at the time.”

Wilder felt that theater wasn’t making any demand on the public, Rayne said. “With ‘Our Town,’ Wilder was hoping to get back to the purity of form that the Greek dramas had,” he added. “He wanted to make audiences use their imagination. Wilder wrote about falling in love, marrying and death –human moments for everybody, so that we would become more present while we’re alive.”

Now that same-sex marriage is becoming a reality, it would be great to see a production of “Our Town” featuring LGBT characters. Until then, check out Wilder’s play, which transcends differences in class, culture, sexual orientation and race. It’ll make you feel more alive.