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D.C. must have representation in Congress

State of the Union, 2014, Barack Obama, United States House of Representatives, United States Senate, U.S. Congress, gay news, Washington Blade

We must have our votes in Congress. But as we all work to that goal, our local government has more power than many realize. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

I serve on one of the most powerful elected legislative bodies in the nation. I am a member of the D.C. Council.

Whoa, hold on, I hear you say, how can that be when every law passed by the Council must go to, and may be changed by, Congress at will? And by a Congress where D.C. lacks any voting representation.

To be sure, D.C. statehood is one of the last remaining great human rights violations in the USA. Our city is entitled to full voting representation in the House and Senate and for that there can be no substitute.

Yet, in direct consequence of the congressional role, there is a widely held view that the D.C. government has little power.

On closer examination, that is far from the case.

D.C. may be the most unique political jurisdiction in the U.S. And since Home Rule was established on Dec. 24, 1973 — a 40th anniversary that went largely unnoticed — the D.C. government incorporates city, county and state functions. Thus, for example, motor vehicles, transportation and public works — functions that usually are not within the power of city/county government — are under our government.

Moreover, except for Nebraska, D.C. is the only unicameral state legislature in the U.S. And Nebraska’s single house has 49 members in contrast to D.C.’s 13. In our unicameral legislature, a law can be passed with the support of only seven votes and the signature of the mayor.

But what about this congressional review, where a D.C. law must lay over for 30 legislative days?

True enough. But how often do D.C. laws simply lay over in Congress without action or interference by them?

Almost always is the answer. Even though the heavy boot of a Congress where we have no vote is constantly hanging over the heads of District residents, Congress has used this authority only on rare occasions over the last 40 years — indeed only three times over the last 40 years — and not since 1991. In recent times, Congress has taken no action to disturb what in earlier times would have been viewed as enticing political targets — smoke-free workplaces and marriage equality come immediately to mind.

And D.C.’s congressional review is nothing like what many cities and counties must go through in order to take certain actions. In Virginia or New York, operating under what is known as the “Dillon Rule,” local government may only pass certain laws as expressly allowed by the state legislature. For example, in order for Mayor Bloomberg in New York City to gain control over the NYC public schools laws had to be introduced and passed in Albany in both houses and then signed by the governor. Mayor Fenty needed but seven Council members in D.C. to do about the same thing.

Congress also has the authority to impose restrictions on the District’s ability to raise funds, such as the congressional prohibition of a commuter tax, and override initiatives approved by District residents through referendum. But here again, the authority is increasingly not used. For example, prohibition on needle exchange and medical marijuana funding — both imposed in FY1998 — were lifted in recent years. Only the restriction on spending on abortions remains.

So too, Congress may use the District as a “laboratory” for its own initiatives that they think would be “popular back home.” Federal funding for opportunity scholarships for private schools and various actions related to charter schools are examples.

Forty years into the history of this relatively young government and we have accomplished a lot. The District’s legislature — among the most progressive in social policy in the country — also oversees one of the strongest economies in the country today. We must have our votes in Congress. But as we all work to that goal, our local government has more power than many realize.

12
Feb
2014

Cartoon: Light resume

Sean Eldridge, gay news, Washington Blade

(Washington Blade cartoon by Ranslem)

07
May
2014

Joseph F. Vivalo, Jr. dies at 53

Joe Vivalo, obituary, gay news, Washington Blade

Joseph F. “Joe” Vivalo, Jr. in 1987.

Joseph F. “Joe” Vivalo, Jr., 53, a former resident of Washington and Arlington who was active in political and AIDS charity fundraising and events management, died in Key West, Fla., on Feb. 5.

His death was from suicide, according to Terry Michael, with whom Vivalo shared an apartment on Capitol Hill in 1986-87 and again in 1992-93. Vivalo, who was gay, worked as a waiter at Mr. Henry’s restaurant, Michael said, after moving to the District from Portland, Ore., in July 1986. Living in New York from 1988-92, he returned to Washington in November 1992, where he resided again on Capitol Hill and later in the Logan Circle area, before settling in Arlington. At the time of his death, Vivalo had been living and working at a guesthouse in Key West.

A native of Youngstown, Ohio, Vivalo was a director of the Pallotta TeamWorks AIDS Ride in Washington in the late 1990s and was director of the Whitman-Walker Health AIDS Walk in 2000, when he also produced a fundraising concert for Whitman-Walker at the Kennedy Center, featuring singer Patti LaBelle. He worked in several AIDS walks in Manhattan in the late 1980s.

Specializing in arts and entertainment fundraising, Vivalo was fundraising director for former U.S. Rep. and 1984 Democratic Vice Presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro, in her unsuccessful race for the U.S. Senate in New York in 1992. He had served in the Mondale-Ferraro presidential campaign in Portland, Ore., in 1984, as a young field worker. He worked on the Clinton-Gore Inaugural Committee in Washington in 1992. And he was on the facilities management staff of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. in 2012. For a time, he ran a bike restoration business in Arlington.

Born Dec. 30, 1960 in Youngstown, Vivalo was a son of the late Joseph Vivalo and Marie Ann “Dolly” Vivalo, who survives, along with siblings Debbie, Jeff, John, Katie, Jacqueline, Michael and Kimberly. He is also survived by friends in the Washington area, including Walter Quetsch of Capitol Hill, at whose Fire Island cottage Vivalo was a frequent guest during the past two decades, and Washington attorney Jim Prunty, whom Vivalo met during his years in Portland.

Vivalo attended Ohio University, where he earned a degree in political communication. He was an active swimmer in high school and college. He had a passion for dance music and was a friend of the late San Francisco disco icon Sylvester James, “who visited Joe at our apartment on Capitol Hill in late 1987,” Michael said, noting that “Sylvester’s ‘You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)’ and ‘You Are My Friend’ tracks became Joe’s signature songs.”

A memorial service for Vivalo was held in Youngstown Feb. 8.

12
Feb
2014

Gays behaving badly

Sean Eldridge, gay news, Washington Blade

(Washington Blade cartoon by Ranslem)

A squabble broke out at the Equality Forum panel discussion of national politics I moderated last week in Philadelphia.

A woman in the audience objected forcefully after the Victory Fund’s Torey Carter discussed his organization’s controversial endorsement of two gay candidates for Congress.

One is Richard Tisei, a gay Republican from Massachusetts seeking to unseat pro-LGBT (but straight) incumbent John Tierney. The race is dividing LGBT voters and donors, with some saying we should remain loyal to our allies in Congress while others like the Victory Fund see an opportunity to add an openly gay voice to the GOP caucus.

The other race is in New York where the Victory Fund and other LGBT advocates are backing Sean Eldridge over a Republican incumbent who opposes marriage equality. The race is controversial because Eldridge has a thin resume but deep pockets — he’s married to Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes.

The woman at Equality Forum nearly leapt from her seat, angry at the notion of a candidate buying a seat in Congress and questioning whether the LGBT community should play along with such unsavory tactics.

Her frustration is certainly understandable. Eldridge embodies much of what is wrong with our modern political system, which prizes money over achievement. LGBT advocates should reconsider supporting Eldridge’s vanity campaign for Congress from New York’s 19th congressional district.

Or is it the 18th district? It’s hard to keep track of where Eldridge and his wealthy husband — who won the lottery by ending up Mark Zuckerberg’s college roommate as he was creating Facebook — are buying their latest multi-million-dollar home.

We should abandon the term “carpetbagging” and call it “Eldridgeing” because he gives new meaning to the cynical practice of picking up and moving to a new district to buy a seat in Congress.

Eldridge is taking on incumbent Rep. Chris Gibson, a Republican who opposes marriage equality but is a co-sponsor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Of course, no one would mistake Gibson for a gay rights advocate — he earned a zero on HRC’s congressional scorecard — but gay voters and donors should resist lining up behind an alternative just because he’s gay and rich. Surely there’s a viable, experienced Democrat living in the district. We won’t know because anyone contemplating a run was scared off by the Hughes war chest.

In sharp contrast to most newbie politicians, Eldridge shuns the media. He has refused multiple Blade interview requests. Politico last month published a profile of Eldridge and noted that he not only refused its interview requests, but locked the campaign headquarters door when a reporter showed up knocking.

Despite Eldridge’s arrogant approach to campaigning, LGBT voices are embracing him.

“They are young, rich, smart and good-looking. It’s a pretty powerful combination,” Richard Socarides told the New York Times in a predictable display of sycophantic ass kissing.

There’s no disputing they are rich. Hughes’ net worth has been reported to be between $600-700 million. The money came from his connection to Facebook’s Zuckerberg. As the New York Times put it, “For Mr. Hughes, a history and literature student with no programming skills, it later seemed to outsiders a lucky break.”

The couple bought an estate in Garrison, N.Y. along with 80 acres in 2011 for $5 million, the Times noted, quoting Eldridge as saying that’s where they “put down roots.” But just two years later, when the congressional seat in that area appeared out of reach for Eldridge, they bought a new, $2 million spread just north in the 19th congressional district.

Eldridge is just 27 but has a “deep commitment” to public service, according to his bio on Victory Fund’s website. It continues, “He helped lead the successful campaign for marriage equality in New York State in 2011.” That’s almost as ridiculous and brazen as author Jo Becker comparing HRC’s Chad Griffin to Rosa Parks in her new book “Forcing the Spring.”

Much gnashing of teeth followed publication of the book last month. Part of the reason for the backlash is that the book played into a narrative of HRC swooping in at the 11th hour and taking credit for the work of grassroots activists. Many of them have complained (often privately and off the record, fearing retribution) of HRC’s tactics, from Maryland to Maine and California to New York.

We all know the marriage equality movement didn’t start in 2008 with the Prop 8 case and that Griffin is no Rosa Parks. In fact, that case fell far short of its goals; it’s an odd choice for Becker’s grandiose claims.

As gays find increasing acceptance and move openly into the halls of power, we mustn’t forget our own history, as HRC bet wrongly we would in the case of Becker’s book. That history has always been about a shared responsibility for helping each other overcome discrimination and hate. We all stand on the shoulders of a generation of gay men who died and the LGBT survivors who took care of them.

And, as the insightful Maya Rupert of the National Center for Lesbian Rights told our audience at the Equality Forum: We don’t need a gay Rosa Parks. The original belongs to everyone.

Kevin Naff is editor of the Washington Blade. Reach him at knaff@washblade.com.

08
May
2014

NY city & state pension plans linked to Russian anti-gay hate site

NY pension plans invest nearly $1.5m in affiliate of Russia's VK.com, which publishes videos of gay abductions.

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18
Feb
2014

California divests from Russian companies over neo-Nazi gay abductions

CalPERS divested $20m from MegaFon & Mail.ru because of their ties to neo-Nazi organizing site VKontakte, VK.com.

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16
May
2014

Deejays fabricate anti-gay birthday invite

birthday, anti-gay, Steve Harper, Leeana Karlson, K98.3 Morning Show, hoax

(Photos courtesy of Facebook)

FARMINGDALE, N.Y.–A New York radio station has suspended two hosts who aired an on-air hoax about a homophobic parent.

Newsday reported Steve Harper and Leeana Karlson of “The K98.3 Morning Show” on WKJY on Feb. 12 discussed an invitation to a Long Island girl’s 7th birthday party. The newspaper said the two hosts said a mother returned it to the child’s parents – a gay couple – with a note that read “Tommy will NOT attend. I do not believe in what you do and will not subject my innocent son to your ‘lifestyle.’”

Harper and Karlson reportedly posted the invitation on WKJY’s Facebook page with a caption that asked listeners to comment on it. The two hosts also included the fictitious mother’s phone number that went to a voicemail – a WKJY spokesperson told Newsday it received more than 2,000 messages.

“I sincerely apologize for the actions of Steve and Leeana, their insensitivity to the hurt it may have caus ed anyone, and for the breach of trust these actions have caused,” said Dave Widmer of Connoisseur Media Long Island on WKJY’s website.

19
Feb
2014

Rochester to cover transgender services

Rochester, New York, gay news, Washington BladeROCHESTER, N.Y. — The city of Rochester will add transgender health care benefits for employees and their families starting on Jan. 1, 2015, the Rochester City Newspaper reports.

The new coverage means that services related to gender reassignment procedures such as medical and psychological counseling, hormone therapy and reconstructive surgeries will be covered by insurance. To receive the benefits, employees will have to purchase an enhanced coverage plan, the paper said.

The City of San Francisco has offered the benefits since 2001and studies show that about 3 percent of the city’s employees use them.

28
May
2014

Is Shepard Smith finally coming out?

Shepard Smith, Fox News, gay news, Washington Blade

Shepard Smith (Photo public domain)

Closeted Fox News anchor Shepard Smith is listed as a “special guest” scheduled to attend an annual fundraiser for the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association next week.

I outed Smith in 2005 after he hit on me in a New York piano bar. He has never publicly acknowledged his sexual orientation.

Smith’s attendance could be good news: Maybe he’s finally going to come out. Not sure why NLGJA would have him there if that weren’t the case. There are plenty of out journalists these days to celebrate that we don’t need closet cases as our “special guests.”

11
Mar
2014

N.Y. to consider ban on ‘conversion’ therapy

New York, Albany, capitol, gay news, Washington Blade, therapy

New York State Capitol Building. (Photo by Canucklynn; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

ALBANY, N.Y. — New York’s Democratic-led Assembly is set to consider a bill on Wednesday that would ban “conversion” therapy for minors, the Associated Press reports. Bans on the practice have already gone into effect in New Jersey and California. A proposed ban was voted down in Illinois in April.

The American Psychological Association says there is no evidence that the so-called gay conversion therapy can change someone’s sexual orientation. A task force set up by the group found that it can cause distress and anxiety.

Sen. Brad Hoylman, who sponsored the measure and is the only openly gay member of the Senate, said he heard from a man who had electrodes attached to his genitalia to curb his homosexual desires, the AP article said.

“On one level it’s pretty nutty stuff,” Holyman was quoted as having said by the AP, “but it’s happening in New York by licensed therapists.”

The Democrat said that the bill would extend to New York state licensed psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, mental health practitioners and physicians. Clergy would not be included in the ban.

Opponents of the ban say that it may infringe on a person’s freedom of speech, although a federal judge in New Jersey upheld that state’s ban in November saying that the law does not violate free speech, the AP reports.

11
Jun
2014