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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

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

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

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

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. Pride group hosts LGBT Health Month

LGBT Health, gay news, Washington Blade, health care, health month

(Public domain image)

ALBANY, N.Y. — The Empire State Pride Agenda last week announced the fifth annual LGBT Health Month in New York. The campaign is designed to bring awareness to the health needs of LGBT residents, WAMC Northeast Public Radio reports.

Assembly member Dick Gottfried and Sen. Neil Breslin, both Democrats, were the drivers behind the New York State Legislature resolution designating March as “Official LGBT Health Month.” Organizers point to troubling statistics: just over 31 percent of gay and lesbian people in poverty lack health insurance; fewer than half of lesbian and gay women between the ages of 18 and 24 have ever had a pap test; and a higher percentage of LGBT people smoke cigarettes. All of these numbers represent significant threats to health, the station reports.

12
Mar
2014

Syphilis spike blamed on hook-up apps

Grindr, social media app, gay news, Washington Blade

Apps like Grindr are being blamed for a spike in New York syphilis cases.

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — A sharp spike in syphilis cases in New York’s Onondaga County is being blamed in part on the proliferation of gay hook-up phone apps that make it easy for men to find each other quickly, the Post-Standard, a paper in the region, reports.

The number of cases of the potentially deadly sexually transmitted disease nearly doubled in Onondaga County from 15 cases in 2012 to 29 in 2013, the Post-Standard reports. During the same period, the number of cases in New York outside of New York City increased from 375 to 490, a 30 percent increase. Syphilis is increasing in both urban and rural areas across the state, according to the state Health Department.

The state and county health departments recently issued alerts to health providers, urging them to be diligent about screening for the disease and treating it, the Post-Standard reports.

Nearly all the syphilis cases in New York last year involved men, and more than 70 percent involved men who reported having sex with other men, according to the state Health Department. Men over age 30 accounted for most of the cases in Onondaga County.

When a syphilis case is reported, public health workers try to identity the infected individuals’ sex partners so they can contact them and advise them to get tested and treated. As part of their investigation, public health workers ask people infected with syphilis if they use phone apps such as Grindr or Adam4Adam to find sex partners, the Post-Standard reports.

Grindr, a free app, uses global positioning technology to allow men to find nearby sex partners.

12
Mar
2014

HIV prevention injection study expands in China

Hong Kong, China, gay news, Washington Blade

Hong Kong (Photo by Diliff; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Hong Kong, China, gay news, Washington BladeHONG KONG — A top AIDS research team may try to recruit about 1,000 at-risk men from Hong Kong and the mainland for clinical trials of an injection to prevent HIV infection, the South China Morning Post reports. If it goes ahead as planned next year, the project by the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center in New York will be the first HIV-prevention clinical trial in China.

The plan comes after the team, led by celebrated Taiwanese-American researcher Dr. David Ho, used an antiretroviral drug dubbed GSK744 to protect laboratory monkeys from HIV for weeks.

Clinical trials on men and women were scheduled to start in the U.S. this week, the Post reports. For the mainland-Hong Kong trial, the team will seek men engaged in high-risk same-sex activity. But Professor Martin Markowitz, clinical director of the center, an affiliate of Rockefeller University, said stigma surrounding gay men in China might pose a challenge, the South China Morning Post article said.

Markowitz is “cautiously optimistic” the drug could be developed into an injection to protect humans from HIV for three months with one shot, the Post article said.

The effectiveness of oral pills already available for HIV prevention varied in different studies, mainly because people did not always take the drug daily as required for protection, he said.

They are aiming at the highest-risk group — men engaging in unprotected receptive anal intercourse with an untreated HIV-positive partner.

China’s HIV infection rate was 0.058 per cent in 2011, but among men engaging in same-sex behaviour it was 6.3 per cent, according to the Ministry of Health.

In Hong Kong, 559 new cases of HIV infection were reported last year, the Post reports.

27
Mar
2014

Anatomy of a murder

Kitty Genovese, books, gay news, Washington Blade

(Image courtesy W.W. Norton)

You always hold doors open.

That’s because your mama taught you to help others. You hold doors for stragglers, lend your ear, dispense advice, volunteer, donate and keep an eye on your neighbor’s house. Really, it’s no big deal.

You’re a good helper, but how involved do you get in other people’s matters? Read “Kitty Genovese” by Kevin Cook, for example, and ask yourself what you’d do if you heard a murder.

By all accounts, Catherine “Kitty” Genovese was a nice girl with a great smile and a generous spirit. As the manager of a local bar near her Queens, New York neighborhood, Kitty was trustworthy, good with customers and was known to loan money to regulars in need. She made friends easily and was an “adventurous, troubled but optimistic, hard-working, fast-driving, living, breathing person …”

Until the morning of March 13, 1964.

It was just after 3 a.m. that morning and Kitty was on her way home to the apartment she shared with her girlfriend, Mary Ann Zielonko. Most people thought they were just roommates and, though it wasn’t quite the truth, the women let others believe it because it was safer. In 1964 and homosexuality was still illegal.

She was in her beloved red Fiat and was driving fast, as she usually did. Perhaps because of the hour, Kitty didn’t notice that she was being followed.

Quiet, soft-spoken Winston Moseley had done something noteworthy for a black man in 1964: he’d purchased a house in an up-and-coming, mostly white neighborhood where he and his wife, Betty, were raising their boys. Between his good job and Betty’s salary, they were relatively well off but Betty sometimes worried about Winston. He was an insomniac and liked “just thinking.” What she didn’t know was that he was “thinking” about killing.

In early March 1964, Moseley committed the “particularly gruesome” murder of a black woman, then calmly went to work. He wondered if killing a white woman would be any different. Two weeks later, while driving around, looking for a victim, he spotted a little red Fiat and had a “compulsion” to find out.

You might be asking yourself what’s so unusual about a 50-year-old crime. Author Kevin Cook will tell you as he takes you on a journey through the early 1960s and a death that literally impacts everyone in North America today.

But that’s not all you’ll read in “Kitty Genovese.”

Cook reminds us in many ways that Genovese was more than just a victim, that she was a real person who loved life. On the flipside, we meet the neighbors who supposedly ignored her cries and we’re shown the slow making of a “monster” who seems chillingly without conscience. Cook uses these parallel stories to illustrate what happened as he busts myths that still linger to this day.

There are outrageous surprises in this book, some heartbreak, and passages that are grisly enough to make anyone squirm. But if you’re a true-crime fan or you love good storytelling, “Kitty Genovese” is a book you can’t help but devour.

And if Cook’s book piques your interest and you absolutely need to know more about this crime and the aftermath, then look for “Kitty Genovese: A True Account of a Public Murder and Its Private Consequences” by Catherine Pelonero.

Here, Pelonero takes a deeper look at Moseley and the murders he committed prior to the attacks on Genovese. You’ll also get a few more details on the trial that followed Moseley’s arrest. It’s a nice companion to the Cook book for anyone who’s still curious.

02
Apr
2014

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 mlavers@washblade.com.

21
Jan
2014