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Anthony Brown wins Md. Democratic gubernatorial primary

Heather Mizeur, Maryland, Anthony Brown, Doug Gansler, gay news, Washington Blade

Lieutenant Gov. Anthony Brown on Tuesday won the Maryland Democratic gubernatorial race. (Photo courtesy of the Washington Post)

BALTIMORE — Lieutenant Gov. Anthony Brown on Tuesday easily won the Maryland Democratic gubernatorial primary.

With 1884 of 1988 precincts reporting, Brown defeated Attorney General Doug Gansler by a 51-24 percent margin. State Del. Heather Mizeur (D-Montgomery County) came in third with 22 percent of the vote.

“In November, Marylanders will have a real choice between returning to the failed Republican policies of record spending and corporate tax giveaways, or standing with us as we write the next chapter in Maryland by strengthening middle-class families and growing our economy,” said Brown in a statement he issued along with his running mate, Howard County Executive Ken Ulman.

Outgoing Gov. Martin O’Malley said in a message his political action committee sent out shortly after the Associated Press projected Brown had won that he and the lieutenant governor “worked together” to raise the state’s minimum wage, secure marriage rights for same-sex couples, extend in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants and “pass common sense gun safety legislation.”

“There’s no one better to continue our progress and lead Maryland into the future,” said O’Malley.

Gansler and his running mate, state Del. Jolene Ivey (D-Prince George’s County), addressed supporters at the Bethesda North Marriott in Bethesda.

Mizeur, who could have been the country’s first openly LGBT governor if she had won the primary, became emotional at times as she spoke at the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore. Her wife, Deborah Mizeur, her parents and running mate, Rev. Delman Coates of Mt. Ennon Baptist Church in Clinton, joined her on the stage as she thanked her supporters.

“Our journey hasn’t ended,” said Mizeur.

The Montgomery Democrat who is not seeking another term in the Maryland House of Delegates said she would support Brown going into the general election.

“I would be his partner in ensuring his victory in November,” she said.

Larry Hogan, who was a member of former Gov. Bob Ehrlich’s administration, easily defeated three challengers in the Republican gubernatorial primary. He will face off against Brown in the November.

Brown raised nearly four times as much money as Gansler during the lengthy and often contentious campaign.

Mizeur, whose platform included a plan to legalize marijuana as a way to fund universal preschool in the state, was the first gubernatorial candidate since 1994 to accept public campaign funds.

Brown and Gansler exchanged increasingly pointed attacks against each other during the final weeks of the campaign. These include the attorney general last week reiterating his previous claim that Equality Maryland “traded” its endorsement of the lieutenant governor for his support of a transgender rights bill that O’Malley signed into law in May.

“The Equality Maryland PAC is delighted that Democratic voters have chosen Anthony Brown and Ken Ulman for the nomination for governor,” said Equality Maryland Executive Director Carrie Evans in a statement. “The Brown/Ulman administration will work hard to ensure we keep moving forward on issues of importance to the LGBT communities of Maryland.”

Frosh, Madaleno win primaries

State Sen. Brian Frosh (D-Montgomery County) defeated state Del. Jon Cardin (D-Baltimore County) in the Democratic primary for attorney general by a 48-31 percent margin. State Del. Aisha Braveboy (D-Prince George’s County) came in third with 21 percent of the vote.

Frosh will face Towson lawyer Jeffrey Pritzker in the general election.

“I can’t express how thankful I am to Maryland voters,” said Frosh on Twitter after he won his primary. “We look forward to keep going forward.”

State Sen. Rich Madaleno (D-Montgomery County) easily defeated Gender Rights Maryland Executive Director Dana Beyer by a 63-37 percent margin in Senate District 18.

“I am pleased with the victory and look forward to working to make Maryland a more prosperous, fair and welcoming place for everyone,” Madaleno told the Washington Blade.

Beyer in a statement wished Madaleno “all the best as he continues to represent our district in Annapolis.”

“I enjoyed the competition, and I hope this campaign leads to bigger and better things for the residents of Montgomery County over the next four years,” she said. “We are faced with daunting problems, and must remain steadfast to overcome them and create a more perfect union.”

The race between Beyer and Madaleno in recent weeks became increasingly heated as they attacked each other over their role in securing passage of the trans rights bill the incumbent Montgomery County Democrat introduced in the Maryland Senate earlier this year. Equality Maryland, who endorsed Madaleno, also criticized Beyer, who is a former member of the organization’s board of directors.

“We are proud of the voters in District 18, who rejected the slanderous tactics of Dana Beyer and overwhelming re-elected Senator Rich Madaleno,” said Evans.

Gay state Dels. Ann Kaiser (D-Montgomery County), Bonnie Cullison (D-Montgomery County), Maggie McIntosh (D-Baltimore City), Mary Washington (D-Baltimore City) and Luke Clippinger (D-Baltimore City) all won their respective primaries. State Del. Peter Murphy (D-Charles County) won the Democratic primary in the race for president of the Charles County Commission.

Spencer Dove and George Zokle lost their Democratic primaries in House Districts 32 and 20 respectively. Jonathan Shurberg, chair of Gender Rights Maryland’s Legislative Committee, also lost in the Democratic primary in House District 20.

State Del. Don Dwyer (R-Anne Arundel County), an anti-gay incumbent who pleaded guilty last October to two drunken boating and driving charges, lost the Republican primary in House District 31.

All eight members of Maryland’s Congressional delegation won their respective primaries.

Reports indicate that turnout was low throughout the state.

25
Jun
2014

Court overturns Kentucky ban on same-sex marriage

gavel, gay news, Washington Blade, justice

A federal judge has struck down Kentucky’s down on same-sex marriage (Photo by Bigstock).

A federal judge in Kentucky on Tuesday overturned the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, building off an earlier ruling in which he required Kentucky to recognize out-of-state gay nuptials.

In a 19-page decision, U.S. District Judge Judge John Heyburn II ruled that Kentucky’s ban on same-sex marriage violates the right to equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

“[T]his Court bases its ruling primarily upon their utter lack of logical relation between the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriages and any conceivable legitimate state interest,” Heyburn writes.

Heyburn stays his decision pending action by the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, so no same-sex marriages will take place in the Keystone State at this time.

Notably, Heyburn rejects the notion that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision against the Defense of Marriage Act has any bearing on the fundamental right to marry. That viewpoint differs from other judges who’ve drawn on the decision as a means to strike down state ban on same-sex marriage.

Instead, he rules against state law by determining that laws based on sexual orientation should be subject to heightened scrutiny, or a greater assumption they’re unconstitutional.

In February, Heyburn had ruled that Kentucky must recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages in the case of Bourke v. Beshear. Following the ruling, two same-sex couples intervened in the case at the district court level and sought to overturn Kentucky’s ban on marriage equality outright. The case was renamed Love v. Beshear.

Heyburn was appointed by President George H.W. Bush and recommended by now Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Following Heyburn’s initial ruling in February, Tea Party activist emphasized McConnell’s recommendation of the judge in their attempt to unseat him for his U.S. Senate seat.

In the latest ruling, Heyburn addresses the concern that his earlier ruling invoked among some within his state, saying he opponents of same-sex marriage will come to realize the decision won’t affect their freedom.

“Assuring equal protection for same-sex couples does not diminish the freedom of others to any degree,” Heyburn said. “Thus, same-sex couples right to marry seems to be uniquely ‘free’ constitutional right. Hopefully, even those opposed to or uncertain about same-sex marriage will see it that way in the future.”

Although Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway has refused to defend his state’s ban on sam-sex marriage in court, Gov. Steve Beshear has continued to defend the law. Kentucky voters approved the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage in 2004 by a vote of 75 percent.

The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals is already hearing cases related to marriage equality with each of the state within the jurisdiction: Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee and Kentucky. Oral arguments are set for August 6.

01
Jul
2014

Casa Ruby wins $50,000 city grant

Ruby Corado, Casa Ruby, gay news, Washington Blade

Ruby Corado, executive director of Casa Ruby (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The D.C. Department of Health last month awarded a $50,000 grant for HIV treatment-related services to Casa Ruby, an LGBT community center with a special outreach to the LGBT Latino and transgender communities.

Michael Kharfen, director of the DOH’s HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, STD, and Tuberculosis Administration (HAHSTA), said the grant, which could be extended to up to three years, calls on Casa Ruby to provide treatment adherence services to transgender people and African immigrants in an area covering D.C. and parts of Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia.

“They will be working with persons who are living with HIV, helping them be successful in their treatments so that they are adherent to their medications, that they are making their medical visits, and that they are getting other kinds of services that they may need,” Kharfen said.

“We did a competitive request for applications, they applied and they were awarded the grant through that competitive process,” he said.

“This is exciting for us because we are now becoming a partner with the HIV/AIDS administration,” Corado told the Blade. “And I’m very optimistic that this will lead to opportunities for us to do work in our community with prevention, which is something that we really need given the high numbers that have just been reported,” she said.

Corado was referring to the recently released annual D.C. AIDS report, which shows that while the overall number of new HIV infections diagnosed in the city continues to decline the highest number of new infections remains within the category of men who have sex with men (MSM).

 

09
Jul
2014

Gay blood ban protest draws wide participation

American Red Cross, blood ban, gay news, Washington Blade

(Photo by AgnosticPreachersKid; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

PORTLAND, Maine — More than 60 cities nationwide, including Portland, Maine, Washington, D.C. and others, took part in the National Gay Blood Drive on July 11.

Michael Quint, Portland’s drive leader, said the goal is to encourage the Food and Drug Administration to change its policy, which bans gay men from donating blood. The policy was enacted in 1983. Quint said it made sense at the time because no one knew how AIDS was contracted, WMTW 8, a regional ABC news affiliate, reports.

“I want to be able to give blood. I have O negative,” Quint was quoted as having said. Quint can’t donate because he is gay. He said now the policy is outdated, and it should be changed to allow all healthy people to donate, the WMTW report said.

“Gay and bisexual men are not giving blood today. People are coming on their behalf to donate for them because they’re prohibited,” Quint was quoted as having said.

In a statement, the American Red Cross said that it has to follow the FDA’s policies.

16
Jul
2014

Frederick Center to honor LGBT ally

Lois Jarman, gay news, Washington Blade

Lois Jarman (Photo courtesy Jarman)

The Frederick Center is honoring Lois Jarman with Frederick’s 2013 LGBTQ Ally of the Year Award on Jan. 12. She will receive this award “because of her tireless efforts over the last decade on behalf of the LGBTQ community of central Maryland,” according Brian Walker, chair of the Frederick Center board.

Jarman founded the Central Maryland chapter of PFLAG in 2006, where she continues to be the chapter president. She has also been co-producer of the “A Little Song, A Little Dance” annual World AIDS Day benefit in Frederick for a dozen years, raising tens of thousands of dollars to benefit Positive Influence (a past Frederick-based HIV support organization), Baltimore Pediatric AIDS Fund, AIDS Response Effort out of Winchester (which now covers central Maryland), and various LGBT organizations.

Jarman has also been a resource for hundreds of LGBTQ students by being a visible ally in the local high school system and other educational institutions.

“This annual award allows us to recognize the efforts of a single person,” said Walker. “But this ceremony allows many community allies to gather to celebrate the work they have done collectively over time, and to hear first-hand how much it matters to the LGBTQ community.”

The event will take place between 3-6 p.m. at the home of Peter Brehm and John Michael Day, 318 West College Terrace in Frederick. A suggested donation of $15 for individuals and $25 for couples would benefit the Frederick Center. Beverages and light refreshments will be served.

For more information, visit thefrederickcenter.org.

07
Jan
2014

EXCLUSIVE: Campaign seeks to honor Rustin with postage stamp

Bayard Rustin, gay news, Washington Blade

Bayard Rustin was the architect of the 1963 March on Washington.

The same advocates who worked for years to convince the United States Postal Service to issue its first Harvey Milk postage stamp have launched an all-out effort to win approval for a new stamp honoring Bayard Rustin, the openly gay organizer of the iconic 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

The official launch of the Bayard Rustin USA/National Stamp Campaign will be announced at the 2014 Creating Change Conference (Jan. 29-Feb. 2 in Houston) by none other than Rustin’s longtime partner, Walter Naegle, who recently also accepted the Medal of Freedom from President Obama on behalf of Rustin, who died in 1987.

The idea for a campaign to win approval for a stamp honoring Rustin as an openly gay, African-American civil rights icon has been talked about for years. But the movement finally gained real traction in San Diego with the help of City Commissioner Nicole Murray Ramirez, who will serve as the campaign’s executive director.  The International Imperial Court System and its Imperial Court Council, along with the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force are the guiding forces behind the campaign.

National co-sponsors of the campaign include the National Black Justice Coalition, the National LGBT Museum and the GLBT Historic Task Force.

Anyone wishing to jump in early on the letter-writing campaign to make the Rustin stamp a reality can write to Citizens Stamp Advisory Committee c/o Stamp Development, United States Postal Service, 475 L’Enfant Plaza S.W., Room 3300, Washington, D.C.  20260-3501.

“This stamp would further remind Americans that by honoring Bayard Rustin, you honor a true American hero and champion of civil rights for all people,” said Ramirez.

The Blade will have full coverage of this story as it unfolds.

13
Jan
2014

Putin: Gays welcome at Olympics as long as children left ‘in peace’

Vladimir Putin, Russia, gay news, Washington Blade

Russian President Vladimir Putin (Photo public domain)

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday said gays and lesbians are welcome to attend next month’s 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, as long as they “leave the children in peace.”

“We have no ban on non-traditional sexual relations,” Putin said in response to a question an Olympics volunteer asked him during a meeting in the Black Sea resort city about Russia’s law that bans gay propaganda to minors as the Associated Press reported. “We have a ban on propaganda of homosexuality and pedophilia, I want to underline that, on propaganda among minors.”

The AP reported Putin also addressed lingering concerns that gays and lesbians who travel to Sochi for the games would face discrimination under the controversial propaganda law he signed last June.

“We aren’t banning anything, we aren’t rounding up anyone, we have no criminal punishment for such relations unlike many other countries,” he said. “One can feel relaxed and at ease, but please leave the children in peace.”

LGBT rights advocates in Russia and in the U.S. blasted Putin’s comments.

“This statement demonstrates very well how the official discourse labels LGBT people as a threat to children, instilling fear and hatred in the society,” Anastasia Smirnova, spokesperson for a coalition of six Russian LGBT advocacy groups that includes the Russian LGBT Network, told the Washington Blade. “This is what leads to the ‘social cleansing’ performed by vigilantes across Russia, and this is what leaves LGBT youth marginalized and completely isolated. And this is the climate to which the world is invited to experience the Olympic spirit.”

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) described Putin’s comments as “sickening.”

“His obvious implication that gays prey on children is a desperate excuse for his homophobic stance and policies,” Florida Republican told the Blade. “What Putin doesn’t say is Russia does in fact have an alarming record of child abuse, but that is it not due to the gay community.”

Jamie Kirchick, a journalist who has urged the Obama administration to freeze the assets of Russian citizens and officials directly behind the country’s anti-LGBT crackdown and prevent them from entering the U.S. under a 2012 law, described Putin’s comments as a “reminder” of the Kremlin’s “war on gay people.”

“The association of homosexuality and pedophilia is one of the oldest and nastiest slurs used against gay men, and has provoked countless acts of violence and murder against them through the ages,” Kirchick told the Blade. “His statement that gays are welcome in Russia provided they stay away from children is like inviting a black family into your home but warning them not to touch the silver.”

Putin told reporters during an October press conference in Sochi with International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach that gays and lesbians will not suffer discrimination during the games. The IOC has repeatedly asserted it has received assurances from the Kremlin the gay propaganda ban will not affect athletes and others who plan to travel to the games, even though Russian officials have previously said the statute will apply to those who attend the Olympics.

The U.S. State Department last week issued an alert to Americans who plan to travel to Sochi that highlighted, among other things, the vagueness of Russia’s gay propaganda law.

“The U.S. government understands that this law applies to both Russian citizens and foreigners in Russia,” reads the advisory. “Russian authorities have indicated a broad interpretation of what constitutes ‘LGBT propaganda’ and provided vague guidance as to which actions will be interpreted by authorities as ‘LGBT propaganda.’”

Putin on Friday also discussed his position on gay rights an interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos in Sochi that is scheduled to air in its entirely on “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” on Jan. 19.

A full transcript of the interview was not immediately available, but ABC reported Putin told Stephanopoulos the gay propaganda law does not ban homosexuality in his country. The network reported the Russian president stressed the statute only prohibits “homosexual ‘propaganda’ around minors.”

17
Jan
2014

Marriage advocates criticize Ind. lawmaker

Indiana State House, gay news, Washington Blade

Indiana State House (Photo by Jason82; courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

INDIANAPOLIS—Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis) on Jan. 21 moved a proposed state constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage in the Hoosier State to another committee after it stalled.

The Indianapolis Star reported that Bosma moved the proposed amendment — House Joint Resolution 3 — from the House Judiciary Committee to the Elections and Appointment Committee. Republican leadership of the House Judiciary Committee last week declined to allow a vote on the proposal after they held a hearing on it.

“We’ve followed the legislative process with an earnest expectation that legislators truly seek to represent their constituents,” said Freedom Indiana Campaign Manager Megan Robertson in a Jan. 21 press release. “We found that to be the case with the legislators serving on the House Judiciary Committee, but House Speaker Brian Bosma broke his commitment to Hoosiers to uphold the traditional legislative process.”

23
Jan
2014

Boehner tells LGBT caucus ‘no way’ ENDA will pass

John Boehner, Ohio, Republican Party, GOP, United States House of Representatives, U.S. Congress, State of the Union, 2014, gay news, Washington Blade

For the first time ever, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) met with the LGBT Equality Caucus. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told attendees last week at his first-ever meeting with the LGBT Equality Caucus there was “no way” the Employment Non-Discrimination Act would pass this year, according to a gay lawmaker who attended the meeting.

Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), who’s gay and one of the caucus co-chairs, volunteered information Tuesday night about the meeting in Statuary Hall of the U.S. Capitol when the Washington Blade asked him about his views on the absence of the ENDA from the State of the Union address.

“A number of us did meet with, actually the caucus met with Speaker Boehner,” Takano said. “He said no way was it going to get done in this session.”

Calling the discussion between Boehner and the lawmakers “a historic sort of meeting,” Takano later clarified he was referring to the LGBT Equality Caucus, a 113-member group of lawmakers committed to advancing LGBT rights, and said the meeting took place “a few days ago” or last week.

A “session” of Congress is equivalent to one of the two years in which a particular Congress meets before a new Congress is seated, so Takano’s account of the meeting indicates ENDA won’t see a House vote in 2014.

Asked to clarify whether he meant that ENDA won’t come up this year, Takano said, “Yeah. He said it wasn’t going to happen in this session.”

Despite his account of the meeting, Takano remained optimistic about the passage of ENDA at a later time, perhaps after Election Day this year, saying “it’s still a huge priority for me to get that done.”

“There’s obviously differences between the two parties on ENDA, but, you know, who knows what can happen in a lame duck Congress?” Takano said.

Others with knowledge of the meeting declined to divulge on the record significant information, saying the meeting wasn’t open to staffers and not meant to be public. No one would disclose the exact date of the meeting or identify who participated.

But House aides did confirm the historic nature of the meeting, saying Boehner has never before met with the LGBT Equality Caucus and the discussion took place within the speaker’s office. Aides said Boehner has also met with the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, but discussions in meetings like these are private.

Michael Steel, a Boehner spokesperson, responded to the Blade’s inquiries about the meeting by saying the speaker meets all the time with various groups on Capitol Hill.

“John Boehner is the speaker of the whole House, and often meets with groups of members from both sides of the aisle,” Steel said.

One aide said the entire 113-member caucus didn’t attend the meeting, although it was attended by more lawmakers than just the six co-chairs of the group, who consist of openly LGB members of the U.S. House. The co-chairs are Takano as well as Reps. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.).

Brad Jacklin, executive director of the LGBT Equality Caucus, confirmed a meeting took place, but offered only a few details.

“A number of members asked to meet with the speaker, who tries to accommodate such requests,” Jacklin said. “It was a members-only meeting and was off the record. The Equality Caucus and its leadership continues to work together to educate members of the House on LGBT issues and build bipartisan support for legislation like ENDA.”

Jacklin took note that just this week, Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) signed on as the sixth House Republican to co-sponsor the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

Immediately after the announcement, he received significant attention in the media for physically threatening a reporter from New York-affiliate NY1 who asked him about the current investigation into his potential violation of campaign finance law.

29
Jan
2014

Spencer Perry continues moms’ tradition of activism

Spencer Perry, Proposition 8, George Washington University, gay news, Washington Blade

Spencer Perry is a student at George Washington University and the son of Prop 8′s plaintiffs. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Spencer Perry takes after his parents.

The 19-year-old son of the lesbian plaintiff couple in the case against California’s Proposition 8 is straight, but as a freshman at George Washington University, he’s taken leadership roles in the school’s gay-straight alliance and LGBT graduate program.

In an interview with the Washington Blade at GWU’s Duques Hall, Spencer says he would pursue LGBT activism even if his parents — Kris Perry and Sandy Stier — weren’t plaintiffs in the case that restored marriage equality to California, because of his experience in youth government programs during his adolescence.

“Sometimes I got the opportunity to travel across the country and meet others with different views on LGBT rights,” Perry says. “More often than not, I found myself even just in conversations casually, advocating for my parents and advocating for the family that we have and families just like theirs. I really felt proud of myself doing that. It was a good feeling and I wanted to keep pursuing it.”

After growing up in Berkeley, Calif., which he calls a “bubble” in terms of support for LGBT people, Spencer enrolled at GWU, where he double majors in political science and economics. Shortly after enrolling, he was elected freshman representative for Allied in Pride and was appointed as a board member of GWU’s LGBT Health Graduate Certificate Program.

He moved to D.C., where he lives on campus at Thurston Hall, at the same time his parents relocated to the area after Kris Perry accepted a job as executive director of the First Five Years Fund, a non-profit that seeks early childhood education for disadvantaged children.

Spencer says his focus at Allied in Pride is getting the culture at GWU “to be more embracing of LGBT individuals” on campus.

The next big task? Preparing for the second annual amateur drag show set for Feb. 13 called “Allied in Greek” — a collaboration between the Allied in Pride and Greek life in which members of GWU’s fraternities and sororities dress up in drag. The goal for the event, which will take place at 7 p.m. at Lisner Auditorium, is to show support for fellow LGBT students and benefit The Trevor Project, which seeks to help LGBT youth considering suicide.

Nick Gumas, who’s gay and president of Allied in Pride, praised Perry.

“Spencer has been an important part of Allied in Pride since he joined at the start of last semester,” Gumas says. “He always brings his creativity and positive energy to all of our meetings and events. It has been an absolute pleasure getting to know Spencer and I know he is going to continue to do great things in the future.”

Spencer knows firsthand the feeling of having the rights of his family taken from him. On Election Day in 2008 — the same day that President Obama was elected to office — voters in California approved Prop 8, rescinding the marriage rights that gay couples already enjoyed in the state.

“Anyone will tell you who lived in California and is part of the LGBT community, that was a very embarrassing moment because No. 1, we elected a phenomenal president, the first black president, which was a terrific feeling to be part of that, but at the same time, Proposition 8 was passed, too,” he says.

The day the California Supreme Court upheld Prop 8, Kris Perry and Stier — along with Los Angeles couple Paul Katami and Jeffrey Zarrillo — filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to overturn Prop 8. They were represented by the legal dream team of Ted Olson and David Boies, who were hired by the then newly formed American Foundation for Equal Rights.

The lawsuit wasn’t filed before Kris Perry, his birth mother, and Stier, who became his stepmother after a previous relationship Kris Perry had with another woman, asked their four children, including Spencer and his twin brother Elliott, whether it was OK.

“I remember one day after school right before dinner around that time, Kris and Sandy sat us down,” Spencer says. “They said, ‘Listen, we’ve been approached by this group called AFER and they’re interested in pursuing a lawsuit to overturn Proposition 8 as unconstitutional. We’re very interested, but we want to make a collective decision as a family. So they asked us if Elliott and I would be OK with that.”

It didn’t take much to convince Spencer to be willing to come on board.

“Elliott and I jumped at the opportunity,” he says.

At first, Spencer says his parents “did their darndest to keep us kind of protected” from the public interest surrounding the case. But as the case proceeded through the district court, to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and to the Supreme Court, and Spencer grew older and more interested in public affairs, he was able to speak out and talked to media outlets.

“I really did enjoy it,” Spencer says. “Not to be someone who’s devoted to attention, but it really was a good feeling to voice my opinion and to make sure people understand there are kids who have gay parents all across America.”

In addition to speaking at various news conferences, Spencer gave interviews to the San Francisco Chronicle, People magazine, the Los Angeles Times and New York Times, among others

One of the views against same-sex marriage that Spencer had to address — and one that he was living proof to counter — was the often-used argument that children of same-sex parents don’t fare as well as those raised by their opposite-sex biological parents.

“I’ve heard the argument a million and one times, but if anything, my gut reaction is that it’s kind of hurtful to hear that because my parents love each other, I’m worse off for it,” Spencer says. “I can’t tell you how loving and proud, and just absolutely supportive, my parents are of me. And how much better I am for them being my parents.”

After years of litigation, the case ended up before the U.S. Supreme Court, where justices ruled 5-4 that proponents of Prop 8 had no standing to defend the lawsuit, leaving in place a U.S. District Court decision from Judge Vaughn Walker that overturned the amendment on the grounds that it violated the equal protection rights of gay couples in the state.

But before that momentous decision, the justices scheduled oral arguments on March 26 to hear both sides in the case. Although Spencer wasn’t initially expecting to attend that day, an AFER board member was kind enough to give seats to allow him and Elliott to attend.

Spencer found himself sweating and uncomfortable as he observed Olson, anti-gay attorney Charles Cooper and Solicitor General Donald Verrilli makes their arguments before the justices, but for reasons other than the historic nature of the occasion.

“I caught food poisoning the night before,” Spencer says. “I never had food poisoning before, so I didn’t know what was happening, but I was just clenching the arms in my chair and sweating a little bit. I thought it was just nerves or something.”

Still, Spencer says he was inspired by what he saw, especially the comments from U.S. Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy.

“It was absolutely fantastic, especially listening to Justice Kennedy, it really touched my heart when he spoke about the kids who were involved in these cases, the children who belong to these families and feel disenfranchised by their government,” Spencer says.

Decision day came on June 28. This time Spencer wasn’t in D.C. — even though his parents were there to celebrate along with Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin on the steps of the Supreme Court — and instead was in North Carolina with other students involved in the debate team.

“The entire period when I was doing that, I was checking my phone, checking my Twitter, Instagram, everything I could get my hands on, every media outlet if it was going to happen,” Spencer says.

Despite the ups and downs as the case went through the courts, Spencer says the experience as a whole was positive and brought him closer to his family.

“Looking back on it, I feel immensely proud of my moms,” Spencer says. ”I never felt closer to them than when I saw Kris and Sandy testifying in front of a federal judge. Even now, I still feel proud to know that they changed the lives of so many people for the better.”

Peter Rosenstein, a gay Democratic activist and friend of Spencer’s, calls him “a great kid” and says the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree in terms of the pursuit of activism shared by his parents.

“I enjoyed his response when I was first introduced to him and asked if he was gay or straight,” Rosenstein says. “He said, ‘straight, my mom’s didn’t rub off on me’ to which I responded my parents didn’t rub off on me either. I think his being at GW will be great for the school and great for all the kids that meet him.”

What should the national LGBT movement focus on next? Spencer says it should be winning state battles on marriage equality throughout the country, so when the issue returns to the Supreme Court, justices will make a favorable ruling for gay couples throughout the country.

“There’s going to be political ideology in any ruling, and there’s going to be influence in public opinion, but I think the way that public opinion has absolutely shifted in the past four years in support of marriage equality and LGBT rights, it really does speak to the fact that there’s an opportunity for a national precedent on marriage equality in the Supreme Court,” Spencer says.

05
Feb
2014