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You know gays have won when a drag queen runs for office as a Republican

Steve Wiles (aka Miss Mona Sinclair) says he's learned a lot of lessons "the hard way." I bet you have, gurl.

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05
May
2014

N.C. Republican worked as drag queen

Steve Wiles, gay news, Washington BladeWINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Reports emerged late last week that a Republican North Carolina Senate candidate who supports the state’s same-sex marriage ban was once a drag queen who worked at a gay nightclub.

The Winston-Salem Journal on May 3 cited the co-owner of the now closed nightclub who said Steve Wiles worked as Mona Sinclair. A former employee with whom the newspaper also spoke confirmed the Republican worked at Club Odyssey in Winston-Salem.

The Winston-Salem Journal reported that Wiles initially denied he worked at the nightclub as Mona Sinclair.

“I have already apologized to the people who matter most to me for the things I did when I was young,” the Republican told the newspaper last week.

Wiles, a real estate agent who lives in nearby Belews Creek, ran against incumbent state Sen. Joyce Krawiec (R-Winston-Salem) and Dempsey Brewer in the May 6 Republican primary to succeed state Sen. Pete Brunstetter who resigned late last year.

Krawiec defeated Brewer and Wiles. She will square off against Democrat John Motsinger in November’s general election.

07
May
2014

Aiken’s Democratic opponent dies suddenly at 71

Clay Aiken's primary opponent Keith Crisco died suddenly on Monday (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key).

Clay Aiken‘s primary opponent Keith Crisco died suddenly on Monday (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key).

Keith Crisco, the primary opponent of gay congressional candidate Clay Aiken, died suddenly after a fall Monday, according to local media reports.

Amid plans for a recount of the results of the hotly contested Democratic primary, Crisco reportedly died at his home as a result of injuries he suffered from a fall at his Asheboro, N.C. home. According to the Courier-Tribune, Crisco was found dead at the scene when emergency workers arrived. Crisco, 71, was formerly a North Carolina commerce secretary.

As a result of the primary Tuesday, Aiken enjoyed just a 369-vote lead in the race between him and Crisco in the race for the Democratic nomination to represent North Carolina’s 2nd congressional district. The race was deemed too close to call on Wednesday, and Crisco had vowed to continue the fight by seeking a recount.

Whoever won the primary would go on to face incumbent Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.) in the general election , who’s favored to win in the heavily Republican district.

In a statement, Aiken said he’s “stunned and deeply saddened” by Crisco’s death and pledged to suspend temporarily all campaign activities.

“Keith came from humble beginnings,” Aiken said. “No matter how high he rose – to Harvard, to the White House and to the governor’s cabinet – he never forgot where he came from. He was a gentleman, a good and honorable man and an extraordinary public servant. I was honored to know him.”

The Washington Blade couldn’t immediately confirm that Crisco’s death automatically would make Aiken the Democratic nominee, although that seemed like the most likely outcome as a result of the situation.

[UPDATE: Joshua Lawson, a spokesperson for the North Carolina Board of Elections, said Aiken "is not rendered the automatic winner" as the result of Crisco's death. Primary results are only official after county canvass, which is set to begin 11 am Tuesday throughout North Carolina. Congressional races are not final until certification by the State Board of Elections.

A few scenarios affected by Crisco’s passing are as follows:

1. Aiken falls within 1 percent of the Crisco's totals, which would have entitled Crisco to a recount: State law requires that the runner-up request the recount. Crisco is no longer able to do so, and no recount would be required.

2. Aiken fails to get 40 percent, which would have triggered a runoff election: State law requires that the runner-up request the runoff. Crisco is no longer able to do so, and no runoff would be called.

3. Crisco wins the nomination: State law allows the district executive committee of the candidate's political party to name a nominee.]

12
May
2014

HIV patients in the South face uphill battle

AIDS Alabama, Kathie Hiers, gay news, Washington Blade, HIV

AIDS Alabama CEO Kathie Hiers (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — AIDS Alabama CEO Kathie Hiers will “never forget” the day in 1985 when she and her partner were at Denny’s in her hometown of Mobile, Ala., when six of her “best gay boyfriends walked in” and said they had all tested positive for HIV.

They had gone to nearby Pensacola, Fla., to get tested because Florida offered anonymous testing, unlike Alabama.

“I was like ‘Oh my God, what is happening,’” Hiers told the Washington Blade during a July 16 interview at her Birmingham office before traveling to the 2014 International AIDS Conference in Australia. “Today one of those six guys is still alive.”

More than three decades after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the first cases of what became known as AIDS, the epidemic continues to have a disproportionate impact on the South.

The CDC in 2010 noted nearly half of all new HIV infections in the U.S. were in the South, according to a policy report from the Southern AIDS Coalition. Eight of the 10 states with the highest rates of HIV — Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Tennessee — are in the region.

The CDC notes Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina are among the states with the highest rates of AIDS diagnoses.

Hiers said the statistics are slightly lower in Alabama because her organization has partnered with all of the state’s HIV/AIDS service organizations and works within all of its 67 counties.

“We’ve got a pretty cohesive network,” she said. “It’s very different than the other Southern states where you go to Atlanta and there’s a good bit, but you get outside Atlanta and there’s nothing. The same in Louisiana with New Orleans and so on.”

Hiers further noted the 1917 Clinic where a number of groundbreaking discoveries around HIV/AIDS have taken place is located at the University of Alabama-Birmingham.

“We’re always very connected to clinical trials and so on,” she said. “Those two things have helped Alabama.”

The Duke Center for Health Policy and Inequalities Research in 2011 noted Mississippi had the highest number of deaths from HIV of any state. Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee were among the top 10.

The U.S. Census also indicates that Mississippi is the poorest state in the country, with 22.3 percent of residents living below the poverty line between 2008-2012. Louisiana and Alabama have the second and fourth highest rates of poverty in the country respectively.

Statistics also indicate that people of color are more likely to live in poverty than whites.

“Part of what happens with people who are poor is they don’t go to the doctor,” Kathryn Garner, executive director of AIDS Service Coalition, an HIV/AIDS service organization in Hattiesburg, Miss., that serves people with the virus who live in 71 of the state’s 82 counties, told the Blade during a recent telephone interview. “If you don’t go to the doctor, you don’t know you’re HIV positive until you go to the doctor when you’re really sick and then you’re AIDS-defined.”

Charlotte “Dot” Norwood, gay news, Washington Blade, HIV

Charlotte “Dot” Norwood (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Charlotte “Dot” Norwood, a prevention counselor at Open Arms Healthcare Center, an HIV/AIDS clinic in Jackson, Miss., that My Brother’s Keeper, an organization based in nearby Ridgeland, Miss., that seeks to reduce health disparities among minority groups, is known affectionately as the “AIDS Lady.”

She told the Blade during a July 11 interview at the clinic that patients with the virus are often unable to get a job.

“[They] go for an interview, don’t get hired and it could be for many reasons,” she said. “Sometimes I think it’s because you know maybe they go in and the person’s first perception… masculine, things like that.”

People with HIV/AIDS fall under the Americans with Disabilities Act. It also bans all public entities and private companies that employ more than 15 people from discriminating against their employees based on their status.

No Southern state bans anti-LGBT employment discrimination. Louisiana, Tennessee and Florida include sexual orientation in their anti-hate crimes statutes, but not gender identity and expression.

HIV, Carl Green, gay news, Washington Blade

Carl Green (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Carl Green, a gay white man who has lived at Belle Reve, a residence in the Fraubourg Marigny neighborhood of New Orleans for people with HIV/AIDS since May, told the Blade during a July 14 interview that he lost his job when he told his then-manager he was living with HIV after several hospitalizations.

Green said he eventually lost his home and lived in his car until a bank repossessed it.

The New Orleans AIDS Task Force, an HIV/AIDS service organization that serves people with the virus in the Crescent City and throughout southeastern Louisiana, referred Green to Belle Reve.

“It was the universe saying you need to go back to square one and get your health together,” said Green.

Vicki Weeks, HIV, gay news, Washington Blade

Belle Reve Executive Director Vicki Weeks (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

People with HIV struggle to find housing, food

The Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 bans discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS and other disabilities.

In spite of this federal law, a lack of housing remains an acute problem for low-income people with HIV/AIDS in the South.

Fifteen people currently live in two group homes in Belle Reve — including one called Belle Grace that Executive Director Vicki Weeks joked opened because of the “grace of God.” A third building — Belle Esprit — has four apartments for couples and families that can accommodate between seven to 10 people with children at any given time.

Belle Reve was able to renovate all three of its buildings several years ago after it received $1,189,000 in funds from Housing Opportunities for People with AIDS (HOPWA) from the New Orleans Office of Community Development, $300,000 from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, grants from the National AIDS Fund and other groups and money from the Qatari government.

“I’m happy until I can get on my own and start over again,” a Belle Reve resident of color who describes himself as “very-much gay,” but asked to remain anonymous told the Blade. He worked at Tulane Hospital in New Orleans for four years before he tested positive in May 2013. “I’m looking for another job, but I’ve been having a little problem with that because I guess I’m gay. They look at you and they judge you.”

Miss Eddie, a 58-year-old transgender woman who has lived with HIV since the 1980s, moved from the New Orleans suburb of Kenner to Belle Reve in late May after her former lover died.

“It’s a great blessing being here,” she told the Blade.

Thirty-two people with HIV/AIDS currently live at Grace House, a residence in Jackson, Miss.

AIDS Services Coalition runs two residences in Hattiesburg for people living with the virus.

Eight men live in 121 Haven House, a Victorian home built in the 1880s that serves as a transitional shelter. More than a dozen women with HIV and a family live in a second facility — 227 Place — with nine two-bedroom apartments.

AIDS Service Coalition last month bought a 16-unit apartment complex with four fourplexes.

Garner said they should be renovated by the end of the year.

“Our goal of course if someone’s able to work or able to function out in the world,” she told the Blade. “We do everything we can to get them away so they can be out in the world and do the things everything they want to do.”

The South Mississippi AIDS Task Force in Biloxi, Miss., operates a transitional housing facility for people with HIV/AIDS on the state’s Gulf Coast.

“Everyone we have in any of our shelters either have no income or have disability or a low-paying job,” said Garner. “It’s really difficult if you’re making $790 a month when a one-bedroom apartment in Hattiesburg is $550 to $600 a month. The math on that just doesn’t work and there’s not enough public housing and there’s not enough housing choice vouchers.”

AIDS Alabama has one of the largest housing programs of any HIV/AIDS service provider in the South with roughly 150 units throughout the state. The majority of these are in Birmingham, the state’s largest city.

AIDS Alabama also offers rental assistance to people living with HIV across the state through HOPWA.

“Even so we always have waiting lists,” Hiers told the Blade. “Housing is just a huge need for people with HIV.”

HIV/AIDS service providers with whom the Blade spoke in Mississippi and Alabama said access to transportation and even food can adversely affect the health of people living with the virus — especially those who live in rural areas.

Dr. Laura Beauchamps, an infectious disease practitioner at Open Arms, told the Blade as she prepared to administer pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) that many people with HIV/AIDS who live in rural areas are simply unable to travel to Jackson “to get checked on a regular basis.”

“They just don’t take care of themselves and they keep on spreading [the virus,]” she said as Norwood listened. “It is just very sad to see. In other states it’s not the same because they have a better transportation situation or ways to get them to the clinics and continue [with their treatment.]”

Garner told the Blade one of her organization’s clients who lives in a shelter in Columbus, Miss., travels to the state capital, which is nearly two hours away, to receive health care and HIV treatments. AIDS Service Coalition also provides her with support network, even though its offices are a 4-hour drive away from where she currently lives.

“She calls once a month and we visit,” said Garner. “We do what we can do.”

Hiers said the majority of AIDS Alabama’s clients in the Birmingham metropolitan area do not own cars. The agency has three vans that “run full time” to bring clients to their appointments and other commitments, but Hiers said “it’s not enough.”

Hiers described the city’s public transportation system as “pitiful,” noting an AIDS Alabama client who takes a 5:30 a.m. bus from his home to get to his job at 9:30 a.m. was almost fired because he was late.

Up to 170 families each month receive food assistance from Open Arms.

Norwood noted the food pantry in the back of the clinic that her son helps stock with donations was “a little bare” because the next delivery had yet to arrive from a local food bank. She told the Blade she personally delivers food to her clients who are hungry and are unable to travel to the clinic.

“I’ll step out of pocket and go get them myself, or take food,” said Norwood. “Sometimes I have my people who haven’t ate in a few days and they’ll call one of my guys. And my guys will call me and say ‘hey Dot, honey can you help me Dot?’ Oh yeah, that’s not even to be asked.”

Lack of education, stigma spread virus

Timothy Thompson, HIV, gay news, Washington Blade

Timothy Thompson (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Anti-HIV stigma also remains a serious problem for those living with the virus in the South.

Timothy Thompson, a peer educator with the New Orleans AIDS Task Force, told the Blade over dinner in the French Quarter on July 13 that many people who are disproportionately at risk for HIV in the city do not get tested because of the stigma attached to the virus.

“One of the biggest things is that there is the idea if I go and I test positive I’ll be alienized from my people, from my family or the people that I hang out with or things that I’m able to do I won’t be able to do anymore,” he said. “There is a level of truth to that because of the ongoing problems that are faced because of the ignorance that is around the disease itself.”

Thompson said people with HIV/AIDS with whom he has worked in New Orleans have told him that people did not want to have someone who is positive eat in their home because they think the virus spreads through saliva.

“They’re not aware of the different things that really transmit the disease as well as the different things that you can do to make sure that the people you are around that are affected about it still feel like they are normal human beings,” said Thompson. “You’re aware that this does not transmit this way and most people aren’t aware and they tend to offend people by their lack of education.”

The Blade heard similar stories from service providers and LGBT rights activists in Mississippi.

“We have folks — and this is 2014 — who are being asked in their family homes to eat off of paper plates,” said Garner.

Antwan Matthews, a gay man of color from Meridian, Miss., living with HIV, officially learned his status on April 24, 2013, the day before his 20th birthday.

He told the Blade during a July 11 interview at Open Arms where he will begin to receive care next month that his mother told him that his father, who is a Pentecostal minister, took out a life insurance policy on him after he found out he was positive.

“He’s almost gambling with my life,” said Matthews. “He’s just waiting for me to die or something.”

Matthews said his mother was initially supportive of him, but he said she pointed out his HIV status after they argued about his sister wanting to move out of the house once she had turned 18.

“She texts me and said ‘you wouldn’t listen, so look at you, you’re living with HIV now so you don’t have anything to say to me,’” said Matthews. “I was like OK. It kind of bothered me because you just don’t expect that to be said from your mom or your parents and stuff like that.”

The Belle Reve resident who asked to remain anonymous told the Blade he initially did not want to “introduce” his family in Lafayette, La., to “my HIV” because he thought they were not “going to accept it.”

“They did,” he said. “So I came here just to get myself together, for myself. So I came here and now they accept everything.”

Katrina disrupted HIV care, damaged facilities

Vicki Weeks, HIV, gay news, Washington Blade

Belle Reve Executive Director Vicki Weeks (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Weeks said eight of 12 people who were living at Belle Reve when Hurricane Katrina approached New Orleans in 2005 could not evacuate on their own because they — or their relatives — did not have access to transportation.

She and three other Belle Reve staffers used private vehicles to evacuate their residents to a campground in Alexandria, La., a city roughly 200 miles northwest of New Orleans.

The trip that normally takes less than four hours took 16 hours because of massive traffic jams.

Weeks, her residents and staff spent nearly three weeks at the campground before an HIV/AIDS service organization in Anniston, Ala., offered them housing and a place to work.

They remained in Alabama for seven months before returning to New Orleans.

“The city did not have an evacuation plan for people with no vehicles, and that’s why so many people stayed,” said Weeks, who lives in the Gentilly Terrace neighborhood of New Orleans that Katrina inundated with six feet of water. “That’s why they had so many people here because there was no transportation out of this city other than your own vehicle or a vehicle of a relative. We tried to get our residents to go with relatives or with churches, but we still have eight out of 12 that had no way to get out of town.”

Katrina damaged the roof of AIDS Service Coalition’s shelter.

Garner told the Blade a man living with HIV from New Orleans approached her after she arrived to survey the damage and said he only had two days worth of his antiretrovirals.

“That story replicated itself,” she said. “Basically what we did for several months was triage.”

Garner added an additional problem that people living with HIV/AIDS from other states who fled to Mississippi after Katrina is the state’s Medicaid program offered less generous benefits than they had been accustomed.

“If they were getting psychotropic medicines or if they were getting pain medicines or fill in the blank, they came to Mississippi and that wasn’t covered,” she said.

Service providers criticize governors for not expanding Medicaid

 

Alabama State Capitol, HIV, gay news, Washington Blade

76 percent of those who are on the Alabama AIDS Drug Assistance Program would become eligible for Medicaid if Gov. Robert Bentley and the Republican-controlled Legislature expanded it, according to AIDS Alabama CEO Kathie Hiers. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A Gallup survey noted Texas had the highest rate of uninsured residents, with 27 percent of people without health insurance. Arkansas, Mississippi, Florida and Louisiana, Georgia and North Carolina were among the other states with the highest rates of uninsured residents.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal and North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory have all refused to expand their state’s Medicaid programs under the Affordable Care Act.

Hiers told the Blade the majority of the 13,000 Alabamians living with HIV are “extremely poor,” yet the state’s Medicaid program requires potential recipients to be disabled and have a monthly income of 13 percent of poverty level. She said this figure works out to around $111 a month.

Hiers added 76 percent of those who are on the Alabama AIDS Drug Assistance Program would become eligible for Medicaid if Gov. Robert Bentley and the Republican-controlled Legislature expanded it.

“I get so frustrated at our Southern states who need the health care the most not expanding Medicaid here,” said Hiers. “It’s just colossally stupid. We’re turning down billions and billions in health care for Alabamians and Southerners just because of the ideological differences between the parties. And I think that’s just wrong.”

Advocates and HIV/AIDS service providers with whom the Blade spoke in Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama all said the vast majority of their funding comes from the federal government and private grants.

Eighty-five percent of AIDS Alabama’s annual budget of $7.9 million comes from federal sources, with HUD providing the majority of this money. The organization also receives financial support from the Ford Foundation, the Elton John Foundation, the Tide Foundation and other foundations.

HOPWA funds comprise 80 percent of Belle Reve’s $1 million annual budget.

“If we lose that there’s nothing else that we can do to keep the doors open,” Weeks told the Blade. “We have got to prepare for that.”

The Mississippi Department of Health runs a free STD clinic in Jackson where Beauchamps also works.

She told the Blade that she and her colleagues are able to find “a lot of people” there who are positive.

Beauchamps nevertheless stressed the state does not extend enough resources to her and other HIV/AIDS service providers to fight the epidemic.

“We need more grants,” said Beauchamps. “We need more support to do more testing and then to reach out in communities that don’t have a way to come all the way down to the metro area.”

Weeks criticized Louisiana lawmakers and Jindal for cutting state education and health care funding.

She noted the closest mental health clinic to Belle Reve is in Hammond, a city about an hour northwest of New Orleans, because Jindal closed the facility that had been in the Crescent City.

“All I can say is that we’re not happy with some of the issues or some of the things that our governor, Bobby Jindal, has done,” said Weeks. “We all get upset when he cuts funding for education or health care, but the state’s budget is in state law that they can’t touch any of this other stuff. That only leaves education and health care. So whoever set our government up did a very poor job.”

’I’m doing a 100 percent better’

Antwan Matthews, HIV, gay news, Washington Blade

Antwan Matthews (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

In spite of the steep challenges, people living with HIV/AIDS and those who support them remain optimistic.

Matthews has begun speaking with teenage boys about the virus. He is also fighting to include HIV/AIDS in school curricula.

“They need to be taught,” he told the Blade. “It’s just like anything else: English, history, math, anything else that they learn. They should learn about this.”

Green has once again began taking antiretrovirals after a three year lapse.

He also had surgery last month to remove a cancerous tumor from his rectum.

“I’m doing a 100 percent better,” said Green. “It’s like I’m getting back in touch with me and getting my priorities back together. I just don’t think I would have still been on this earth. I really don’t.”

07
Aug
2014

N.C. insurer drops gay, lesbian couples

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Blue Cross and Blue Shield, the state’s biggest health insurer, has canceled family insurance policies it sold last month to gay and lesbian couples in North Carolina under the Affordable Care Act, the Charlotte News Observer reports.

Blue Cross, Blue Shield, health, gay news, Washington Blade, North Carolina

Blue Cross and Blue Shield canceled family insurance policies it sold last month to gay and lesbian couples in North Carolina.

The insurer canceled policies of 20 couples — some who were legally married in states that recognize gay marriage — and encouraged them to reapply for separate insurance policies as unmarried individuals. The couples received calls from Blue Cross in mid-January, several weeks after they purchased their family health insurance, and were told their family coverage was invalid, the article said.

Blue Cross’ strategy has stung same-sex couples and gay-rights advocates because the nonprofit insurer offers domestic partner benefits to its own employees. Blue Cross insurance plans offered by large companies in North Carolina also include health benefits for employees and their same-sex partner, the News Observer said.

The problem is traced to terminology in Blue Cross policies that define “spouse” as “opposite sex.” North Carolina insurance law does not prohibit selling coverage to gay couples, but Blue Cross was legally bound by the restrictive contract language in its individual plans, said Kerry Hall, spokeswoman for the N.C. Department of Insurance.

Blue Cross has vowed to update the language in 2015.

29
Jan
2014

Celebrating silver in style

Mitchell Gold, Bob Williams, furniture, design, home, gay news, Washington Blade

Mitchell Gold (left) and business partner Bob Williams at their Washington store for an event in 2013. (Washington Blade file photo by

Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams

25th anniversary event

A benefit for Sitar Arts Center

Wednesday

6-9 p.m.

Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams Washington location

1526 14th St., N.W.

mgbwhome.com

RSVP requested

rsvpdc@mgbwhome.com

202-332-3433

Mitchell Gold and Bob Williams, co-owners of the eponymous furniture company, didn’t originally intend for their company to be as big as it is today.

Gold says they were originally thinking of a modest business model in which they’d work four days a week, have a small stable of customers and do about $5 million a year in sales.

“We didn’t have to make that much money,” Gold says. “It was just the two of us living down South, it’s much less expensive to live here, and we thought we would just have this nice little company. … But as Bob often tells people, ‘It’s not that Mitchell lied — it’s just that he can’t count.’”

Started in 1989 with about $60,000, things took off rather quickly. They sold about 800 dining tables and 5,000 chairs before they started making any of the pieces. Gold, who’d been fired from the furniture company he’d worked for, had connections with major retailers like J.C. Penney, Crate & Barrel and others, which he visited armed with sketches and fabrics Williams had made. They were profitable the first year they were in business.

“We had fabrics that were different and unusual for the time,” Gold says. “So we were able to show retailers, ‘This is how this will look in your store.’ And they bought it right away. People have said I’m not a bad salesman, so I was able to close the sales and get the production going quickly.”

The two, who’d been together as domestic partners about two years before, had moved to Hickory, N.C., from New York and were interested in going into business together.

“We just thought we could do it better than traditional manufacturers,” Gold says. “We thought we could make a better commitment to customers, ship it more quickly and with Bob’s sense of style, you know, I certainly felt we could offer people a more stylish look for a better price.”

Williams worked for a small ad agency and gradually cut back his time there as he spent more and more with the company, then known as the Mitchell Gold Company (it was changed to its present name in 2002).

Now they’re celebrating 25 years and have more than 700 employees, a stable of celebrity clients, 17 stores and plans to open four more by year’s end and a 600,000-square-foot factory and home base in Taylorsville, N.C.

Several spoke at a company event two weeks ago where 11 of their original 21 employees who are still with the company were recognized. It appears, from a transcript of comments, that morale there is strong.

Ken Hipp, the company’s senior vice president of retail stores and merchandising, has been with them for seven years and calls Gold and Williams “wonderful mentors.”

“It’s been quite a ride,” says Hipp, who’s also gay. “I can’t imagine my career or my life without them.”

Known for a style they call “quintessentially American,” their products are designed to be stylish, yet comfortable. Interior designer Brian Patrick Flynn of TBS’s “Movie & a Makeover” show has called their products “custom-looking pieces at medium-to-high price-points” and says it’s a “genius brand” he and his clients “can’t get enough of.”

On Wednesday, the two will be in town for an event at their D.C. store at 1526 14th St., N.W., an anniversary event that will benefit the Sitar Arts Center. It’s one of a series of events they’re having at their various locations throughout the year.

In a country where just 25 percent of new employer firms are still in business 15 years or more after starting according to the Small Business Administration, theirs is a nearly unfettered success story.

It hasn’t all been easy going, though. Williams remembers many long hours in the early years, though he also says those were some of the most “exhilarating times of my life.”

They recall years of working what felt like round-the-clock schedules and didn’t take a vacation until two years into it, but were gratified by strong out-of-the-gate sales.

“Customers liked what we were doing immediately,” Williams says. “We never had to go call on people. The more they heard about us, the more we had people wanting to buy from us.”

They broke up on the personal side about 12 years into the business, though they’re wholly comfortable working together and are each married and have been with other men for years — Gold has been with Tim Gold for seven years; Williams has been with Stephen Heavner for 11 years.

Might their relationship have lasted if it weren’t for the company? It’s a thorny question they don’t wish to dwell on.

“We don’t give much thought to it,” Williams says.

“It takes a lot of time and energy to go back and visit the past,” Gold says. “We’re more focused on the future.”

They acknowledge there were “a few little awkward moments, but not too much,” as Gold says. Keeping the company strong was chief among their priorities as always, they say.

The only time they had any significant downsizing was in 2008. Gold says it was a hard, but at the time necessary, decision in the face of a huge recession.

The company prides itself on the health care package it offers, on-site day care and cafeteria and unabashed LGBT advocacy work.

They say providing such amenities pays off in the long run.

“I think what we have proven is that you can be profitable and do the right thing,” he says. “When you have people who aren’t sick, they’re being more productive and that makes things more profitable. With our day care, if little junior has a problem, somebody goes and takes care of it and is back in 15 or 20 minutes, not the three hours it would take to go across town.”

They guess about 15 percent of their employees are also LGBT and estimate between 15-20 percent of their clientele is as well. Gold says it’s “certainly higher than other furniture retailers.”

Gold, who wrote a book called “Crisis: 40 Stories Revealing the Personal, Social and Religious Pain and Trauma of Growing up Gay in America” in 2008, says being open about such things is a central component to the company.

He relishes telling of a celebration dinner they had with loan officers after paying back a $25 million loan they’d used to expand. Several of the bank execs told him how reading “Crisis” had given them new compassion for LGBT issues, from one man who stepped up his giving at a homeless shelter to another whose wife came out.

“One by one, they went around the table and told us how much our advocacy work had meant to them,” Gold says.

Coming from a staid banking environment, Hipp says finding a place he could be out on the job was a revelation.

“I thought I loved banking but I realized banking did not love me,” he says. “I was very uncomfortable and very conflicted over my future and I was met with some very harsh realities. I could not believe that someone of my age, I was in my early 20s at the time, could actually go to work someplace where it was OK for me to be who I was. I didn’t have to tuck any part of myself under my sleeve. I could actually say that I was gay and it didn’t matter. … I was just a kid from the south and I thought that was the best it would get.”

Some of the 25th anniversary events will benefit LGBT and AIDS causes. Gold next plans an open letter to the Pope urging him to change Vatican teaching that homosexuality is sinful behavior.

“When you get down to it, that’s really the seminal reason why people think gay people should not have equality,” Gold says. “The whole issue of sin is really the crux of why people are against it.”

But has there been backlash or lost sales along the way?

“Our business just keeps going at such a pace that’s ahead of the industry with sales and growth and things like that,” he says. “You know, we can’t worry about the one or two people who aren’t going to buy from us because we’re gay and outspoken.”

 

Mitchell Gold and Bob Williams on:

 

Mitchell Gold, Bob Williams, furniture, design, home, gay news, Washington Blade

Bob Williams (left) and Mitchell Gold in the early years of their business. (Photo courtesy of Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams)

• Their all-time favorite products:

GOLD: Leather club chairs they designed after spotting vintage pieces at a Paris flea market.

“If something sells that well and looks pretty, I sure do like it,” he says.

WILLIAMS: “Our slipcovers are great because they’re just so versatile — you can dress them up or down, change the style and they just give off this great ambience of relaxed, casual comfort.”

 

• How practical the whites and neutrals they use so often are for everyday

GOLD: “Today’s fabrics are a lot different from what you saw 20-30 years ago. They’re much friendlier to live with and stain resistant.” And if you spill red wine? “In a lot of the fabrics, yes, it will come out. But you have to get it quickly, not let it sit there a day.”

 

• Nate Berkus

GOLD: “We love Nate Berkus.”

WILLIAMS: “He has great hair.”

GOLD: “Yes, he has great hair, he’s cute and adorable and we’re fairly friendly with him. I like his work a lot.”

WILLIAMS: “His last book was great.”

 

• Thom Filicia (of “Queer Eye” fame)

GOLD: “Sweet guy and talented. We were at a design kind of home in South Hampton and his room was really a standout.”

 

• 2013 sales?

GOLD: “Over $100 million.”

 

• Lulu, the company mascot

GOLD: “She’s resting in peace. She was 12 and a half and she will be the mascot in perpetuity. The thing about bulldogs is once they decide on something, that’s it. They figure out a way to get it. She came to work with us everyday and loved walking around and saying hi to everyone.”

21
Feb
2014

DNC honors Tom Chorlton

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Tom Chorlton died Jan. 5 in South Carolina from complications associated with leukemia. (Washington Blade archive photo by Doug Hinckle)

The Democratic National Committee adopted a resolution at its Washington meeting on Feb. 28 honoring the late Tom Chorlton, a longtime gay Democratic Party activist and former D.C. resident.

Chorlton served as founding executive director of the National Association of Gay and Lesbian Democratic Clubs from 1981-1982 before becoming D.C.’s first openly gay candidate for the City Council.

He later became a political science professor at the College of Charleston in North Carolina and author of a nationally recognized book profiling the little known 14 presidents of the American Continental Congress prior to the adoption of the U.S. Constitution.

Chorlton died Jan. 5 in South Carolina from complications associated with leukemia.

The DNC resolution states, “Therefore be it resolved that the Democratic National Committee honor Tom Chorlton for his dedication to the Democratic Party, his commitment to advancing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues, his passion for political organizing within the LGBT community, his love of American history, and his years of mentoring to future activists.”

06
Mar
2014

Second N.C. marriage lawsuit filed

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(Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

GREENSBORO, N.C. – The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina on April 9 filed a second same-sex marriage lawsuit in the Tar Heel State.

The group filed the lawsuit in federal court on behalf of three married same-sex couples who are seeking recognition of their marriages in North Carolina. They have asked the court to expedite the case because three of the six plaintiffs have serious medical conditions.

“Without the legal security that only marriage affords, these families are left vulnerable,” said Jennifer Rudinger, executive director of the ACLU of North Carolina. “If they could marry or have their marriages recognized in North Carolina, the law would protect their families in countless ways.”

The ACLU in 2012 filed a federal lawsuit against North Carolina’s second-parent adoption ban on behalf of six gay families. The group last year amended the case to directly challenge the state’s constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., will hear oral arguments in a case that challenges Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban.

North Carolina, South Carolina and West Virginia also fall under the 4th Circuit’s jurisdiction.

16
Apr
2014

Southern LGBT groups file brief in Va. marriage case

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Army Lt. Col. Heather Mack and Ashley Broadway-Mack live in Fort Bragg, N.C. (Photo courtesy of Equality North Carolina)

Two Southern LGBT advocacy groups on Friday filed an amicus brief in a federal lawsuit challenging Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban.

Equality North Carolina and the South Carolina Equality Coalition repeatedly reference the impact their respective states’ same-sex marriage bans have had on the families of gay and lesbian servicemembers in the 27-page brief they filed with the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va.

Tracy Johnson legally married Donna Johnson, a staff sergeant with the North Carolina National Guard, in D.C. in February 2012.

A suicide bomber in Afghanistan killed Donna Johnson eight months. Tracy Johnson has yet to receive death benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs because North Carolina does not recognize her D.C. marriage.

The brief also cites Ashley Broadway-Mack and Army Lt. Col. Heather Mack who live in Fort Bragg, N.C.

The women – who have been together for more than 15 years and are raising two children – exchanged vows in the nation’s capital in November 2012. Broadway-Mack is unable to make medical and other decisions on behalf of her children in North Carolina because the state does not recognize their marriage and prohibits second-parent adoption for gays and lesbians.

“Broadway-Mack lacks the rights and privileges granted to all other parents,” writes Mark Kleinschmidt, who is gay and the mayor of Chapel Hill, N.C., in the brief. “Once she steps off the military base and into Cumberland County, N.C., Broadway-Mack can no longer direct the education of her children or make decisions regarding their care.”

Kleinschmidt notes in the brief that Broadway-Mack could also lose custody of her children if something were to happen to Mack while on deployment.

“This situation leaves the family vulnerable,” he says. “Because of North Carolina’s discriminatory laws, Lt. Col. Mack and Broadway-Mack’s children lose the stability of having two legal parents. This harm is aggravated in the context of a military family when a parent’s life is put at risk in service to her country.”

Broadway-Mack discussed the brief with reporters during a conference call earlier on Friday.

“I question what legal problems I would have if something were to happen to Heather,” she said, noting her wife is currently in Afghanistan. “That is something that weighs on my very heavily.”

Fort Bragg is the largest U.S. Army installation in the country. Camp Lejeune and Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point are also located in the Tar Heel State.

Parris Island and Fort Jackson are among the military installations in South Carolina.

“We believe individuals coming to the state for training purposes should receive the same protections as the state they came from,” said South Carolina Equality Coalition Executive Director Ryan Wilson.

North Carolina voters in 2012 approved a state constitutional amendment that bans same-sex marriage and recognition of any other gay and lesbian relationships. South Carolinians in 2006 approved a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman.

The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina last week filed a lawsuit on behalf of three married same-sex couples who are seeking legal recognition of their unions in the Tar Heel State.

The ACLU in 2012 filed a federal lawsuit against the state’s second-parent adoption ban. The group last year amended the case to directly challenge North Carolina’s marriage amendment.

U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen in February struck down Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban.

The 4th Circuit next month is scheduled to hear oral arguments in a lawsuit against it that Timothy Bostic and Tony London of Norfolk and Carol Schall and Mary Townley of Chesterfield filed last year. The federal appeals court in March allowed the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal – who filed a separate lawsuit against the commonwealth’s gay nuptials ban last August on behalf of two lesbian couples from the Shenandoah Valley – to join the case.

North Carolina, South Carolina and West Virginia fall under the 4th Circuit’s jurisdiction.

“Our gay and lesbian service members put their lives on the line everyday for North Carolina, and it’s shameful that they and their families are treated as second-class by our present state of inequality,” said Equality North Carolina Executive Director Chris Sgro. “As these brave men and women courageously perform their duties with dignity and honor, at Equality NC we think its our duty to stand up for the freedom to marry for those who fight for the freedom for all.”

A.E. Dick Howard and Daniel R. Ortiz of the University of Virginia School of Law and Carl W. Tobias of the Richmond School of Law on Friday also filed an amicus brief with the 4th Circuit in the Bostic case. PFLAG, the Family Equality Council, the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Cato Institute are among the groups that filed briefs with the federal appeals court.

18
Apr
2014

United Church of Christ files lawsuit against N.C. marriage ban

North Carolina, State Capitol, Raleigh, Gay News, Washington Blade

North Carolina State Capitol by Jim Bowen via Wikimedia Commons.

The United Church of Christ and a group of clergy and same-sex couples on Monday filed a federal lawsuit challenging North Carolina’s constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

The lawsuit — which was filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina — argues for the first time the marriage amendment violates the religious beliefs of denominations and congregants who support the recognition of gay nuptials and clergy who want to perform them. Rev. Geoffrey A. Black, president of the United Church of Christ, and Rev. Nancy Kraft of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Charlotte are among the plaintiffs who attended a Charlotte press conference.

“As a senior minister, I am often asked to perform marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples in my congregation,” said Rev. Joe Hoffman of First Congregational United Church of Christ in Asheville, who is a plaintiff along with Diane Ansley and Cathy McGaughey, two of his congregants who have been together for 14 years. “My denomination — the United Church of Christ — authorizes me to perform these ceremonies, but Amendment One denies my religious freedom by prohibiting me from exercising this right.”

The United Church of Christ, which has nearly a million members, in 2005 approved a resolution endorsing marriage rights for same-sex couples.

North Carolina voters in 2012 approved a constitutional amendment that not only bans same-sex marriage, but recognition of any other gay and lesbian relationships.

Attorney General Roy Cooper last October announced he personally supports marriage rights for same-sex couples, but would defend the gay nuptials ban. The Democrat’s announcement came after Buncombe County Register of Deeds Drew Reisinger accepted marriage licenses from 10 same-sex couples.

“The core protection of the First Amendment is that government may not regulate religious beliefs or take sides in religious controversies,” said Jonathan Martel of Arnold & Porter LLP, a law firm with offices in D.C. and other cities that is representing the plaintiffs alongside the Charlotte-based Tin Fulton Walker. “Marriage performed by clergy is a spiritual exercise and expression of faith essential to the values and continuity of the religion that government may regulate only where it has a compelling interest.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina earlier this month filed a lawsuit on behalf of three married same-sex couples who are seeking legal recognition of their unions in the Tar Heel State. The ACLU in 2012 filed a federal lawsuit against North Carolina’s second-parent adoption ban — the case now directly challenges the state’s marriage amendment.

Equality North Carolina and the South Carolina Equality Coalition on April 18 filed an amicus brief with the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., in a lawsuit that challenges Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban.

U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen in February struck down the commonwealth’s gay nuptials ban.

The 4th Circuit next month is scheduled to hear oral arguments in the Virginia case. Its outcome could impact marriage rights for same-sex couples in North Carolina because it is among the states that fall under the federal appeals court’s jurisdiction.

“I am excited to see this challenge to Amendment One move forward,” said Equality North Carolina Executive Director Chris Sgro, who attended the Charlotte press conference. “We fought hard to defeat Amendment One, and I am glad to see the harms it has caused highlighted.”

Same-sex couples in neighboring Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina and other states have filed lawsuits seeking marriage rights since the U.S. Supreme Court last June found a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional.

28
Apr
2014