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DNC honors Tom Chorlton

Tom Chorlton, Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, gay news, Washington Blade

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

wedding, marriage, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, marriage equality, gay news, Washington Blade, spousal benefits, marriage lawsuit

(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

Heather Mack, Ashely Broadway-Mack, Fort Bragg, North Carolina, gay news, Washington Blade

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

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

Parental notice bill sent back to committee in N.C.

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

North Carolina State Capitol by Jim Bowen via Wikimedia Commons.

RALEIGH, N.C. — A bill restricting teenagers’ access to medical and mental health care initially scheduled for a vote in the North Carolina last week was taken off the calendar and sent back to the Judiciary Committee, LGBTQ Nation reported.

The bill would prohibit youth under 18 from receiving prevention, diagnosis and treatment information on pregnancy and abortion, STDs, HIV/AIDS, mental health and substance abuse without the express written and notarized consent of their parent or guardian, the site reported.

Some LGBT North Carolina activists said the bill would have especially bad ramifications for gay and trans teens who may be estranged from their parents, the article said.

15
May
2013

HRC president on the road ahead for LGBT movement

Chad Griffin, Human Rights Campaign, gay news, Washington Blade

Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin sees progress on ENDA and marriage equality ahead. (Washington Blade file photo by Blake Bergen).

From advancing marriage equality to building support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin sees significant progress ahead on LGBT issues across the country.

Immediately after the Senate committee vote Wednesday in favor of ENDA, Griffin spoke with the Washington Blade about moving forward in the aftermath of the historic vote and the U.S. Supreme Court decisions two weeks earlier in favor of marriage equality.

Griffin also talked about the Southern tour on which he’s embarked — in particular his visit to his home state of Arkansas — which he said is an attempt to reach out to LGBT people away from the coasts to ensure progress reaches them.

“If you look at the map of equality right now, you’ve got the coasts — largely, not completely — colored in, and then you’ve got everything in the middle with two little amazing dots that I’m really proud of: one in Minnesota, and one great Supreme Court decision in Iowa, ” Griffin said. “But the rest of this country has to be colored in as well.”

Arkansas was also an important stop for Griffin because Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) is one of three Senate Democrats who have yet to sign on in support of ENDA. Griffin emphasized poll numbers showing 61 percent of Arkansas resident support a transgender-inclusive federal law protecting workers against discrimination.

“Sen. Pryor is a key vote, and Sen. Pryor has yet to announce his position on ENDA, and it’s important for him to hear from Arkansans, for him to hear from folks all over the state on why this is important to them,” Griffin said.

Asked whether a discharge petition would be an appropriate course of action for ENDA in the House, Griffin said, “I don’t know the answer. I think as we get closer and as we make progress in the Senate, we’ll see, as we get closer, what the right strategies will be ultimately to get this done.”

Griffin also identified LGBT youth homelessness as an issue that doesn’t get enough attention in the media compared to others like marriage equality — noting 40 percent of homeless youth in Salt Lake City identify as LGBT.

“Just yesterday, I was talking to a number of folks in North Carolina about the homeless youth issue, and the issue of homelessness,” Griffin said. “There are a number of ways to combat that problem. One of them is direct service providing and the need for public funds to do that.”

The full transcript of the interview follows:

Washington Blade: What do you hope to accomplish during your Southern tour?

Chad Griffin, Human Rights Campaign, gay news, Washington Blade

Chad Griffin at the ceremony for the signing of the D.C. anti-bullying bill. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Chad Griffin: Look, I said this the moment I walked down the steps of the Supreme Court, and then I said it on the phone with the president about 10 minutes later that there’s certainly a moment of celebration. We have to acknowledge the historic significance of those two decisions, of the fact that two of the grandest symbols of discrimination in this country — in many ways, quite frankly, around the world — were struck down by the Supreme Court, and, with that decision, thousands upon thousands, and ultimately millions of people are going to be treated more equal, and with dignity and respect.

Families are going to have protections that they didn’t have before, and we doubled the number of Americans in states with marriage equality, which is incredible. We went from 14 percent to 30 percent.

But the moment you finish those words, you immediately have to pivot to the 37 states that didn’t feel the reach of justice by those decisions. Now, they provided great help to the young person who was able to see on TV, and read on the Internet and Twitter and so forth — it gave great hope and it said some day, those people are going to grow up with the same hope, dreams and aspirations. But in 37 states, they didn’t feel the reach of justice.

… That night, I never went to bed. I was on a 6 a.m. flight to Salt Lake City the very next morning. The Thursday morning after the decisions to highlight just that. And that’s where we have to work, and have to organize like we’ve never organized before, and work harder than we’ve ever worked before in states across this country. Because if you look at the map of equality right now, you’ve got the coasts — largely, not completely — colored in, and then you’ve got everything in the middle with two little amazing dots that I’m really proud of: one in Minnesota, and one great Supreme Court decision in Iowa.

But the rest of this country has to be colored in as well, and that’s why I’ve been meeting with folks — in Arkansas, in particular. We released a bipartisan poll — I assume you know about that — that’s incredible. All the focus is always on the national numbers, and where the movement is, and whether we’re 56 or 57 or 55, whatever national poll you look at. But in Arkansas, we’re almost 40 percent in support of marriage equality, and for those under 30, we’re at 61 percent in support for marriage equality.

And then, in that state in particular, we highlighted the ENDA numbers. Over 60 percent of Arkansans support a fully inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act. And that’s an important message to get out. … We did two events. The first one, we had about 400 people. The next one, on the same day, about 300 people. I met with folks in Hot Springs a couple days before that when I was with my family.

But Sen. [Mark] Pryor is a key vote, and Sen. Pryor has yet to announce his position on ENDA, and it’s important for him to hear from Arkansans, for him to hear from folks all over the state on why this is important to them.

I then went to North Carolina, and, unfortunately, Sen. Burr voted via proxy, he wasn’t here today, via proxy “no.” But I think that you give up on no one. We still have several weeks, and months, to work before this on the Senate, and I think we don’t give up on anyone. There were a lot of folks who were surprised by the bipartisan votes that came out of this markup this morning. And I’m optimistic that we can have more Republicans and undecided Democrats join us. And that’s why I’m spending time in these states, so that these folks can hear from their constituents, and can hear from them in loud and bold ways.

And for us to really begin, and for me to spend time, quite frankly. In my first year, I think I’ve been to 23 states, and it’s time to spend a lot more time in the states, like Arkansas, my home town, where I grew up my entire life, where my entire family still is. And Arkansas looks a lot like the other 37 states.

Blade: What do you think are the most immediate prospects for marriage equality in those remaining 37 states?

Chad Griffin, HRC, Human Rights Campaign, election 2012, Washington Blade, gay news

(Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Griffin: Well, like I said, it took us less than five years to take down Proposition 8 from the day it was passed. I think within these next five years, and I think it’s an important goal to set that we, as a community, can bring marriage equality to all 50 states within five years. And there a number of opportunities. There’s no silver bullet that goes from state to state. It’s very different in the states.

In a state like Illinois, we have all been organizing in a great coalition of in-state organization and national organizations like the Human Rights Campaign, Lambda, the ACLU and HRC. We’ve had, I think, 15 field team members on the ground there for months. That legislature should have already passed it. I think, very soon, it will.

In Oregon, there’s a ballot opportunity coming up where we also have folks on the ground and strong chapters. In Nevada, we have real opportunities there. It’s a bit more of a complicated process with two legislative votes, and then a public vote, to make progress. It’s the only state, I think, by the way, that’s like that.

And then, there are other states that, I think, where opportunities are going to present themselves. There are states — people were shocked that opposition to marriage equality was 55 percent. “55 percent? That means you’re losing!” Yeah, but look at the movement each year. Well, in two years, in three years, in four years, I don’t know how many years that is, we’re a few years away from crossing the 50 percent point in a state like Arkansas.

So, I really think that you don’t give up anywhere, and we’re going to have opportunities everywhere. Now, at the end of the day, just like in the civil rights movement in the ’50s and ’60s, there are going to be states that, unfortunately, the electorate might move, but elected officials might not in some of the places. And, I think, ultimately, they will regret it as most of them did during the civil rights movement, and for those states, it will take another federal court decision.

And I suspect, you’ve already seen several announced, I suspect you’ll probably see dozens in the months to come, as legal organizations as well as just everyday folks filing lawsuits with the momentum they saw out of those decisions.

What’s important is that we’re strategic and smart in all those ways, but what’s also important [is] that we acknowledge what might have been impossible just a few years ago, is perhaps possible today. You know, and as it relates to the Prop 8 case, there were a lot of folks that thought that wasn’t possible and thought that Justice [Anthony] Kennedy would never be there on issues like equal protection today, and argued for waiting a long time. What we saw was the courts catching up with public opinion, and so ultimately, there will be another federal court case or multiple ones that reach the Supreme Court, and that’ll just decide this for the states that don’t move along.

But our job, in the interim, is to move equality forward, where we can advance marriage equality. We need to advance it in all these different ways, continue to change more hearts and minds where we can move forward with employment non-discrimination. Statewide we need to do it. And where we can’t get it statewide, we need to move it at the municipal level in cities and in counties — again, depending on the state, how you can move it forward.

A state like Utah, I think, to date, the number is like 18 municipalities in Utah. There are no statewide protections. but there are 18 cities in Utah that have such protections. My home state of Arkansas has none, has zero protections. Hopefully, some day, in a state like Arkansas, we can move forward on employment protections statewide, but in the meantime, I think it’s an example of a place where we make progress at the city level in a number of places.

Blade: Getting back to ENDA, today we had Hatch and Murkowski voting in favor of it. Did those votes surprise you?

Chad Griffin, Dustin Lance Black, Washington Blade, gay news, HRC National Dinner, Human Rights Campaign, Proposition 8, AFER, American Foundation for Equal Rights

Griffin: I have to say when it comes to issues of equality, nothing surprises me when it comes to Democrats and Republicans on this issue.

The most recent poll shows 9 out of 10 Americans have someone in their close immediate family circle, or close friend circle, that’s LGB or T. And all of the research shows that when you know us, you don’t hate us, you don’t wish less than, you don’t wish upon your loved ones to be treated as less than you, and you don’t wish for them to be intentionally harmed, and, I think, that is a key reason that Democrats and Republicans alike are evolving on these issues. Folks in both parties, but it was particularly significant today that we came out of this markup for those three Republicans joining those Democrats.

I think it’s also important to note that there was also one Republican here who actually voice-voted “no,” and then was the proxy for the other “nos.” But none of the other “nos” were actually even in the room. It’s incredible progress. We’ve seen the incredible bipartisan progress on marriage equality, today we saw bipartisan progress as it relates to ENDA, and I think this is only going to continue.

Our job is to continue to organize to continue to increase the pace of this bipartisan progress, and to ensure that when we get to the Senate floor, we’ve done everything we can to ensure that these senators have heard from their constituents back home, and that they know that this is not a partisan issue at home, and that they know that it’s an issue of basic human dignity.

It’s, quite frankly, the most conservative of issues — basic human dignity, treating everyone equally under the law, hiring them based on their qualifications, keeping them based on their job performances, not based on who they love, how they were born. And so, I’m so excited to sit here today and see the bipartisan collaboration.

But we have to acknowledge we still have a long ways to go. This vote today does not mean this bill is done. It means we’re coming out in a good way, but we’ve got a lot of work to do to push this across the finish line: both in the Senate to get 60 votes, and then we move to the House of Representatives.

Blade: What are some of the details? How are you going to get there? How are you going to achieve that?

Griffin: Well, we’re already doing it, and I said, the examples I gave, we’re organizing in states where we have …targeted votes. Arkansas being an example, and Utah being another example, and Alaska being another example.

[To HRC Legislative Director Allison Herwitt]: Feel free to add here. I didn’t sleep last night. North Carolina? I’ve already told him about that one.

Blade: In the House, do you think a discharge petition would be a good way to go to move forward?

Griffin: I don’t know the answer. I think as we get closer and as we make progress in the Senate, we’ll see, as we get closer, what the right strategies will be ultimately to get this done and work with the leadership, and work with Leader Reid and Chairman Harkin, who have been instrumental, and Sen. Merkley, who have been instrumental in getting us to where we are today. And we’ll work closely with them and take direction from them in terms of the best way to advance this and come up with a law that the president can sign.

Blade: You talked a lot about marriage and ENDA. What LGBT issues aren’t getting enough attention in the media?

(Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

(Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Griffin: Well, look, I never think enough attention can be given to an issue when there’s so much harm done every single day, and I always go back to the young people who suffer day in, and day out because of inequality. There are the laws that impact, and the laws that should be providing protections to them and to their families, but there’s also the bigger impact of those laws giving license to discriminate.

Just yesterday, I was talking to a number of folks in North Carolina about the homeless youth issue, and the issue of homelessness. There are a number of ways to combat that problem. One of them is direct service providing and the need for public funds to do that. But it’s such a disproportionate number of LGBT youth that are homeless.

In Utah, the day before I started this job, I spent a good portion of the day at a homeless shelter, not an LGBT homeless shelter, a homeless shelter. Forty percent of homeless youth in Salt Lake City identify as LGBT. So there’s a lot of work to do there. But you also have to go to the root of the problem of why are these young people homeless, and it’s often two answers. One, they come out of the closet, and their parents reject them because they’re either told by the government, or by their church, that their children are less than and they should be rejected.

Or, often times, the case is they do come out. Young people increasingly have the courage to come out, and then their families reject them and kick them out of their homes, and young people travel to the closest city they can get to where they have a shelter.

So, I don’t want to insinuate that that’s the only issue that should be getting more attention because there are many issues that should be getting more attention both from the media, and public funding and financing, and legislatively.

But we have a long ways to go, and I think, the important point with the question you ask is there  are a lot of celebrations over these last two weeks, and it is important finally to celebrate when we’re having some major achievements. You have to be able to celebrate, but you also have to immediately be able to turn the corner and pivot, and acknowledge the road ahead.

Blade: You’ve been on the job at HRC for just more than a year now. Has anything come up over that time that has surprised you, that came up that you didn’t think was going to happen?

Griffin: Look, I’ve been in Washington long enough before I started this job that it’s sort of difficult to surprise, but, I guess, what moves me the most is meeting the thousands and thousands of people. Like I said, I was probably with 800,000 people in Arkansas in a 24-hour period. I venture to say it was 60 percent LGBT folks and 40 percent straight allies who showed up because they cared and they want to advance equality. Those are the folks that are good reminders every single day of why we fight this fight.

In this town, we so often get caught up in the partisan and political bickering, and it’s important for all of us to spend as much time as we can outside this city, So, I guess perhaps, I don’t know if surprise is the right word, but certainly the most gratifying part of this job is getting to spend time with those folks that need equality the most.

12
Jul
2013

N.C. official issues marriage licenses

official, Asheville, North Carolina, gay news, Washington Blade

Asheville, N.C. (Photo by Zen Sutherland; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

ASHEVILLE, N.C.—A North Carolina county official on Tuesday accepted marriage license applications from 10 same-sex couples.

The Citizen-Times newspaper reported that Buncombe County Register of Deeds Drew Reisinger accepted the applications and told the couples who submitted them that he would hold them. The official said in a statement the Campaign for Southern Equality, a same-sex marriage advocacy group, distributed to the media on Oct. 15 that he would push the issue with Attorney General Roy Cooper.

“I will let each couple know that it is my hope to grant them a license, but I need to seek the North Carolina attorney general’s approval,” Reisinger said.

North Carolina voters in May 2012 approved a state constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

The U.S. Supreme Court in June ruled a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional.

Cooper, a Democrat, told the Associated Press over the weekend he personally supports marriage rights for same-sex couples. He said during the same interview he would defend the state’s gay nuptials ban in a recently expanded federal lawsuit that now challenges its constitutionality.

17
Oct
2013

Record number of LGBT candidates in 2013 races

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Houston Mayor Annise Parker is favored to win re-election to a third term. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund on Tuesday named 10 openly LGBT candidates as part of its annual “Races to Watch” list after endorsing a total of 85 LGBT candidates that it says represents an all-time high for an off-year election.

Among those on the “Races to Watch” list are lesbian Annise Parker, who’s considered the favorite to win re-election to her third term as mayor of Houston; and gay Washington State Sen. Ed Murray, who’s ahead in the polls in his race for mayor of Seattle.

“2013 isn’t an off year,” said Victory Fund Political Director Lucinda Guinn. “It’s definitely on at the Victory Fund.”

Guinn said the national LGBT advocacy group that raises money and provides campaign support for LGBT candidates for public office was focusing on candidates in places where LGBT rights have not advanced as rapidly as in other parts of the country.

“We’re working hard this year to help build up heroes in places where equality is late in arriving,” she said in a statement. “Places where these candidates can be the spark to help their own communities move toward equality.”

Of the 85 LGBT candidates the Victory Fund endorsed this year, 18 have won primaries and advanced to the general election on Nov. 5; 14 have won in general elections already held; and one emerged as the victor in a run-off election, bringing the total number of winning LGBT candidates so far to 33.

Nine Victory Fund-endorsed candidates lost their 2013 races in primaries and three have lost in a general election, bringing the total number of losses so far to 12, according to data released by the group.

One of the most prominent candidates who didn’t make it through their primary race was lesbian Democrat Christine Quinn, speaker of the New York City Council, who lost her race to become New York’s first openly gay mayor to pro-LGBT Democrat Bill de Blasio.

Also losing in a primary contest was gay State Rep. Carl Sciortino of Massachusetts, a Democrat who ran for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives formerly held by U.S. Sen. Edward Markey.

Fifty-four Victory Fund-endorsed candidates are running in the Nov. 5 general election for local and state offices throughout the country, according to information released this week by the Victory Fund.

Among them are at least three openly gay candidates in the D.C. metropolitan area. Gay Democrat Jay Fisette is running for re-election to a fifth term on the Arlington County Board, the county’s legislative governing body. He’s considered a strong favorite to retain his seat.

In nearby Falls Church, Va., Lawrence Webb, who lost his re-election bid for his seat on the Falls Church City Council, is running for a seat on the Falls Church School Board.

In Maryland, gay attorney Patrick Wojahn, a former board member of the state LGBT advocacy group Equality Maryland, is running for re-election to the College Park, Md., City Council. He’s considered a favorite to retain his seat.

In April, gay Mayor Jim Ireton of Salisbury, Md., won his re-election bid by a comfortable margin.

Although Quinn lost her race for mayor, seven openly gay or lesbian candidates are either seeking re-election or election to the New York City Council on Nov. 5 after winning primary elections in September. The Victory Fund has endorsed each of them.

The remaining candidates the Victory Fund announced on Tuesday as members of its “10 Races to Watch” list are Celia Israel, candidate for the Texas House of Representatives; Robert Lilligen, candidate for the Minneapolis City Council; Chris Seelbach, candidate for the Cincinnati City Council; Darden Rice, candidate for the St. Petersburg, Fla., City Council; Michael Gongora, candidate for Mayor of Miami Beach, Fla.; Tim Eustace, candidate for the New Jersey State Assembly; LaWana Mayfield, candidate for the Charlotte, N.C., City Council; and Catherine LaFond, candidate for the Charleston, S.C., Water System Commission.

The Victory Fund says it doesn’t release the names of openly LGBT candidates who seek the group’s endorsement but don’t receive it.

“We have a set of criteria for endorsing candidates,” said Victory Fund spokesperson Jeff Spitko. “We want to confirm that they are qualified, have a campaign plan and a path to victory,” he said. “We want to make sure they are viable.”

Spitko said the Victory Fund endorsed 180 openly LGBT candidates in 2012 and 124 of them won their races.

A full list of the openly LGBT candidates endorsed by the Victory Fund and appearing on the Nov. 5 election day ballot can be found here.

22
Oct
2013

Sean Eldridge mulls run for Congress

Chris Hughes, Sean Eldridge, gay news, Washington Blade

Same-sex marriage advocate and Democratic Party activist Sean Eldridge (right) has filed paperwork to seek a congressional seat. Eldridge married Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes (left) last year. (Photo of Hughes by USV via Wikimedia and Washington Blade photo of Eldridge by Michael Key)

NEW YORK — A Freedom to Marry adviser and the husband of Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes is reportedly considering a run for Congress.

Sean Eldridge formally filed paperwork with the Federal Elections Commission this week to form a committee called “Sean Eldridge for Congress,” representing his Hudson Valley, New York area, challenging two-term Republican Chris Gibson. According to Bloomberg News, while Gibson was elected with 53 percent of the vote in November, the 19th District backed Barack Obama 52-46 in the presidential vote.

The the Blade had previously reported, Hughes purchased and took over as publisher of the magazine The New Republic last year.

07
Feb
2013