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Hoping for a business boom in New Hope

New Hope, gay news, Washington Blade

Picturesque New Hope, Pa., has long been a popular destination for gay and lesbian couples. (Photo courtesy Visit New Hope)

There are more than 22,000 LGBT couples living in Pennsylvania, according to the 2010 U.S. Census, and many of them have already tied the knot since the state’s ban on same-sex marriage was struck down last week.

“I am happy that many couples that have been together for a long time can finally be legal,” said Kim Haggerty, owner of The Pod Shop Flowers in New Hope, Pa. “It is heartwarming to see.”

Experts predict that last week’s ruling in Whitewood v. Wolf will bode well for local businesses as couples spend their money in Pennsylvania instead of in neighboring states that have been more welcoming in the past.

“I think we will see more weddings,” said Brittany Booz, co-owner of the Golden Pheasant Inn, located about 20 minutes outside of New Hope. “I have some customers on a regular basis that have stated, ‘As soon as we are recognized in the state of Pennsylvania, this is the place that we’d love to have our ceremony at.’ I hope that more people do get married, whether it be at our place or another place.”

Booz said her inn, which hosts about 20 weddings a year, plans to host same-sex weddings in the same way as opposite-sex weddings.

“I don’t think whether it’s a male and a male or a female and a female or a male and a female it should change how you move forward with an event,” she said. “Our philosophy is equality for all.”

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, who just months ago likened gay marriage to incest, said he wouldn’t challenge the court’s ruling striking down his state’s marriage ban.

“People who are looking to move to a state or take a job and they want marriage equality now can look to Pennsylvania and say ‘OK, they’re in the running,’” said Bruce Yelk, who manages the LGBT marketing program at Visit Philly, Philadelphia’s largest travel and tourism site.

His group has rolled out a series of new online advertisements to promote gay tourism for couples looking to get married. “Brotherly or sisterly, love is love,” the ad reads, with the hashtag “visit gay Philly” at the bottom.

“Before [same-sex marriage was legalized] we could have lost talent,” Yelk said. “I know that some people moved from the state to another state where they could get married. It was really hindering us being in the Northeast because every other state had marriage equality. We won’t have those negative impacts now, which is a good thing.”

The number of same-sex weddings expected in the state over the next three years is likely between about 8,000 and 11,000, according to the Williams Institute, a think tank that conducts research on LGBT law and public policy.

Same-sex marriage could generate between $65 and $92.1 million for the state over the next three years, the Williams Institute estimates. Marriage could contribute $4.2 to $5.8 million in sales tax revenue – not to mention the creation of about 1,000 local jobs.

But for New Hope, a region known for its vibrant LGBT community, the economic benefits of gay tourism have been around long before same-sex marriage became a legal institution.

“LGBT tourism in not an unknown commodity,” said Daniel Brooks, founder of New Hope Celebrates, an LGBT tourism agency, noting that many same-sex couples have historically traveled to the New Hope area for honeymoons. “But the focus will now shift because people can get married and honeymoon.”

Brooks, who also owns The Wishing Well Guesthouse, a small inn in New Hope, said he’s looking forward to hosting weddings there, and expects the number of requests to increase. He said that in his experience, same-sex couples looking to get married tend to prefer “small, intimate” events.

“New Hope is perfect for same-sex weddings,” he said. “It’s just a bunch of small places. There are no huge hotels – just bed and breakfasts.”

Haggerty said her flower shop has seen increased business from engaged gay and lesbian couples since neighboring New Jersey legalized same-sex marriage in October 2013.


Defrocked Methodist pastor returns to D.C.

Frank Schaefer, United Methodist Church, gay news, Washington Blade

Frank Schaefer of Lebanon, Pa., appeared at Foundry United Methodist Church in December. (Washington Blade file photo by Damien Salas)

A Methodist minister from Pennsylvania who was defrocked as a clergyman in December for refusing to stop performing same-sex marriages is scheduled to return to D.C.’s Foundry United Methodist Church on Jan. 26.

Ex-pastor Frank Schaefer will deliver guest sermons at a service for “hope and justice” at 9:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. on the 26th, according to a statement released by Foundry. Foundry’s pastor, Rev. Dean Snyder, is a longtime ally of the LGBT community and has performed same-sex marriages.

The statement says two other United Methodist ministers who were defrocked will also participate in the services – Jimmy Creech and Beth Stroud. Church officials revoked Creech’s credentials as a Methodist minister in 1999 after he performed a holy union ceremony for a gay male couple in Chapel Hill, N.C.

Stroud was defrocked in 2001 after coming out as a lesbian while assigned as a minister for a United Methodist Church in Philadelphia.

Schaefer, Creech, Stroud and others will participate in a panel discussion at the church following the 11 a.m. worship service, the Foundry statement says.

“Foundry is on the forefront of full inclusion of the LGBTQ community in the life of the church,” the statement says, adding that Foundry continues to push for the United Methodist Church to end the “discriminatory language” related to LGBT people in its Book of Discipline or church law.


Gay Pa. Republican wins Dem nomination

Mike Fleck, Pennsylvania, gay news, Washington Blade

State Rep. Mike Fleck (R-Huntingdon County) narrowly won the Democratic nomination to appear on the November ballot after losing the Republican primary to a write-in candidate. (Photo courtesy of Fleck)

THREE SPRINGS, Pa. — A gay state representative who is the only out Republican in the Pennsylvania Legislature and the first openly gay state lawmaker there, will appear on the November ballot as a Democrat after he narrowly lost to a primary opponent.

Huntingdon County Treasurer Richard Irvin defeated state Rep. Mike Fleck (R-Huntingdon County) on May 20 after he staged a successful write-in campaign. The Patriot-News on May 27 reported that Fleck won the Democratic nomination to appear on the November ballot by a 901-886 vote margin.

“Thank you to the 15 democrats who put me over the top on the democratic write-in,” wrote Fleck on his Facebook page on May 27. “And thank you to the three thousand plus republicans who voted based on my job performance. While a lot can still happen legally, today is a new day and if we are ultimately successful in our bid to continue thru the fall, rest assured, I will give it my all.”

Fleck, who was first elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in 2006, came out in 2012 during an interview with a local newspaper.

He told the Patriot-News on May 27 he feels his opponents voted against him because of his sexual orientation.

“I think we all know what the race was about,” said Fleck. “For the most part it was a vote against me, not necessarily a vote for [Irvin.]“


Smooth sailing on first Equality Cruise

Equality Cruise, gay news, Washington Blade

Sixty-nine passengers took part in the inaugural Equality Cruise. (Photo by Steve Charing)

A total of 69 passengers participated in Equality Maryland’s first Equality Cruise Jan. 12-19. Those participating were mostly from the Baltimore-Washington region but some came from Pennsylvania, Virginia and Tennessee. They included a diverse group of LGBT people and allies. Carnival Cruises donated a portion of the group’s proceeds to Equality Maryland.

Travel arrangements were made by Equality Maryland’s office manager, Vanessa Bowling, who also owns Vanessa Addrienne Travel. She, along with Doug Rose, communications volunteer for Equality Maryland, served as hosts for the group.

The cruise took place aboard the aptly named Carnival Pride, which departed from Baltimore. It sailed to Port Canaveral and then on to Nassau and Freeport in the Bahamas before returning. Both Bowling and Rose hosted a meet-and-greet as the ship departed Baltimore. They also arranged group gatherings including pre-dinner socials and organized a “red party” in the Pride’s dance club.

Tokyo Derekston of Glen Burnie, Md., enjoyed her first cruise.  “I’m having a great time,” she said during its midpoint. “As long as people stop asking me to sing.”

Bowling indicated that she intends to send out surveys about what people would like in the way of future cruises and ports of call. The Equality Cruise’s maiden voyage went well and there is optimism that the size of the group will increase next year.


GOP lawmakers in Pennsylvania face calls to support ENDA

John Boehner, ENDA, United States House of Representatives, Republican Party, gay news, Washington Blade

House Speaker John Boehner won’t bring up ENDA after a court ruling in favor of marriage equality (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key).

As a contentious mid-term election for control of Congress approaches, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act has emerged in Pennsylvania as a campaign issue in competitive U.S. House districts following a court decision granting the Keystone State marriage equality.

Pennsylvania is now the only state with marriage equality, but no explicit non-discrimination protections for LGBT people in the workplace. Two Democratic congressional candidates are making ENDA an issue against potentially vulnerable Republicans.

Mary Ellen Balchunis, who’s worked as a political scientist professor and is challenging Rep. Pat Meehan (R-Pa.) in the race for the state’s 7th congressional district, and Kevin Strouse, an Iraq and Afghanistan veteran who’s running against Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) in the 8th congressional district, and both calling for action on ENDA.

In an email statement to the Blade, Balchunis said supports ENDA and pledged to turn up the pressure on Meehan over ENDA if he doesn’t declare his support for the legislation.

“I can support this bill,” Balchunis said. “I do not believe in discrimination against any group of individuals. If Congressman Meehan does not support this legislation, I will call him out on it.”

Strouse similarly said he supports ENDA and passage of the legislation is necessary in the aftermath of U.S. District Judge John Jones III’s ruling in favor of marriage equality in Pennsylvania.

“I absolutely support ENDA, and would work to bring it to a vote by any means,” Strouse said. “On Tuesday the courts rightly struck down Pennsylvania’s ban on marriage equality, yet here in Pennsylvania, LGBT people can still be fired from their jobs because of who they love. This is wrong.”

Strouse added passage of ENDA is “also smart for business” because putting an end to discrimination will make Pennsylvania’s 8th congressional district a more attractive place to work for young professionals.

“Congressman Fitzpatrick’s failure to address this issue is only the latest example that he is not a leader who works for the best interests of our district, and lets his partisan ideology get in the way of economic growth,” Strouse said. “When I am elected, I will work to pass ENDA because it’s the right thing to do, and would bring economic growth to our district.”

Neither the office Meehan nor Fitzpatrick responded to multiple requests from the Washington Blade to comment on their position on the ENDA.

But both lawmakers are considered potential supporters of ENDA. Meehan and Fitzpatrick were among the Republicans in the U.S. House who voted last year for reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which contained non-discrimination protections for LGBT people.

The race between these Republicans and their Democratic challengers could be close. According to a Public Policy Poll published in October 2013, Meehan would lose to a generic Democratic opponent, 40-43, and Fitzpatrick would lose to generic Democratic opponent, 44-46. However, this poll was came out immediately after the government shutdown, so the situation for these Republicans may have improved since then.

The spotlight on Meehan and Fitzpatrick becomes pronounced as LGBT advocates are working to gain Republican support for the legislation in hopes of a House vote on the bill. Currently, the bill has seven Republican co-sponsors: Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Fla.), Charlie Dent (Pa.), Richard Hanna (N.Y.), Jon Runyan (N.J.), Mike Coffman (Colo.), Michael Grimm (N.Y.) and Chris Gibson (N.Y.).

But even after the Pennsylvania ruling in favor of marriage equality, House Speaker John Boehner continues to be unmoved to bring up ENDA.

Last week during a news conference, the Washington Blade asked Boehner whether Republican Gov. Tom Corbett’s decision to allow marriage equality to come to a state without LGBT non-discrimination protections should prompt the Republican-controlled U.S. House to finish the job by passing ENDA. The speaker was succinct in his response.

“I think we’ll leave that decision to the governor of Pennsylvania,” Boehner said.

In December, Corbett in fact came out in support for non-discrimination legislation within his state, saying he mistakenly believed those protections were in already in place at the federal level. His office didn’t respond to the Washington Blade’s request to comment on whether he wants the House to pass on a federal version of non-discrimination protections like ENDA.

The Senate last year passed ENDA on a bipartisan basis. A vote in the House is the only thing keeping the legislation from President Obama’s desk.

It’s possible the Human Rights Campaign could step in to influence the Pennsylvania races on the basis of ENDA. During the last election cycle, the organization endorsed Democratic challengers to the both Republican incumbents in their respective races.

Fred Sainz, HRC’s vice president of communications, spoke generally about his organization’s endorsement process when asked whether support from ENDA from the two Republicans would prompt HRC to endorse the lawmakers, or stay out of their race altogether.

“We continuously evaluate races as we move through the cycle,” Sainz said. “We will announce endorsements in a manner that’s most impactful to LGBT equality.”


Pennsylvania couple seeks marriage rights

Independence Hall, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, gay news, Washington Blade

Independence Hall in Philadelphia. (Photo by Rdsmith4; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

PHILADELPHIA—A married lesbian couple from suburban Philadelphia has filed a federal lawsuit against a Pennsylvania law that prohibits the recognition of same-sex marriages legally performed in other jurisdictions.

Isabelle Barker and Cara Palladino tied the knot in Massachusetts in 2005.

The couple moved to Pennsylvania shortly after their wedding when Barker accepted a position at Bryn Mawr College. Barker gave birth to the couple’s son in 2009.

“We took on the commitment of marriage in 2005 and have supported each other through life’s ups and down,” said Palladino. “We think it is wrong for Pennsylvania to void our marriage and treat us as though we are unmarried when we are very much a loving family.”

Equality Forum, a Philadelphia-based LGBT advocacy group, initiated the lawsuit that was filed on Jan. 13 in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Mary Bonauto of the Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders is among those who are co-counsel in the case.

“On behalf of Cara and Isabelle and other legally married same-sex families, we will take this injustice as far as is needed to affirm the nation’s 226-year-old history of recognizing marriages from sister states,” said Equality Forum Executive Director Malcolm Lazin.

The American Civil Liberties Union last July filed a lawsuit against Pennsylvania’s statutory gay marriage ban on behalf of 11 same-sex couples and a widow. State Reps. Brian Sims (D-Philadelphia) and Steve McCarter (D-Montgomery County) and state Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery County) have introduced same-sex marriage bills in the Pennsylvania Legislature.


Pa. anti-discrimination bills face uphill battle

Tom Corbett, Republican Party, Pennsylvania, gay news, Washington Blade

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett backs efforts to ban anti-LGBT discrimination in the state. He also announced last week he would not appeal a federal judge’s ruling that struck down the commonwealth’s same-sex marriage ban. (Photo public domain)

Two bills that would ban anti-LGBT discrimination in Pennsylvania continue to face an uphill battle despite the legalization of same-sex marriage in the state.

State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler County) has refused to allow debate on House Bill 300 in the House State Government Committee that he chairs since state Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny County) introduced it last August. The measure — and an identical bill that state Sen. Patrick Browne (D-Lehigh County) introduced in the Pennsylvania Senate have more than 100 co-sponsors.

Ted Martin, executive director of Equality Pennsylvania, told the Washington Blade on Tuesday he feels Gov. Tom Corbett’s announcement late last year that he supports the measure is “definitely a good thing.” Martin further stressed same-sex marriage in the commonwealth will have little impact on Metcalfe’s opposition to HB 300.

“He was always very adamant that the bill would never come out of his committee,” said Martin. “The marriage issue is not going to change that.”

Martin told the Blade he is “thrilled” the state now recognizes his California marriage. He stressed his organization’s response to the extension of marriage rights to gays and lesbians in the commonwealth has been “kind of tempered” because of the lack of statewide discrimination protections for LGBT Pennsylvanians.

“I have to remind people that you can still get fired,” said Martin. “You can face termination or eviction in most parts of the state.”

Sue Kerr, editor of Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents, made a similar point.

She told the Blade on Tuesday that a woman who lives in Metcalfe’s district north of Pittsburgh sent her a picture of an anti-gay marriage sign hanging outside a local church that read “just because sin is legal doesn’t mean its okay.” Kerr said she has also spoken with dozens of people since U.S. District Judge John E. Jones, III, on May 20 struck down Pennsylvania’s statutory same-sex marriage ban who don’t understand “how it all works.”

“There’s a sense of urgency to get married, even though they are risking their jobs or their housing,” she said. “I’m afraid people are going to make uninformed decisions.”

Pennsylvania is among the 19 states and D.C. in which same-sex couples can now legally marry after Corbett announced last week he will not appeal Jones’ ruling.

Neighboring Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey and New York are among the 21 states, the nation’s capital and Puerto Rico that have banned anti-gay discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodation. Delaware and New Jersey also ban discrimination based on gender identity and expression.

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley earlier this month signed a transgender rights bill into law that could face a referendum in November.

Philadelphia and 31 other Pennsylvania municipalities have enacted anti-discrimination laws that include both sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. A poll that Susquehanna Polling and Research conducted last May found 72 percent of Pennsylvanians back the two anti-LGBT discrimination bills.

Martin told the Blade he feels the attention surrounding same-sex marriage will help Pennsylvanians “understand how we treat LGBT people” in the state “in general, which is not good.”

“Equality Pennsylvania has been fighting for non-discrimination for a long time, along with marriage equality,” he said. “We never expected to get it in this way.”

Kerr added she feels marriage rights for same-sex couples will also have a positive impact on lawmakers who would consider HB 300.

“Putting more public pressure out there is good,” she said. “Marriage equality can be helpful seeing all these nice stories out there. That’s all positive.”

Metcalfe did not respond to the Blade’s request for comment.


GOP remains at odds with LGBT Americans

John Boehner, Republican Party, Ohio, Republican National Convention, Florida, Tampa, United States House of Representatives, gay news, Washington Blade

2012 Republican National Convention. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)


One year ago, the Republican National Committee released a report — commonly known as the GOP “Autopsy Report” — that suggested that Republicans should show the LGBT community “that we care about them, too.” The report also said, “We have become expert in how to provide ideological reinforcement to like-minded people, but devastatingly we have lost the ability to be persuasive with, or welcoming to, those who do not agree with us on every issue.”

Their recommendations weren’t shocking, since Republicans had long seen large deficits in support among LGBT Americans. But one year later, nothing has changed. The simple fact is: the GOP has been on the wrong side of issues relating to LGBT equality for decades.

Republican rhetoric toward LGBT voters has been dismissive at best and truly offensive at worst.

For example, a candidate for a Michigan seat on the Republican National Committee said of gay Americans, Republicans “as a party should be purging this perversion and send them to a party with a much bigger tent.”

The Republican governor of Pennsylvania made an outlandish comparison between a same-sex marriage and the relationship between a brother and sister.

And in recent days, a prominent Republican accused the LGBT community of “bullying” Americans into opposing discriminatory measures.

But it’s not just their rhetoric, it’s their agenda. As marriage equality has become law in many states across the country, including in my home state of New Hampshire, the GOP remains firmly opposed to allowing every American to marry the person they love. In fact, in Oklahoma, Republican Gov. Mary Fallin even went so far as to order the Oklahoma National Guard to stop processing requests for military benefits for all couples just to prevent any benefits from being processed for same-sex couples – an action that directly defied a Pentagon directive.

Additionally, Republicans blocked legislation that would protect LGBT Americans from workplace discrimination, saying it has “no basis or no need.” In fact, New Hampshire’s newest Senate candidate, Scott Brown, opposed the Employee Non-Discrimination Act, which protects LGBT Americans from being fired just for being who they are.

It’s been a year since the Republican Party pledged to be more inclusive, but all it has done is highlight that the GOP continues to stand at odds with the values and priorities of LGBT Americans.

As Democrats, we will not stop fighting for equality for all Americans. We will fight any measure that would discriminate against people just because of who they are or who they love, and we will stand up and fight back against rhetoric that promotes discrimination and further divides Americans.

Raymond Buckley is vice chair of the DNC and chair of the New Hampshire Democratic Party.


Much to celebrate this Pride season

Pride season, gay news, gay politics dc

Capital Pride (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

We have a lot to celebrate this year as Pride season arrives. The biggest reason may be the Windsor decision handed down by the Supreme Court on June 26, 2013. Since that time, judges across the nation have based their rulings that states from Pennsylvania to Utah must recognize same-sex marriages on this decision. June 1 marked the day that same-sex marriages could begin in Illinois. Gov. Martin O’Malley signed a bill banning discrimination against the transgender community in Maryland and a petition drive to put that up to a referendum in the state failed.

In Texas, Houston Mayor Annise Parker signed the Equal Rights Ordinance. That signature came after an 11-hour Council session of which the city secretary said, “it was the largest public turnout Houston had ever seen at a City Council meeting.” We have seen many changes in federal policy that give same-sex married couples more rights and no less a conservative than Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) recently said that though he personally doesn’t support same-sex marriage it is inevitable that it will become the law of the land.

A year ago, “Kinky Boots,” based on a film adapted by Harvey Fierstein with music by Cyndi Lauper, won the Tony Award for Best Musical. Sunday we can look forward to out and talented Neil Patrick Harris winning this year’s Tony Award for best actor in a musical for “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” Larry Kramer finally saw his play, “The Normal Heart,” made into a successful film for HBO. Our community is still fighting about issues surrounding AIDS as seen by the recent debate between Kramer and columnist Andrew Sullivan about the impact of the drug Truvada.

The Pride parade Saturday will wind through the Dupont and Logan Circle neighborhoods. The parade is fun but has always been a little long. One way to shorten it would be to have all politicians and candidates participate together. Have the mayor lead off the parade with other politicians joining him/her in a line at the front. If there is still a clamor by any of them to have a separate contingent there could be a lottery and they would be interspersed throughout the parade, between the fun floats and bands, so people wouldn’t have to watch the first hour of just politicians.

Pride festivities have grown over the years and this year there are more than 30 official events listed on the Capital Pride website that span from Jewish Pride Happy Hour at MOVA to the Night Out at the Nationals. Many of the events listed cater to specific groups within the LGBT community because, like the rest of society, we are a diverse community. We are young and old, men and women, black, white, Latino and Asian and have representation in every religious denomination and all of us want to celebrate and showcase our Pride.

As we celebrate we should always take a moment to remember those who have helped to move us forward over the years. We need to think about and thank all those who both publicly and behind the scenes fought for our civil and human rights when it wasn’t easy to be out and proud. We must also remember those friends and loved ones who died of AIDS during the years when our community fought to bring attention to the disease our government was failing to respond to.

And as we celebrate our victories we need to pledge to continue to work toward full equality — to fight to ensure the rights of transgender persons and to continue the fight to pass legislation like ENDA. We also need to demand that the president live up to a promise he made to us in 2008, and which he has pointedly not kept, to sign an executive order protecting the rights of LGBT workers in federal contracting. While we may thank him for announcing a history project in front of the Stonewall Inn, I am sure nearly all of us would trade that for a signature on the executive order.


Philly gay man met killer on Grindr

Grindr, social media app, gay news, Washington Blade

Philadelphia police have issued a warning about criminals using dating apps to target potential victims.

CHESTER, Pa. — Police say a Philadelphia man was murdered by someone he met on a gay hook-up app.

WPVI reported a passerby found Dino Dizdarevic’s body in Chester on May 2.

Police told the Philadelphia television station the 25-year-old whose family fled Bosnia-Herzegovina during the country’s civil war in the 1990s suffered blunt force trauma to the head. WPVI also reported Dizdarevic likely met his killer on Grindr two days before his body was found.

Dizdarevic’s death comes less than a week after Philadelphia police issued a warning about criminals using dating apps to target potential victims.