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Gay conservatives clamor to defend fallen- Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich

They say most Americans agreed with Eich in 2008. And that same majority supports gay marriage today. Does Eich?

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23
Apr
2014

Mozilla announces Cliven Bundy as new CEO

"While Bundy supports slavery, he has given no indication of any intent to enslave Mozilla's Negroes."

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24
Apr
2014

Finishing the job of the LGBT movement

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(Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The nature of LGBT activism is changing fast in this post-DOMA/Prop 8/DADT world. As LGBT acceptance grows and anti-gay laws continue to fall, it’s easy to forget where we came from, how we got here and what’s left to accomplish.

Pride week seems a good time to reflect on some of that.

One recent story illustrates just how dramatically different the world is today: Michael Sam’s NFL draft and kiss with his boyfriend broadcast live on ESPN. The “ick” factor remains a potent enemy of LGBT equality, from straight men tweeting their horror at the kiss, to opponents of Maryland’s recently approved trans rights law trying to scare voters into thinking men dressed as women will flock to bathrooms and locker rooms. That’s why spontaneous displays of affection like Sam’s are important — such visibility will slowly ease the discomfort some feel at the sight of two men or two women together.

Although Sam’s coming out is a courageous step, some won’t recognize his process as particularly pioneering. When Martina Navratilova came out in the early 1980s, she lost untold millions in endorsement deals and endured the homophobic and misogynistic barbs of commentators and tennis fans the world over. Contrast that with Sam’s carefully choreographed announcement, Visa endorsement deal and the NFL’s aggressive moves to shield him from criticism.

Indeed, much has changed. From the days when activism meant taking to the streets, as chronicled in HBO’s “Normal Heart,” which debuted last month, to our modern view of activists as lawyers and lobbyists.

As things get better, it’s important to remember that not everyone is benefitting from all the positive change. The Blade in January embarked on a special yearlong series focusing on poverty in the LGBT community. We’ve told many stories of those in our community struggling with chronic unemployment, discrimination and health care dilemmas. There’s much more to come this year in the series.

Poverty isn’t the only problem facing the LGBT community. From transgender people who face disproportionately high rates of violence and discrimination to prison inmates coping with discriminatory laws behind bars to LGBT youth living on the streets to the stubbornly high rates of HIV infection among MSM, there is much work ahead.

And as we remember those less fortunate at home, let’s also look abroad to those LGBT people struggling to overcome hate in countries around the world like Russia, Uganda and elsewhere where being LGBT can mean imprisonment and even death.

The Blade is celebrating its 45th anniversary this year and our Pride float will reflect the changes in both the LGBT community as well as at the paper itself — from our early days as a black-and-white one-sheet newsletter featuring stories about police harassment to our modern incarnation complete with social media platforms and mobile app.

If there’s one common thread in all the thousands of stories the Blade has published over the years it’s our focus on telling the stories of LGBT people. Some readers still occasionally question why we disclose the sexual orientation of sources in our stories. The reason speaks to our core mission of chronicling our own history and overcoming hate and bias through visibility. Encouraging visibility is also why Pride celebrations remain important. Not everyone lives in LGBT-friendly places like D.C. They come from rural Virginia, Pennsylvania, Western Maryland and other locales that seem close by but for some can feel a world away from a city like Washington with its pro-LGBT politicians, an openly gay candidate running for mayor, marriage equality law and progressive laws protecting transgender residents.

So as we celebrate Pride this weekend in D.C., let’s be mindful that marriage equality isn’t the only goal of the movement and that when the weekend’s revelry ends we need to recommit ourselves to finishing the job.

Kevin Naff is editor of the Washington Blade. Reach him at knaff@washblade.com.

05
Jun
2014


Behind the ‘8’ ball

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The Prop 8 couples at the Supreme Court. (Photo courtesy HBO)

Happily, HBO’s joyous documentary “The Case Against 8” is already out of date. A title near the end of the movie mentions the number of states with marriage equality, but the count doesn’t include Pennsylvania or Wisconsin. Will the producers keep updating the title or will they leave it in place as a historic marker?

“The Cast Against 8” is finishing a local run that ends Thursday (June 19) at Washington’s West End Cinema after a June 9 D.C. premiere, but it debuts Monday night on HBO to mark the one-year anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court rulings on DOMA and Prop 8. 

At its core, “The Case Against 8” is the story of three amazing pairs: the two couples who were selected to actually file the lawsuit against Proposition 8 and the two lawyers who argued the case. Proposition 8 was the controversial ballot referendum and amendment to the California state constitution that eliminated the right of same-sex couples to marry, overturning an earlier court decision that allowed gay marriages. With equal appeals to the emotion and intellect, the documentary masterfully captures the five-year legal battle with incredible behind-the scenes footage of the plaintiffs and their legal team at work.

The case starts with a casual conversation over a Hollywood lunch. Chad Griffin is meeting with fellow board members from the American Foundation for Equal Rights to discuss their response to Prop 8. Someone mentions that Ted Olson, the very high-profile very conservative right-wing lawyer, is a supporter of same-sex marriage. A shocked Griffin quickly sets up a meeting with Olson. Griffin is delighted when Olson signs on, but surprised by Olson’s choice of co-counsel: David Boies, his opponent in the historic 2000 Bush v. Gore battle. The two had become close friends despite their bitter rivalry and agree to join forces to overturn the discriminatory amendment.

The legal team then faces its most important and difficult decision: choosing the couples who will become plaintiffs in the lawsuit challenging Proposition 8. Two couples survive the intense vetting process: Kris Perry and Sandy Stier of Berkeley and Jeff Zarrillo and Paul Katami of Burbank. With the principal players in place, the battles begin, both in the courtroom and in the court of public opinion.

Documentary filmmakers Ben Cotner and Ryan White had extraordinary access to the proceedings and skillfully capture the human and legal drama of the unfolding court cases. It’s fascinating to watch Olson and Boies lead a squadron of lawyers in developing their case. Cotner and White tell the complicated story with admirable clarity, but more importantly, they capture the intellectual passion of two brilliant minds at work.

But, like Olson and Boies, Cotner and White realize that the plaintiffs are the heart of the story. As Olson tells the foursome, “You are the case. Everything else is just evidence.” The two couples turn out to be their own best advocates. They simply and eloquently explain why the right to marry is so important to them. Perry and Stier had their 2004 marriage declared invalid; Zarrillo and Katami are waiting to have children until their relationship has full legal and social recognition. In their testimony and in their interviews with the filmmakers, these brave pioneers share the intimate details of their lives, including the threatening messages left by the haters. By the time the film closes with their respective ceremonies (each couple madly rushing to their nearest city hall with a filmmaker and lawyer in tow), there will not be a dry eye in the house.

Unfortunately, Cotner and White did not have access to the defenders of Proposition 8, but they still create interesting thumbnail sketches of the opposition. They are also denied footage from the Supreme Court hearings in San Francisco and D.C. since television cameras are banned in both chambers, but they use a surprisingly effective method to work around this obstacle. The participants simply read their testimony from printed transcripts. This is a powerful and moving technique, especially when Sandy Stier puts on her reading glasses to relive the moment. They also effectively create drama by showing the preparation for the trial, including Olson being grilled by his colleagues as he readies for his Supreme Court appearance.

 

18
Jun
2014

Spencer Perry continues moms’ tradition of activism

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

Spencer Perry takes after his parents.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

05
Feb
2014

Mozilla / Firefox hires anti-gay “Prop 8″ supporter as new CEO

Brendan Eich donated $1,000 to the Proposition 8 campaign that successfully repealed gay marriage in California.

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26
Mar
2014

Mozillagate grows

Firefox parent-company Mozilla has hired a new CEO who donated $1,000 to the anti-gay Prop 8 in California.

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27
Mar
2014

Daughter of lawyer who defended anti-gay Prop 8 comes out, getting married

Lawyer Charles Cooper is helping his gay daughter plan her wedding, says his views on marriage are now "evolving."

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17
Apr
2014

The Defense of the History of (Gay) Marriage

A new book has the "definitive account" of the gay marriage battle over the last 5 years. And gets it all wrong.

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21
Apr
2014