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Couples encounter snags in D.C. divorce law

divorce, Phil Mendelson, gay news, Washington Blade

D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large) said he’s willing to introduce legislation to fix the problems that are just now surfacing regarding divorces for same-sex couples.

Since its marriage equality law took effect in 2010 the District of Columbia has welcomed same-sex couples from other states to come to the city to get married.

But according to local attorneys and at least one D.C. judge, if any of those couples come back to the city to get a divorce they will likely be eligible only for the divorce itself.

Divorce related provisions readily available to straight married couples such as alimony, legal separation and court approved division of jointly owned property will likely be denied to same-sex married couples unless one of the spouses becomes a D.C. resident for six months.

“What D.C. judges have been doing is granting these divorces but not granting or addressing any other issues, such as alimony, property division relief, etc.,” said local family law attorney Marjorie Just.

“Judges are interpreting the law in a way that limits their authority to just granting a divorce but nothing more,” Just said.

Just was referring to the Civil Marriage Dissolution Equality Act, which the D.C. Council passed and Mayor Vincent Gray signed in 2012. Supporters said the law was aimed at exempting out-of-town same-sex couples that marry in D.C. from a six-month residency requirement in the event they seek to obtain a divorce.

Gay rights advocates, who asked the Council to pass the law, noted that the exemption was needed for same-sex couples that marry in D.C. but live in states like Virginia that don’t recognize their marriages.

Unlike straight couples, whose marriages are recognized everywhere, same-sex married couples can’t get a divorce in a state that doesn’t recognize their marriage. That forces them to return to the jurisdiction in which they were married to obtain a divorce. Many states, including Maryland, have a six-month residency requirement for obtaining a divorce.

According to attorneys familiar with the D.C. Superior Court’s family court division, judges have interpreted the D.C. law in a way that limits its scope to an “absolute divorce,” a legal term used to describe a divorce alone.

American University Law Professor Nancy Polikoff and local attorney Michele Zavos, who specialize in gay family law, each said they believe the D.C. statute does give judges the authority they need to address issues like alimony and property division.

“I think there is a very good argument that the court does have power over the property and support issues, but it would be much cleaner to resolve the ambiguity by making that clear in the statute,” Polikoff told the Blade. “For that reason, I agree that the preferred course of action at this time would be to amend the statute.”

Zavos agreed with that assessment.

“I think we probably do have to go back to the City Council to make it very clear that the intent of this new statute is to cover all aspects of divorce, including legal separation,” Zavos said. “So I think we’re going to have to do that.”

Polikoff and Zavos said child custody related issues are clearly addressed in separate laws in D.C. and other states, and those issues must be addressed in the state in which the child lives at the time of a divorce.

Zavos released to the Blade a copy of a January 2013 order issued by D.C. Superior Court Judge Alfred S. Irving, Jr., denying a request by one of the partners of a same-sex couple living in Virginia to obtain a legal separation. The couple, whose identity was redacted from the order, was married in D.C.

“The District of Columbia very recently amended the residency requirements to permit an ‘action for divorce by persons of the same gender, even if neither party to the marriage is a bona fide resident of the District of Columbia…’ and neither party to the marriage resides in a jurisdiction that will maintain an action for divorce,” Irving wrote in his order.

“The amendment, however, only pertains to actions for divorce, not actions for legal separation,” he stated in his denial order.

D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large), who introduced the Civil Marriage Dissolution Equality Act of 2012, said he’s willing to introduce legislation this year to fix the problems that are just now surfacing regarding same-sex couples.

“We were very clear when we adopted the law in 2012 that, as usual, we were trying to treat same-sex couples the same as heterosexual couples,” Mendelson told the Blade on Tuesday.

“So this distinction that somehow a same-sex couple that lives in another state can only get a divorce but can’t get any of the other modifications that heterosexual couples can get – that was not our intent,” he said.

Asked if he thought election year politics might make it difficult for the Council to pass a bill this year to correct the divorce related problems facing out-of-town same-sex couples, Mendelson said it would not.

“I don’t like the speculation about election politics,” he said. “The reality is the Council is in session until the end of the year. And if the attorneys give me the suggestions for how to fine-tune the law we’ll try to proceed this year to do it.”

Rick Rosendall, president of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, said GLAA would support legislation to “to fill any legal gaps encountered by same-sex couple, as we have done in the past.”

Once introduced, Mendelson’s bill to correct the divorce law problem would go to the Council’s Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, which is chaired by Council member Tommy Wells (D-At-Large).

30
Apr
2014

Gray receives surprise award at GLAA celebration

GLAA, Vincent Gray, Rick Rosendall, Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, Washington Blade, gay news

GLAA honored Mayor Vincent Gray with its distinguished service award. (Washington Blade photo by Damien Salas)

The Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance surprised D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray before a crowd of about 90 LGBT activists and supporters attending its 43rd anniversary reception on April 30 by presenting him with an unscheduled Distinguished Service Award.

As he has in past years, Gray attended the event to present GLAA with a mayoral proclamation recognizing the non-partisan advocacy group for its work on behalf of LGBT equality. While introducing him, GLAA President Rick Rosendall announced that the group decided to give Gray its Distinguished Service Award because of his longstanding record of support for LGBT rights.

“For those of us working in the trenches, it is all too easy to focus on the latest flap and forget that Vince is, by the evidence, the best mayor on LGBT issues our city has ever had,” Rosendall told the gathering.

Gray was joined at the event, held at Policy Restaurant and Lounge at 1904 14th St., N.W., by six members of the D.C. City Council, including mayoral candidates Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) and David Catania (I-At-Large).

The other Council members attending were Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), David Grosso (I-At-Large), Anita Bonds (D-At-Large) and Vincent Orange (D-At-Large).

Also attending were at least three candidates running for seats on the Council along with gay congressional candidate Mark Levine (D), who’s running for the 8th District U.S. House seat in Northern Virginia being vacated by retiring Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.).

Bowser and Gray greeted each other warmly and praised one another when they spoke following a hotly contested mayoral primary in which Bowser defeated Gray on April 1, becoming the Democratic nominee in the November general election.

With Catania running as an independent, that contest has also become what most political observers are calling a competitive race in a city where the Democratic mayoral nominee has won the general election in every prior election since the city’s home rule government started in 1974.

Catania, who had another engagement to attend, left the GLAA reception before the speeches began. Bowser, breaking from her months of criticism of Gray during the primary campaign, praised Gray’s record on LGBT rights issues.

Bowser told the Blade in the week following her primary victory that, if elected mayor in November, she would continue the LGBT-related initiatives put in place by Gray and “continue to move forward” on LGBT issues.

Bowser reiterated that pledge in her remarks at the GLAA reception.

“We are not finished,” she said referring to LGBT equality.

Catania and his supporters have said Bowser hasn’t taken the initiative to introduce significant legislation during her seven years on the Council. They point to Catania’s record of introducing a wide range of bills, including the city’s marriage equality law, saying his record is much broader than Bowser’s.

The three people scheduled to receive GLAA’s annual Distinguished Service Award and who were presented with the award at the April 30 event were veteran gay rights and civic activist Jerry Clark, who serves as chair of the D.C. Statehood Coalition and political director of D.C. for Democracy; LGBT rights advocate Alison Gill, who serves as Government Affairs Director for The Trevor Project, the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services for LGBT and questioning youth; and longtime LGBT rights advocate Earl Fowlkes Jr., president and CEO of the Center for Black Equity, an LGBT rights organization that, among other things, organizes and coordinates Black Pride events in the U.S., Canada, United Kingdom and South Africa.

Bonds won the Democratic primary in her re-election bid for the at-large Council seat by a wide margin on April 1 in a multi-candidate race. She will be facing several expected independent candidates as well as gay Republican Marc Morgan and a Libertarian and Statehood-Green Party candidate in the November general election. All of the candidates except Bonds will be competing for her seat as well as the “non-Democratic” at-large seat that Catania is giving up to run for mayor.

Longtime Democratic activist Elisa Silverman, who finished a strong second behind Bonds in a special election for the at-large seat currently held by Bonds, has told supporters she plans to run for the non-Democratic seat as an independent. Silverman attended the GLAA anniversary reception, where she greeted LGBT activists, some of whom supported her in her previous race for the at-large seat.

Others attending the GLAA anniversary reception included Charles Allen, who won the Democratic primary on April 1 for the Ward 6 Council seat being vacated by Tommy Wells (D), who gave up the seat to run for mayor; and Robert White, an independent candidate running for the at-large seat.

Under the city’s election law, one of the two at-large seats up for election this year must go to a non-majority party candidate, which means a Democrat is ineligible for the seat. The highest two vote-getters in the November election are declared the winners of the two-at-large seats in accordance of the election law. Although a non-Democrat could win both seats, the Democratic candidate has won the seat in which a Democrat is eligible to run in every election since home rule began in 1974.

Veteran D.C. gay activist Paul Kuntzler, who is one of the co-founders of GLAA, continued the tradition of the group’s anniversary receptions by leading a Champagne toast to GLAA’s accomplishments over its 43-year history.

05
May
2014

D.C. activists seek to ‘build on victories’ in 2014

Vince Gray, activists, Vincent Gray, District of Columbia, gay news, Washington Blade, Capital Pride Parade

Mayor Vincent Gray announced late last year that he would seek re-election. The primary is slated for April 1. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

LGBT activists in D.C. acknowledge that they live in a city that has had one of the nation’s strongest anti-discrimination laws protecting their community for more than 20 years, the city passed a same-sex marriage law in 2009, and virtually all elected officials strongly support LGBT equality.

With that as a backdrop, the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance last week released its 2014 Election Year Agenda for LGBT Equality in Washington, D.C., which, among other things, calls for more than a dozen policy initiatives and for the approval of five LGBT-related bills currently pending before the City Council.

In an announcement last week, GLAA said the 16-page policy document was used to formulate a questionnaire on LGBT issues that the group has sent to all candidates running in the April 1 D.C. primary for mayor and seats on the City Council, just as it has done in every city election since the early 1970s.

“We have won most of the policy reforms for LGBT equality, which is reflected in the title of this year’s policy brief, ‘Building on Victory,’” said GLAA President Rick Rosendall.

“What remains mostly falls into two broad categories – translating our model policies and laws into reality, especially for at-risk populations including LGBT youth and transgender persons, and remaining vigilant,” Rosendall said.

The issues covered in the five pending bills include:

• The Surrogacy Parenting Agreement Act, which calls for updating the city’s surrogate parenting law that gay rights attorneys have called archaic to add provisions to better enable same-sex couples to enter into surrogacy agreements.

• The Domestic Partnership Termination Recognition Amendment Act, which calls for changing D.C.’s existing domestic partnership law to enable couples that don’t live in D.C. to terminate their partnerships in a way that is recognized by courts in other states.

• The LGBTQ Homeless Youth Reform Amendment Act calls for, among other things, city funds to pay for beds reserved for LGBT youth in homeless shelters and other homeless facilities that activists say traditionally have not met the needs of LGBT or “questioning” youth.

• The Conversion Therapy for Minors Prohibition Act calls for prohibiting licensed therapists in the city from seeking to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of people under the age of 18 through so-called “conversion” therapy. Advocates for the legislation point out that virtually all professional mental health organizations have said the therapy is harmful to the mental health of those participating in such therapy, especially young people.

• The Marriage License Issuance Act calls for amending the city’s marriage law to eliminate the current mandatory, three-day waiting period for obtaining a marriage license. Marriage reform activists, both gay and straight, have called the waiting period requirement an unnecessary relic of the past.

The GLAA policy brief also calls for a requirement by city regulators and the mayor’s office that health insurance plans offered to D.C. government employees and the city’s Health Link insurance exchange program under the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act include full coverage for sex reassignment surgery and hormone treatment for transgender people.

GLAA’s candidate questionnaires ask all candidates running for mayor and for the City Council to state whether they would support such a proposal.

“This is a huge priority in our community,” said Nico Quintana, senior organizer for the D.C. Trans Coalition.

 

Voters to choose among friends in election

 

Many LGBT activists have said that since nearly all of the candidates running this year for mayor and seats on the City Council have strong records of support on LGBT issues, LGBT voters will likely choose among them based on non-LGBT issues.

Mayor Vincent Gray, who some activists say has the strongest record on LGBT issues of any mayor in D.C. history, is being challenged by four members of the City Council, all of whom have expressed strong support for the LGBT community.

Council members Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), and Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) each have longtime records as strong supporters of LGBT equality. Council member Vincent Orange (D-At-Large), who opposed same-sex marriage when he ran for mayor in 2006, has said he changed his mind and has become a committed supporter of the city’s same-sex marriage law while continuing his support on all other LGBT-related issues.

Former State Department official Reta Jo Lewis and, Busboys and Poets Restaurant owner and businessman Andy Shallal have also expressed strong support for LGBT rights. The positions of lesser-known mayoral candidates Carlos Allen, a music promoter, Christian Carter, a businessman and civic activist, couldn’t immediately be determined.

Political observers say the LGBT vote, which surveys show will likely comprise at least 10 percent of the vote in the April 1 Democratic primary, could be a key factor in the outcome of the election.

But based on interviews with LGBT activists following the campaigns of the mayoral candidates, the LGBT vote will likely be divided among Gray and his City Council rivals, although many activists believe Gray remains highly popular in the LGBT community.

David Catania, D.C. Council, gay news, Washington Blade

Council member David Catania (I-At-Large) has said he will enter the mayor’s race as an independent if Vincent Gray wins the primary and becomes the Democratic Party nominee. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

In looking beyond the primary to the November general election, gay D.C. Council member David Catania (I-At-Large) is being viewed as the wildcard of the 2014 mayoral race. Catania last fall formed an exploratory committee to consider whether to enter the mayoral race, knowing that as an independent he doesn’t have to file papers as a candidate until June, long after the winner of the Democratic primary is known.

In a development that startled some political observers, Catania told the Washington Post that he has already decided he will enter the race if Gray wins the primary and becomes the Democratic Party nominee.

In every mayoral election since the city obtained its home rule government in 1974, the Democratic Party nominee has won his or her race as mayor in the November general election. Catania, however, is telling potential supporters that this year is different and that the electorate is “tired” of politics of the past.

LGBT voters, who have long supported Catania in large numbers, could be faced with a dilemma if forced to choose between Gray and Catania, according to some LGBT advocates.

Next week: A preview of City Council races and the prospects for gay longtime Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1).

08
Jan
2014

New Mattachine Society of D.C. uncovers LGBT history

Charles Francis, Mattachine Society, gay news, Washington Blade

The new Mattachine Society focuses almost exclusively on what Charles Francis calls ‘archive activism.’ (Photo courtesy of Charles Francis)

When gay rights pioneers Frank Kameny and Jack Nichols co-founded the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C. in 1961 as the first gay advocacy organization in the nation’s capital, conditions were so hostile toward gay people that Kameny initially was the only one to use his real name on the group’s membership list.

More than 50 years later, gay public affairs consultant Charles Francis and Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance President Rick Rosendall reinstated the lapsed corporate charter for the Mattachine Society of Washington shortly after Kameny’s death in October 2011.

Francis and Rosendall along with a new board of directors have since reshaped the group’s mission to conduct archival research to uncover long forgotten government documents that show in chilling detail how federal policies were put into place to ban gays from the federal workforce.

“We believe the importance of these documents is the enormous evidentiary and educational value that they have,” Francis told the Blade.

“The evidentiary and educational value of the original archival documents show the persecution of gay people without regard to any valid government purpose,” he said. “Just malicious persecution over and over, and we see that beginning in 1953.”

Francis was referring to what Kameny and other veteran gay leaders called the infamous Executive Order 10450 issued by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1953 – possibly at the request of then FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover.

The order, among other things, barred from the federal workforce individuals found to be involved with “any criminal, infamous, dishonest, immoral, or notoriously disgraceful conduct, habitual use of intoxicants to excess, drug addiction, or sexual perversion.”

Although the order didn’t specifically mention homosexuality or homosexuals, it was interpreted by the U.S. Civil Service Commission to mean homosexuals were barred and should be summarily dismissed from any federal government job.

The order for the first time “equated gays and lesbians with disloyalty,” Francis said. “And that was a catastrophe for gay and lesbian Americans” that “much too little has been written about and much too little is actually known about it,” Francis said.

One expert who does know about it, gay rights advocate and University of South Florida professor David K. Johnson, author of the book “The Lavender Scare,” is scheduled to be one of two featured speakers at a Mattachine Society of Washington forum scheduled for May 21.

Joining Johnson as a speaker at the event, to be held at the offices of the D.C. law firm McDermott Will & Emery, will be David S. Ferriero, who serves as Archivist of the United States and director of the National Archives and Records Administration.

A write-up on the Mattachine Society of Washington’s website says its sources of information have and will continue to be archival records found at the Library of Congress, the National Archives and Records Administration, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, visits to presidential archives and libraries, and family foundations and university libraries.

Francis said he doesn’t believe the “repurposed” Mattachine Society of D.C. will conflict with or duplicate the work of the Rainbow History Project, a longstanding D.C.-based group that keeps records of and reports on the history of the D.C. LGBT community, individual LGBT people and LGBT institutions such as gay bars.

Instead, the new group focuses almost exclusively on what Francis called “archive activism,” an aggressive search for archival documents that tell the story of how gays were targeted for discrimination and persecution through government policies and laws.

With pro bono help last year from the McDermott Will & Emery law firm, Mattachine found at the National Archives a memorandum written in 1962 by a high-level Civil Service Commission official that appeared to summarize the views of many government officials on gays and lesbians, Francis said.

The official was John W. Steele, chief of the Civil Service Commission’s Program Systems and Instructions Division.

“[W]e set homosexuality apart from other forms of immoral conduct and take a much more severe attitude toward it,” Steele wrote. “Our tendency to ‘lean over backwards’ to rule against a homosexual is simply a manifestation of the revulsion which homosexuality inspires in the normal person.”

Steele added, “What it boils down to is that most men look upon homosexuality as something uniquely nasty, not just as a form of immorality.”

In another recent project, Francis said Mattachine Society of Washington discovered documents showing that J. Edgar Hoover and his then top FBI assistant Clyde Tolson played a role in pressuring the U.S. Postal Service into refusing to allow one of the nation’s first gay publications, One magazine, from being distributed through the mail.

In the early 1950s, at the time it banned One from being mailed, the Postal Service described the publication as “obscene, lewd, licentious and filthy,” according to documents obtained by Mattachine.

A short time later, Francis points out, One successfully challenged the mail ban on First Amendment grounds and won its case before the U.S. Supreme Court in a landmark ruling that opened the way in 1954 for gay publications to be distributed through the mail.

Mattachine Society of Washington recently honored California attorney Eric Julber, now 90 years old, who represented One magazine before the Supreme Court on a pro bono basis.

On its website, the Mattachine Society of Washington says it recently received approval by the IRS as a 501(C)(3) charitable and educational organization and obtained full legal status as a non-profit corporation in D.C.

The original Mattachine Society of Washington founded by Kameny and Nichols was a political and advocacy organization, among other things, organized the first-ever gay rights protests outside the White House, Pentagon and the Civil Service Commission.

Mattachine Society, gay news, Washington Blade

The Mattachine Society of Washington celebrated its 25th anniversary on Nov. 15, 1986. (Washington Blade archive photo by Doug Hinckle)

14
May
2014

Gray says D.C. should recognize Utah marriages

Vincent Gray, gay news, Washington Blade

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray told a meeting of the Stein Club that the city should recognize same-sex marriages performed in Utah before the Supreme Court issued a stay and halted the weddings. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray told a meeting of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club Monday night that he believes the city should recognize same-sex marriages performed in Utah.

Gray said he would consult with D.C. Attorney General Irvin Nathan on the matter. But he said he sees no reason why the city shouldn’t recognize the Utah marriages performed prior to a Supreme Court decision putting same-sex nuptials on hold in the state until the courts resolve the issue.

“I’ll talk to Irv Nathan about it,” Gray said. “But my position would be unequivocally that we ought to do that.”

Gray’s statement on the Utah marriage issue came in response to a question by Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance President Rick Rosendall.

Gray’s response came three days after U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced on Jan. 10 that the federal government would recognize the Utah same-sex marriages. On that same day, Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler told the Blade that Maryland would also recognize the Utah same-sex marriages.

A spokesperson for Nathan told the Blade on Monday that Nathan and his legal team were reviewing the Utah marriage question and would likely develop a position for the District to take on the matter shortly.

A U.S. District Court Judge in Utah startled the state’s conservative political establishment on Dec. 20 when he ruled that Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage violates the U.S. Constitution and refused to put a stay on his ruling while state officials appealed his decision. The Tenth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals also refused to place a stay on the right of gay and lesbian couples to obtain marriage licenses in the state.

During the period between the District Court judge’s Dec. 20 ruling and the Supreme Court’s decision to issue the stay on Jan. 6, more than 1,300 gay and lesbian couples married in Utah. Utah’s Republican governor, Gary Herbert, responded to the Supreme Court stay order by declaring the same-sex marriages invalid.

Gay rights attorneys quickly disputed Herbert’s assertion, saying the marriages were performed at a time when the District Court ruled they were legal under the federal Constitution.

Stein Club President Angela Peoples said the club invited Gray to speak before its regularly scheduled monthly meeting Monday night as part of a series of appearances the club has arranged for mayoral and City Council candidates competing in the city’s April 1 Democratic primary.

She said other mayoral candidates, including City Council members Jack Evans (D-Ward 1), Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) and Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) have already appeared before the club.

Others who spoke at the Stein Club meeting on Monday were Council members Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who’s running for re-election; Anita Bonds (D-At-Large), who is also up for re-election; and Vincent Orange (D-At-Large), who is running for mayor.  Also speaking was shadow U.S. House member Nate Bennett-Fleming, who is one of four candidates running against Bonds, and Shadow U.S. Senator Paul Strauss, who is running for re-election.

Gray, who spoke for about 20 minutes before answering questions from club members, acknowledged that several of the eight candidates challenging him in the primary have strong records of support on LGBT issues.

“But the fact of the matter is I’m the only one who’s actually been in the seat where you really implement and have the ability to influence policy as the mayor,” he said. “And as a result, while I think they have done some good things, I don’t think they have come near matching what I have done and I don’t think they will.”

Gray said his support for the LGBT community dates back to his days as a student at D.C.’s Dunbar High School when he observed firsthand how his class valedictorian, who was gay and later realized he was transgender, was subjected to hostility.

“It was painful to me watching what he had to go through, what he had to endure as a human being,” Gray said. “And I said to myself if I ever had the chance I’m going to do something to be able to ensure equality for people who should have the opportunity to be themselves.”

Years later, when he was chair of the D.C. Council at the time the city’s same-sex marriage law came up for a vote in 2009, Gray said he experienced hostility and rejection from same-sex marriage opponents in response to his support for marriage equality.

“Frankly, what I went through as chairman nobody hopefully will ever have to go through,” he told Stein Club members. “I had people screaming at me. There were some ministers that supported me for Ward 7 Council member and then for Chair. And they don’t speak to me anymore,” he said.

“And I said fine. If that’s the way you want to row, that’s all right with me. I know who I am. I know what I stand for and I am not flinching. I am not blinking. This is the right thing to do and we’re going to continue to do the right thing in the District of Columbia. And you all let me know when you get on board, OK?”

The latter comment drew applause from club members, many of whom are supporting Gray’s re-election.

The Stein Club’s former president and current vice president for political affairs, Martin Garcia, announced at the meeting that the club will hold a joint candidate forum and endorsement meeting for City Council candidates on Feb. 26 and a combined mayoral candidate forum and endorsement meeting on March 5.

Garcia said the club has yet to decide whether to make endorsements in other races, including  the congressional delegate seat current held by Democrat Eleanor Holmes Norton; the races for “shadow” U.S. senator and U.S. representative; and Advisory Neighborhood Commission races.

14
Jan
2014

Restaurant manager says he fired server for writing slur on check

gay news, Washington Blade

A bartender at Bistro 18 wrote the words ‘GAY BITCHES’ on the check of a transgender customer and eight friends last summer. (Photo courtesy of Lambda Legal)

The manager of an Adams Morgan restaurant whose bartender wrote the words “GAY BITCHES” on the check for a transgender customer and eight friends who were with her said he immediately fired the bartender for writing the slur and apologized, according to gay blogger Bil Browning of the Bilerico Project.

The New York-based LGBT litigation group Lambda Legal announced in a press release on Tuesday, June 10, that it filed a discrimination complaint against Bistro 18 restaurant and hookah bar at 2420 18th St., N.W., over the slur and other alleged discriminatory actions by the restaurant before the D.C. Office of Human Rights.

Lambda said it filed the complaint on behalf of Amira Gray, a transgender woman who was sitting with eight friends, two of whom are gay men, when a female bartender who’s not identified in the complaint delivered the check to their table.

The issue of whether the bartender printed the slur on the check is not in dispute.

But in a development not common in LGBT discrimination cases, at least two prominent gay activists — Deacon Maccubbin, founder and owner of D.C.’s now closed Lambda Rising bookstore and Rick Rosendall, president of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance — are siding with the accused party. Both say Bistro 18 shouldn’t be held responsible for a single employee’s action and that the restaurant has taken all necessary steps to remedy the situation.

The incident took place in August 2013, the complaint states. A Lambda Legal official told the Blade that Gray chose to come forward to file the complaint this week after considerable reflection, deciding that she and her friends were wronged, even though the manager cancelled the bill that came to $152.30.

Lambda Legal’s announcement of the filing of the complaint, which is posted on its Facebook page, triggered a flurry of social media postings highly critical of Bistro 18. Some of the postings called for a boycott of the restaurant.

Browning, editor and publisher of the Bilerico Project blog, triggered a separate flurry of postings by some LGBT activists and others condemning Lambda Legal for publicizing an allegation implying that Bistro 18 was a homophobic or anti-trans establishment that condones discrimination.

The Blade could not reach a representative of Bistro 18 for comment through repeated phone calls and through a visit to the bar Thursday night. The Washington Post and Washington City Paper reported their attempts to reach a representative of the restaurant were also unsuccessful.

According to Browning, Mohammad Elhoda, Bistro 18’s manager, told him his restaurant welcomes LGBT customers, gay employees currently work at the establishment, the restaurant has hosted LGBT events, and it has a strict policy of non-discrimination covering everyone, including LGBT people.

Gray states in her complaint that in addition to the anti-LGBT slur on the check, which she kept and turned over to Lambda Legal, her party was being denied service at the table in which they were seated. She walked to the bar and ordered drinks for her friends, which she brought to her table, the complaint states. No server came to the table except one who delivered the hookah smoking pipe while people seated at nearby tables were being waited on regularly by servers, the complaint says.

Browning reports that Elhoda said service at the restaurant was slow on the night Gray and her friends were there and he intervened to help his staff, providing Gray’s party with at least one round of free drinks to make up for the delays. At least some of the people in Gray’s party returned to the restaurant in the following weeks and appeared to be enjoying themselves, Browning reports Elhoda as saying.

Elhoda also claims that some of the people in Gray’s party yelled insults at the bartender and threatened her after the check with the slur was delivered to their table, prompting the restaurant’s security staff to intervene, Browning reports.

Browning, who appears to be the only media representative with whom Elhoda has spoken so far, wrote in his blog that Lambda should have investigated the allegation of discrimination further before publicizing it on Facebook.

“With LGBT activists and netizens constantly ready to retaliate against any perceived slight and conservative Christians regularly claiming that many businesses are unfairly attacked by activists, what responsibility does Lambda Legal have to ensure that they aren’t damaging a business’ reputation without reason?” Browning wrote. “Should they be held responsible for any harm they cause the establishment – particularly if the bar is found innocent by the city’s human rights commission?”

In a follow-up statement posted on its website, Lambda Legal questioned the accuracy of Elhoda’s version of what happened.

“The statements of the restaurant’s manager, as recounted in the blog as if they were accurate, however, are in sharp contrast to what our client and her friends experienced,” the Lambda statement says.

“Lambda Legal doesn’t make decisions lightly about how to proceed, and gathered confirmation of the allegations in the OHR complaint before it was filed,” the statement says. “Not only do we have the receipt clearly showing the anti-gay slur, but multiple members of a large group of friends who were with Amira at Bistro 18 have corroborated what actually happened that night.”

Maccubbin, who notes that he helped lobby for passage of the city’s Human Rights Act in the 1970s, said in a comment posted with the Blade that Bistro 18 was getting a “raw deal” by Lambda Legal.

“There is no history of discriminatory actions on the part of this business, its management or employees, other than this one incident by this one former employee,” he said. “The business responded appropriately and should not be castigated, by Lambda Legal or anyone else.”

Maccubbin added, “It’s fine for Lambda Legal to represent the complainant, but they should do so within the parameters of the complaint process, not by fomenting unjust and defamatory vigilantism in social media.”

In her complaint Gray said, “As a transgender woman, I was extremely hurt, embarrassed and upset. I felt that the slur was meant as a slap in the face because of my gender identity and expression, my perceived sexual orientation, my personal appearance, and my association with my friends who are or may have been perceived as being lesbian or gay.”

14
Jun
2014

Anti-gay consultant working for Gray campaign

Bob King, National Organization for Marriage, NOM, gay news, Washington Blade

Vincent Gray’s campaign manager says Robert King is ‘not a political adviser’ to the campaign. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

A Ward 5 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner who was paid by an anti-gay group in 2010 to work on the unsuccessful effort to overturn D.C.’s same-sex marriage law in a voter referendum is working for Mayor Vincent Gray’s re-election campaign as a get-out-the-vote consultant aimed at senior citizens.

Chuck Thies, Gray’s campaign manager, said he hired Robert “Bob” King to assist with the effort to transport senior citizens to the polls on the day of the city’s April 1 Democratic primary.

“Bob is not a political adviser to this campaign,” Thies told the Blade. “He has no influence whatsoever on public policy, internal policy, or strategy — nothing — zero,” said Thies.

Instead, King, who has had ties to the city’s senior citizen community for more than 30 years, will organize logistics to transport mostly low-income seniors to the polls by bus on Election Day, Thies said.

King’s role as a paid consultant in 2010 for the National Organization for Marriage, which opposes same-sex marriage, surfaced last April when he emerged as an early supporter of the mayoral campaign of D.C. Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4). The Bowser campaign at the time listed King as a member of the host committee for the campaign’s kick-off celebration and fundraiser.

In a telephone interview on Tuesday, King said he’s been a longtime friend of the Bowser family and decided to support Bowser for mayor before Gray announced he was running for a second term, believing Bowser was the best candidate at that time.

However, he said the Bowser campaign never responded to a proposal he submitted last spring to do get-out-the vote work targeting senior citizens for her campaign. So after Gray announced his candidacy in December and Gray supporters approached him to organize Gray’s senior citizen outreach effort he decided to join the Gray campaign, King said.

“I looked around and I said the lowering crime rate, the improvement in the schools, the bond ratings – and I thought he had done a great job in advancing Mayor Williams and Mayor Fenty’s blueprint” for the city were factors that prompted him to switch his support to Gray, King said.

The Gray campaign’s Jan. 31 report filed with the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance shows that the campaign paid King $2,500 on Jan. 8 for his services during the campaign’s first reporting period.
King told the Blade last April, at the time he was supporting Bowser, that he has never taken a public position for or against the city’s same-sex marriage law. He said he was retained as a consultant by the National Organization for Marriage to coordinate a campaign to place the marriage law on the ballot in a referendum.

“My position was to give the people the right to vote on the issue,” he said. “My personal view is not the issue. The issue was democracy and whether the people should be given the right to vote.”

Rick Rosendall, president of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, said at the time that King and others who clearly opposed marriage equality for same-sex couples have sought to “hide behind the ‘let the people vote mantra’ in their efforts to kill same-sex marriage laws in D.C. and elsewhere.

“The fact is that no other people’s rights are put to a plebiscite,” Rosendall said.

Thies noted that Gray is a strong supporter of marriage equality and LGBT rights and has taken heat from clergy members and many residents – including black senior citizens – for his outspoken advocacy for gay marriage.

“And so when it comes to Mayor Gray’s position on same-sex marriage and other LGBT issues, I don’t think anyone can question his commitment and his dedication to equal rights,” Thies said.

According to Thies, King told him he now accepts the city’s marriage equality law as the “law of the land.”

“I talked to him before I hired him,” said Thies. “I said Bob, I have a problem with this and you need to address this. And he said that’s the past. I accept the law and that is the status quo now.”

King reiterated that on Tuesday, saying he’s interested in meeting with representatives of the LGBT community to open the door to working together on future projects. He said he’s also doing senior citizen outreach on behalf of the re-election campaigns of D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large) and Council member Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5).

“They are marriage equality supporters and I am working with them,” he said.

Thies said King’s efforts to arrange transportation for senior citizens to the polls will be open to everyone regardless of who they are supporting for mayor.

“We will hire buses and bring them to the senior centers and anyone can board them, including someone wearing a sticker that belongs to one of our opponents,” he said.

04
Feb
2014

GLAA opposes ENDA over religious exemption

Jeri Hughes and Risk Rosendall

Jeri Hughes and Rick Rosendall. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, D.C.’s leading non-partisan LGBT advocacy group, voted at its regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday night to declare its opposition to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA.

GLAA becomes one of the first prominent local LGBT groups to join a growing number of national LGBT advocacy organizations that have announced their opposition to ENDA within the past two weeks.

The groups have cited a religious exemption provision that was added to ENDA at the time it passed in the Senate last year as the main reason for the opposition to the pending federal legislation. The groups, including GLAA, say the exemption clause would allow an unacceptably large number of religious organizations to continue to discriminate or fire LGBT employees working in non-religious positions.

“In its current form, sweeping religious exemptions in ENDA could enshrine anti-LGBT discrimination into law by allowing far more organizations to bypass civil rights protections than are permitted under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,” GLAA President Rick Rosendall said in a statement.

He was referring to the landmark 1964 civil rights law that bans discrimination in employment and other areas based on race, religion and ethnicity. The law does not include sexual orientation or gender identity and thus excludes LGBT people from being protected from discrimination.

Various forms of ENDA have been pending in Congress for more than 40 years. Leaders of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives have refused to take a vote on the version of ENDA passed by the Senate. Most political observers don’t believe any version of ENDA could pass in the House as long as the current GOP leadership remains in control of the body.

 

10
Jul
2014

From Stonewall to marriage equality at lightning speed

Stonewall to marriage, gay news, Washington Blade, National Equality March

Even those of us involved in the fight for women’s rights and civil rights would never have believed the speed at which things are changing for the LGBT community. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The progress from Stonewall to marriage equality in my lifetime is amazing. My accepting who I am mirrored the evolving LGBT movement. Coming of age at 21 in New York City, a gay man deep in the closet, hiding my sexual orientation to become a teacher. At 25, starting a political career and working for the most gay-friendly politician in the nation, the congresswoman who introduced the first ENDA bill in Congress, yet still deep in the closet.

Then moving to Washington, D.C. at 31, a city that just elected a mayor who credited the LGBT community and the Stein Democratic Club with making the difference in his election. Pride events were gaining in strength and visibility and my first in Dupont Circle had me hiding behind a tree to make sure my picture wouldn’t end up in a newspaper. Then life started moving faster for me and the LGBT community. By the time I was 34, we were beginning to hear about AIDS and that coincided with my coming out to friends. Then began the process of my morphing into an LGBT activist joining in the fight against HIV/AIDS and openly participating in marches for LGBT rights, openly attending Pride events on a muddy field in Dupont, and being a regular at Rascals, the bar of the moment.

Over the ensuing years the organized LGBT community would get stronger and stand up for our rights and I would find that being “out” still had its consequences. Being rejected for a job for being gay was one of them. As the community turned to more activism, my role in politics was becoming more identified with being gay. First becoming a columnist for the Washington Blade and then finding my picture on the front page of the Washington Post supporting a mayoral candidate and being identified as among other things a gay activist.

As the fight for marriage equality heated up in D.C., GLAA activist Rick Rosendall and I met at a little outdoor lunch place on 17th Street and set the plans in motion to form the Foundation for All DC Families, which begat the Campaign for All DC Families, which helped coordinate the fight for marriage equality in the District.

For so many who grew up in the Baby Boomer generation, life continues to hold many surprises. But even those of us involved in the fight for women’s rights and civil rights would never have believed the speed at which things are changing for the LGBT community.

The courts are moving at a much faster pace than anyone could have predicted even a year ago, striking down bans on gay marriage enacted by state legislatures. State constitutional amendments banning marriage equality are being declared unconstitutional by a raft of federal judges. From Oklahoma to Kentucky, Utah to Virginia, federal judges are saying that states must recognize these marriages. While the cases are being appealed there is a clear path for one or more of them to reach the Supreme Court in its next term. While they weren’t ready to make a decision when they rejected the Prop 8 case in 2013, they will now probably have to decide the fate of marriage equality nationwide and determine whether it is constitutional to discriminate against gay and lesbian citizens.

Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen in her decision in Virginia added to the so-far unanimous group of federal judges who have thrown out these bans. Judge Allen quoted from Mildred Loving, who was at the center of the 1967 Supreme Court case that struck down laws banning interracial marriage. At the time that case was decided only 14 states had laws allowing interracial marriage and already there are 17 states and the District of Columbia that allow gay marriage. While people are hailing her decision she clearly had to be embarrassed when she had to amend her written opinion because she confused the U. S. Constitution with the Declaration of Independence. She isn’t the first and won’t be the last to do that.

Clearly the time has come in our country for full equality. The decisions made by these federal judges have been based on the Supreme Court’s decision in Windsor. Then Attorney General Eric Holder announced “the federal government would recognize legal same-sex marriages in federal matters including bankruptcies, prison visits and survivor benefits.” He stated that, “It is the [Justice Department's] policy to recognize lawful same-sex marriages as broadly as possible, to ensure equal treatment for all members of society regardless of sexual orientation.”

In what seems like lightning speed, the LGBT community is moving toward full civil and human rights.

18
Feb
2014

Hobby Lobby plans D.C. Bible museum

Bible museum, gay news, Washington Blade

A Bible museum is scheduled to open in 2017 in a sprawling building at 300 D St., S.W., that was the home of the Washington Design Center. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The evangelical Christian family that owns the Hobby Lobby chain of craft stores plans to open a Bible museum in Washington two blocks from the National Mall, prompting outrage from some LGBT advocates.

The concern expressed by LGBT advocates comes just one month after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby’s contention in a controversial lawsuit that corporations with religious owners cannot be forced to provide health insurance coverage for contraception.

“Leaders in Washington should soundly reject a theme park for extremism disguised as a legitimate museum,” said Wayne Besen, executive director of the LGBT advocacy group Truth Wins Out.

“The project, conceived and funded by Hobby Lobby owner Steve Green, would make a mockery of surrounding museums, which are based on research, history and scholarship,” Besen said in a July 16 statement.

Representatives of the Museum of the Bible, Inc., a non-profit organization created by Green, president and CEO of the multi-billion dollar Hobby Lobby store chain, say the museum will include a collection of rare and ancient biblical documents and artifacts of proven historical significance.

“The museum won’t be interpreting the Bible but presenting it from a scholarly perspective,” said museum spokesperson Mark DeMoss in a statement released to the Blade.

“This museum is about a book: the best-selling, most read and, arguably, most influential of all time,” DeMoss said. “A lot of people are making assumptions about a museum that hasn’t even been built yet.”

Information on the Museum of the Bible website says the museum is scheduled to open in 2017 in a sprawling building at 300 D St., S.W., that has been the home of the Washington Design Center and its interior designers and furniture showrooms for more than two decades.

The building, which has been designated as a historic landmark, was used between 1923 and 1959 as a cold storage and ice making plant. At one point it was owned by a Chicago-based company founded by Joseph P. Kennedy, father of President John F. Kennedy.

DeMoss’s office told the Blade that the Museum of the Bible, Inc., purchased the building in July 2012 for $50 million.

Last week, the D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board gave final approval of the Museum of the Bible’s architectural plans to convert the building into a museum.

Gay Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Andy Litsky, former chair of ANC 6D, which has jurisdiction over the area where the museum will be located, said the ANC also voted to approve the use of the building as a museum.

“It’s private property,” Litsky said. “They showed us their architectural drawings and explained the changes they plan to make,” he said. “We did not question the content of the museum. I don’t believe that is our role.”

Besen of Truth Wins Out said he believes it is within the role of the D.C. government to raise questions about a museum that he says would promote misinformation and discrimination. He called on D.C. government officials to invoke zoning restrictions to block the museum from opening so close to the National Mall, where he said tourists and visitors would mistakenly assume it is part of the federal Smithsonian Institution’s museum system.

“It’s not designed to be a museum but to be a Trojan horse to get their ideas and make it look and feel like a museum,” Besen told the Blade. “These are hard core rigid politicized, radicalized ideologues that want to pretend they represent Christianity when in fact it’s just a narrow version of it and the most virulent and dangerous version of it.”

Besen was the only LGBT advocate reached by the Blade who called for preventing a Bible museum operated by the Green family from opening near the National Mall. Officials with other local and national LGBT groups, including the D.C. Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, cited First Amendment grounds for allowing a privately owned museum to open on private property, even if they disagreed with its message.

“LGBT groups should not seek to suppress the First Amendment rights of those who oppose us,” said GLAA President Rick Rosendall. “As we are told by our friends in the ACLU…the proper response to offensive speech is more speech,” he said in an email to the Blade.

“Urging the government to suppress ignorant and obnoxious viewpoints is not only heavy-handed and improper, it is unnecessary since we have the better arguments and science on our side,” Rosendall said.

Rosendall and representatives of other LGBT organizations said they nevertheless remain concerned that a Green family-sponsored Bible museum could be used to promote an interpretation of the Bible that considers homosexuality an abomination – an interpretation that activists and many biblical scholars say is no longer supported by scholarly biblical research.

Green and his Museum of the Bible spokespersons have given conflicting signals on what, if any, message the museum would present on issues like homosexuality and same-sex marriage.

Museum of the Bible spokesperson DeMoss, founder of an Atlanta-based, religious-oriented public relations firm bearing his name, did not respond to written questions from the Blade asking about Steve Green’s views on LGBT rights, homosexuality and the Bible, or whether the museum would address those issues.

However, The New Republic magazine reported in a March 25, 2014 article that the museum’s chief operating officer, Cary Summers, said the museum “won’t mention homosexuality, abortion, or any other ‘political commentary.’”

On Wednesday, one of DeMoss’s assistants, Adrienne Young, responded to the Blade by email, saying, “We can confirm that The New Republic report accurately reflects what will (not) be presented in the museum’s exhibits.”

The New York Times reported in a July 16 story about the Bible museum that Green himself has referred to the Bible as “a reliable historical document” and said he is developing a public school curriculum “to reintroduce this book to this nation” as part of the museum project.

“This nation is in danger because of its ignorance of what God has taught,” the Times quoted Green as saying in a speech last year in New York. “There are lessons from the past that we can learn from, the dangers of ignorance of this book. We need to know it. If we don’t know it, our future is going to be very scary,” the Times quoted him as saying in his speech.

Observers who favor a scholarly, non-judgmental approach to the planned museum point to Green’s expenditure of $30 million of his own money to acquire in recent years a vast collection of Bible-related documents and artifacts from sites throughout the world that are to be part of the museum’s exhibits.

Known as the Green collection, the objects and documents include early recordings of the New Testament in the Aramaic language, ancient manuscripts, Torahs, and a nearly completed book of Psalms on papyrus paper, according to Scott Carroll, an archaeologist and historian who acted as an adviser to Green on the acquisition of the artifacts.

Although Carroll’s role as director of the Green Collection gave Green’s plans for the museum credibility, Carroll, a former Baylor University professor, told the New York Times he decided in 2012 to withdraw from the Green Collection and museum project.

“While he believes in the scholarly roots and historical significance of the collection, he is concerned that the Green family faces a difficult challenge in balancing its passion for ministry with the objective mission of a museum,” the Times reports.

Brent Childers is executive director of Faith In America, a national group that seeks to protect LGBT youth from mistreatment and abuse due to what he says is an incorrect interpretation of the Bible pertaining to homosexuality. He said the Green family has a right to open a Bible museum in Washington. But he’s concerned that it could be harmful to LGBT young people visiting its exhibits if it promotes a message of hostility toward homosexuality.

“If you walk into that museum and you see a section on biblical interpretation and how this historical book has been misinterpreted in the past, that could be a great service,” Childers said. “But from what I’m reading I don’t know if I could expect to see such a section in Green’s private museum.”

Added Childers, “If it’s going to be a museum where only his interpretation of the Bible is going to be on display, then I think that would be an unfortunate endeavor for everyone because it would open up divisiveness.”

Rev. Dwayne Johnson, pastor of Metropolitan Community Church of Washington, an LGBT-oriented congregation, said he, too, would oppose an effort to block the Green family’s museum from opening on private property.

“Those of us who come from another perspective will have to be very alert and monitor the messaging and offer a counter voice when that messaging is going to have anything that would potentially lead to self-hatred or violence or an anti-gay message,” he said.

“At this point the weight of scholarship does not support the Bible as condemning homosexuality,” Johnson said. “The Bible does not speak to homosexuality as we experience it today. That’s why you’re seeing so many churches that are now becoming more accepting and affirming,” he said.

“It’s based on further weight of scholarship as they continue to do research on the original languages and looking at the context,” according to Johnson.

“I don’t think this proposed Bible museum is appropriate for the National Mall because the museums on the Mall should reflect the non-religious values of our nation,” said Earl Fowlkes, president and CEO of the national LGBT advocacy group Center for Black Equity.

“However, I would be careful not to say that a Bible museum should not be built in Washington, D.C.,” he said. “The same argument could be used by those who would be opposed to an LGBT museum in Washington, D.C., which I support.”

Tim Gold, founder and director of the Velvet Foundation, a non-profit, tax-exempt group created to build and maintain a National LGBT Museum in Washington, said the foundation is currently finishing a comprehensive master plan for the museum and hopes to have a site selected by the end of the year.

Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, said HRC supports religious freedom for all people and recognizes that people of faith increasingly are supporting LGBT equality and viewing that support as an extension of their faith.

“To the extent the National Bible Museum empowers and enlightens then it will be a welcome addition,” he said. “But if the museum misuses the holy document as a cudgel for discrimination against LGBT people then it will have not only sullied the Bible, it will have exposed a dastardly political agenda.”

Wayne Besen, Truth Wins Out, Bible Museum, gay news, Washington Blade

‘The project, conceived and funded by Hobby Lobby owner Steve Green, would make a mockery of surrounding museums, which are based on research, history and scholarship,’ said Wayne Besen. (Photo by Michael Murphy)

30
Jul
2014