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Southern LGBT groups file brief in Va. marriage case

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

18
Apr
2014

SC mayor fires lesbian police chief, says rather have drunks than gays protecting children

"I would much rather have somebody who drank than somebody whose lifestyle is questionable around children."

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19
Apr
2014

Fired lesbian police chief rehired

Crystal Moore, Latta, fired, gay news, Washington Blade

Crystal Moore (Image via WBTW)

LATTA, S.C. — A lesbian South Carolina police chief has been rehired after the mayor of the town in which she works fired her.

WBTW reported the Latta Town Council on June 27 voted unanimously to rehire Latta Police Chief Crystal Moore. She was sworn into office after the vote.

“Thank you for your hard work and dedication,” said Moore as WBTW reported. “I will see y’all on the streets.”

The Associated Press reported that Mayor Earl Bullard fired Moore in April after she refused to sign seven reprimands he had presented to her.

Latta residents last week approved a proposal that sought to reduce Bullard’s power in response to his decision to terminate Moore. WBTW reported the town council on June 27 also voted 6-0 to expunge the reprimands from Moore’s record that Bullard said prompted him to fire her.

The television station on its website posted a statement attributed to Bullard that reads he would “much rather have” someone “who drank and drank too much taking care of my child than I had somebody whose lifestyle is questionable around children.”

Latta, which has about 1,400 residents, is located in Dillon County near the North Carolina border.

03
Jul
2014

HIV patients in the South face uphill battle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HIV, Carl Green, gay news, Washington Blade

Carl Green (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

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

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

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

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

Vicki Weeks, HIV, gay news, Washington Blade

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

People with HIV struggle to find housing, food

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lack of education, stigma spread virus

Timothy Thompson, HIV, gay news, Washington Blade

Timothy Thompson (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Katrina disrupted HIV care, damaged facilities

Vicki Weeks, HIV, gay news, Washington Blade

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Service providers criticize governors for not expanding Medicaid

 

Alabama State Capitol, HIV, gay news, Washington Blade

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

’I’m doing a 100 percent better’

Antwan Matthews, HIV, gay news, Washington Blade

Antwan Matthews (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

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

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

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

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

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

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

07
Aug
2014

Second N.C. marriage lawsuit filed

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

(Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

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

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

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

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

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

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

16
Apr
2014

Record number of LGBT candidates in 2013 races

Annise Parker, Houston, gay news, Victory Fund, Democratic Party, Washington Blade

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

22
Oct
2013

Same-sex couples seek Va. marriage licenses

marriage equality, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, Virginia, Alyssa Weaver, Mike McVicker, Arlington County, gay news, Washington Blade

From left; D.C. residents Alyssa Weaver and Mike McVicker, who are from South Carolina, apply for a marriage license outside the Arlington County Courthouse on Jan. 17. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

More than a dozen same-sex couples from across the South gathered outside the Arlington County Courthouse on Thursday to apply for marriage licenses.

Gays and lesbians from Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee and North and South Carolina submitted applications to Arlington Circuit Court Clerk Paul Ferguson in the complex’s plaza. A constitutional amendment that Virginia voters approved in 2006 defines marriage as between a man and a woman in the commonwealth, but those who participated in the action described their decision to take part as symbolic.

“We’re here to resist the unjust laws that label us as second class citizens and to call for full equality on the federal level,” Ivy Hill of Piedmont, S.C., told the Washington Blade after she filled out a marriage license in the complex plaza.

She and her partner of more than two years, Misha Gibson, recently became engaged.

“I’m here today to request a marriage license and knowingly being denied, but doing that to make sure that people know that we’re equal,” Gibson said. “I’m doing it to fight for my civil rights.”

Beth Schissel and Sally White of Atlanta joined four other same-sex couples who tried to apply for marriage licenses in Decatur, Ga., earlier this month.

White, who lived in Richmond for 30 years, joked with the Blade after Ferguson declined to issue them a marriage license she traveled to Virginia with her partner as a way to celebrate her birthday on Saturday.

“I’m a pediatric ER doctor,” Schissel said with tears in her eyes. “I take care of your children and take care of the sick and injured and I served my country. I went to the Air Force Academy and I served my country on active duty and yet I can’t have all the rights that are afforded me under that word marriage under federal law. So it’s a slap in the face type of feeling and it hits you deep in your core.”

The Arlington protest was the last in a series of actions organized by the Campaign for Southern Equality to highlight a lack of marriage rights for same-sex couples in the South and to urge the federal government to extend full equality to LGBT Americans.

The “We Do” campaign kicked-off in Hattiesburg, Miss., on Jan. 2 when five gay and lesbian couples applied for marriage licenses. Others followed suit in Mobile, Ala., Morristown, Tenn., Greenville, S.C., and three North Carolina cities before traveling to Virginia.

“We all live here in the South and we’re Southern folks,” Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, executive director of the Campaign for Southern Equality, who is also an ordained minister with the United Church of Christ in Asheville, N.C., told the Blade in an interview earlier this month. “This is where we live and we’re working with LGBT folks in small towns and cities across the region who are ready to stand up for equality — federal equality in new ways.”

She stressed her group’s approach to highlight the lack of marriage rights for same-sex couples below the Mason-Dixon Line reflects a broader strategy.

“We do feel like because this is the region where discriminatory laws are most deeply enshrined in state law, it creates a really powerful and unique opportunity to revisit those laws by using peaceful, direct action,” Beach-Ferrara said. “What we’re doing with the ‘We Do’ campaign is folks are taking action in their local communities to resist these state laws, to show what happens when they’re actually enforced. They’re typically invisible because they’re so rarely enforced, if at all. And so the general public is sort of insulated from the reality that we live with day in and day out as LGBT folks in the South, which is these laws exist, but when they’re actually enacted and enforced there’s an opportunity to talk about what that actually means and how that hurts real people and real families.”

Matt Griffin and Raymie Wolfe of Morristown, Tenn., who have been together for more than seven years, sought a marriage license in their hometown on Jan. 9.

Wolfe told the Blade before he and his partner tried to obtain a Virginia marriage license that they were “met with good humor” when they tried to do the same in Tennessee. He noted the clerk said it was the first time a gay couple had ever applied for a marriage license in the town — she did reaffirm the Tennessee does not recognize nuptials for gays and lesbians.

“What we wanted to do was kind of illustrate for people and ourselves what happens when we do that,” Wolfe said. “That’s kind of unprecedented. That was my hometown. It’s where I grew up and as a gay kid there, I kind never imagined that i would be going to a courthouse with a partner and applying for a marriage license.”

Same-sex couples gathered in Arlington three days after a Virginia House of Delegates subcommittee voted against a proposal that would have repealed the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

Neighboring Maryland is among the nine states and D.C. that allow gays and lesbians to tie the knot. North Carolina voters last May approved a constitutional amendment that defined marriage as between a man and a woman by a 61-39 percent margin, while Minnesota voters on Election Day rejected a similar proposal.

The upcoming oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court in cases challenging the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8 also weighed on the minds of the same-sex couples who applied for marriage licenses and those who witnessed them do so.

“I’m very sympathetic to what the people who came before me today are trying to do and I am happy that there’s other jurisdictions where they can go to have their marriage licenses processed,” Ferguson, who is a former member of the Arlington Board of Supervisors, told the Blade. “There’s a Supreme Court decision coming up and so that will add some clarity to a lot of these peoples’ marriages, which is what they were looking for.”

Tim Young and Mark Maxwell of Winston-Salem, N.C., legally married at the Jefferson Memorial after they and other same-sex couples who had sought Virginia marriage licenses marched from Arlington to the nation’s capital.

“We live our lives in a way where we are not denied anything and we are open to being prosperous and successful,” Young, who has been with Maxwell for 20 years and raised four boys with him, said. “We’ve educated ourselves. We run a business so we pay taxes in that state and we give our money to that state, but we don’t have the same rights as other people and we believe in equity and equality.”

Beach-Ferrara noted her group made a deliberate decision to end their latest campaign in D.C.

“It’s in a lot of ways a small, intimate group, but of folks who traveled on a journey that’s symbolic in a lot of ways in the sense that if you live in the South, you need to travel to Washington, D.C., before you can be recognized as an equal citizen,” she said. “The journey folks have taken sort of helps to illustrate the legal realities that LGBT folks live with, which is you are a second class citizen until you reach the Washington border.”

Marriage equality, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, Virginia, Misha Gibson, Ivy Hill, Arlington County, gay news, Washington Blade

Ivy Hill of Piedmont, S.C., fills out a marriage license outside the Arlington County Courthouse on Jan. 17. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

18
Jan
2013

S.C. lawmaker introduces pro-gay bill

James Smith, gay news, Washington Blade, South Carolina, Richland County, Democratic Party

State Rep. James Smith (D-Richland County) (Photo courtesy of the James Smith Campaign)

COLUMBIA, S.C.—State Rep. James Smith (D-Richland County) on Tuesday introduced a bill that would add sexual orientation and gender identity to South Carolina’s employment anti-discrimination law.

“All hardworking people in our state should have the chance to earn a living and provide for themselves and their families,” Ryan Wilson, executive director of South Carolina Equality, said. “Nobody should have to live in fear that they can be legally fired for reasons that have nothing to do with their job performance.”

“The Workplace Fairness Act is really about protecting South Carolina’s diverse workforce to make it competitive for businesses that are looking to relocate to South Carolina,” added Smith.

01
May
2013

S.C. gay advocates to marry in Md. on Jan. 1

Gay News, Washington Blade, Gay Marriage, Maryland, South Carolina

Ryan Wilson and Shehan Welihindha (Photo courtesy of Ryan Wilson)

The head of South Carolina’s statewide LGBT advocacy group will marry his partner of nearly five years at Baltimore City Hall shortly after midnight on Jan. 1.

“It has been a long-time coming for us as a couple,” Ryan Wilson, executive director of South Carolina Equality, told the Washington Blade on Thursday. “Having the legal recognition for us as a couple is really important to us.”

Wilson, who grew up in Fallston in Harford County, met Shehan Welihindha in Detroit in 2008 during the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s annual Creating Change conference.

Welihindha, who is from Sri Lanka, is studying for a Ph.D. in public health at the University of South Carolina. He is the part-time coordinator for the Harriet Hancock LGBT Center’s program that seeks to prevent HIV among young gay and bisexual men in Columbia, S.C., and the surrounding area.

Wilson proposed to Welihindha in 2009 on-stage during the annual South Carolina Pride as former “American Idol” contestant Frenchie Davis and thousands of others watched.

South Carolina will not recognize the couple’s Maryland marriage because voters in 2006 approved a constitutional amendment that bans nuptials between same-sex couples. The Defense of Marriage Act also prohibits Wilson from sponsoring Welihindha for his green card — he has been able to remain in the United States through a series of work and student visas.

“We feel now’s the time,” Welihindha told the Blade. “We’ve been together for five years and even though it’s not recognized in South Carolina, we feel [as] though getting married in a place that recognizes us as being equal as everyone else and coming back to South Carolina would be inspiring to the community there. It’s still something we feel is going to have a symbolic meaning to us because of that.”

Wilson and Welihindha are among the dozens of same-sex couples who are expected to marry across Maryland on the first day gays and lesbians can legally marry in the state.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake will attend same-sex weddings that will begin at Baltimore City Hall at 12:30 a.m. on Jan. 1. Several gay and lesbian couples are also expected to tie the knot in Cumberland just after midnight on New Year’s Day.

More than a dozen same-sex couples are expected to get married at the gay-owned Black Walnut Point Inn on Tilghman Island in Talbot County on the Eastern Shore on Jan. 1. Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church in Adelphi will host what it describes as a “wedding reception” on Jan. 6 that will celebrate the same-sex marriage law.

As for Wilson and Welihindha, they said they are both excited and nervous as their wedding day approaches.

The couple had considered tying the knot in D.C. after same-sex marriage became legal in the nation’s capital in 2010, but Welihindha noted “Ryan and I got really excited” about the prospect of nuptials for gays and lesbians in Maryland “because that’s Ryan’s home state.”

“For us, immigration equality is kind of an important issue because my partner is from Sri Lanka originally and came over here to study and has not been able to get a green card. And living in South Carolina our relationship isn’t recognized at all,” Wilson added. “So getting a marriage license from a place like Maryland where I grew up is the first step along a path towards really recognizing our relationship. Of course we want to sort of be ready in case the courts rule in favor of marriage equality. We’ve been looking for the place to do it [and] when Maryland finally decided in favor of equality we decided this was the right time and the right place.”

28
Dec
2012