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2013 in photography

2013 was a banner year for the LGBT community. Here are the top Washington Blade photos of the year. (Washington Blade photos by Blake Bergen, Tyler Grigsby, Michael Key, Kevin Majoros, Damien Salas, Lee Whitman and Jon Wooten) buyphoto 

03
Jan
2014

DNC to form Lesbian Leadership Council

Debbie Wasserman Schultz, DNC, Democratic National Committee, Lesbian Leadership Council, gay news, Washington Blade

‘We’re going to make sure we have a vehicle here at the DNC for lesbian leadership,’ said DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz told members of the DNC’s LGBT Caucus at a March 1 meeting in Washington that the DNC is in the process of creating a Lesbian Leadership Council to boost the leadership role of lesbians in the party.

Wasserman Schultz was among a number of high-profile Democratic Party officials that addressed the LGBT Caucus meeting on the final day of the DNC’s annual winter meetings at the Capital Hilton Hotel.

“No offense to gay men in the room, but just like in the straight community, where women sometimes have been left behind and men have vaulted ahead on the leadership track, my message was it’s time for lesbians to step up,” she said in referring to a speech she gave to a lesbian gathering last month.

“And we’re going to make sure we have a vehicle here at the DNC for lesbian leadership…so we can have lesbians catch up and get them the tools they need and make sure they can be a strong part of our leadership team,” she said.

Wasserman Schultz said more details about the Lesbian Leadership Council would be announced later.

The DNC created an LGBT Leadership Council in 2000 as a party entity charged mostly with raising money for Democratic candidates.

She told LGBT Caucus members at the March 1 meeting that she is proud of the role the Democratic Party has played in pushing for advances in LGBT rights during the years of the Obama administration, including advances in marriage equality

“And we have a lot more to do,” she said. “We need to pass a transgender-inclusive ENDA. That’s absolutely critical. We need to make sure that marriage equality” continues to move forward.

Others speaking at the LGBT Caucus meeting were Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake; gay U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), Speaker of the California Assembly John Perez, who’s gay; and New Hampshire Democratic Party Chair Ray Buckley, who’s also gay.

At the request of LGBT Caucus Chair Earl Fowlkes of D.C., the caucus voted unanimously to approve a resolution in support of D.C. statehood.

One issue that wasn’t discussed at the caucus meeting was the status of the position of director of the DNC’s LGBT Outreach Desk. The position became vacant when D.C. gay Democratic activist Jeff Marootian, who held the post since 2011, resigned recently to become White House liaison at the U.S. Department of Transportation.

DNC spokesperson Miryam Lipper said on Monday that she would inquire about the status of the vacant position with DNC officials this week and provide an update on the matter later in the week.

Fowlkes couldn’t immediately be reached to determine whether DNC officials have discussed the matter with him.

“We’re all kind of pushing that we want this now,” said LGBT Caucus member Barbra Casbar Siperstein of New Jersey. “But we want to make sure that we have truly qualified people because they will be filling big shoes. We were very happy with Jeff Marootian,” she said.

Siperstein said with the 2014 midterm congressional elections approaching, having an LGBT outreach desk at the DNC is important, especially following the shutdown just over a year ago of the National Stonewall Democrats, which closed due to financial difficulties.

Buckley told the Blade that he and other LGBT Caucus members were taking steps to re-launch National Stonewall Democrats but it was unclear when that might happen.

04
Mar
2014

Mayor would welcome Arizona’s LGBT residents

Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Baltimore, gay pride, gay news, Maryland, Washington Blade, LGBT residents

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday. In discussing the vetoed legislation in Arizona that would have allowed business owners to discriminate against gays and lesbians on religious grounds, she invited LGBT residents from Arizona to move to Baltimore even though Arizona has better weather.

“On balance, I think the LGBT community would be better off, save the weather, we can’t promise you the weather, but better off in Baltimore. I’m more than happy to deal with the welcome. I think it’s a much friendlier place. It burns me up to know that a community that has given so much, particularly for the Democratic Party, is under siege. It’s 2014.

“We have a great LGBT community in Baltimore.  I’ve been a big supporter to the first LGBT, the same-sex marriage in the state right after New Year’s. And there’s no war going on in Baltimore.”

05
Mar
2014

Mayor celebrates birthday at Hippo

Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Baltimore, gay pride, gay news, Maryland, Washington Blade

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake celebrated her birthday at the Club Hippo on March 19 with a round of “Gay Bingo” whose proceeds support House of Ruth Maryland. Long known for being a shelter for battered women and their children, House of Ruth, founded 37 years ago, has expanded its services to include men as well as members of the LGBT community. More than 100,000 victims have been served during its history.

The mayor won one of the games receiving loud cheers from the 60 who attended. For more information about the House of Ruth, visit hruth.org.

25
Mar
2014

Despite advances, poverty persists for Baltimore’s LGBT residents

Baltimore Black Gay Pride, Carlton Smith, gay news, Washington Blade

Carlton Smith, executive director of Center for Black Equity-Baltimore. (Photo courtesy of Carlton Smith)

Courtney, a 20-year-old transgender woman from Maryland’s Eastern Shore, has been trying to get a job for more than a year but has been unable to do so because of her gender identity and expression.

She said during a recent interview that she has been able to work odd jobs and received some money from her parents. Courtney, who spoke on condition that her last name not be used, is working with Free State Legal Project, a Baltimore-based organization that advocates on behalf of low-income LGBT Marylanders, to legally change her name.

“I don’t have a job,” said Courtney. “I can’t afford to do it myself.”

Courtney is among the estimated 50,000 to 75,000 Marylanders who live in poverty, according to Free State Legal Project Executive Director Aaron Merki. LGBT rights advocates with whom the Blade has spoken indicate the problem is most acute in Baltimore.

The U.S. Census notes 23.4 percent of Baltimoreans lived below the poverty line between 2008-2012, compared to 9.4 percent of Marylanders during the same period.

A Williams Institute analysis of the 2000 Census notes LGBT people of color are more likely to live in poverty than their white counterparts.

The report notes black same-sex couples are “significantly more likely” to be poor than African-American married heterosexuals. The Williams Institute also found these couples are three times as likely to live in poverty than white same-sex couples.

Free State Legal Project handles several hundred cases each year. Merki told the Blade his organization’s case load is growing at least 50 percent annually.

“It’s a large population,” he said.

Merki said the “concept” that African Americans are “more homophobic than white people” is largely a stereotype. He acknowledged there are many black Baltimoreans who are members of homophobic religious congregations.

New Harvest Ministries, Inc., in Baltimore in October 2012 hosted a rally against Maryland’s same-sex marriage law during which a California pastor described gay men as “predators.” Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Congressman Elijah Cummings, Rev. Donté Hickman of Southern Baptist Church in Baltimore, Rev. Delman Coates of Mount Ennon Baptist Church in Prince George’s County and state Del. Mary Washington (D-Baltimore City) are among the prominent people of color who backed the gay nuptials law that voters approved in November 2012.

Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Baltimore, gay pride, gay news, Maryland, Washington Blade

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Polls released before the vote indicated a majority of black Marylanders backed the same-sex marriage law that Gov. Martin O’Malley signed.

“For many people, the church is the foundation of their livelihood and their family,” said Rev. Meredith Moise, who has been an ordained minister in Baltimore for a decade. “If you’re hearing negative messages about homosexual persons or transgender persons, it is more likely to impact negatively how you see transgender people. Even if a black person is not religious, people may use religious texts or dogma to support their homophobia.”

Moise, an alumna of Morgan State University, told the Blade that President Obama’s support of marriage rights for same-sex couples and the Baltimore-based National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s advocacy in support of the issue prompted “sustained conversations” around LGBT people in the black community.

“There was a lot of kitchen table talk, barber shop talk about this,” said Moise, referring to black gay couples, a “tom boy” who lost her job when she came out or a gender non-conforming man whose neighbors only see him late at night on the stretch of East Baltimore Avenue known as the Block where prostitution is common. “This literally changed the face of how we see gay and trans people.”

Criminal justice system exacerbates poverty

Other advocates with whom the Blade spoke attributed LGBT poverty in Baltimore to the city’s criminal justice system.

A study that Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health graduate students conducted in early 2005 found 33 percent of the 148 female inmates at the Baltimore City Women’s Detention Center surveyed identified as lesbian or bisexual; 70 percent of the respondents identified as black, compared to only 16 percent who said they are white.

Five percent of those who took part in the Johns Hopkins survey said they are living with HIV; 7.4 percent of inmates at the Baltimore City Women’s Detention Center had the virus in 2004.

A fifth of respondents who participated in the Johns Hopkins survey said they make less than $400 a month. More than a third of respondents said they had engaged in sex work for money, drugs or a place to stay within a month of their arrest.

The study also noted bisexual women were four times less likely to have a place to live upon their release from jail than heterosexual inmates.

Jacqui Robarge in 2001 founded Power Inside, an organization that serves more than 300 women each year who are either in jail or have had experiences with the criminal justice system.

She told the Blade that a third of her clients are lesbian, bisexual or trans. Robarge referenced an American Civil Liberties Union report that said black Baltimoreans were 5.6 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession.

She noted some of the young lesbians with whom her organization works have been homeless for up to a decade because their families threw them out of their homes because of their sexual orientation. Robarge said they enter the criminal justice system because they engage in prostitution, shoplift, sell drugs and other “survival strategies.”

“In our experience, African-American women who are masculine expressing or transgender are disproportionately and specifically targeted by law enforcement for harassment, searches, arrests and incarcerations,” she told the Blade. “Once released from jail, these women are routinely denied access to basic supports, driving them deeper into the street economy and often back to jail.”

“Violence, whether interpersonal or institutional, is often ignored if the survivor is black — and particularly if she is a lesbian or transgender,” added Robarge.

Carlton Smith, executive director of the Center for Black Equity-Baltimore who founded Baltimore Black Gay Pride in 2002, noted young and older LGBT Baltimoreans remain particularly vulnerable to poverty.

“When parents and guardians find out a young person is coming out, they tend to be thrown out and are not usually able to stay with relatives,” he said.

Smith said a low-income LGBT person may face discrimination in a city-run senior housing development in which he or she lives.

“If you’re LGBTQ, they’ll put you right back into the closet,” he said. “It makes people introvert and puts them back in the closet because they don’t feel safe.”

Baltimore City is among the five Maryland municipalities that have added gender identity and expression to their anti-discrimination laws.

The Maryland House of Delegates last month approved a measure that would ban anti-transgender discrimination throughout the state. The Free State Legal Project and the Center for Black Equity-Baltimore are among the members of the Maryland Coalition for Trans Equality that worked with Equality Maryland and other advocacy groups to increase support for Senate Bill 212 that state Sen. Rich Madaleno (D-Montgomery County) introduced in January.

Robarge told the Blade there are “more subtle” forms of discrimination that take place against the backdrop of laws and other measures that officially prohibit it. These include dress codes and criminal background checks.

“It protects you against outright discrimination, but most isms aren’t outright,” she said.

5 percent of Baltimoreans with HIV homeless

A survey of the metropolitan area that includes Baltimore City and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford, Howard and Queen Anne’s Counties the Greater Baltimore HIV Health Services Planning Council conducted last year found 85 percent of the 374 people with HIV/AIDS who responded identified themselves as “non-Hispanic black.” Nearly 60 percent of those who took part said their annual income that was less than the federal poverty line.

Slightly more than 5 percent of respondents said they were homeless.

The study also noted the Baltimore metropolitan area in 2010 had the third highest rate of HIV among U.S. cities, with only Miami and New York having higher infection statistics. Maryland in the same year had the fourth highest HIV rate among states and territories that include D.C.

“There are men, many other persons who are HIV-positive like myself and LGBTQ who are struggling to get housing for themselves and their families,” said Smith. “Even though we have marriage equality, the laws are slowly coming through. If you’re not aware of what the policy is as an LGBTQ person, you don’t know.”

Mayor: Poverty in Baltimore ‘breaks my heart’

Rawlings-Blake told the Blade “it breaks my heart, in general, to know about the many challenges that our impoverished residents face.”

“It is even more complex when it involves a member of the LGBT community, as they often times face extra challenges,” she said.

Rawlings-Blake said her administration is “focused on improving the quality of life for all residents and ending homelessness in Baltimore altogether.” She noted she supported a bill the Maryland Senate approved earlier this month that would raise the state’s minimum wage to $10.10 by 2018.

Rawlings-Blake pointed out to the Blade she hired a new director and recruited a new board for Baltimore’s 10-year plan to end homelessness. She noted her administration also partners with city agencies and non-profits to expand access to health care, employment and housing for low-income Baltimoreans.

“Although a lot has been accomplished, the LGBT community still has many barriers to overcome,” said Rawlings-Blake, acknowledging racial disparities often exacerbate the problem. “I remain a committed, vocal supporter of the LGBT community and it is my desire that everyone has a roof over his or her head and is able to provide for his or her family.”

Free State Legal Project’s Transgender Action Group, which conducts outreach and other services to Baltimore’s trans sex workers, is among the ways it continues to work on poverty reduction in the city. The organization’s Youth Equality Alliance is a coalition of city and state agencies and non-profits that work with school personnel and foster parents to ensure they are providing a supportive environment in which LGBT children can learn and live.

“LGBT poverty is rooted in stigma and discrimination a lot of the time,” said Merki. “LGBT poverty also starts with youth.”

24
Apr
2014

HRC to honor Baltimore

Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Baltimore, Human Rights Campaign, gay news, Washington Blade

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake will accept the ‘Top Municipality for LGBT Equality Award’ on behalf of Baltimore. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The Human Rights Campaign will honor Baltimore for its perfect 100-point score on the 2013 Municipal Equality Index (MEI) at a special reception. The event will take place on May 15 from 6-8 p.m. at Birroteca, 1520 Clipper Rd. in Baltimore.

The 2013 Municipal Equality Index is the second edition of the only nationwide rating system of LGBT inclusion in municipal law. Since the first issue of the report came out in 2012, Baltimore has increased its score by more than 12 points. Twenty-five cities in 2013 earned a perfect 100-point score with Baltimore among them, compared to only 11 in 2012.

In recognition of this achievement, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake will accept the “Top Municipality for LGBT Equality Award” on behalf of the city of Baltimore and make remarks on the city’s inclusivity. Visit hrc.org to register.

06
May
2014

A different vibe at new Pride venue

Baltimore Pride, gay news, Washington Blade

Baltimore Pride benefitted from flawless weather all weekend. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A gorgeous, sun-splashed June 14-15 weekend and a new location and format for this year’s Baltimore Pride highlighted the annual event, which has been operated by the Gay & Lesbian Community Center of Baltimore for more than three decades.

Saturday’s parade changed its route by a few blocks and began three hours earlier than in the past. Sixty units marched — down slightly from last year — and included candidates in the gubernatorial race, the mayor of Baltimore, a wide range of organizations and corporations, a bevy of drag title holders and a gay activist from the Ukraine—Bogdan Globa—marching with PFLAG. D.C.’s Different Drummers added the beats to go along with cheers from the crowd.

“This is a great day to celebrate who we are, where we have been and how we got here,” Heather Mizeur, a Democratic candidate for governor and lesbian, told the Blade.  “We’re trying to make a difference, not trying to make history, yet I expect to become the first ever woman governor in the state.”

The lieutenant governor candidate running with her opponent Anthony Brown, Ken Ulman, also marched in the parade with one of his daughters alongside Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. No one representing the Doug Gansler campaign was present over the weekend. The Democratic primary takes place on June 24.

The festival that immediately followed the parade shifted to the Mount Royal and Midtown-Belvedere areas. The move this year from the block party confines of W. Eager and N. Charles Streets, which had previously been the site for more than a decade to the more spread out area where the annual ArtScape festival takes place was decided because the crowds have become too large for the previous locale, according to the GLCCB. Last year, there was pressure placed on the GLCCB from the Mount Vernon-Belvedere Association and local business owners and residents to curtail the sanitation problems, underage drinking and other related issues emanating from the overcrowded block party.

In effect, the block party component of the two-day event had been eliminated in favor of a two-day festival. Though there had been a good deal of apprehension from members of the LGBT community concerning the move, organizers estimated about 15,000 attended the parade and festival on Saturday. A smaller and more laid-back crowd assembled on Sunday.

Lorena DeLeon and her partner Amy Eisenberg from Baltimore likened the event to Los Angeles Pride. “The location of the beer garden is fabulous, right next to the dance area,” says DeLeon.

This year, drinking was supposed to be confined to two fenced-in beer gardens.

Darryl Lewis of Catonsville complained that “the beer garden does not have enough trash baskets and the portable toilets are not near the beer garden.” He said he learned that was the vendor’s logistical decision.

Though the theme for this year’s Pride was “We are Family,” the family feel wasn’t as evident on Sunday compared to previous years when the event took place at Druid Hill Park.  There was a significant drop-off in couples with children this time.

Kelly Neel, executive director of the GLCCB said she received much positive feedback.  “Everything is going fabulously. People are having a blast on the stage, and they like the parade route.”

Baltimore Pride, gay news, Washington Blade

2014 Baltimore Pride (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

16
Jun
2014

Mayor observes Trans Day of Remembrance

Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Baltimore, gay pride, gay news, Maryland, Washington Blade, Remembrance

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

On Nov. 20, the international observation of Transgender Day of Remembrance, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake issued the following statement:

“Transgender Day of Remembrance is extremely important to my administration, as it gives us an opportunity to raise public awareness about this special group of people, bring attention to crimes against them, and honor the memories of those whose lives ended due to issues relating to their sexual identity or expression. Transgender people in Baltimore and throughout the region are sons, daughters, parents, and friends who deserve our love, kindness, and respect. Transgender Day of Remembrance gives us an opportunity to think about and honor the victims of violence rooted in hate.”

Several events commemorating this day occurred on Nov. 20 and 23 in Baltimore.

25
Nov
2013

Baltimore mayor to marry couples at Pride

Baltimore, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, gay news, Washington Blade

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake at the Baltimore Pride Parade in 2011. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake will serve as grand marshal of next month’s Pride parade and will officiate at a mass wedding of gay and lesbian couples at the Pride festival the following day, organizers announced this week.

“Mayor Rawlings-Blake’s commitment to the LGBT community has been undoubtedly one of the best records in Maryland and for the City of Baltimore, from her early position in supporting marriage equality in Maryland to her commitment to combating gender identity anti-discrimination and violence in the city,” said Matt Thorn, interim executive director of the Gay & Lesbian Community Center of Baltimore, which organizes Pride.

The mayor, a regular attendee of Baltimore Pride, also officiated the first gay and lesbian weddings in Maryland on Jan. 1, 2013. The Baltimore Pride parade and block party will be held June 15 and the festival and weddings will follow on June 16.

This year, the Pride Committee is also showcasing the work of local activists and advocates. Beginning this year, Baltimore Pride will select two ‘Activists of the Year’ to ride in the Pride Parade. The 2013 Activists of the Year are Shawnna Alexander and Jamal Hailey. Alexander is celebrating 31 years of entertaining. Hailey is an advocate for marginalized groups, especially youth and LGBTQ communities of color.

22
May
2013

Law of the land

Maryland, gay marriage, marriage equality, same-sex marriage, gay news, Washington Blade

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake will join several LGBT clergy at WeDo Baltimore Sunday for a mass wedding celebrating gay marriage. (Photo courtesy of Baltimore mayor’s office)

The idea of getting married at a public festival like Baltimore Pride may seem daunting and lacking in intimacy for a lot of couples, but for Carrietta Heirs, it’s an important option to provide the LGBT community after years of struggling for marriage equality in Maryland.

“It’s the way we’re validating what we’ve always known — that we have this right,” Heirs says of WeDo Baltimore, a mass LGBT wedding ceremony new to Baltimore Pride that she has organized. “We’ve finally earned this right, so the public should know.”

WeDo Baltimore will host about a dozen LGBT couples during the Baltimore Pride Festival on Sunday in lakeside Druid Hill Park (2600 Madison Ave., Baltimore) to celebrate the passage of marriage rights for same-sex couples in Maryland. Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake will lead the event and address the crowd. Rev. Meredith Moise, Father E. Skip Koritzer, Elder Harris Thomas and Rev. Dorothy Harris are among the local faith leaders who will officiate.

Heirs says WeDo Baltimore will be an integral part of Baltimore Pride in the coming years and is not just a one-time event.

“I think for the next couple years it very well may be. This is the month to celebrate,” Heirs says. “I think that this is historical. Today it’s gonna be a hell of a big deal, but in five years from now, I’d like it to be ‘Oh, it’s another wedding.’”

In addition to managing the event, Heirs will marry her partner of nearly 13 years, Tonya Cooke.

“We had a commitment ceremony in 2010. We said that when it became legal we would do it. We didn’t realize it would happen so soon. It really means a lot,” Heirs says. “I’m also so excited for the other couples who are finally able to get married.”

The ceremony will include couples that cannot get married in their own states, some traveling from as far away as Atlanta to share their vows. Heirs is especially touched that a couple that has been together for 50 years will tie the knot at WeDo.

“It was very powerful to find that couple who’s going to be celebrating over 50 years. It gives you chills to think about it. It’s amazing,” Heirs says. “It is so significant for people who have been together over 50 years to be able to stand up and say, ‘Love is love,’ no matter what.”

Baltimore Black Pride Inc., Strapped Up Baltimore, the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Baltimore, Unity Fellowship Church of Baltimore, SEIU Eastern Regions National Lavender Caucus, Alpha Eta Omega Sorority and the Alpha Alpha DMV Chapter of Beta Phi Omega Sorority are sponsoring the event.

The Baltimore Pride Festival, which includes WeDo Baltimore, will be held from noon-5 p.m. This year’s performers are duo J Pope and Funk Friday, Septimius and Unity. In addition to WeDo, there will also be a “Family Zone” with activities for children to enjoy. For more information on WeDo Baltimore and Baltimore Pride, visit baltimorepride.org.

13
Jun
2013