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Mizeur finding momentum in Maryland

Heather Mizeur, Delman Coates, Montgomery County, Silver Spring, Maryland, Maryland House of Delegates, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade, momentum

Del. Heather Mizeurwith running mate Delman Coates. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

There’s something very exciting taking hold in my home state of Maryland. State Del. Heather Mizeur (D-Montgomery) has tapped into the same progressive energy that propelled Bill de Blasio to the mayor’s office in New York City and Elizabeth Warren and Tammy Baldwin to the U.S. Senate.

Six months ago, Heather invited me to join her on probably the hottest August afternoon of the summer. She was speaking at a house party in Baltimore City. With the oppressive heat, I was expecting to meet a dozen or so interested voters. When we arrived we were greeted by over a hundred progressive activists eager to hear Heather’s vision for our state.

For nearly two hours Heather tackled tough issues – from marijuana decriminalization, to fighting for a fracking moratorium, slashing middle class taxes and campaigning against an unnecessary juvenile detention center in Baltimore City.

Heather has the momentum and her vision is resonating with voters. In a recent survey polling likely Baltimore City voters, Heather and her running mate, Pastor Delman Coates, scored a huge upset coming in second and only three percentage points behind frontrunner Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and his running mate, County Executive Ken Ulman (32 to 29 percent).

Maryland, despite being a progressive powerhouse, has never elected a female chief executive and no state in the nation has ever elected an openly LGBT governor. With the opportunity to shatter both of those barriers, national organizations are quickly coming to the aid of the Mizeur/Coates campaign.

In the last month alone, Heather earned the support of EMILY’s List, the National Organization for Women, Feminist Majority and was recently announced as one of the top “Women to Watch in 2014” by MSNBC.

Five months is an eternity in electoral politics and if Heather continues to tap into the same progressive energy that propelled de Blasio, Warren, Baldwin and others, we are going to witness a tremendous victory for our community in June.

Kevin Walling is a candidate for Maryland House of Delegates from Montgomery County.


Victory Fund endorses Catania for mayor

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

David Catania won the Victory Fund’s endorsement even though he hasn’t yet announced his candidacy for mayor. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, an influential national group that raises money for LGBT candidates for public office, created a stir among local activists this week when it announced it has endorsed D.C. Council member David Catania (I-At-Large) for mayor.

With many LGBT activists supporting Mayor Vincent Gray’s re-election bid and others in the LGBT community supporting one of the four other City Council members running for mayor, some are asking why the Victory Fund would endorse Catania before he has formally announced he’s running for mayor.

Catania has formed an exploratory committee for a mayoral race and has said he most likely would run if Gray wins the Democratic primary on April 1.

Victory Fund Press Secretary Steven Thai said that while the group doesn’t endorse unannounced potential candidates very often, it has taken this step before. He noted that the Victory Fund endorsed former U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) for the U.S. Senate in 2012 before she officially announced she was running for the Senate.

Baldwin went on to declare her candidacy for the Senate and won that race, making history by becoming the first out lesbian or gay person to become a U.S. senator.

“David Catania brings an incredible amount of passion and commitment to his job,” the Victory Fund’s chief operating officer, Torey Carter, said in a statement released by the group on Tuesday.

“He helped guide Washington through a period of unprecedented growth and revitalization,” Carter said. “He is ideally positioned to lead a city with such a diverse and dynamic people.”

The Victory Fund also announced on Tuesday its endorsement of gay Virginia State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) in his race for the 8th District U.S. House seat being vacated by retiring Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.).

Ebbin is running in a hotly contested Democratic primary scheduled for June 10 in which two other openly gay candidates are running in an 11-candidate race.

“Adam Ebbin has distinguished himself as an outspoken voice of progressive values,” Carter said in a separate statement on Tuesday. “After ten years in the state legislature, he has remained committed to his goal of increasing equality and opportunity for those who are often left behind.”

Virginia State Del. Mark Sickles (D-Fairfax), who came out publicly last week in a column in the Washington Post, emerged as an unexpected ‘out’ candidate in the 8th District congressional race. Also running is gay rights attorney and radio talk show host Mark Levine, who worked as a legal counsel for gay former U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.). Levine says he’s been out as gay since the 1980s.

As of this week, the Victory Fund has endorsed 71 out LGBT candidates in national, state and local races and expects to endorse more than 200 out candidates across the country in the 2014 election cycle, the group says on its website.

Among those endorsed so far are at least nine gay or lesbian candidates running in D.C., Maryland and Virginia, including Catania and Ebbin.

But missing from its endorsement list so far are lesbian Maryland Del. Heather Mizeur (D-Montgomery Country), who’s running for governor, and gay D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who is running for re-election to a fifth term.

Spokesperson Thai reiterated the Victory Fund’s longstanding policy of not disclosing why the group has not endorsed a candidate. However, he said many more candidates are in the endorsement pipeline and the group could very well endorse candidates not on the list in the next few weeks and coming months.

He said the group’s criteria for endorsing any candidate, as posted on the website, include a demonstration that the candidate is viable and can show a path to victory; a record of support on LGBT rights; and the completion of a detailed application seeking an endorsement. Thai said an endorsement for a prior election doesn’t carry over to the next election and all incumbents must re-apply each time they run.

Graham couldn’t immediately be reached to determine if he applied for an endorsement in his Council race.

The Mizeur for governor campaign didn’t say specifically whether the campaign formally applied for a Victory Fund endorsement.

“We are in close communication with the Victory Fund and we would welcome their support,” campaign spokesperson Steven Hershkowitz told the Blade.

Meanwhile, in a little-noticed development, Del. Peter Murphy (D-Charles County), one of eight openly gay members of the Maryland General Assembly, announced last month that he is not running for re-election to that position. Instead, Murphy said he decided to run for president of the Charles County Board of Commissioners, a position equivalent to a county executive.

“Whether you’re a state legislator or a county commissioner president, it’s all about the quality of life for all people,” Murphy said in a Feb. 3 statement. “I’ve always been accessible and responsive as a delegate, and I look forward to the opportunity of continuing to serve all our residents with the same enthusiasm and dedication.”

As a candidate for governor, Mizeur is giving up her seat in the House of Delegates. Records with the state board of elections show that she did not file for re-election to her delegate post prior to the filing deadline of Feb. 25. The election board lists Mizeur as an “active” candidate for governor in the June 24 Maryland primary.

The departure of Mizeur and Murphy from the House of Delegates would lower the number of out gay or lesbian members of the Maryland General Assembly from eight – the highest in the nation for a state legislature – to six if all six remaining lawmakers are re-elected this year.

The others running for re-election are State Sen. Richard Madelano (D-Montgomery County) and Delegates Maggie McIntosh (D-Baltimore City), Luke Clippinger (D-Baltimore City), Mary Washington (D-Baltimore City), Anne Kaiser (D-Montgomery County) and Bonnie Cullison (D-Montgomery County).

All except Kaiser have been endorsed by the Victory Fund.

Other out gay or lesbian candidates in Maryland that have received the Victory Fund’s endorsement this year are Evan Glass, Montgomery County Council; Byron Macfarlane, Howard County Register of Wills; and Kevin Walling, Maryland House of Delegates, Montgomery County.

Walling is running in a different district than that of Mizeur and Kaiser’s districts in Montgomery County.


Mayor attends ‘Gray Pride’ rally in campaign’s final days

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

Mayor Vincent Gray, shown here marching in D.C.’s LGBT Pride Parade, joined about 50 LGBT activists last week for a fundraiser and rally sponsored by Gray Pride. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray (D) joined about 50 LGBT activists last Thursday night for a fundraiser and rally sponsored by Gray Pride, an LGBT group established in the past month to support his re-election campaign.

The event was held at the Northwest Washington home of longtime gay rights and AIDS activist A. Cornelius Baker. It took place three days after Lane Hudson, co-chair of Gray Pride, released the names of its 24 members, many of whom have been longtime activists in the LGBT rights movement.

“Comprised of a diverse group or people from all walks of life and all parts of the city, the Gray Pride Committee will work to highlight Mayor Gray’s solid record of accomplishment on LGBT issues in order to win LGBT support for his re-election,” according to a statement released by the group on March 24.

The group has had a presence on Facebook and Twitter before the official announcement of its members last week.

In addition to Hudson, Gray Pride co-chairs include Courtney Snowden, a principal at the Raben Group public affairs firm and former Capitol Hill staffer for then Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.); Jose Ramirez, HIV youth educator and board member of the Youth Pride Alliance; Alexis Blackmon, staff member of the Mayor’s Office of Community Affairs and graduate of Project Empowerment, a city job training program with an outreach to the transgender community; and Peter Rosenstein, executive director of a national non-profit organization, Blade columnist and gay Democratic activist.

Members of the Gray Pride Committee include transgender activists Alexandra Beninda, Earline Budd, Jeri Hughes, Bobbi Elaine Strang, Ruby Corado, and Julius Agers; and gay or lesbian activists Brian Goldthorpe, Consuella Lopez, A. Cornelius Baker, Edgardo Guerrero, Ian Hedges, Jose Gutierrez, Justin Hill, Matt Ashburn, Miguel Ayala, Patricia Hawkins, Paul Kuntzler, Paul Morengo and Ted Eytan, M.D.


House race divides LGBT advocates

Richard Tisei, Republican, Massachusetts, gay news, Washington Blade

Richard Tisei said he would serve as a strong advocate for LGBT rights within the ranks of House Republicans if elected. (Photo courtesy of Tisei).

The controversial decision earlier this year by the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund to endorse gay Republican Richard Tisei over pro-LGBT Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.) has prompted five openly gay or bisexual U.S. House members, all Democrats, to sign on as supporters of a fundraiser for Tierney.

The fundraiser, scheduled for June 25 in Washington, is being backed by at least two-dozen prominent LGBT Democrats and straight allies, including the entire Massachusetts congressional delegation, former Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese, and transgender advocate and Maryland State Senate candidate Dr. Dana Beyer.

Gay former Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) is among those signing on as an honorary co-chair of the fundraising event, which is being organized by two of Frank’s former staff members.

The former staffers, Joseph Racalto and Maria Giesta, principals in the Washington political consulting firm Giesta Racalto, said they initiated the event to “blunt” the Victory Fund’s endorsement of Tisei.

Tisei is a former Massachusetts State senator. He has a strong record of support for LGBT rights, including marriage equality. He backed a transgender rights bill that came up before the legislature.

Racalto and other LGBT Democrats supporting Tierney said they have no objection to an LGBT supportive gay Republican running for Congress.

But they said the Victory Fund should not have endorsed such a candidate in a race against a longtime straight ally such as Tierney, who has received a perfect 100 percent rating on LGBT issues from HRC.

“Although I applaud Tisei – and all LGBT political candidates who run for public office — this endorsement is not justified and sets a dangerous precedent,” Racalto said in a Blade commentary.

In a phone interview on Tuesday, Tisei told the Blade he would be a champion for LGBT issues if elected to the House and would serve as a strong advocate for LGBT rights within the ranks of House Republicans.

He said he would not hesitate to defy House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) by signing a discharge petition to force Boehner and other House GOP leaders to bring the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA, to the House floor for a vote.

ENDA, which calls for banning employment discrimination against LGBT people, has been stalled in the Republican-controlled House. The Democratic-controlled Senate passed the legislation last year.

Racalto said that while Tisei has personally been supportive on LGBT issues, his commitment to push for those issues came into question last month when he formed a joint fundraising committee with conservative Republican Frank Guinta, who’s running for a House seat in New Hampshire.

Guinta opposes same-sex marriage and abortion rights and had considered aligning himself with the ultra conservative Tea Party.

Tisei said the joint fundraising arrangement will enable the two candidates to share expenses and won’t in any way compromise his positions in support of LGBT rights.

“During the past 10 years I have seen a lot of people’s positions change and evolve, including the president’s, by the way,” Tisei said.

He added that he sees his role as an advocate for change within the Republican Party and the Republican caucus of the House.

“A lot of people are re-examining their positions on marriage equality and other LGBT issues,” he said. “And I’m going to work with as many different types of people on as many types of issues as I can…And I can serve, especially within the Republican caucus, as someone who helps bring people over to the right side of the issue.”

Gregory Angelo, president of the Log Cabin Republicans, said the group endorsed Tisei last week. Angelo said he isn’t troubled over Tisei’s joint fundraising effort with Guinta.

“The more interesting aspect of this story to me is that ‘Tea Party’ types who contribute to this fund will be donating money to a gay Republican running for the House of Representatives,” Angelo said. “That’s the real story here.”

Victory Fund press secretary Steven Thai said his group saw Tisei as a change agent for the Republican Party along with Tisei’s longstanding record in support of LGBT rights when it endorsed him.

“I think it is sometimes shortsighted for folks to focus on the kind of short-term gains that can be made right now instead of the long-term goal that this world would be very different if we had more Republicans that supported us on our issues,” Thai said. “And the only way we’re ever going to get to that point is by electing openly gay Republicans that care about our issues.”

D.C. gay Democratic activist Peter Rosenstein, who signed on as a member of the host committee for the Tierney fundraiser, said he agrees with the Victory Fund’s mission of helping to elect LGBT-supportive candidates but not at the expense of long-time LGBT-supportive incumbents like Tierney.

“I don’t see this as a conflict with my support for the Victory Fund,” he said in referring to his role in the Tierney fundraiser. “I support the Victory Fund but not all of their candidates.”

Political observers in Massachusetts say Tisei has a shot at unseating Tierney in part because he’s perceived by many voters as a moderate Republican with a progressive record as a state legislator for more than 10 years.

Tisei came within just one percentage point of beating Tierney in the 2012 election at a time when Tierney’s wife and two brothers-in-law became embroiled in an illegal gambling scheme that landed his wife and one brother-in-law in jail.

Tierney himself was cleared of any wrong-doing in the scandal, in which his wife, Patrice Tierney, pleaded guilty in 2010 to filing false tax returns in connection with a checking account belonging to one of her brothers. As much as $7 million in illegal gambling funds passed through the account, according to law enforcement officials.

Politico reported that Tierney blames his brothers-in-law for duping his wife into believing the funds were part of a legal sports gambling business based in the Caribbean island of Antigua, which the brothers claimed to have been operating.

Republican Party operatives both in Massachusetts and outside the state have been raising the gambling scandal in attack ads targeting Tierney.

As if that were not enough, Tierney is being challenged by two Democrats in the state’s Democratic primary in September. One of the candidates, former U.S. Marine and Iraq war veteran Seth Moulton, raised more money than Tierney in the most recent campaign reporting period, raising concern among Tierney supporters. On his campaign website, Moulton has expressed support for LGBT rights, including marriage equality.

The gay House members signing on as honorary co-chairs for the Tierney fundraiser are Reps. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Mark Pocan (D-Wisc.), and Mark Takano (D-Calif.). Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), the first openly bisexual member of Congress, also signed on as an honorary co-chair.

The name of Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), the first openly gay person to win election to the U.S. Senate, is conspicuously absent from the list of honorary co-chairs for the Tierney fundraiser. Racalto said organizers invited Baldwin to participate but have not heard back from her office.

A Baldwin spokesperson didn’t respond to a request from the Blade for a comment on why Baldwin hasn’t signed on to the fundraiser. The Victory Fund endorsed Baldwin in her hotly contested Senate race in 2012 and helped raise money for her successful campaign.

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) has signed on as an honorary co-chair for the Tierney fundraiser along with Tierney’s eight House colleagues from Massachusetts, all of whom are Democrats. The state’s other senator, Elizabeth Warren (D), has so far not signed on as an honorary co-chair.

Other supporters of the event, in addition to Solmonese, Rosenstein, and Beyer, include former Barney Frank staffers Peter Kovar and Diego Sanchez; Brad Luna; John Weinfurter; Tucker Gallagher; Lane Hudson; and Paul Hazen.

Racalto said he didn’t extend an invitation to participate in the event to Rep. Michael Michaud (D-Maine), who came out as gay last year and who has been endorsed by the Victory Fund in his race for governor of Maine.

“We didn’t invite him simply because of his run for governor,” Racalto said. “The Victory Fund played no part in that decision.”

Barney Frank, Massachusetts, World Bank, human rights, Democratic Party, United States House of Representatives, gay news, Washington Blade

Former Rep. Barney Frank and several of his former staffers are involved in a June fundraiser for Rep. John Tierney. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)


Harvey Milk honored at White House as stamp unveiled

Harvey Milk, Stuart Milk, USPS, United States Postal Service, Nancy Pelosi, John Lewis, Tammy Baldwin, Ronald Stroman, Samantha Power, gay news, Washington Blade

The Harvey Milk stamp was unveiled in a ceremony on Thursday. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The cost of the new stamp commemorating Harvey Milk is 49 cents, but for those who attended a White House event Thursday unveiling the prize for philatelists and LGBT rights supporters alike, the legacy of the gay rights pioneer is priceless.

That was the sentiment expressed by the nine speakers at a two-hour White House event celebrating Milk, who won election as a San Francisco Supervisor in 1977, becoming one of the first openly gay people in the country to hold public office.

Stuart Milk, a gay nephew of Harvey Milk and president of the Harvey Milk Foundation, said his uncle never sought  to achieve an honor such as being on a stamp, but knew the importance his shattering of a glass ceiling in 1977 would have for gay people 36 years later.

“He did see this day because he dreamed it,” Milk said. “It’s what gave him the strength to go into work with death threats, and to remain loud and remain with that call that we have to come out.”

Anne Kronenberg, co-founder of the Harvey Milk Foundation, worked on Harvey Milk’s campaign for supervisor and said she’s excited that his image would appear on people’s mail throughout the country.

“I find it a little bit ironic in a wonderful way that during his campaign, we didn’t have enough money for postage,” Kronenberg said. “One beautiful brochure that we put together, we couldn’t get it out. We relied on our volunteers to get it out to our constituents.”

The U.S. Postal Service made the decision to mint the Harvey Milk Forever stamp as a result of a national campaign led by the San Diego City Commissioner — despite reported opposition from social conservative groups and some members of the Citizens Stamp Approval Committee.

The event took place on May 22, 2014, which would have been Harvey Milk’s 84th birthday; he was assassinated in 1978 by Dan White, who was acquitted of murder and instead convicted on voluntary manslaughter charges.

Although Harvey Milk predicted his own death, Stuart Milk said his uncle hoped that event — and the later acquittal of White — would pave the way for the judicial system to grant equality for LGBT people. Such a vision would be consistent with recent court rulings striking down same-sex marriage bans in Oregon and Pennsylvania.

“It was a wake-up call, and, I think, today we can say we heard it,” Staurt Milk said. “It was truly Uncle Harvey’s dream that we could see a different paradigm resulting from both his assassination and that equally mean-spirited verdict. He hoped our justice system could be moved to not only uphold the rights of LGBT people, but to live free from violence and scorn, and maybe our justice system could even uphold the equality principles for our Constitution.”

The highest ranking member of the Obama administration at the event was U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, who drew a connection between Obama and the legacy associated with Milk.

“I get to work for a president who is identified with two words: hope and change,” Power said. “But it is hard to think of words that more succinctly describe Harvey Milk the leader, the activist, the fighter, the elected official. Hope and change is about a deeply held and proud American tradition: a tradition of toil to ensure the triumph of progress; a tradition of love winning out over fear. Hope and change.”

Gautam Raghavan, the White House public engagement adviser and LGBT liaison, acted as unofficial emcee for the event. He said Milk would have welcomed the honor bestowed on him given his belief in being out.

“I wish he could have grown old and seen the legacy of the hope that he breathed into so many of our lives,” Raghavan said. “And I think he would have liked being a stamp because he knew the best way to change hearts and minds was for people to get to know us.”

Power also alluded to the administration’s support for passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act when talking about recent gains for the LGBT community, including the drafting of Michael Sam by the St. Louis Rams.

“While we now do live in an age where the National Football League has, for the first time, drafted an openly gay man, we still live in an age where the National Football League can fire him for being gay,” Power said. “Postage stamps will not change that. Legislation will.”

Other speakers at the event included Evan Low, a gay city council member from Campbell, Calif.; Ronald Stroman, deputy postmaster general; and Torey Carter, chief operating officer for the Gay & Lesbian Victory Institute.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) repeated her often-told narrative of the legislative process for repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” giving Obama credit for making it happen, but also remembered the death of Milk in 1978 before she was elected to Congress.

“I was thinking that day, ‘Is this how it ends? It this how it ends?’” Pelosi said. “But it really was the beginning, a sad sacrifice to pay, but it was the beginning of so much. And you all know what it is. I don’t need to elaborate.”

Pelosi said that Milk continues to be honored 36 years after his death because he believed in the “fundamental American value of equality” and “cared about the rights of everyone.”

Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a black civil rights leader in the 1960s and one of the lawmakers who voted against the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, said Milk’s fight and the fight for racial equality are one and the same.

“The activism for Harvey Milk came of age during the last social revolution in American history,” Lewis said. “It was a revolution of values and ideas that started in 1955 in the American South and gave rise to other movements in America. Good trouble, necessary trouble, that’s what Harvey Milk got involved in.”

Lesbian Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) attributed her success at being elected to the House in the 1990s and becoming the first openly gay person elected to the Senate to the election of Harvey Milk.

“It’s incredible to look at a time when running for San Francisco supervisor as an openly gay man seemed like a revolutionary act,” Baldwin said. “Harvey knew that. He welcomed the attention. He weathered the insults. He shoved off the death threats. And it wasn’t to satisfy his own ambition, but rather to answer the call he felt to move the cause of equality forward.”

Saying more work needs to be done on civil rights, Baldwin also recalled the controversy over the Sam kiss upon his entry into the NFL, saying we heard the “peanut gallery” of conservatives complain about how they’re supposed to explain that to their nine-year-olds.

“We live in country where most nine-year-olds could probably explain that kiss to their parents without batting an eye,” Baldwin said. “They understand what love is. They understand what fairness is. America is ready to take more steps forward, but it’s going to take more acts of courage and conviction, like the ones that made Harvey Milk a hero.”

A significant portion of the event was dedicated to international LGBT rights as an emerging issue.

Power noted that progress has been made on the international stage, such as by passage of a U.N. resolution in support of LGBT rights, but other countries have fallen backward.

“Hope is about envisioning a world where leaders do not target their most vulnerable citizens with laws that criminalize their existence, as is true, now, in 76 countries around the world, including Nigeria and Uganda, where new legislation, further targeting LGBT individuals, was signed into law earlier this year,” Power said. “Change is about standing up to them when they do. And under President Obama we have.”

Stuart Milk also acknowledged relationships between gay people are still criminalized under law in one-sixth of the world.

“Their very existence is now illegal just because of who they love, just because of who they are,” Milk said. “We cannot allow the backwards march in Asia, in Africa and Eastern Europe. We can’t allow it.”

Among the estimated 150 people attendees seated at the event were gay Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.); gay Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.); Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz; National Gay & Lesbian Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey; gay businessperson Mitchell Gold and gay New Hampshire Democratic Party Chair Ray Buckley.

Obama did not attend. At the same time the ceremony was taking place, Obama was speaking at an event at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y.


Snowden enters race for at-large D.C. Council seat

Courtney Snowden, gay news, Washington Blade

Courtney Snowden announced on Monday that she is running as an independent for an at-large D.C. Council seat. (Photo courtesy of the Raben Group)

Lesbian activist and public affairs lobbyist Courtney Snowden announced on Monday that she is running as an independent for the at-large D.C. Council seat being vacated by gay Council member David Catania (I-At-Large), who’s running for mayor.

“This city is, and has always been, full of promise and opportunity,” Snowden said in a statement. “I’m running because I want to give all of the District’s residents an independent voice, not beholden to party politics, but willing to stand up for progressive values.”

Her announcement that she’s running as an independent comes just over two months after she won election in the city’s April 1 primary as Alternate National Committeewoman to the Democratic National Committee. Her change in party registration from Democrat to independent requires her to resign from the committeewoman’s post.

“I share the values and vision of the Democratic Party, and in fact, have built my professional life on its principles,” she said in an open letter to D.C. Council member Anita Bonds (D-At-Large), who also serves as chair of the D.C. Democratic Party.

“I am committed to the Democratic principles on which I ran in April, and I have been honored to serve as the Alternate National Committeewoman, even if only briefly,” she said in the letter.

Snowden becomes the 12th independent to enter the at-large Council race. Like her, nearly all of the others changed their party registration from Democrat to independent to run for a seat that is reserved for a non-majority party candidate under a provision of the City Charter approved by Congress in the 1970s as part of the city’s limited home rule government.

Since Democrats hold a nine-to-one majority among D.C. registered voters, one of two at-large Council seats up for election this year must go to a non-Democrat. Bonds, who holds the “Democratic” seat, is expected to easily win re-election in November.

In the battle for the second seat, Snowden will also be competing with gay Republican nominee Marc Morgan, an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner from Adams Morgan, as well as Libertarian and Statehood Green Party candidates. She will also be competing with fellow Democrat-turned-independent Elissa Silverman, who received strong LGBT community support when she ran unsuccessfully for the same Council seat as a Democrat in an April 2013 special election.

Also running as an independent is D.C. restaurant owner Khalid Pitts, who received the endorsement of Joe Solmonese, longtime gay rights advocate and former president of the Human Rights Campaign, where Snowden worked from 2002-2003.

For the past 10 years, Snowden has worked as a lobbyist and public policy strategist representing corporate and non-profit clients for The Raben Group, a public relations and communications firm. The firm was founded by gay attorney Robert Raben, who served as an assistant U.S. attorney general in the Clinton administration.

Prior to joining the Raben Group, Snowden served as a senior lobbyist for the National Parent and Teacher Association. Prior to that she worked in various policy positions for the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), HRC, and Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) before Baldwin won election as the nation’s first openly gay U.S. senator.

Snowden, a lifelong D.C. resident, is the second known lesbian to run for a seat on the Council. In 1998, lesbian activist Sabrina Sojourner ran unsuccessfully for an at-large Council seat in the Democratic primary. She finished in sixth place in a 10-candidate race, receiving 12 percent of the vote.


Electing more out women to public office

Tammy Baldwin, women, gay news, Washington Blade

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)


There is a big difference between being a topic of conversation and being a part of the conversation. If we want a truly representative democracy, we need to elect a government that actually looks like our nation of individuals – of every gender, race, religion and orientation.

EMILY’s List works on making that vision a reality by supporting diverse Democratic women candidates for every level of office. And we have work to do: We elected an historic number of women in 2012, but women are still only 19 percent of Congress. That’s one of the reasons we’ll fight for the underdog candidate when we know she is the right one.

In 2011, when everyone told us that Tammy Baldwin couldn’t win a Senate race in Wisconsin, we put everything we had behind her and made it happen. We’d been standing with Tammy for years and knew she was a champion for every Wisconsinite. And, in 2012, Baldwin made history when she was elected as our nation’s first openly gay United States Senator.

Having her voice in the Senate makes a difference. Having Kyrsten Sinema’s voice in the House of Representatives makes a difference. Having Annise Parker as mayor of Houston makes a difference.

Having LGBT voices in the halls of power is not just important, it’s essential. It’s something we need to work on every month, not just Pride Month, because the work these women do has a lasting impact.

Women like current candidate for governor of Maryland, Del. Heather Mizeur, who has done incredible work to bring marriage equality to her state. As a city councilor she helped Takoma Park become the first municipality to pass a resolution in support of same-sex marriage and as a state delegate, her passionate floor speech helped secure final passage for statewide marriage equality. And women like candidate for Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey who, as assistant attorney general took on the federal government and worked working tirelessly to challenge DOMA and see it overturned.

In Houston, Mayor Annise Parker championed an ordinance that would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Despite threats of a recall, Parker refuses to put political games ahead of the rights of the people of Houston. In Nevada, state Sen. Pat Spearman, an advocate for LGBT people of color, ensured gender identity protections were included in hate crimes prevention laws. Oregon’s House Speaker Tina Kotek played a large role in the passage of the Oregon Family Fairness Act, the Oregon Equality Act and strengthening laws to protect students from bullying in schools.

Elections matter. Electing these women has changed their towns and states and our country. Electing more LGBT women and more women LGBT allies will make ours a more inclusive country.

Right now, the EMILY’s List women in the Senate have a 100 percent record on supporting the overturning of DOMA, backing an LGBT-inclusive Violence Against Women Act, voting for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and publicly backing marriage equality. That’s a record I am proud of.

One of the bravest things you can do in a democracy is put your name on the ballot. Especially when you may not meet the stereotypes of a candidate, or be the most obvious person to run for office.

We need to stand with the women brave enough to do just that. This is a nation of individuals, and it should be a nation where everyone can be proud of what makes them unique, and have their voices heard.

Stephanie Schriock is president of EMILY’s List.


Another fight over ENDA

GetEQUAL, Employment Non-Discrimination Act, ENDA, White House, President Obama

A White House ENDA protest last month. (Blade file photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Today’s headlines are eerily reminiscent of the acrimonious debate within the LGBT community over the ENDA bill that passed the House of Representatives on Nov. 7, 2007.

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) made a personal and emotional speech on the floor of the House that culminated in passage of the bill. Then came the vicious backlash from many individuals and groups, including Stonewall Democrats, a group Frank founded, because the bill didn’t include protections for transgender people.

At the time, Frank and others said that the question was getting protections for the many, which was possible, versus getting protections for none. In 2007, a bill including protections for transgender people had zero chance of passing. It turned out with or without the inclusion of trans people that bill didn’t get through the Senate.

Now once again the LGBT community is fighting over ENDA. This time it passed the Democratic-controlled Senate with the leadership of lesbian Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), another hero to our community. It’s now stalled in the Republican-controlled House. On July 8, a group of LGBT and civil rights organizations formally dropped their support for the bill, which apparently still has the support of President Obama and the Human Rights Campaign. The reason given by the groups to formally withdraw their support is based on the recent Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby case.

The Hobby Lobby ruling has given credence to the view that the wide religious exemption in the current ENDA bill would allow for gaps in how the bill could be applied and open the door to continued discrimination against many in the LGBT community. The national groups that pulled their support for ENDA include the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the American Civil Liberties Union, Gay and Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, Lambda Legal, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the Transgender Law Center and Pride at Work.

HRC, the largest LGBT advocacy group, has not withdrawn its support for the bill. HRC spokesperson Fred Sainz said, “HRC supports ENDA because it will provide essential workplace protections to millions of LGBT people.” Following some backlash, HRC President Chad Griffin released a statement that still indicated support for the bill but noted HRC wants changes made to the section on religious exemptions. He also tried to change the subject by saying HRC supports an overarching civil rights bill for the LGBT community. This would be a bill similar to the one first introduced by Rep. Bella S. Abzug (D-N.Y.) in 1974.

The debate in the community over whether to pull support for the current bill may be moot as it appears the House will not take up ENDA this session. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has said he will not bring it to the floor for a vote even in the lame-duck session. That means the next Congress will begin the process anew. This debate will, however, draw heightened attention to the question of what will be included in the executive order banning discrimination against the LGBT community in federal contracting ,which after six years of stalling, the president has said he would sign. He has to be questioning what the LGBT community’s response would be if religious exemptions are in the EO. There appears to be broad opposition to providing those exemptions.

Baldwin is now in a bind and being demonized by some in the community. She, like Frank before her, worked hard to get the best bill she could pass. She worked with colleagues to draft a bill that would attract the needed votes. We need to remember that Baldwin will have to continue to work with those colleagues in the next Congress and gain their votes for a new bill if this one doesn’t pass. House members like Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) will be in a bind if Boehner decides to bring up the bill in the lame-duck session. Baldwin, like Frank before her, understood that to pass any legislation compromise is needed. She worked with the support of the community on the assumption that if we could protect the rights of the huge majority of LGBT persons that was better than protecting none. Clearly many groups now disagree, with legitimate reason, but we must also remember that when the bill passed it had overwhelming community support.

The next flashpoint in this debate may come when the president issues the long-awaited executive order.



What does evil do when it retires?

Michele Bachmann, gay news, Washington Blade

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) has been in Congress since 2006 with not one bill she sponsored signed into law. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

What do people with truly evil thoughts like Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) do when they retire from Congress? One hopes she just fades away but that is likely wishful thinking.

I spent the week in Rehoboth Beach, Del., and had coffee with friends Keith Brengle and Kevin Keller who were there to care for Keith’s parents. Keith threw out this question in a joking way but it is more than that. There just seem to be so many people whose hearts are filled with hatred who are given the opportunity to spout that hatred in the national media. Bachmann is just one example of that breed — a woman with no real accomplishments yet an oversized ego that can attract attention. Bachmann has been in Congress since 2006 with not one bill she sponsored signed into law. That is sad for constituents who elected her believing that she would do something to earn her salary.

What she has accomplished as an acolyte of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) is convince the Republicans in the House of Representatives to scuttle any chance of an immigration bill or funding to deal with the children crossing our borders illegally to escape dangers in their home countries. She was a member of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, which some say actually called into question the committee’s name. But the reality is she attracted attention and the hatred she spewed against the LGBT community and so many others got her enough followers that she even had a thankfully short-lived presidential campaign.

She is only one of many that raise the question of what happens to their evil ways when they retire. With a 24-hour news cycle, a beast that must be constantly fed, these haters like Bachmann continue to get attention. Sarah Palin is another example of someone thrust into the national media spotlight based on zero accomplishments and who has managed to stay in the public eye by making outrageous and often hateful statements while accomplishing nothing. Another one not yet retired who spreads hate as a way to draw attention is Ann Coulter. Someone who seems intent on getting her name on that list is Maureen Dowd, who writes columns for the New York Times. Dowd, once well respected, seems to have discovered that if she spews enough hatred she gets more attention.

To answer the question: Evil doesn’t ever really go away. Even when the evil is so egregious that you would think what the person did can never again happen, like a Hitler, we see the likes of Saddam Hussein and Bashar al-Assad rise to power. When Joe McCarthy finally died many thought a senator spewing hate like that couldn’t appear again and yet today we have Sen. Cruz who is doing his best to match McCarthy.

What we can be thankful for is that for every person spewing evil there are those that spread love and acceptance. For every Phyllis Schlafly and Jerry Falwell there is a Gloria Steinem and a Bella Abzug. For every Anita Bryant there is a Harvey Milk and Barney Frank.

There are heroes who the world can look up to who have led people from despair to hope; from Moses and Mahatma Gandhi to Martin Luther King, Jr. There are those who served in Congress who spoke up for what is right and made themselves heard across racial and gender biases including Barbara Jordon (D-Texas) and Shirley Chisholm (D-N.Y.). For every Michele Bachmann there is a Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.).

But the spreading of evil will never disappear even when one of those who spreads it retires or dies. Today in our world of social media the message of the haters gets amplified more than it ever has before. We can only be thankful that the majority of people actually have love rather than hate in their hearts. They are open to listen and change, and to acceptance and the willingness to see the good in all people. We just need to make sure that when we see evil in the world we call it out. That when we see and hear someone spreading evil we call them out and counter it with a message of love and positivity.


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