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D.C. Council candidates court LGBT voters

Jim Graham, Anita Bonds, D.C. Council, gay news, Washington Blade, Democratic Party, LGBT voters

Council members Jim Graham and Anita Bonds are seeking re-election and facing Democratic opposition in the April primary. (Washington Blade file photos by Michael Key)

LGBT voters could play a key role in determining the nominees for at least three of the six D.C. Council seats up for grabs in the city’s April 1 Democratic primary, according to activists familiar with the candidates.

Similar to past years, nearly all of the candidates who are favored to win or who have a shot at winning their primary contests and the general election in November are strong supporters of LGBT rights.

In the April primary, D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large), Council member Mary Cheh(D-Ward 3), and Council member Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5) are considered strong favorites to win in the primary and general election. Cheh is running unopposed in the primary.

Mendelson and Cheh are longtime supporters of the LGBT community and McDuffie has been supportive on LGBT issues since winning his seat in a special election in 2012.

Council member Anita Bonds (D-At-Large) and four-term Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who’s gay, are running in competitive races in the primary, in the opinion of some political observers, although most knowledgeable observers consider them the clear front-runners.

Bonds, who has been involved in D.C. politics since the early 1980s, has a long record of support for LGBT rights. And Graham, the former head of the Whitman-Walker Clinic, has been among the Council’s strongest advocates on LGBT and AIDS issues during his more than 15 years as a Council member.

The remaining Council race on the primary ballot will be for an open seat in Ward 6, which is being vacated by Council member Tommy Wells, a Democrat who’s running for mayor. Three Democratic candidates running in the primary – Charles Allen, Wells’ former chief of staff; Darrel Thompson, and Shelonda Tillman – have expressed strong support on LGBT issues and are expected to compete for support from the large number of LGBT residents that live in Ward 6.

Graham’s longstanding reputation as a champion for his Ward 1 constituents — both gay and straight — would normally make him a shoo-in for winning election to a fifth term. But an 11-2 vote by his Council colleagues last spring to reprimand him on grounds that he violated the Council’s ethics rules in 2008 by improperly interfering with negotiations over a Metro development contract have raised questions over whether his support in the ward has eroded.

The Council’s vote to reprimand Graham came shortly after the city’s independent ethics board, headed by gay former D.C. Attorney General Robert Spagnoletti, issued an opinion saying Graham did not violate any laws but committed an ethical breach as a city official by intervening in the contract process.

Graham has disputed the claim that he did anything improper, saying he pushed for awarding the contract to one developer over another because the one he favored was better qualified to do the work on a project located in his ward.

Lesbian Democratic activist Barbara Helmick, a longtime resident of Ward 1, said she has voted for Graham in the past but is undecided on whether to vote for him this time.

“Certainly the ethics question has raised eyebrows,” Helmick said. “But Jim has done a lot as a Council member and he has basically done a good job for his constituents.”

Helmick, like other Ward 1 residents, said she’s looking at Graham’s two remaining opponents in the primary, civic activists Bryan Weaver and Brianne Nadeau. Both have been strong supporters of the LGBT community. A third opponent, Beverly Wheeler, a former aide to Council Chair Mendelson, dropped out of the race last week, citing family related issues.

Ward 1 is believed to have the largest concentration of LGBT residents among the city’s eight wards and is home to two LGBT community centers, one of which – Casa Ruby – reaches out to the LGBT Latino community. Activists say that Graham’s prospects for winning the primary would increase significantly if he can retain the support of LGBT voters who have backed him overwhelmingly in past elections.

No Republican, Statehood Green Party or Libertarian Party candidate entered the Ward 1 Council race this year, a development that means Graham would likely face one or more lesser known independent candidates in the November general election if he wins the Democratic nomination in the primary.

Bonds, meanwhile, is being challenged by four other Democrats in the primary in her race for one of two at-large Council seats that will be on the ballot in the November general election. In a process that has often confounded voters, one of the two seats is reserved for a non-majority party candidate under the city’s election law, which means a Democrat cannot compete for the second seat.

Gay D.C. Council member David Catania (I-At-Large) has held the so-called non-Democratic seat since 1997, when he won a special election to fill the then vacant seat. He has been re-elected four times since then, but this year Catania said he’s strongly considering giving up his Council seat to run for mayor.

As an independent, he doesn’t have to make a final decision on whether to seek re-election to the Council or enter the mayoral race until June. Many of the city’s political pundits believe Catania will run for mayor, clearing the way for others to compete for his Council seat.

Gay Republican activist Marc Morgan, a Ward 1 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner, is running unopposed in the Republican primary for one of the two at-large seats. Should Catania run for mayor, Morgan could be in a strong position to compete for the non-Democratic seat.

A Libertarian Party candidate, who is running unopposed in his party’s primary, and one of two Statehood Green Party candidates running in that party’s primary, will be competing with Morgan for the non-Democratic seat in the November election.

Another openly gay candidate, Libertarian Party activist Martin Moulton, is running unopposed in the Libertarian primary for the city’s U.S. shadow representative seat. Moulton is expected to compete for the shadow seat in the November general election against Democrat Franklin Garcia, who’s running unopposed in the Democratic primary in April.

Out of the four Democrats running against Bonds in the primary, Nate Bennett-Fleming, who currently holds the U.S. shadow representative seat, is considered to be her strongest opponent. Bennett-Fleming has expressed strong support for LGBT rights and won the endorsement of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city’s largest LGBT political group, when he ran for the seat in 2012.

The city created shadow U.S. Senate seats and one shadow House of Representatives seat as unpaid lobbying positions to advocate for D.C. statehood and voting representation in Congress.

Although some consider the shadow seats to be of little value because they have no official connection with the U.S. Congress, Bennett-Fleming received more than 43,000 votes when he won the Democratic primary for the seat in 2012. In the 2012 general election, Bennett-Fleming received nearly 207,000 votes.

When Bonds won the at-large seat in a special election last April she received 18,027 votes, or 31.4 percent, in a seven-candidate race with one of the lowest voter turnouts of any D.C. election ever held.

The voter turnout is expected to be larger in this year’s April 1 primary and Bonds’ wider name recognition and longstanding involvement in city politics gives her an edge over Bennett-Fleming and the other three candidates, according to most pundits. But Bonds and her LGBT supporters say she is waging an aggressive outreach effort to capture the LGBT vote to boost her re-election prospects.

Elissa Silverman, a Democrat who came in second behind Bonds in the 2012 special election, reportedly is considering changing her party affiliation from Democrat to independent to run for the non-Democratic at-large seat in the general election.

15
Jan
2014

Change is coming to homoerotic world of NFL

Kate Clinton, gay news, Washington Blade

Kate Clinton is a humorist who has entertained LGBT audiences for 30 years.

The Super Bowl High Holy Days approach, signaling the end of the Concussion Season. Unless you’ve been under a rock, and I say that with some envy, you know the game between the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks will take place in Metlife Stadium in New Jersey, unless there’s another “traffic study” from Gov. Conehead. The Jets and the Giants RSVPed their regrets weeks ago. Much has been made of Colorado and California, two states with legalized marijuana, thus The Stoner Bowl.

We’ve seen the effects on tennis players at the Australian Open of whatever is the polar opposite of the polar vortex: passing out, cramping, vomiting, dehydration, Sharapova’s barks at only a raspy .02 decibels. But apparently the Aussie organizers were unable to see the signs and ordered play to continue. I have already ordered one of those neat ice vests for the summer!  We can only hope that the Polar Vortex Redux that is again sitting over the Northeast will be gone by Super Bowl game day.

But 2013 saw a remarkable thaw in the hard-packed perma-frost of homophobia in sports. What was once a glacial pace of change is moving as fast as actual glaciers are moving now. Organizers and fans can see the effects.  According to OutSports, in 2013, 77 athletes came out in their sports. Not in sad memoirs 40 years later. LGBT organizing through the Sports Projects Collaboration at NCLR and straight allies organizing through campaigns like “You Can Play,” to name just two, make playing out less of a career death wish.

Football is one of the last bastions of homophobia in sports. It is also one of the most brute, blunt, homoerotic of sports. Especially if you are watching on a friend’s 120-inch plasma flat-paneled TV. Cup-less is in. I’ve always thought players wear facemasks so they can’t kiss. But change is happening in the NFL, even if it can only be gauged by the resistance to it. Stories of locker room bullying, columns rationalizing those reigns of terror and harassment of straight players who speak out in support of LGBT causes are yellow flag infractions in the monolith of maleness.

As more and more players come out during their playing careers, I look forward to the coverage. Sports commentators pride themselves on knowing what a player is thinking just by looking at them. They are sports clairvoyants.  “You know what he’s thinking as he leans over his putter, Jim? He’s thinking he’s got to make the putt, to make the cut, so he has a chance at the prize money, which he desperately needs for an operation for his four-year-old.” If he is thinking that, he will not make the putt. Why not sign up for Affordable Health Care?

But what if the golfer is an out-and-proud gay man? The sportscaster is a bit wary, perhaps clueless.  “You know what he’s thinking as he leans over his putter?” He pauses, looks worriedly to Jim,  “Is ‘putter’ OK?” Jim nods. He continues, “He’s thinking, ‘Look at the color of these shoes! They looked fine at the hotel. They totally fight with the putting green!’” I can’t wait.

After the Stoner Bowl confetti settles, and the Metlife zeppelin leaking NJ hot air pot vape, heads back to its mooring, the coverage turns to the Olympic Games in Sochi with Billie Jean King and other gay athletes leading the U.S. delegation in the opening ceremonies. Despite all evidence to the contrary, Putin has assured LGBT athletes they can have a safe, relaxed time if they don’t talk to the children. All bets are off post-Olympics. Again the resistance matches the change we make.

29
Jan
2014

Supporters rally for trans rights in Md.

Martin O'Malley, gay news, gay politics

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley was among those who expressed support for a trans rights bill. (Washington Blade file photo by Pete Exis)

Bob Brittain was doing fairly well in Chestertown, Md., with a wife and family, earning more than $50,000 per year as a certified boat captain, assistant dock master and boat carpenter.  But since the age of three, he knew he was not comfortable with his gender. Two years ago, Bob transitioned to Susan Brittain, now 57, but still with her wife who has been fully supportive.

However, when Susan applied for other jobs, “the rules had changed,” she explained. As soon as she identified as transgender, she was not hired for the positions she was seeking despite her qualifications. While Susan would benefit from a statewide law that would prohibit discrimination in employment, housing, credit and public accommodations, her concern is for others. “It’s for the younger generation,” Susan points out. “They should be productive and happy.”

To that end, on Feb. 17, the Maryland Coalition for Trans Equality—a group with 54 components including Equality Maryland, PFLAG, Maryland NOW and a host of other progressive and religious organizations—held its annual Lobby Day at Lawyers Mall in Annapolis. The goal is to rally trans activists and allies and to meet with individual legislators in an effort to persuade them to pass the bill, which has been unsuccessful the past seven years.

More than 150 braved the sub-freezing chill to hear remarks by Carrie Evans, executive director of Equality Maryland; Del. Bonnie Cullison (D-Montgomery County); Sen. Rich Madaleno (D-Montgomery) who introduced the Senate version of the Fairness for All Marylanders Act (SB 212); Sara Wilkinson from the Maryland chapter of NOW; Del. Luke Clippinger (D-Baltimore) who introduced the House version (HB 1265); Patrick Paschall, a member of the Hyattsville City Council, which passed a gender identity non-discrimination measure; Gov. Martin O’Malley, who, along with Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, Attorney General Douglas Gansler, Comptroller Peter Franchot, Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller, House Speaker Michael E. Busch among other leaders, support the bill; activist and mother of a trans child Bonnita Spikes; and Del. Heather Mizeur (D-Montgomery) who is a candidate for governor.

The theme for this event was “It’s time.” Evans stated to loud cheers, “We want to pass this bill this year and make this the last Lobby Day.”

Speaker after speaker alluded to the fact that this bill has languished in the legislature for too many years and it was time to break it free.  “This is the time to put the bill to rest,” said Madaleno.  “We’ve had eight years of pushing the bill.  If we don’t do it this year, we’re going to be back and back and back for however long it takes.”

Pointing to the successes in other Maryland jurisdictions—Baltimore City, Howard, Baltimore and Montgomery counties as well as Hyattsville — Hyattsville Council member Patrick Paschall stated, “Now is the time for the state of Maryland to follow the lead of local jurisdiction.”

Others highlighted the unnecessary discrimination faced by transgender people and offered a call for inclusion.  “It’s time for all Marylanders to be accepted for who they are,” declared Cullison. Sara Wilkinson said, “We believe the feminist movement can and should embrace transgender people. NOW stands against all oppression.”

A confident Clippinger predicted, “We are going to win this year because of the momentum we have.”

O’Malley said, “We’re all in this together. Everyone deserves to be treated equally with dignity and respect.”

The Senate’s Judicial Proceedings Committee is considering the bill and a vote is expected on Feb. 20. (Visit washingtonblade.com for updates.) SB 212 has 25 sponsors, more than enough to win on the floor. Last year, the bill died in the committee by a 6-5 vote.

18
Feb
2014

Health disparities reported for Calif. gays

asthma, inhaler, health disparities, Calif, gay news, Washington Blade

LGBT residents suffer higher rates of asthma, cancer, substance abuse and smoking. (Photo public domain)

SAN BERNADINO, Calif. — LGBT residents in California’s Inland Empire (the metro areas of Riverside and San Bernadino counties) suffer higher rates of asthma, cancer, substance abuse and smoking, a report released last week found. The Press-Enterprise, a paper in the region, reported the news.

The report, believed to be the first of its kind in California, also found a greater likelihood of depression and suicidal thoughts, believed to be linked to discrimination and stigma, the article said.

Much of the Inland-specific data in the report is based upon the California Health Interview Survey. That statewide survey, conducted by UCLA, includes 150 LGB people from Riverside and San Bernardino counties who were selected to be representative of the community’s gender, ethnicity and age. Both counties’ data were used in the report to include more people and make the statistics more representative, according to Aaron Gardner, a health department research specialist who prepared the report and was quoted in the Press-Enterprise article.

Some of the local statistics mirror results of national and state studies that find that LGBT people have higher rates of smoking, substance abuse and binge drinking. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that may in part be a reaction to homophobia and discrimination, the article said.

05
Mar
2014

Activist tells U.N. panel LGBT people face ‘brutal’ violence

Kenita Placide, United and Strong, St. Lucia, gay news, Washington Blade

Kenita Placide of United and Strong, an LGBT rights group in St. Lucia, on March 20 testified before the U.N. Committee on the Status of Women. (Photo courtesy of United and Strong)

A St. Lucian LGBT rights advocate told a U.N. commission last week that lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people around the world face “brutal physical and psychological violence”

“Globally, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender people and others with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities face brutal physical and psychological violence,” said Kenita Placide of United and Strong, Inc., in a statement she read on behalf of 76 organizations from 28 countries during a U.N. Commission on the Status of Women meeting in New York on March 20. “We are subjected to harassment, assault and discrimination in the global North and South alike.”

Placide read the statement on behalf of the Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Caucus. United Belize Advocacy Movement, AIDS Foundation of Suriname, Minority Rights Dominica, Space for Salvadoran Lesbian Women for Diversity in El Salvador, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, Amnesty International and the Council for Global Equality are among the groups that signed onto it.

“Realities and fears of violence and discrimination have direct impact on people’s ability to live safely, earn a living, have roofs over their heads and to be healthy,” reads the statement. “When people are persecuted because of their real or perceived sexual orientation, gender expression or gender identity, they will be forced to recede, go underground, forfeit privacy and personal and family safety, even as they resist, organize and fight for justice at great personal risk in the North and South alike.”

St. Lucia is among the more than 70 countries in which homosexuality remains criminalized.

The U.S. is among the countries that have curtailed aid to Uganda after the country’s president, Yoweri Museveni, last month signed a bill into law that imposes a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan in January signed a draconian anti-gay measure that, among other things, bans same-sex “amorous relationships” and membership in an LGBT advocacy group.

The Jamaica Supreme Court last June heard a lawsuit that challenges the island’s anti-sodomy law under which those who are convicted face up to 10 years in prison with hard labor. The Supreme Court of the Judicature of Belize a month earlier heard a challenge to an identical statute the United Belize Advocacy Movement filed in 2010.

“The criminalization of adult consensual sexual activity and our communities, along with efforts by political and religious authorities to manipulate and stoke fears about sexual orientation and gender identity, only makes matters worse,” said the LBT Caucus in the statement that Placide read. “Whether at the national level or at the CSW (U.N. Commission on the Status of Women), decision makers must stop using these issues and our lives for their geopolitical gain.”

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon discussed anti-LGBT violence and discrimination in a video message during a panel with retired tennis champion Martina Navratilova, current Brooklyn Nets center Jason Collins and others that commemorated the 65th anniversary of the ratification of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“An abuse against any of us is an affront to all,” said Ban. “Human rights can only be visible when we stand in solidarity as one.”

Vice President Joe Biden on March 22 said the U.S. should “champion” LGBT rights around the world during a speech at the Human Rights Campaign’s annual dinner in Los Angeles.

“I travelled to most countries in the world, and I can tell you, they’re looking to us as an example, as a champion of LGBT rights everywhere,” said Biden.

26
Mar
2014

Pinkwashing & Israeli occupation – not so complicated

Pauline Park, Israel, gay news, Washington Blade

The author, Pauline Park, at the gap in the separation wall at Al-Wallaja east of the Israeli frontier. (Photo courtesy Park)

BY Pauline Park

“The concept of ‘pinkwashing’ emerged as a hot topic throughout the week,” Kevin Naff wrote of his participation as part of “a delegation of nine LGBT leaders from the United States” to Israel in November (“Israel as ‘gay heaven’? It’s complicated,” Times of Israel, Nov. 10). The delegation tour was sponsored by Project Interchange, a program of the American Jewish Committee, which is aggressive in its defense of the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

Naff quotes a speaker who addressed the group, Gal Uchovsky, as telling the delegates “that we had arrived in ‘gay heaven’” and that Israel is “the best LGBT country in the world” whose “LGBT residents face no serious problems that he could identify.” My Israeli friends would certainly contest Uchovsky’s absurd claim that LGBT Israelis “face no serious problems.” Fortuntely, Naff was able to recognize Uchovsky’s propaganda for what it was.

One would get a very different impression speaking primarily or exclusively with wealthy gay Jewish Israeli men in North Tel Aviv — as Naff and his fellow delegates seem to have done — than if one spoke with LGBT Israelis from more marginalized communities, including lesbians and bisexuals, who often feel marginalized by gay men in Tel Aviv and elsewhere in Israel; transgendered women, who face police harassment and brutality in Tel Aviv and other cities in Israel just as they do in New York and other U.S. cities; Israelis who face discrimination because of their of Mizrahi (Sephardic) Jewish ethnic origins; or refugees from Africa and elsewhere who may be LGBT (though not necessarily openly so) but who have no right to remain in Israel, because the state of Israel does not recognize non-Jewish economic refugees or those fleeing political persecution — regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

And that’s not even to mention the pervasive discrimination that Palestinians with Israeli citizenship face. As Prof. David Lloyd argued persuasively in a December 2013 analysis for the Electronic Intifada, the crucial distinction between “citizenship” (ezrahut) and “nationality” (le’um) in Israeli law privileges Jewish Israelis over Palestinians living in Israel because “citizenship” is in effect a second-class citizenship without nationality status.

“Some critics claim the country’s embrace of LGBT rights is merely a propaganda effort to claim the mantle of modernity and establish a stark contrast to homophobic regimes in the West Bank, Gaza and elsewhere in the Middle East,” Naff writes. In doing so, Naff is in fact rearticulating the very discourse in which Uchovsky was engaging in when describing Israel as a gay paradise — the attempt to use Israel’s record on gay rights (supposedly better than that of its Arab and Muslim neighbors) as a justification for an Israeli occupation that is illegal under international law, or at the very least as a means to distract attention from it.

Naff’s delegation appears to have met with only one Palestinian — “a scholar and Fatah and PLO adviser,” Abu Zayyad. But meeting with a single official with the Palestinian Authority — widely viewed by many West Bank Palestinians as little more than a tool of the Israeli occupation — hardly constitutes balance when the rest of the tour was devoted to meeting with LGBT Israelis and Israeli officials.

“The focus of the visit — LGBT issues — was often overshadowed by the frustrating stalemate of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Why can’t the two sides come to an agreement on a two-state solution? It’s complicated,” Naff writes. And yet, is the issue of the Israeli occupation of Palestine really that complicated? For all of the complications and complexities of the situation, it is at root quite simple: the indigenous people who have lived in Palestine for centuries are being systematically dispossessed of their land and their rights by a foreign military occupation that is illegal under international law and that even the United States does not recognize as legitimate. And that occupation makes no exception for Palestinians who might be LGBT/queer, who face the same restrictions and daily humiliations living under Israeli occupation as non-LGBT Palestinians. And contrary to propaganda in circulation, Israel is not and cannot be a haven or a refuge for LGBT Palestinians because there is no such thing as refugee status for non-Jews in Israel, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Rather than hearing pinkwashing propaganda from the likes of Gal Uchovsky, Naff and his colleagues would have learned far more if they had met with Palestinian villagers and farmers under siege from Israeli settlers and the Israeli military in the West Bank, as I have. I participated in the first U.S. LGBTQ delegation tour of Palestine in January 2012 and met with many Palestinians — both LGBT and non-LGBT — throughout the West Bank, from Nablus in the north to Hebron in the south and Ramallah in between. Staying two nights with a Palestinian family in Dheishe in Bethelem, one of the largest refugee camps in the West Bank, I had the opportunity to speak at length with Palestinians about conditions in the occupied territories.

Naff expresses his disappointment with the decision of alQaws and Aswat to decline the invitation to meet with his delegation. AlQaws and Aswat, two of the leading Palestinian LGBT groups, are doing vital work on behalf of queer Palestinians under extremely difficult circumstances that no U.S.-based LGBT organization has to face. The 16 members of my delegation met with members of both alQaws and Aswat for extensive discussions about the impact of the occupation on LGBT Palestinians, and those discussions were productive and enlightening. It seems to me that Naff’s group of relatively privileged LGBT Americans should have recognized how problematic it was to demand that LGBT/queer Palestinians either facing pervasive discrimination within Israel or living under a crushing foreign military occupation in the West Bank engage them in dialogue, which is the privilege of the powerful. True dialogue is simply not possible when one party is holding a gun to the other’s head, which is what “dialogue” with a people living under a brutal and illegal military occupation represents.

I might add that members of Naff’s delegation could have found opportunities to engage with LGBT/queer Palestinians even before leaving the U.S. and could do so now that they are back from their tour; they can also feel free to engage members of New York City Queers Against Israeli Apartheid if they wish to hear our views on Palestinians and the Israeli occupation.

The conclusion I have come to is that pinkwashing does nothing for queer Palestinians and arguably makes things worse by generating more support for Israel and the occupation in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere. The liberation of queer Palestinians is inseparable from that of Palestinian society as a whole; whatever privileges wealthy gay Jewish Israeli men may enjoy in the affluent districts of North Tel Aviv do nothing for queer Palestinians being crushed by a brutal and illegal foreign military occupation that is daily dispossessing more and more Palestinians of their lands and their homes.

Given the intransigence of the government of Binyamin Netanyahu — the most right-wing prime minister in Israeli history — and his determination to move forward with the ethnic cleansing of East Jerusalem and the de facto annexation of the West Bank, it seems to me that only boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against apartheid Israel will advance the cause of the peaceful resolution of the impasse that the Israeli government itself has created with its endless occupation of Palestine and construction of an apartheid regime.

Pauline Park is a member of New York City Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, founded in 2011. She was a member of the first U.S. LGBTQ delegation to Palestine in January 2012.

 

(Kevin Naff responds: After members of our LGBT delegation expressed concerns that we were not given access to more of the Palestinian perspective, Project Interchange arranged a follow-up conference call in November with Dr. Khalil Shikaki, director of the Palestinian Center for Policy & Survey Research. I shared Pauline Park’s concerns over pinkwashing, but Project Interchange worked hard to present a balanced itinerary, which included visits to the West Bank, Ramallah and the edge of the Gaza Strip. I welcome Park’s invitation to learn more about NYCQAIA and will follow up with her.)

06
Jan
2014

U.S. lawmakers spurn Ugandan LGBT activists

Yoweri Museveni, Uganda, gay news, Washington Blade

A congressional delegation is scheduled to meet with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni in his country’s capital on Jan. 23. (Photo by the U.K. Department for International Development; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

The Washington Blade has learned a congressional delegation is expected to meet with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni next week amid outrage over the passage of a bill that would impose a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts.

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) will lead the delegation that includes U.S. Reps. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.), Ander Crenshaw (R-Fla.), Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Ariz.) and Erik Paulsen who are scheduled to travel to Uganda on Jan. 23. A source familiar with the trip told the Blade the lawmakers are scheduled to meet with Museveni while they are in the East African country.

A copy of an itinerary the source forwarded to the Blade indicates the lawmakers will also travel to Germany, Turkey, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Rwanda and Niger before returning to the U.S. on Jan. 26.

“The purpose of the CODEL’s (congressional delegation’s) engagements in Africa is to better understand how to address the ‘Arc of Instability’ through the center of Africa so the SASC (Senate Armed Services Committee) can support USG (U.S. government) efforts to address the underlying causes of our problems on the continent rather than just reacting to the symptoms,” it reads.

The source familiar with the trip told the Blade the delegation will focus on efforts to combat the Lord’s Resistance Army that led a bloody insurgency against the Ugandan government from 1986-2006. Inhofe and other U.S. lawmakers are also expected to discuss counter-terrorism efforts against the Somali Islamist militant group al-Shabab, the escalating conflict in South Sudan and “other U.S. interests.”

The source told the Blade the lawmakers have rejected Ugandan LGBT rights advocates’ requests to meet with them while in the East African country.

“We understand that Sen. Inhofe will be meeting with President Museveni and we believe other officials in Uganda on Jan. 23,” Maria Burnett of Human Rights Watch told the Blade on Friday. “We understand that they have been close for many, many years and maintain a great deal of dialogue on a range of issues. And given the recent events on the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, it seems like a crucial time for Sen. Inhofe to restate his lack of support of the bill quite clearly.”

Ugandan lawmakers on Dec. 20 approved the Anti-Homosexuality Bill that originally contained a provision that would have imposed the death penalty on anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts. The measure would also criminalize the promotion of homosexuality.

The White House, Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay are among those who criticized the measure’s passage. Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, announced after Ugandan lawmakers approved the Anti-Homosexuality Bill that his company would not do business in the country.

Museveni’s spokesperson told Agence France-Presse on Jan. 2 the Ugandan president “won’t rush” to sign the measure into law. A Ugandan newspaper on Friday reported Museveni has blocked the bill because Parliament Speaker Rebecca Kadaga allowed a vote on the measure without the required number of lawmakers needed for quorum.

Uganda is among the more than 70 countries in which homosexuality remains criminalized.

The Center for Constitutional Rights in March 2012 filed a federal lawsuit against Scott Lively in Massachusetts on behalf of Sexual Minorities Uganda, a Ugandan LGBT advocacy group, that accuses the evangelical Christian of exploiting homophobic attitudes in the East African country and encouraging lawmakers to approve the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. U.S. District Judge Michael A. Posner of the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts last August ruled the group’s lawsuit can move forward.

Ugandan Parliamentarian David Bahati, who introduced the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in 2009, has ties to the Fellowship Foundation, a Christian evangelical group that hosts the annual National Prayer Breakfast in D.C. Inhofe is also closely aligned with the secretive organization also known as “The Family.”

The Oklahoma Republican told MSNBC host Rachel Maddow during a 2012 interview he had “never heard” of Bahati when she asked him about the parliamentarians’ claims the idea for the Anti-Homosexuality Bill came from a conversation he had with members of the Fellowship.

“I do not, nor have I ever, supported or condoned this legislation,” said Inhofe in an Oct. 2011 statement to the website Red Dirt Report. “It is my hope that Uganda will abandon this unjust and extraordinarily harsh legislation.”

The Oklahoma Republican has not publicly spoken about the measure since Ugandan lawmakers approved it.

“Frankly this is not the only human rights issue that we think would be important for a high-level American delegation to raise with President Museveni,” Burnett told the Blade. “We have a lot of other concerns, such as obstacles to Ugandans rights to expression and assembly, but Senator Inhofe happens to be going at a particularly significant moment in the course of this bill.”

Inhofe’s spokesperson, Donelle Harder, denied reports the delegation will meet with the Ugandan president while in his country.

“It appears someone gave you a bad itinerary as the members are not meeting with Museveni,” she told the Blade. “Sen. Inhofe will be in Uganda briefly to meet with local officials regarding the [Lord's Resistance Army.]”

A U.S. State Department spokesperson deferred to the staffers of the delegation members.

17
Jan
2014

Latin American LGBT advocates visit U.S.

Michael K. Lavers, Alberto Moscoso Flor, Esteban Paulon, Diane Rodriguez, gay news, Washington Blade

A group of Latin American LGBT rights advocates toured the Washington Blade offices on Jan. 31 (Washington Blade photo by Damien Salas)

The State Department has invited a group of Latin American LGBT rights advocates to the U.S. to meet with their American counterparts.

LGBT Federation of Argentina President Esteban Paulón; Alberto Moscoso Flor, executive director of the Civil Association for Social Development and Cultural Promotion of GLBT Freedom in Bolivia; Juan Fuentealba Álvarez of the Chilean It Gets Better Foundation; Paulina Torres Mora of “Beso Diverso” in Costa Rica; Deivis Ventura of the “Amigos Siempre Amigos” Network of Volunteers in the Dominican Republic; Diane Marie Rodríguez Zambrano, president of the Silueta X Association in Ecuador and Clauvo Velásquez of the Homosexual Community of Hope for the Loreto Region of Perú arrived in D.C. on Jan. 25 as part of the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program.

The group met with former Human Rights Campaign President Elizabeth Birch, members of the Metropolitan Police Department and the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights and Gender Rights Maryland Executive Director Dana Beyer while in the nation’s capital. The advocates also toured the Washington Blade office on Jan. 31 where they met with this reporter and publisher Lynne Brown.

The group met with gay New York State Assemblyman Danny O’Donnell; Hetrick-Martin Institute CEO Thomas Krever; Adam Frankel of Human Rights Watch; staffers of the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission and All Out and gay blogger Andrés Duque while in New York.

The activists are scheduled to visit Texas and California before leaving the U.S. later this month.

“Our work is focused on showing other realities to LGBT kids and youth so they can have hope for the future and celebrate diversity,” Fuentealba told the Blade. “We believe that all players involved in the construction of our society play an important role in this goal. And newspapers, TV stations and the film industry, among others, are key elements on making a change.”

Rodríguez, a transgender woman who unsuccessfully sought a seat in the Ecuadorian Congress last year, filed a complaint against her South American country’s government with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights while in D.C.

She was able to receive an amended identity card without her birth name after she won a lawsuit in 2009, but it did not list her gender as female. Rodríguez told the Blade she was kidnapped for four hours in 2012 because of her advocacy efforts.

“I hope that the court will analyze my case and the case of transgender people who are coming behind me,” she said.

U.S. LGBT rights advocates who met with their Latin American counterparts welcomed the opportunity to do so.

“Human rights activism offers precious few opportunities to sit back, even just for an hour, and share information about the struggles and strategies of our peers,” IGLHRC Latin America and Caribbean Coordinator María Mercedes Gómez exclusively told the Blade, noting she and her colleagues discussed anti-LGBT violence in the region, bullying, access to health care and gender-appropriate identity cards during their meeting with the group on Wednesday. “We talked about the fact that those who are the most vulnerable to abuse are those who transcend and challenge prevailing gender roles — in other words, our struggle is not only about sexual orientation or gender identity, it is about the freedom of everyone to be who they are.”

“The State Department invited a remarkable group of young activists from across Latin America and the Caribbean, each a leader in his or her community,” added Beyer, who announced her candidacy against Maryland state Sen. Rich Madaleno (D-Montgomery County) late last month. “Their insights about common problems, derived from their own national experiences, were often diverse, and prompted some fascinating conversations.”

O’Donnell said in a press release his office released after his Feb. 3 meeting with the advocates that they discussed marriage rights for same-sex couples, anti-LGBT violence and efforts to curb bullying.

The New York lawmaker also talked about the important role he feels openly gay legislators can play in debates over the aforementioned issues. He highlighted his own experience with his fellow lawmakers during the 2011 debate on the Empire State’s same-sex marriage bill that Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law.

“That way someone is always around when legislation is being debated, not an outside person or group, but one of their own, a colleague,” said O’Donnell.

The State Department has previously invited Latin American LGBT rights advocates to the U.S.

Six Colombian activists visited D.C., Iowa and California last April. A group of LGBT rights advocates from Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Brazil, Ecuador, Panamá, Costa Rica and México visited the U.S. in 2012.

The Gay and Lesbian Victory Institute and two Colombian advocacy groups – Colombia Diversa and Caribe Afirmativo – have organized two trainings over the last year designed to encourage LGBT people to become more involved in the South American country’s political process. These gatherings are part of the USAID-backed LGBT Global Development Partnership that will contribute $11 million over the next three years to activist organizations in Ecuador and other developing countries.

Two Cuban LGBT rights advocates – Ignacio Estrada Cepero and Wendy Iriepa Díaz – met with Casa Ruby CEO Ruby Corado, U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and others last year while in the U.S.

A number of Russian LGBT rights advocates have visited D.C. and other U.S. cities in recent months ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics that begin on Thursday in Sochi, Russia.

Latvian LGBT rights advocate Kaspars Zailitis is also in the U.S. on another State Department-sponsored trip.

06
Feb
2014

Uganda anti-gay bill reportedly signed into law

Yoweri Museveni, Uganda, gay news, Washington Blade

Uganda President Yoweri Museveni (Photo by the U.K. Department for International Development; courtesy Wikimedia Commons).

Reports have begun to emerge that Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni on Thursday signed a bill that would impose a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts.

Frank Mugisha, executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, on his Twitter page cited “reliable, but not confirmed sources” who indicated Museveni signed the so-called Anti-Homosexuality Bill.

The Ugandan government did not immediately respond to the Washington Blade’s request for comment, but it posted a statement on its Facebook page earlier on Thursday about the Anti-Homosexuality Law.

“Government of Uganda reiterates its commitment to uphold and protect the fundamental rights and freedoms of all persons in Uganda as guaranteed by the Constitution,” it reads. “No person shall be prosecuted outside the provisions of the law.”

The Ugandan government also sought to reassure “all Ugandans and the international community of its continued commitment and respect for the rule of law in Uganda.”

News of Museveni potentially signing the bill broke less than a week after President Obama blasted him over the issue.

“The Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Uganda, once law, will be more than an affront and a danger to the gay community in Uganda,” said Obama in a Feb. 16 statement. “It will be a step backward for all Ugandans and reflect poorly on Uganda’s commitment to protecting the human rights of its people. It also will mark a serious setback for all those around the world who share a commitment to freedom, justice and equal rights.”

The U.S. State Department, Amnesty International, the Human Rights Campaign and other groups have also sharply criticized Ugandan lawmakers who approved the controversial measure late last year. National Security Advisor Susan Rice tweeted on Feb. 16 she spoke “at length” with Museveni and urged him not to sign the bill.

The Ugandan president told Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights President Kerry Kennedy, two of her organization’s staffers and Archbishop Desmond Tutu during a Jan. 18 meeting in Uganda that he would reject the “fascist” measure. The RFK Center said at the time Museveni “promised” the organization during a separate meeting last March that he would not sign “any bill that discriminates against any individual.”

A picture on the Ugandan government’s Facebook page shows U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and other American lawmakers met with Museveni on Jan. 23.

An Inhofe spokesperson told the Washington Blade before they left the U.S. the legislators were not scheduled to meet with the Ugandan president while in the East African country.

She confirmed on Thursday the Oklahoma Republican discussed with Museveni the Lord’s Resistance Army that led a bloody insurgency against the Ugandan government from 1986-2006, the ongoing conflicts in the Central African Republic and South Sudan and the status of a defense agreement between Uganda and the U.S.

The congressional delegation did not meet with Ugandan LGBT rights advocates during the trip.

“I certainly disagree with the controversial legislation that Uganda may enact in the coming days,” Inhofe told the Blade on Thursday in a statement, referring specifically to the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. “As I’ve said before, it is my hope that the country will abandon this unjust and harsh legislation.”

Uganda is among the more than 70 countries in which homosexuality remains criminalized.

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan last month signed a draconian bill into law that bans nuptials for gays and lesbians, same-sex “amorous relationships” and membership in LGBT advocacy groups. Anti-LGBT violence and discrimination remain pervasive problems in Cameroon, Zimbabwe and other African countries.

“When it comes to how the state treats people, how the law treats people, I believe that everybody has to be treated equally,” said Obama last June during a press conference with Senegalese President Macky Sall that took place in Dakar, Senegal, a day after the U.S. Supreme Court found a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional and struck down California’s Proposition 8. “I don’t believe in discrimination of any sort.”

Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday sharply criticized Gambian President Yahya Jammeh after he described gay men as “vermin” and used other anti-LGBT rhetoric during a Feb. 18 speech that marked the anniversary of his country’s independence from the U.K.

The Blade will provide further updates on this story as they become available.

Jim Inhofe, United States Senate, Republican Party, Oklahoma, Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, kill the gays bill, gay news, Washington Blade

A picture the Ugandan government posted to its Facebook page confirms U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and other U.S. lawmakers met with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni in the East African country last month. (Screenshot via Facebook)

20
Feb
2014

Team D.C. model search

Team D.C., the umbrella organization for LGBT and LGBT-friendly sports teams in the metropolitan area, held its annual “Team D.C. Model Search and Fashion Show” at Town Danceboutique on Saturday. (Washington Blade photos by Damien Salas) Team D.C. model search and fashion show 

13
Mar
2014