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Kennedy Library showcases Kameny letters to JFK

Frank Kameny, gay news, Washington Blade, letters

‘In 1961, it has, ironically, become necessary for me to fight my own government, with words,’ Frank Kameny wrote to President Kennedy. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston is taking steps this month to publicize the dozens of letters, pamphlets and press releases that D.C. gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny sent to President Kennedy from 1961 to 1963.

In a prominent write-up on the Kennedy Library website, library official Stacey Chandler, a reference archives specialist, said the letters poignantly document Kameny’s role as one of the nation’s first advocates for the rights of gay people before the highest levels of the U.S. government.

Chandler said the letters and other documents from Kameny are part of the library’s archives and are available for viewing online. Kameny died at the age of 86 in 2011.

“In World War II, I willingly fought the Germans, with bullets, in order to preserve and secure my rights, freedoms, and liberties, and those of my fellow citizens,” Kameny told Kennedy in a letter dated May 15, 1961 that’s part of the archive collection.

“In 1961, it has, ironically, become necessary for me to fight my own government, with words, in order to achieve some of the very same rights, freedoms, and liberties for which I placed my life in jeopardy in 1945,” wrote Kameny. “This letter is part of that fight.”

In a letter dated Aug. 28, 1962 Kameny told Kennedy, “You have said: ‘Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.’ We know what we can do for our country; we wish to do it; we ask only that our country allow us to do it.”

Kameny wrote the letters in his role as president of the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C., the city’s first gay rights organization that Kameny co-founded in 1961 and led through the 1960s and early 1970s.

Chandler noted in her article that the Mattachine Society of Washington came into being shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take the case of a legal challenge that Kameny filed against the then U.S. Civil Service Commission.

In a first-of-its-kind action, Kameny contested the Civil Service Commission’s decision in 1958 to fire him from his job as an astronomer with the Army Map Service in Washington following an investigation into alleged homosexual activity by Kameny.

Among other things, the Commission cited a 1953 executive order by President Dwight Eisenhower that barred from the federal workforce anyone with a history of “sexual perversion” and other “immoral or notoriously disgraceful conduct.” Homosexual acts between consenting adults were considered among the prohibited conduct.

“Kameny wrote an astounding number of letters throughout his lifetime of advocacy, most of which are now in the Library of Congress,” Chandler wrote in her Kennedy Library article. “The huge volume of his correspondence makes the personal nature of his letters to President Kennedy especially surprising for archivists here,” she said.

“In these letters, he tenaciously argued for the right of gay Americans to work as civil servants,” she said.

In the same May 15, 1961 letter in which he told of his combat service in World War II, Kameny told Kennedy, “Yours is an administration that has openly disavowed blind conformity…You yourself have said, in your recent address at George Washington University, “…that (people) desire to develop their own personalities and their own potential, that democracy permits them to do so.’

“But your government, by its policies certainly does not permit the homosexual to develop his personality and his potential,” Kameny wrote.

In a Feb. 28, 1963 letter, Kameny told Kennedy about his fledgling effort to persuade the American Psychiatric Association to remove homosexuality from its list of mental disorders.

“Homosexuality is neither a sickness, disease, neurosis, psychosis, disorder, defect, nor other disturbance, but merely a matter of the predisposition of a significantly large minority of our citizens.”

Chandler said the Kennedy Library’s archivists could find no response from Kennedy or anyone else at the White House to Kameny’s letters.

“In fact, the only response we’ve found in our archives is a brief note from John W. Macy, Chairman of the U.S. Civil Service Commission, to Bruce Schuyler, Secretary of the Mattachine Society, who requested a meeting,” Chandler wrote.

In his note to Schuyler, Macy said, “It is the established policy of the Civil Service Commission that homosexuals are not suitable for appointment to or retention in positions in the Federal service. There would be no useful purpose served in meeting with representatives of your Society.”

Chandler said that in a March 6, 1963 letter to Kennedy, Kameny appeared to be referring to the government’s lack of response to his and the Mattachine Society of Washington’s overtures to the Kennedy administration.

“We wish to cooperate in any way possible, if the chance for friendly, constructive cooperation is offered to us by you,” Kameny wrote, “but if it continues to be refused us, then we will have to seek out and to use any lawful means whatever, which seem to us appropriate, in order to achieve our lawful ends, just as the Negro has done in the South when he was refused cooperation.”

In 1975, after several court rulings against the Civil Service ban on gay employees that Kameny played a role in organizing, the Civil Service Commission ended its prohibition on gay federal workers. In 2009, John Berry, the gay director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the successor to the Civil Service Commission, presented Kameny with an official government apology for his 1958 firing.

“Things have changed,” Chandler quoted Kameny as saying around the time Berry issued the apology with the full backing of President Obama. “How they have changed. I am honored and proud that it is so.”

The Kennedy Library, which is part of the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, highlighted its collection of Kameny correspondence this month as a follow-up to a video that the NARA released in support of the It Gets Better Project, Chandler said.

LGBT rights advocates led by gay author and syndicated columnist Dan Savage created the It Gets Better Project to draw attention to bullying targeting LGBT youth. With President Obama among the political leaders and celebrities who have spoken in an “It Gets Better” video, organizers say the project has helped lift the spirits of many LGBT youth that have suffered from taunts and physical violence.

NARA director David S. Ferriero, who holds the title of Archivist of the United States, recorded a recent “It Gets Better” video that is available for viewing on the NARA website.

“It is so exciting that the Kennedy Library is highlighting Kameny’s letters to President Kennedy,” said Charles Francis, founder of the Kameny Papers Project, which arranged for Kameny’s voluminous correspondence and writings to be given to the Library of Congress.

Francis noted that copies of the Kameny letters to President Kennedy are among the collection at the Library of Congress but that the letters at the Kennedy Library are the originals.

“This was done on Frank’s typewriter from Frank’s living room,” Francis said.

“It’s progress. It’s real progress,” he said of the prominent treatment the Kennedy Library is giving to the Kameny letters.

See the Kennedy Library article on Kameny letters here.



At last, signs of progress in Michigan

Chris Johnson, gay news, Washington Blade, Michigan

Washington Blade political reporter Chris Johnson. (Washington Blade photo by Damien Salas)

It was finally my turn: After years of covering LGBT politics at the Washington Blade and the advancement of marriage equality across the nation, my home state of Michigan became the latest place (albeit briefly) to grant same-sex couples the right to marry.

U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman’s ruling striking down Michigan’s 2004 ban on same-sex marriage last week is on hold as the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals considers the case, but the ruling marks the first time I’m aware of that gay people in Michigan, which doesn’t have a single major pro-LGBT law, were told they’re equal to their fellow Michiganders.

Without a doubt, I was beaming with pride for Michigan, where I was born and raised in Lansing and attended college at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. My home state became the latest ember the torch of marriage equality lit up in anticipation of a nationwide U.S. Supreme Court ruling next year. The ruling was a signal that when I return to the place where I grew up to see my parents and friends, I should expect to bring with me equal protection under the law for my (eventual) family.

That view is in line with a majority of Michigan residents. According to a poll last year from the Michigan firm Epic MRA, 55 percent of Michigan voters are behind same-sex marriage, and that number inches up to 57 percent when respondents were told a change in law wouldn’t mean religious organizations would have to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies.

But my excitement is tempered because Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and Attorney General Bill Schuette are appealing the decision and ensured no gay couple can marry in the state as the litigation moves forward by obtaining a stay from the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

In an op-ed for the Detroit Free Press, Schuette writes that it’s “fundamentally wrong” to treat people differently based on the color of skin, gender, race or ethnicity, but apparently has a different view on sexual orientation.

“The notion that marriage would be anything else has only emerged in the last few decades,” Schuette writes. “It is not irrational for voters to support the belief that a mom and a dad are not interchangeable.”

It’s the latest in a string of anti-gay actions from an administration that bills itself as moderate in nature. I suppose we must give Snyder some credit for distancing himself from the anti-gay views spewing from Republican National Committee member Dave Agema, but the governor also signed into law a bill stripping Michigan public employees of same-sex partner benefits — an action that was eventually overturned by the courts.

That hostility toward gay people, unfortunately, is much of the Michigan I remember growing up — at least in school. Just recently, I saw a study on the bullying of youth that found body type and sexual orientation are two of the most common reasons why kids are harassed at school. I had both going for me.

As a teen short of stature growing up in a blue-collar area who, for some reason, was not into girls like my classmates, I would often cry in my dad’s car before being dropped off for middle school in the morning and not want to go. Thankfully, I was never physically assaulted, but my fellow students intimidated me, excluded me from activities and spewed vitriolic comments about me (sometimes cloaked in religious proselytization) that made me and my education suffer.

But, as I and so many others who had a similar experience found, it gets better. That kid grew up to move to D.C. and join the White House press corps as political reporter for the Washington Blade. Someone who’d want to psychoanalyze me might see a link between my troubled youth and why I question sources so fiercely when the administration isn’t doing enough on LGBT rights.

I look forward to the day when the lawsuit is settled and marriage equality is the law in my home state. Until then, my feelings about the situation are as conflicted as I feel about Michigan, which, even though I had troubled experience growing up, is the place in many ways I consider still home.


Ginsburg officiates same-sex wedding

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, gay news,  Washington Blade

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg became the first sitting justice to officiate a same-sex wedding at the nuptials of Kennedy Center President Michael M. Kaiser and his partner John Roberts. (Photo public domain)

WASHINGTON —Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Saturday presided over the Washington, D.C. wedding of her longtime friend and Kennedy Center President Michael M. Kaiser and his partner, economist John Roberts.

Ginsburg is the first Supreme Court justice to officiate same-sex nuptials, according to the Washington Post, just short of four months after the court struck down key provisions of the Defense of Marriage Act, a 1996 law that prevented the United States government from recognizing same-sex marriages performed in states that have legalized them.

“I think it will be one more statement that people who love each other and want to live together should be able to enjoy the blessings and the strife in the marriage relationship,” Ginsburg told the Post.

Ginsburg — who was joined by justices Kennedy, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan in the 5-4 decision striking down DOMA — is a longtime supporter of the arts. Ginsburg also plans to officiate the Sep. 22 wedding of Washington Post food critic David Hagedorn and National Weather Service communications director, Michael Widomski, a promise she’d made to the pair on the day the court released its DOMA decision.


Elated plaintiffs call court decisions victory for families


HRC President Chad Griffin joined plaintiffs in the Prop 8 case on the Supreme Court steps Wednesday. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The lesbian and gay couples that served as the main plaintiffs in Wednesday’s historic Supreme Court decision overturning California’s Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriage said the decision would have a profound positive impact on gay families in their home state and beyond.

California residents Kris Perry, after whom the case has been named, and her partner Sandy Stier told reporters and a crowd of onlookers outside the Supreme Court that the enormity of the legal ramifications of the case was for them overshadowed by its impact on their family, especially their four sons.

“Today is a great day for American children and families,” Perry told the gathering. “Sandy and I want to say how happy we are not only to be able to return to California and finally get married but to be able to say to the children in California, no matter where you live, no matter who your parents are, no matter what family you’re in, you are equal.”

Perry added, “And today we go back to California and say to our own children, all four of our boys – your family is just as good as everybody else’s family. We love you as much as anybody else’s parents love their kids. And now we’re going to be equal to every other family in California.”

Californians Jeff Zarrillo and his partner Paul Katami, the other couple that served as lead plaintiff’s in the Prop 8 case, told the gathering outside the Supreme Court that they, too, look forward to returning to their home state to get married.

“Prop 8 allowed us to turn our anger into action,” Katami told the gathering. “So although we celebrate today, we work to make sure that everyone like Jeff and I and Kris and Sandy can just get married because it’s the natural next step in our relationship,” he said.

“We want to join the institution of marriage not to take anything away but to strengthen it, to live up to its ideals.”

In a development that prompted both cheers and tears from onlookers, Katami turned to Zarrillo, his voice breaking, and said, “And today I final get to look at the man I love and say, ‘Will you marry me?’”

With Zarrillo nodding in the affirmative, the two men kissed and embraced as news photographers TV camera crews recorded their action.

Following the two couples’ initial comments, which came at a news conference organized jointly by the Human Rights Campaign and the American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER), which initiated the legal challenge to Prop 8 five years ago, the couples walked along the sidewalk outside the Supreme Court building speaking to individual television news outlets whose camera crews lined the sidewalk.

During one of those interviews, HRC President Chad Griffin, who accompanied the couples, excitedly informed them that President Obama just called Griffin’s cell phone from Air Force One, which was taking the president on a state visit to Africa.

Reporters and onlookers watched with interest as Griffin handed his cell phone to the couples, who spoke briefly with Obama.

“It’s incredible,” Griffin told reporters minutes later. “The president just called from Air Force One and he was thanking our team and the plaintiffs for their courage. And he said because of their courage thousands upon thousands of people will be able to join in the celebration of marriage very soon,” Griffin said.

Katami and Zarrillo told people standing near them that they thanked the president for calling them and invited him to their wedding.

“They’re quick,” observed attorney Theodore Boutrous, the law firm partner of lead plaintiff attorney Ted Olsen in the Prop 8 case. Olsen, who was in court on Wednesday in an unrelated case in Philadelphia, wasn’t able to attend the Supreme Court session announcing the Prop 8 decision.

“They get the president on the phone and they invite him to their wedding,” said Boutrous. “So it’s exciting. Not too many cases end with such a joyous thing, that people who want to get married can get married. This is a good one,” he said.

Perry told the Blade she, too, was excited to hear from Obama.

“When the leader of the free world tells a couple like Sandy and I that he respects our relationship and he hopes we can get married soon and show our kids that we’re a family, it says everything,” she said. “We couldn’t be prouder to have him call and tell us that.”

Fred Sainz, HRC’s vice president for communications, said Edith Windsor, 85, the lead plaintiff in the DOMA case, which bears her name, would be celebrating the decision in New York City. Windsor is a New York State resident who challenged DOMA in court following the death of her wife, whom she married in Canada, and the refusal of the IRS to waive her estate tax in the same way that tax is waived for opposite-sex married couples.

With DOMA overturned Wednesday by the Supreme Court, Windsor’s attorneys are expected to call on the IRS to retroactively refund the estate tax she was forced to pay.

Windsor was also scheduled to serve as a grand marshal in New York City’s LGBT Pride Parade this weekend.


Long lines, frayed tempers for couples seeking to wed

David Kero-Mentz, Ken Kero-Mentz, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, marriage equality, District of Columbia, gay news, Washington Blade

Ken Kero-Mentz and his new husband David Kero-Mentz waited two hours for their marriage license to be processed in July. Despite the delay, the couple praised D.C. courthouse staff on the rush of gay marriage license applications following the death of DOMA. (Photo courtesy of the couple)

The number of people applying for a marriage license in D.C. each month has nearly tripled since the Supreme Court issued its landmark ruling on June 26 overturning the Defense of Marriage Act’s provision barring the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages.

The D.C. Superior Court’s Marriage Bureau doesn’t keep track of the gender or sexual orientation of the couples applying for a marriage license. But court observers say gay and lesbian couples make up the overwhelming majority of the additional couples going to the Marriage Bureau on most days at the courthouse at 500 Indiana Ave., N.W.

“We were sitting there and there were so many same-sex couples,” said veteran lesbian activist and businesswoman Eva Freund in describing the scene in the waiting room at the Marriage Bureau last week as she and her partner of 21 years, Elke Martin, waited to be called to file their application for a marriage license.

The two women, who live in Vienna, Va., are among the large number of same-sex couples from states that don’t recognize gay marriage that are now getting married in D.C., which doesn’t have a residency requirement for obtaining a marriage license.

“We just kind of overwhelmed the place,” Freund told the Blade. “And then they called a name and it was a heterosexual couple. And Elke and I looked at one another and said, ‘What are they doing here?’ And then we said, ‘Oh yeah, they need papers, too.”

According to courthouse observers, Freund’s humorous anecdote may be the exception to the disposition of many of the couples – both gay and straight – who become irritable after waiting two hours or longer while the Marriage Bureau staff struggles to process the seeming explosion of applications since late June.

Ken Kero-Mentz, a U.S. Foreign Service officer, and his new husband, David Kero-Mentz, a German national, described their experience with the D.C. Superior Court’s Marriage Bureau as favorable, even though the two waited close to two hours in early July to have their license application processed. The couple also had to wait about eight weeks for an appointment to be married in a civil ceremony at the courthouse, a service the court began providing long before same-sex marriage became legal in D.C.

“Everyone was so nice to us,” said David Kero-Mentz, who is applying for U.S. permanent residency status now that the longstanding prohibition of immigration rights for gay bi-national couples ended with the Supreme Court ruling on DOMA.

Ken Kero-Mentz said he and David, while thrilled to be legally married, didn’t view their D.C. ceremony as that big a deal because they were joined as a couple in an official “registered life partner” ceremony in Berlin in 2008, with 95 friends and family members in attendance. Under German law, registered life partners have all the rights and benefits of a marriage, including immigration rights for foreign national partners.

The D.C. Superior Court has processed same-sex couple applications for marriage licenses since March of 2010, when the city’s marriage equality law took effect.

Court spokesperson Leah Gurowitz said that prior to the Supreme Court’s DOMA decision in late June, the court received on average between 300 and 400 license applications a month. But in July the number of couples applying for a license jumped to 977 and in August the number of couples applying totaled 908 – more than double the average, Gurowitz told the Blade.

“The D.C. Superior Court is committed to addressing the needs of those seeking our services as promptly as possible,” she said in a statement. “In order to meet the increased demand, additional staff have been detailed to the Marriage Bureau.”

Gurowitz added, “In addition, we are working to locate additional office space to help handle the number of applicants we are currently seeing each day, as well as evaluating work processes to improve our customer service.”

Gay rights attorneys have said they expected more same-sex couples to marry following the Supreme Court ruling, which cleared the way for married same-sex couples to obtain most if not all of the federal rights and benefits of marriage.

The Obama administration’s aggressive effort to quickly implement the DOMA ruling by directing federal agencies, including all the branches of the military, to provide marital benefits to same-sex spouses of federal workers, civilian and active duty military, has also boosted the number of lesbian and gay couples deciding to tie the knot, experts have said.

D.C. gay activist Christopher Dyer, who last year obtained a license to perform marriages as a court-approved officiant, said the number of same-sex couples seeking him out to perform their marriage has doubled since the Supreme Court decision.

“I’m getting more military people than ever before,” he said. “Many of them are from Virginia.”

Local gay rights attorney Michele Zavos, who practices family law in the D.C. metro area, said she and other attorneys familiar with the marriage laws of D.C. and Maryland are advising out-of-state clients to choose D.C. over Maryland as the preferred place to marry.

Although same-sex marriage became legal in Maryland earlier this year, Zavos points out that unlike D.C., Maryland has a residency requirement for couples seeking to get a divorce. This means that if a same-sex couple from Virginia or other states that don’t recognize gay marriage decide to marry in Maryland, they could not obtain a divorce in Maryland unless they become a Maryland resident for a year, Zavos said.

She noted that they couldn’t obtain a divorce in their home state if that state doesn’t recognize their marriage, especially if the state has a law or constitutional amendment specifically banning same-sex nuptials as Virginia does.

“Nobody wants to hear this, of course,” Zavos said. “They’re about to be married. They don’t want you to be talking to them about getting divorced.”

Nevertheless, Zavos said many same-sex couples knowledgeable about the residency rules for divorce are choosing D.C. and Delaware, which also allows out-of-state couples to file for a divorce without a residency requirement.

Among those encountering the brunt of the delays at the D.C. Superior Court’s Marriage Bureau are the private marriage officiants who, among other things, file marriage license applications at the courthouse for their same-sex couple clients.

Deborah Cummings-Thomas and her wife, lesbian activist Sheila Alexander-Reid, co-owners of Marry Me In D.C., Inc., specialize in marrying same-sex couples and taking care of the couples’ marriage-related paperwork.

“It’s a nightmare down there right now,” Cummings-Thomas said. “It often takes two hours, sometimes longer” to file a marriage license application, she said. “I’ve been there when people waiting have gotten very upset.”
She said 95 percent of the couples she marries are from jurisdictions outside D.C. and at least 95 percent or more of her clients arrange for her to go to the courthouse to deal with the application.

“The employees are very nice,” said Rev. Starlene Joyner Burns, another D.C. marriage officiant who reaches out to same-sex couples. “But they realize the office needs more help. It’s not a system that is broken. It’s just that the demand is greater than what it was in the past.”

One marriage officiant criticized Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, claiming she should be doing more to secure funds to hire staff at D.C.’s marriage bureau.(Washington Blade file photo by Jeff Surprenant)

One marriage officiant criticized Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, claiming she should be doing more to secure funds to hire staff at D.C.’s marriage bureau.(Washington Blade file photo by Jeff Surprenant)

Another marriage officiant, who spoke on condition of not being identified, criticized D.C. Congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton for not pushing for more funds from Congress to hire additional staff at the courthouse to handle the greater demand for marriage licenses.

Congress and various federal agencies control the D.C. court system rather than the city government under the city’s limited home rule charter. Norton spokesperson Daniel Van Hoogstraten said he would look into the matter.

Others familiar with the Marriage Bureau noted that the D.C. City Council could help the situation by changing the wording in the city’s marriage law that requires a three-day waiting period between the time a marriage license application is submitted and the time a marriage can take place. Marriage laws in most other states have a similar waiting period but those states, like Maryland, issue the license during the applicants’ first visit to the state marriage bureau and post-date it to prevent the marriage from taking place until after the waiting period expires.

Critics of the D.C. Marriage Bureau say it requires applicants or officiants working on their behalf to return to the bureau a second time to pick up the license following the waiting period, a process that causes further delays.

But according to people familiar with the D.C. marriage law, the law prevents the Marriage Bureau from postdating a marriage license because it states explicitly that a license “shall not be issued until three days have elapsed” from the time the application is filed.

“They have two people handling 50 or 60 people at any given time,” said the marriage officiant who asked not to be identified. “They told me please do what you can to get out the word and help us get more staff.”


End of the rainbow?

Kevin Naff, gay news, Washington Blade

Washington Blade Editor, Kevin Naff. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

This year’s Pride Month festivities are marked by some serious anxiety, as the nation awaits two Supreme Court rulings that could reshape the movement — and laws related to relationship recognition.

The court is expected to rule later this month on a challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act and to California’s Proposition 8, which stripped gay couples there of marriage rights in 2008.

If the court rules as many observers expect and allows marriages to resume in the nation’s most populous state while simultaneously striking down DOMA, we’ll have historic new reasons to commemorate June as Pride Month.

In addition to those cases, we’ve seen a flood of good news since the November elections, from ballot wins in four states to several new states approving marriage equality. Despite the setback in Illinois, there’s a lot to celebrate this Pride season.

All the unprecedented good news prompted us to use this Pride issue of the Blade to ask some prominent advocates, writers and thought leaders for their responses to the following questions: “Have we reached a turning point in the LGBT rights movement and what does the end of the movement look like to you?”

Check out the responses from celebrities like Chris Kluwe and local politicians like Maryland Del. Heather Mizeur in our Pride coverage. There seems to be a consensus that we’re not at the end of the movement but that perhaps we’ve arrived at a turning point from which the nation can’t turn back.


We’ve seen dramatic change since President Obama took office in 2009 and began delivering on a range of promises to the community, from signing an LGBT-inclusive hate crimes bill and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal to endorsing marriage equality before the 2012 election. Of course, there’s work still to do and Obama should use the occasion of next week’s White House Pride Month reception to (finally) announce his intent to sign an executive order barring federal contractors from engaging in workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. It’s the right thing to do and Obama pledged to do it. He has said he prefers a legislative solution to the problem of anti-LGBT discrimination (ENDA) but that is sadly out of reach as long as John Boehner is in charge of the House of Representatives. Obama has issued more than 150 executive orders on a broad array of subjects. An order barring discrimination against LGBT workers is overdue and critical to protecting the livelihoods of those not fortunate enough to live on the more progressive coasts with state and local prohibitions.

There are no laws prohibiting workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in 29 states (and in 34 states based on gender identity). Amid all the marriage attention, there’s concern from many in the movement that workplace discrimination and other issues have taken a backseat. Indeed, although everyone won’t marry, most of us have to work.

And workplace discrimination isn’t the only problem remaining to be addressed. We account for only about 4-5 percent of the population but 20 percent of hate crimes target LGBT people; 40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBT; 63 percent of all new HIV infections are among men who have sex with men, up 22 percent since 2008; sodomy laws remain on the books in 17 states, including Maryland and Massachusetts; the FDA still bans gay men from donating blood; immigration law ignores our relationships; an estimated 28 percent of black trans people are unemployed.

So let’s celebrate the remarkable achievements of the last year with an eye toward tackling even more intractable problems in the future.

Kevin Naff is editor of the Washington Blade. Reach him at


Victory, vindication and tears

For those of us old enough to remember the passage of the Defense of Marriage Act — and then-President Bill Clinton’s craven boasting about it in Christian radio ads during the 1996 campaign — this week brought vindication, a victory unimaginable just a few years ago and more than a few tears of joy.

In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court declared that DOMA “is unconstitutional as a deprivation of the liberty of the person protected by the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution.”

Justice Anthony Kennedy added to his considerable pro-gay legacy penning the majority opinion joined by Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer.

In it, Kennedy issues a bold, broad ruling and gets at the heart of the matter: the indignity that DOMA visited upon our relationships.

He writes, “DOMA instructs all federal officials, and indeed all persons with whom same-sex couples interact, including their own children, that their marriage is less worthy than the marriages of others. The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity. By seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others, the federal statute is in violation of the Fifth Amendment.”

It’s a refreshing and honest take on the impact of DOMA, which has stigmatized gay and lesbian couples for 17 years and done real harm to our families. Kennedy’s opinion at long last recognizes this basic fact. The stories of DOMA’s impact on our community have formed the basis for literally hundreds of Blade stories over the years. Many of those stories involve serious life-changing consequences as in survivors like the courageous Edith Windsor facing financial ruin after the death of a partner. But those dark days are over. Kennedy touches on the broad reach of the decision in his opinion.

“By its great reach, DOMA touches many aspects of married and family life, from the mundane to the profound. It prevents same-sex married couples from obtaining government healthcare benefits they would otherwise receive. It deprives them of the Bankruptcy Code’s special protections for domestic-support obligations. It forces them to follow a complicated procedure to file their state and federal taxes jointly.

“DOMA also brings financial harm to children of same-sex couples. It raises the cost of health care for families by taxing health benefits provided by employers to their workers’ same-sex spouses. And it denies or reduces benefits allowed to families upon the loss of a spouse and parent, benefits that are an integral part of family security.”

Kennedy rightly points out that the only reason DOMA came about was anti-gay animus.

“The history of DOMA’s enactment and its own text demonstrate that interference with the equal dignity of same-sex marriages, a dignity conferred by the States in the exercise of their sovereign power, was more than an incidental effect of the federal statute. It was its essence.”

More vindication for the scores of activists, lawyers, politicians, journalists, bloggers and everyday Americans who’ve been fighting this most odious of laws for nearly two decades.

In Justice Antonin Scalia’s overwrought and predictably curmudgeonly dissent, he fears judicial overreach.

“It is an assertion of judicial supremacy over the people’s Representatives in Congress and the Executive. It envisions a Supreme Court standing (or rather enthroned) at the apex of government, empowered to decide all constitutional questions, always and everywhere ‘primary’ in its role.”

He goes on to say the question of same-sex marriage “should be resolved primarily at the state level.”

That is now an open question, as same-sex couples in California rejoin the growing group of now 13 states and D.C. that have enacted marriage equality. Will a gay couple in Texas sue the government for marriage rights? Has Kennedy set the stage for a Loving v. Virginia-type showdown for the gay community?

Tantalizing questions for the future. For now, it’s time to celebrate a victory nearly 20 years in the making.

Kevin Naff is editor of the Washington Blade. Reach him at


Judge halts gay marriages in Philly suburb

Kathleen Kane, gay news, Washington Blade, Pennsylvania, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, marriage equality

Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane announced she would not defend the state’s anti-gay marriage law. (Photo courtesy AG website)

A Pennsylvania judge on Thursday ordered a clerk in a suburban Philadelphia county to stop issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, saying only the state legislature or a state or federal court had legal authority to overturn the state’s ban on gay marriage.

The ruling came two months after Montgomery County, Pa., Register of Wills D. Bruce Hanes startled state officials by deciding on his own to begin granting marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples.

Hanes, who is in charge of the county’s marriage license office, said the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in June overturning a section of the federal Defense of Marriage Act on grounds that it was unconstitutional also invalidated the Pennsylvania law prohibiting same-sex marriage.

But Commonwealth Court Judge Dan Pellegrini ruled on Thursday that it was not up to Hanes to decide whether or not a state law is unconstitutional.

“Unless and until either the General Assembly repeals or suspends the marriage law provisions or a court of competent jurisdiction orders that the law is not to be obeyed or enforced, the marriage law in its entirety is to be obeyed and enforced by all commonwealth public officials,” Pellegrini said in his ruling.

The Associated Press reported that Hanes said he was disappointed by Pellegrini’s ruling but would abide by the judge’s order to stop issuing marriage licenses.

Earlier this year the ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of same-sex couples challenging the constitutionality of Pennsylvania’s ban on same-sex marriage. To the delight of LGBT activists, Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane announced she would not defend the law.

Hanes cited Kane’s position that the state law was unconstitutional based on the Supreme Court’s DOMA ruling as justification for his decision to issue marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples in Montgomery County, which touches on the northwest border of Philadelphia.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Hanes began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples on July 24 with the full backing of the county’s Democratic commissioners. As of earlier this week, 174 same-sex marriage licenses had been issued and 118 of the couples that obtained their license had completed their weddings, the Inquirer reported.

Pelligrini issued his ruling ordering Hanes to stop issuing the licenses after the administration of Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett (R) filed suit against Hanes in Commonwealth Court on grounds that the state was obligated to enforces all of its laws.

It could not immediately be determined whether the marriages of the same-sex couples through licenses issued by Hanes would remain valid.

Vic Walczak, an attorney with the ACLU of Pennsylvania representing gay couples challenging the state’s gay marriage ban, told AP Pellegrini’s decision would have no impact on the ACLU case.

“It is full speed ahead for the ACLU lawsuit,” AP quoted him as saying.

Similar to the action by Hanes, several counties in New Mexico have begun issuing same-sex marriage licenses. New Mexico’s Supreme Court is deliberating over a challenge by state officials to the issuance of the licenses and a ruling on the issue was expected later this year.


End of the movement?

National Equality March, gay rights, gay news, Washington Blade

The National Equality March in Oct. 2009 (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

With the Supreme Court wrestling with some of our biggest issues and marriage rights expanding around the country, we asked several LGBT folks from all walks of life if the end of the movement could be near. Specifically, we asked:

“Have we reached a turning point in the LGBT rights movement and what does the end of the movement look like to you?”

Their answers will delight, surprise, provoke — and make you think.

(Compiled by Blade staff writers Michael K. Lavers, Chris Johnson, Lou Chibbaro Jr., Phil Reese and Joey DiGuglielmo)


Heather Mizeur (Maryland State Delegate)

Heather Mizeur, Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund Brunch, gay news, Washington Blade, Maryland State Legislature, Democratic Party, Tacoma Park

Maryland state Del. Heather Mizeur (D-Montgomery Co.) (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

We have definitely reached a tipping point. With 12 states and counting, LGBT equality is on the march and there is no turning back. It was exciting for Maryland to play such a central role in being the first state below the Mason-Dixon line to pass marriage equality, and the first to affirm its support through the popular vote at the ballot box in 2012. In Takoma Park, when I ran for City Council a decade ago, my sexual orientation was not seen as anything interesting or special because the community had already grown to fully embrace all of its LGBT residents. Now, as I explore a run for governor of Maryland, I find that voters throughout the state are more impressed and interested in my ideas for the future than any concern over the fact that my wife would be their First Lady. We have come a long way.

I do not ever envision an “end of the movement” because as soon as we are done securing our own equality, we move on together as a community to address and tackle inequality every place it exists – poverty, racial bias and gender discrimination, to name a few. We will continue to work collaboratively, putting our community’s best talents forward, to affect positive social change for everyone.

Felipe Sousa-Rodriguez (GetEQUAL)

Felipe Sousa-Rodriguez, Republican National Convention, GetEqual, Tampa, Florida, gay news, Washington Blade

Felipe Sousa-Rodriguez (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

It’s time to push for what we deserve.

Forty-four years ago, a group of drag queens and trans women of color — tired of the constant institutional violence perpetuated against our community — led the Stonewall riots. Riots turned into Pride and Pride continues to be our community’s opportunity to reflect on our progress, set forth our vision for equality and organize — because our lives depend on it.

Though we have made many gains, we are still severely unequal under United States law. We only have 15 percent of the rights of our straight counterparts. In my home state of Florida, I can be denied work, credit, housing, a marriage license and all manner of other rights essential to living the American dream. These issues become even more magnified when taking into account the multiple oppressions of race, immigration status, gender, etc. We have much ground to cover and waiting around is not an option.

Congress and the White House will continue to play politics with our lives unless we stand up now and push for what we truly deserve. Recently, Democratic leaders denied same-sex bi-national couples protections under immigration law; the president is sitting on an executive order that could protect 25 percent of the labor force in our nation against workplace discrimination. The incremental approach to equality is ineffective. We need a full federal equality bill. We owe it to those first mavericks who rose up and fought back against our oppression. It’s time for us to push our allies in Congress to stand up for our equality.

Gautam Raghavan (White House adviser)

Gautam Raghavan, Barack Obama Administration, White House, Frank Kameny, gay news, Washington Blade

White House advisor Gautam Raghavan (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

In his second inaugural address, President Obama spoke of our nation’s commitment to advancing equality for all people, a journey that “guided our forebears through Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall.”  For the LGBT community and allies, those words were received with deep gratitude, applause and more than a few tears.

Since 2009, we have seen tremendous change unfold across the country: “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repealed, hate crimes laws expanded to better protect the community,  anti-bullying efforts increased, discrimination in federal housing prohibited and benefits for same-sex couples extended. As President Obama has said, this progress has not been led by lawmakers in Washington, but by ordinary citizens. It’s change driven by friends, families, colleagues and neighbors having important, heartfelt, sometimes tough conversations in neighborhoods, small towns and cities all across America.

As we reflect upon this rapid progress in the context of a decades-long movement toward equality, it can be easy to assume we’re near our journey’s end.

But if we take the president’s words to heart — “Seneca Falls, Selma, Stonewall” — we remember that movements for equality and social justice require continued commitment. Today, more than 160 years after the Seneca Falls Convention, women still don’t receive equal pay in the workplace. Nearly 50 years after Bloody Sunday, we continue to work toward full racial equality in education, housing and voting. And although the protesters at Stonewall may not have imagined marriage equality in their lifetime, their experience of violence, harassment and discrimination at work and at home still resonate in our community today.

This Pride month, we celebrate the progress we have made — through laws, policies and victories at the ballot box and in the courtroom — and we recommit ourselves to continuing our march toward a more perfect union.

I’m confident that our president will be with us every step of the way.

U.S. Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.)

Mark Takano, Democratic Party, California, United States House of Representatives, gay news, Washington Blade

Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The LGBT rights movement is undoubtedly at a turning point as public opinion has moved in favor of LGBT rights and there are more LGBT federal elected officials than ever before.

But even more evident is that legislation coming out of Congress has become more reflective of true equality as laid out in the Constitution. With the Matthew Shepard Act and the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” hate-crimes protections were expanded and gay service members were allowed to serve openly in the military. Meanwhile, an increasing number of states have approved marriage equality and prohibited employment discrimination against the LGBT community through state initiatives and legislation.

For the first time in United States history, the president and a majority of United States senators support marriage equality and the Department of Justice is no longer defending the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in court.

Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” At this moment in the LGBT rights movement, the arc is actually an acceleration curve. This is a turning point, but there is more to do before we reach the end of the arc, where full equality is recognized under the law and throughout our society.

Hassan Naveed (Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence)

Hassan Naveed, Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence, GLOV, gay news, Washington Blade

Hassan Naveed (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

I think we’re at a crossroads. We’ve witnessed tremendous strides toward equality in the past few years. Public opinion on LGBT issues is progressing unquestionably in our community’s favor.

The recent political victories for marriage equality in several states represent major milestones. As we celebrate these successes and others to come, it’s important to recognize that only history will attest to the true turning points of the LGBT rights movement.

For now, advocates must stride toward equality mindful of all the issues faced by LGBT peoples. Job discrimination, unfair immigration policies, health inequities, homelessness and hate crimes are not new problems, but continue to haunt our community.

The movement’s path forward must address the needs of the most vulnerable and continually accommodate our immense diversity. We’ve reached a crossroads and the direction forward will be the true test of our morality as a people and our success as a movement. For me, the movement will end when we are truly free; to live our lives to the fullest without barriers based on gender expression and identity or sexuality.

Martin Garcia (Gertrude Stein Democratic Club)

Martin Garcia, Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, gay news, Washington Blade

Martin Garcia (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

As we watch the news and look at the national trends, it gets me very excited seeing all signs pointing to moving toward full equality. The number of successes in achieving marriage equality on the state level, the optimistic views on the upcoming Supreme Court decisions, national polls showing a rise in favor of LGBT rights show we definitely have the wind at our backs.

However, we still have a very long journey ahead of us on a number of issues affecting LGBT people and will need to continue fighting.

We need to continue the fight for HIV/AIDS research, education and funding to decrease the infection rate and raise awareness, that schools are safe for all LGBT students and staff, that we are secure being out at our jobs, that we are not discriminated against when finding housing, that we are supporting our youth to ensure they do not end up homeless or worse no longer with us, and fight to ensure that not only some of us are winning but that we are lifting everyone in our community up.

So as exciting and promising as these recent, and hopefully soon-to-be, victories are, we are not done and need to continue the fight for full equality.

Chad Griffin (president, Human Rights Campaign)

Chad Griffin, Human Rights Campaign, gay news, Washington Blade

Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin (Washington Blade file photo by Blake Bergen)

This Pride month, the LGBT movement has so many reasons to be hopeful. From historic oral arguments at the Supreme Court, to victories for marriage equality in Delaware, Rhode Island and Minnesota, to the out-and-proud leadership of athletes like Jason Collins, Brittney Griner and Robbie Rogers, LGBT people and our families have never been so visible and so welcome in American life.

But, as a community, we can’t let progress distract us from the work left to do. We’ve got to make sure that every person in this country gets to see that progress, too.

The fact is that when transgender people still face truly shocking rates of harassment and violence, when a gay man can still be openly murdered on the streets of New York City for who he is, when LGBT youth are still roughly 10 times more likely to be homeless, our work is far from complete. We’re not even close to where we need to be.

So as we gather as a community to celebrate Pride, this movement needs a fire in its belly now more than ever. As long as any LGBT young person feels unwelcome in their community, their church or even around their own dinner table, we’ve got work to do.

Pride, after all, is a celebration with a message: equality everywhere for everyone. And that vision isn’t achieved until it reaches every single person in every corner of this vast country.

Amy Loudermilk (Mayor’s Office of GLBT Affairs)

Amy Loudermilk, Mayor's Office of GLBT Affairs, gay news, Washington Blade

Amy Loudermilk (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

I think we’ve absolutely hit a turning point in the LGBT rights movement. With the recent explosion in the number of states approving marriage-equality measures, our president supporting full equality and the two Supreme Court cases set to be decided very soon, how could anyone deny the country’s mood is changing about this issue and that the momentum is very much in favor of equality? I also couldn’t be more proud that the District was one of the first jurisdictions with marriage equality.

That said, there are still lots of legal issues that need to be addressed and will take some time, with everything from retirement benefits to the availability of restraining orders to same-sex couples involved in domestic-violence situations. Ultimately, I don’t know what the end of the movement will look like because I don’t necessarily think it will end. For example, the women’s rights movement is still going on today because women still don’t make equal pay for equal work and in some states don’t have full control over their own bodies. Similarly, the civil rights movement continues today because we are still trying to fix policies that unfairly target people of color and still overcoming the lingering effects of centuries of institutionalized racism.

Prejudice in general will always exist, so I think this movement and others will continue for a very long time. And it should continue because the world’s learned a lesson about what happens when you are silent about discrimination.

Scott Wooledge (activist)

Scott Wooledge, gay news, Washington Blade

Scott Wooledge (Photo courtesy of Wooledge)

There is no end.

The work is never done, nearly 50 years after the Voting Rights Act was passed, the battle to stamp out institutionalized racism that denies people of color their votes is still front and center; in the Supreme Court, in lower courts and legislatures. And 93 years after the 19th Amendment was ratified, women still hold only 18.3 percent of the 535 seats in the 113th U.S. Congress (and zero presidents thus far).

Though we have nearly all one could hope for in here in New York, we have yet to pass transgender protections. And all LGBT communities will forever be tasked with fighting for their seats at the table and ensuring government serves the unique and specific needs of our community. In New York, we have ongoing battles to ensure our leaders don’t balance tightening state and local budgets by slashing funding for our most vulnerable (and lobbyist-free). Constituencies like indigent with HIV and homeless youth depend on our voices. Social safety net programs, like unemployment, are particularly important to a community that faces discrimination in employment and housing.

But of course I have seen the LGBT community evolve dramatically in my lifetime.

We’ve long been bound by our shared desire not to be outcasts from stalwart mainstream institutions, like the military, the Boy Scouts and marriage. And we’re winning. The question becomes, does the LGBT community have core values that bind us other than just being shunned by straight people? Fighting to expand options will result in more people exercising them. Witness the malaise of the gayborhood as LGBT people no longer feel awkward and unwelcome in more traditionally straight areas.

Ironically, there now seems to be a sense among some that actually choosing to join those institutions is an expression of betrayal to the larger community; “assimilate” and “heteronormatives” are said with derision.

I tip my hat as enthusiastically to the gender-transgressive anarchist as I do the Marine and the suburban soccer mom. I am confident this is the beautiful mosaic that makes our community, and America, beautiful.

Zack Ford (

Zack Ford, ThinkProgress, gay news, Washington Blade

Zack Ford (Photo courtesy of Ford)

The LGBT movement will not end during any of our lifetimes. In the next few decades, we may complete many of our legislative goals, such as marriage equality, nondiscrimination protections, bullying oversight and others, but the work will continue. These legal victories will shift the priorities of our movement to focus more on education, advocacy and support, but opponents of LGBT equality will no doubt continue to challenge our community’s full inclusion in society.

People of color still endure unfair treatment under “Stop and Frisk” and voter suppression laws; women still don’t have equitable salaries or access to health care; and people with disabilities still must fight for accessibility as they challenge basic prejudices. History proves that a change in the laws does not automatically end all oppression.

As LGBT people, we will always be a minority with identities that are, by nature, invisible. We will always have to come out; we will always have to help other people understand how our lives are different. But my perspective is not a pessimistic one. Our momentum is strong and the work is rewarding. For many people, advocacy — and even pride — may become a much smaller priority as it becomes easier for them to integrate, an acknowledgment of the movement’s success. But equality is not a box to be simply checked off; it must be maintained like a garden. Until being queer is as uncontroversial as being left-handed, there will always be a place for the movement in some form.

Michael Crawford (Freedom to Marry)

Michael Crawford, Freedom to Marry, gay news, Washington Blade

Michael Crawford (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

I’m not sure that there will be an end to the LGBT movement. We tend to think about the “LGBT movement” as being about established groups and activists fighting to pass legislation and that the goals of the movement as being primarily legislative. I think we limit our possibilities for achieving true equality if we limit ourselves to thinking solely about passing legislation.

Instead, we should think about our legislative goals around issues like nondiscrimination, marriage and bullying as first steps toward transforming and reshaping the dominant culture in ways that will result in freedom for everyone.

I also think we need to take seriously the responsibility we have to help improve the lives of LGBT people across the globe. And we need to recognize that we have a lot to learn from activists in other countries who are advancing more rapidly than we are.

Just as there’s a continued need for black advocacy groups, I think there will be a continued need for activists who push us toward greater freedom. What those activists and advocacy groups will look like will change as we change the culture, but there will be a continued need for them as long as there are LGBT people.

Emily Saliers (Indigo Girls)

Emily Saliers, Indigo Girls, gay news, Washington Blade

Emily Saliers (Photo courtesy of Russell Carter Artist Management)

It’s a very good and complicated question. What’s good for some of us is good for all of us. Gay marriage — even if the whole population of queer folks decided not to get married, that’s not the point — is an important right to have. And I know exactly what the other issues are. We’ve got high teen suicide rates and homelessness. You can start talking about the church and forget about it. I’ve seen the personal pain, the issues of health, gay couples lacking protection. I know all these realities. But gay marriage has become the linchpin because for society, it’s such a huge shift. The idea that gay marriage could be legislated and protected is one of those massive, massive things that is good for all of us.

The evolution of social issues is painfully slow. Just ask an African American if they’re still suffering the effects of slavery. Of course they are. You see it all the time in the stereotyping of black people in culture. My partner is Canadian, so the day after our show I’m going to be on the Hill with my partner and my baby to say, “This is what a family looks like.” If DOMA isn’t repealed, we’re moving to Canada. We’ll have no other choice. But having the right to get married is a massive sociological shift and for gay marriage to be legislated, I don’t have anything negative to say. It’s about the recognition of equal rights.

Bil Browning (Bilerico Project)

Bil Browning, Bilerico Project, gay news, Washington Blade

Bil Browning (Photo courtesy of Browning)

The LGBT movement will never die. Instead it will slowly amorphize as the dollars dry up and interest wanes. As we’ve already seen after the repeal of DADT, success means downsizing is inevitable.

Once basic protections for employment, public accommodations and housing have been passed and same-sex marriages are recognized at a federal level, LGBT people will become complacent. The fight for LGBT rights will move to the states as each one separately fights for marriage equality.

Groups that work on other issues will consolidate with larger organizations as funding shrinks and our community is mainstreamed. As with African-American civil rights organizations currently, a couple of groups will dominate the landscape with smaller orgs buzzing around the periphery.

I see Freedom To Marry flourishing by investing in these local battles and wouldn’t be surprised if it became deeply involved internationally. It would likely require a name change, but it could easily swallow other groups that work on family issues like Immigration Equality, Family Equality Council and PFLAG. Established and respected organizations like GLAAD, Trevor Project, Outserve/SLDN, and the Task Force all do valuable work, but in the end could comfortably be incorporated into a more broadly invested HRC, which already has more funding and name recognition.

Sadly, many of these third-tier groups are already struggling financially and will always remain in the “also ran” category because they’re not as well known. The non-profit industry at its core is a business like any other. As in the corporate world, the LGBT movement will consolidate for ease of operation, a larger customer base and maximum profits.

Carl Schmid (The AIDS Institute)

Carl Schmid, the AIDS Institute, gay news, Washington Blade

Carl Schmid (Photo courtesy of Schmid)

The LGBT rights movement has progressed slowly over several decades, spurred on by distinct events, including the AIDS crisis in the early ‘80s that led many gay men to publicly “act up” and all too often see either themselves or their friends and loved ones die. Sadly, thousands did die, though much has changed since those early days, in some ways things are still the same. Although we know how HIV can be prevented and treated, and research continues toward finding a vaccine and cure, the end is not in sight.

While people are living longer due to the advent of antiretroviral medications, gay men still shoulder two-thirds of all new HIV infections, about 33,000 new cases each year. A recent study found that one in five gay men in 21 cities have HIV, half of whom do not even know it. Unfortunately, the number of new cases is rising for those under age 25, particularly among young black gay men.

But how many of your friends talk about HIV or their own HIV? While the stigma and discrimination surrounding LGBT people has decreased, the same cannot be said for people with HIV.

It is my hope the progress that has been made in the LGBT movement can impact HIV among gay men. With a more accepting and affirming society and legalization of same-sex marriage, perhaps some factors that lead to HIV transmission will be reduced.

While much progress has been made, I do not see an end of the movement as it relates to HIV among gay men until parents and schools not only teach sexual education that encompasses homosexuality but normalizes being gay and gay relationships. Yes, great strides have been made, but so much more must occur.

Dave Kolesar (WGAY)

Dave Kolesar, Patrick Wojahn, gay news, Washington Blade, marriage equality, Maryland, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, gay news, Washington Blade

Dave Kolesar, left, and his partner, Patrick Wojahn, in Annapolis for the Maryland marriage bill signing. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

I think we have reached a turning point in the LGBT rights movement. When my partner Patrick Wojahn and I first became involved in the Maryland marriage lawsuit in 2004, many of our friends thought we were crazy. Support for same-sex marriage was polling in the 30s and Massachusetts was looking like an outlier, having just granted equal marriage rights to same-sex couples.

Almost 10 years later, marriage equality exists in about a dozen states and the victories for LGBT issues in four states at the ballot box last year showed not only that the sky didn’t fall, but that momentum has decisively swung in favor of the LGBT movement.

I don’t know what the end of the movement would look like, as I think it still has a long way to go. The marriage question may be largely settled within a decade, but there are many other important issues that need to be addressed — employment discrimination and transgender rights are probably the next big fights. And while we certainly have been successful over the past few years, recent attacks in New York City suggest that we have to be on guard against a violent counter-reaction to the success of our movement.  Unfortunately it seems that in society, wherever there is a minority, there is discrimination and the hope is that one day there will be enough moral progress such that we all realize that all of us have much more in common than we do differences.

Chris Kluwe (Oakland Raiders, ally)

Chris Kluwe, National Football League, gay news, Washington Blade

Chris Kluwe (Photo by Joe Bielawa)

This is a question that I don’t think has an answer anyone wants to hear.

I’ve always tried to be honest and examine the world through the lens of what is, not what I would like it to be and yes, I think we’ve reached a turning point in the LGBT rights movement in the United States, but I don’t think we’re anywhere close to the end of the movement.

The struggle for LGBT rights is the same struggle for women’s rights, the same struggle for religious rights and the same struggle for civil rights humanity has waged for the entirety of its existence, and it’s happening all over the globe — the struggle to live your own life, free of oppression, without oppressing others.

This is the battle that every generation in every nation has to fight, and will continue fighting, until the day comes when we’re all finally empathic enough to understand what effect our actions can have on other people.

Yet even though we may not see the end of that struggle in our lifetime, it is a struggle worth fighting for, because every step we take, every inch we gain in treating others with respect and dignity, is another building block our children can use to make their own progress, to build their own better world.

The end of the movement may never come, but that doesn’t mean we should stop working toward it.

Ruby Corado (transgender activist)

Ruby Corado, Casa Ruby, gay news, Washington Blade

Ruby Corado (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

No, we haven’t reached a turning point in the LGBT rights movement yet. We have helped others reach that point and helped changed the minds of many people.

These days we have many politicians who are legislating for us not just against us. We have a mainstream media that covers more positive stories about our lives than ever before. We have faith communities that are embracing our pursuit of dignity. We have America understanding LGBTs as human beings not just as a sexual orientation, gender identity and/or expression. But our LGBT movement has not reached a turning point among those who are LGBT. We are a movement divided by race, gender, social and economic status, ideals, geographical areas. We are a movement that does not support the young, the elder, the disadvantaged, the marginalized, the gender non-conforming and/or transgender.

I see the end of our movement looking like the rainbow that we love and embrace so much, a movement where every color (every gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender) complements, sticks together and supports one another no matter what challenges or struggles we face through our individual storms.

At the end, we, just like the rainbow, shine together happily.

Hector Fonseca (DJ)

Hector Fonseca, gay news, Washington Blade

Hector Fonseca (Photo courtesy of Management 360)

I think there have been a number of turning points recently. The end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Legalization of marriage in several states and countries. An active pro athlete coming out. Those are all great moments and turning points in the LGBT community we should celebrate.

I personally think Lady Gaga should get more credit than she is getting. In my eyes, she got the ball really rolling a few years ago. Gaga made it cool again for other pop artists and celebrities like her to care about gay rights again. Kudos to her for restarting the movement.

The end of the movement to me would be a few things including openly gay pro athletes, an openly gay president and the same full equal rights that heterosexuals globally enjoy. I don’t think any of this will happen until we as a community really stick together to support LGBT causes and those who respect our community, only.

We also need to stop glorifying bullying and putting hateful people on pedestals (e.g. “She’s such a bitch, I love her.”). When we stop doing this, we will get much further much quicker. We have come a long way but there is much more work to be done.

Holly Twyford (actress)

Holly Twyford, Studio Theatre, Dirt, gay news, Washington Blade

Holly Twyford (Photo by Scott Suchman, courtesy Studio Theatre)

There’s a big difference between a tipping point and an end point. The biggest challenge the gay community has always had is we’ve never had any clear agenda other than equality. Is marriage equality the golden egg? Maybe legally so, but what does it really mean for us to reach an end point because you have to address the continued bigotry that still exists.

Of course it’s incredibly important that marriage is in front of the Supreme Court but now we need Joe Schmoe American to say, “OK, I buy into that too” or “I just met two lesbians with a child and they seemed like great parents.” So I guess my answer is yes and no. Yes, it’s a huge, exciting paradigm shift, but is it the end of the movement? No.

I think marriage is being very much held up as the brass ring because it’s a clear, visible, everyday symbol of what has been denied to us. You know, we can talk about workplace discrimination, but it’s harder to see, whereas me and my partner getting up in front of a church and someone saying, “By the power vested in me … ” that’s something very visible and you can say wife, not partner. It’s like, “Oh, OK, so you’re not married?” “Well no, but we’ve been together 20 fucking years — we’ve been together longer than you and your husband.” It’s just so great not to have to explain all that. It’s a huge symbol.

Melissa Etheridge (singer)

Melissa Etheridge, gay news, Washington Blade

Melissa Etheridge (Photo by James Minchin III)

I don’t think there will ever be an end of the movement.

I think the time we can kinda go, “Whew,” is when we know that we can walk in any city and beside any stranger and understand that what makes me different from them is not something that’s fearful to them. I’ve seen such fear among people of what is not understood and what we’ve done over the last 20 years is to slowly, day by day, say, “We are people. We’re your neighbors, your children, your friends, we work with you, we are part of every community. We’re everywhere in the whole world, we are a piece of every civilization and what we bring to the table only makes us better as a nation and as a world.”

To understand that diversity and not be fearful of it is really the ultimate step. Gay marriage is important because it’s actually something you can legislate. You can’t go before the Supreme Court and say, “They’ve gotta stop hating me,” you just can’t pass that kind of a law. But you can find a way to legislate certain rights. I’m not saying we should all get married. Anybody can see I personally haven’t really been very good at it so far. Yet to have the right to do so is vitally important.

When I was a teen, for instance, there wasn’t even really any sense of gay marriage as a concept. We didn’t even really have the words for it or if there was, it was all bad. And yet here it is a generation later in front of the Supreme Court. As every new generation comes along, the fear dilutes.

Mame Dennis/Carl Rizzi (Academy of Washington)

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Mame Dennis (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

We’ve had gay weddings in the Academy for years. They weren’t legal of course, but we had them. I guess if the Supreme Court makes them legal and everything, that’s fine, but I don’t really think it’s going to solve anything.

I have to be honest, I shudder a bit when I think of all these people who will probably rush out and get married. I do think the gay girls take it a little more seriously than the men, but I think with the guys, they trick with someone and think they’re in love and I can easily see them running off and getting married and then what, eight weeks later or something, realize, well no, I’m not really in love. I’m concerned about the after effects. I think there’s going to be a huge spate of gay divorces if this goes through and that will look really bad for the community. That might give us an even worse name. You know how some of these queens are.

I think we have to spend more time earning respect and acceptance in the workplace and in the community and society in general. That’s the most important thing we have to concentrate on.

People seem so obsessed with this marriage stuff and there are so many things out there that are more important. I’m also concerned with how it will turn out when these queens run out and jump into marriage and realize later they can’t get out of it so easily. That’s not to say everyone will get divorced, of course, but some will and we’ve been so used to just shacking up for so many years and being able to leave whenever we want. It won’t always be so easy to do that. The gay girls, at least the ones I know and have been associated with, seem to stay in their relationships forever. They seem to want to make more of a commitment.

David Lett/Lena Lett (priest/drag queen)

David Lett, Lena Lett, gay news, Washington Blade

David Lett (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

For me, marriage is not the brass ring. It certainly is a milestone and it does get us a little bit closer to overall equality, but is this the end of the movement? Unfortunately I don’t think that will ever happen. I don’t think blacks could ever foresee a day when the NAACP could go away and everything would be fine from then on. Even struggles that we think of as being from a totally different era, like the Irish fully finding their place in society, as long as there’s sickness and sadness in the world, there will be discrimination and as long as you have people bound by ignorance and bound by fear, then you will have the haves and the have nots and there has to be a group for the have nots.

I don’t think it’s realistic at all given human nature, for any of the groups to just say, “OK, we’re done — let’s pack up and go home.” The people who are there to make sure these things are fully accepted over the long haul, those people will always have a job.

I don’t really see marriage — and this is from somebody who performs them — as that big a deal. I can see it symbolically and for long-term relational issues like money and securities and inheritance and that sort of thing, but it’s not really as big as some of the other issues.

If you think about it, most professionals who are involved in weddings — clergy, dress designers, event coordinators, cake decorators, organists — you’re dealing with a lot of people who happen to be gay themselves and so to be denied that themselves is a real slap in the face. It’s the same thing as it was for black people — “Oh, it’s OK for me to work in the dining room but it’s not OK to sit in the dining room?” That shit doesn’t work anymore. We’ve progressed too far and worked for too long to get where we are.

And all this will outlast the conservative movement. They’ve basically said, “Marriage, oh my God, you can’t touch that, we’ll have a constitutional amendment,” but once you start messing with the Constitution, that’s a really big deal. That’s not just a little state picking on you, that’s the whole government saying, “No, you’re an invalid creature.” But no, you will not mess with the Constitution to say that I am less than. The movement has really been the perfect example of Newton’s Law — for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. They came out with this stuff and we came back full force. I don’t see that ending anytime soon.

Allyson Robinson (OutServe-SLDN)

OutServe-SLDN executive director Allyson Robinson (photo courtesy Outserve Magazine)

Allyson Robinson (photo courtesy Outserve Magazine)

At OutServe-SLDN, we’ve seen the future of the LGBT civil rights movement. We live in that future every day.

As the morning of September 20, 2011 dawned on American military installations around the world, gay and lesbian service members awoke to a new reality: their service in defense of this country would no longer be contingent on a willingness to lie about who they were. Ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was an historic accomplishment, decades in the making, and with it, our two predecessor organizations — Servicemembers Legal Defense Network and OutServe — achieved the goal around which they had been rallying support for years.

But when the celebrations ended and we took stock of the new military we’d helped create, we realized our work wasn’t over. It was just getting started. Gay and lesbian troops could now be “out,” but they were anything but equal.

Passing good laws and enacting good policies is hard work. Changing culture is much harder. That’s the mission we’ve claimed for ourselves at OutServe-SLDN — building a culture of inclusion and respect for LGBT people in our military — even as we continue the fight to end the discriminatory policies that remain. And that’s the work that awaits nearly every LGBT advocacy organization in America on the other side of that new world we’re hoping to create by pulling down DOMA and enacting nondiscrimination policies. It will be the work of generations, but take it from us: if you haven’t started yet, you’re already behind the power curve.














OPM lays out post-DOMA plan for fed’l employee benefits

U.S. Office of Personnel Management has instituted new guidance for married gay federal employees in the wake of DOMA (photo public domain)

U.S. Office of Personnel Management has instituted new guidance for married gay federal employees in the wake of the DOMA court ruling. (photo public domain)

Gay federal employees in legal same-sex marriages will be eligible immediately for health and pension benefits in the aftermath of the Supreme Court ruling against Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, according to a new memo from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

The memorandum, dated June 28 and signed by OPM acting director Elaine Kaplan, identifies five new areas of benefits that will be available after the court decision for the legal spouses as well as newly qualified children and stepchildren of gay federal employees.

“There are numerous benefits that are affected by the Supreme Court’s decision, and it is impossible to answer every question that you might have,” Kaplan, a lesbian, writes. “Nevertheless, I want to assure you that the U.S. Office of Personnel Management is committed to working with the Department of Justice to ensure swift and seamless implementation of the court’s ruling.”

The five new benefits identified in the memo are:

• health insurance through the Federal Health Employees Benefits (FEHB) plan;

• life insurance through the Federal Employees’ Group Life Insurance (FEGLI) program;

• dental and vision insurance through the Federal Employee Dental and Vision Insurance Program (FEDVIP);

• long-term care insurance under the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program (FLTCIP);

• retirement benefits;

• and the ability to submit claims for medical expenses through flexible spending accounts.

For each of the four insurance benefits in the memo, gay federal employees must elect to make a change within the window of 60 days between June 26, 2013 and August 26, 2013 to enroll. With respect to health, dental and vision insurance, the next opportunity would be at the start of open season later this year.

For employees who already have health coverage under a FEHB plan, coverage will begin immediately. For those who don’t, benefits will be effective on the first day of the first pay period after the enrollment request is received.

To be eligible for retirement benefits for their same-sex spouses, gay federal employees have two years until after the Supreme Court decision, or June 26, 2015, to inform OPM they have a legal marriage that qualifies for recognition and elect and changes to benefits.

The OPM memo is the first of many pieces of guidance expected from federal agencies in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act. After the court ruling, President Obama said he instructed U.S. Attorney Eric Holder to work with other Cabinet members to implement the end to the Defense of Marriage Act.

In a statement, Obama called the OPM guidance “a critical first step” toward implementing the Supreme Court ruling that determined “all married couples should be treated equally under federal law.”

“Thousands of gays and lesbians serve our country every day in the federal government,” Obama said. “They, and their spouses and children, deserve the same respect and protection as every other family.”

In another statement, Holder said the Obama administration by offering these benefits “is making real the promise of this important decision” against DOMA, but there’s more to come.

“As the President directed, the Department of Justice will continue to coordinate with other federal agencies to implement this ruling as swiftly and smoothly as possible,” Holder said. “I look forward to sharing additional information as it becomes available. We will never stop fighting to ensure equality, opportunity, and – above all – justice for everyone in this country.”

Leonard Hirsch, a board member for the LGBT federal employee affinity group known as Federal GLOBE, called the guidance “an extraordinary result” for everyone’s who been working on the issue for decades.

“It opens up the key benefits that key benefits for federal employees that have been closed — health insurance, life insurance — to the same-sex spouses of federal employees and retirees,” Hirsch said.

Hirsch also emphasized the word must to get out to federal retirees that their same-sex spouses are eligible for federal benefits in the wake of the ruling against DOMA.

“This was included, so this is a wonderful, inclusive set of changes that OPM has been preparing for and announced today,” Hirsch said.

Thomas Richards, an OPM spokesperson, confirmed that the guidance applies to all employees in legal same-sex marriages — even those that live in states that don’t recognize marriage equality.

“These benefits will be available to any federal employee or annuitant who has a valid marriage license, regardless of their state of residency,” Richards said.

But the guidance doesn’t cover federal employees in same-sex relationships who aren’t married, such as those in domestic partnerships or civil unions. In July, gay Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) is expected to introduce the legislation known as the Domestic Partnership Benefits & Obligations Act to address this issue.

Richards noted the limitations of the new guidance is restricted to legally married federal employees, but recalled a 2009 memorandum from President Obama that offered limited benefits to employees in civil unions or domestic partnerships

“Acting Director Kaplan’s memo identifies certain benefits previously available only to opposite-sex spouses that are now available to all legally married spouses, including same-sex spouses,” Richards said. “OPM has already extended benefits to same-sex domestic partners to the extent permissible under the law.”