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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.


U.S. groups file briefs in Colombia marriage case

Colombia Diversa, Mauricio Albarracín Caballero, gay news, Washington Blade

Colombia Diversa Executive Director Mauricio Albarracín Caballero. (Photo by Andrés de la Cuadra)

Two U.S. legal groups on Thursday filed briefs with Colombia’s high court that urge it to recognize two same-sex couples’ right to marry.

The New York City Bar Association cites last year’s U.S. Supreme Court rulings that struck down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8 in a brief filed with the country’s Constitutional Court on behalf of Luis Felipe Rodríguez Rodas and Edward Soto of Cali and Julio Albeyro Cantor Borbón and William Alberto Castro of Bogotá who challenged Inspector General Alejandro Ordóñez Maldonado’s efforts to nullify their unions. It also notes that no federal court has ruled in support of state gay nuptials bans since the landmark decisions.

“The evolution of the cases that challenge legislation against marriage in the United States have made the great weight of scientific, legal and historic authority that is in favor of allowing same-sex marriages clear,” writes Hunter T. Carter. “The cases also demonstrate that the arguments against marriage between people of the same sex are easy to refute. And that they are often based on refuted science, animus or religious beliefs that should not be taken into account in the determination of public policy.”

The brief the Impact Litigation Project at American University Washington College of Law in D.C. filed with the Constitutional Court also cites the U.S. Supreme Court’s DOMA and Prop 8 rulings. It additionally refers to marriage decisions in Massachusetts, South Africa, Brazil and Spain that upheld the “human dignity” of same-sex couples.

“Marriage provides dignity to married couples, dignity that unmarried couples cannot access,” reads the brief. “This reasoning is even more clear when the decision appeals to the humiliation that children of same-sex couples whose marriages are not recognized suffer.”

The Constitutional Court in 2011 ruled same-sex couples could legally register their relationships in two years if Colombian lawmakers did not pass a bill that would extend to them the same benefits heterosexuals receive through marriage.

The Colombian Senate last April overwhelmingly rejected a measure that would have allowed gays and lesbians to tie the knot.

A handful of same-sex couples have exchanged vows in the country since the Constitutional Court’s deadline passed last June. Ordóñez has petitioned the tribunal to overturn rulings that allowed them to marry.

Rodríguez and Soto last June applied for a marriage license in Cali, but a notary rejected it on the grounds he did not have the authority to allow same-sex couples to marry. A judge subsequently ruled in favor of the men, but Ordóñez challenged the decision.

A Bogotá judge last July married Cantor and Castro after a court in the Colombian capital granted them a marriage license. Ordóñez two months later petitioned the Constitutional Court to block the union.

Cantor and Castro and Rodríguez and Soto specifically referenced the Constitutional Court’s 2011 ruling in their petitions that urge it to recognize their right to marry.

The Constitutional Court on April 1 announced it would consider couples’ cases.

It specifically asked government agencies to state whether they allow same-sex couples to marry or prevent them from doing so. The Constitutional Court also said it would accept amicus briefs and other submissions.

“The role of the constitution is to not force people to confirm to the wishes of the majority,” says the Impact Litigation Project in its brief. “Precisely, one of the roles of the constitution is to protect people from the wishes of their own majorities when they have resulted in the discrimination of minorities.”

Mauricio Albarracín Caballero, executive director of Colombia Diversa, a Colombian LGBT advocacy group, told the Washington Blade on Thursday the DOMA decision is a “very important point of reference” for the Constitutional Court.

“[It] can learn a lot from the Windsor case,” he said.

Neighboring Brazil is among the more than dozen countries that have extended marriage rights to same-sex couples.

The Mexican Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled in favor of 39 people who challenged the constitutionality of a Oaxacan law that bans gay marriage. The same tribunal in 2012 ruled in favor of three same-sex couples who separately sought legal recourse — known as an “amparo” in the Mexican judicial system — that would allow them to marry in the state.

Gays and lesbians have been able to marry in Mexico City since 2010. Same-sex couples have also exchanged vows in Jalisco, Coloma, Chihuahua, Quintana Roo and other Mexican states as the issue gains additional traction in the country.

Chilean lawmakers continue to consider a bill that would allow same-sex couples to enter into civil unions. President Michelle Bachelet last year publicly backed marriage rights for gays and lesbians during her presidential campaign.

Lawmakers in neighboring Perú on Tuesday are scheduled to consider a civil unions bill.

Carter — whose husband is Colombian — testified before the Colombian Senate last year in support of the same-sex marriage bill that lawmakers struck down.

He noted in the brief he filed with the Constitutional Court on behalf of the New York City Bar Association that 64 percent of the population of North and South America live in jurisdictions that have extended marriage and other forms of legal recognition to same-sex couples. They include Canada, Uruguay, Argentina and 18 U.S. states and D.C.

“I’m a family member, a neighbor, and an investor; I’m a stakeholder,” Carter told the Blade. “Today we were able to present from the most auspicious and authoritative bar association in the United States a thorough review of the very considered legal judgment in U.S. courts, in every corner of the country from local to national, that marriage discrimination does not stand up to scrutiny as supported anything other than myths and harmful stereotypes.”


Prop 8 plaintiff speaks at Education Dept. Pride event

Kris Perry, Arne Duncan, gay news, Washington Blade

Proposition 8 plaintiff Kris Perry spoke Thursday with U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan. (Washington Blade photo by Damien Salas)

U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan played the role of talk show host on Thursday when he interviewed famed Proposition 8 plaintiff Kris Perry on the dual topics of LGBT equality and early childhood education.

The interview took place before an audience of about 150 people assembled at the department’s headquarters in Southwest Washington as part of an LGBT Pride Month event sponsored by the department’s LGBT employees group.

“This is a really meaningful day,” Duncan told the Blade after the event. “We try to do whatever we can just to celebrate the wealth of talent and the wealth of diversity we have here,” he said in referring to the department’s employees.

Perry became a nationally recognized figure as the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit that challenged the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8, a ballot measure that banned same-sex marriage in the state.

Shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Prop 8 last year Perry and her partner of more than 10 years, Sandy Stier, married in their home state, with LGBT activists joining them and their four sons in celebrating the victory.

Although the spotlight on Perry has focused on her marriage equality efforts her career has long involved advocacy for early childhood education programs. She currently serves as executive director of the First Five Years Fund, a national advocacy organization that lobbies for federal funding for early childhood education programs.

In response to a question from Duncan at Thursday’s Pride event, Perry pointed to what she sees as similarities in the impact of marriage equality and early childhood education programs on the lives of children.

“There are so many similarities in terms of why high-quality early education is the same as kids feeling like they have a family that is equal,” she said. “When you are told by your government that your family isn’t equal it changes your self-image, your self-esteem and it creates a ceiling for you that is very hard to push through,” Perry said.

“When you aren’t allowed to get a high-quality early education a similar ceiling is placed on top of you,” she said. “It is very hard to reach your full potential. It’s very hard to compete … And I really believe that family diversity and the early education opportunity – you create opportunities or you take them away,” she said.

“And those are life-changing, life-altering decisions that we make in the society that limit potential.”

After asking Perry several questions, Duncan opened the discussion to questions from the audience of mostly DOE employees. The questions were divided almost equally between LGBT equality issues and education issues, including early childhood education.


Hobby Lobby ruling assailed

Hobby Lobby, gay news, Washington Blade

(Photo by DangApricot; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case on Monday brought criticism from LGBT rights supporters for restricting access to contraception, but advocates acknowledge the narrow scope of the ruling shouldn’t lead to companies invoking it to justify anti-LGBT workplace discrimination.

In a 5-4 decision penned by U.S. Associate Justice Samuel Alito, justices ruled in the case of Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act enables closely held for-profit corporations whose owners oppose contraception to continue to deny it for religious reasons, despite the mandate requiring employers to provide this coverage under Obamacare.

“We hold that the regulations that impose this obligation violate RFRA, which prohibits the Federal Government from taking any action that substantially burdens the exercise of religion unless that action constitutes the least restrictive means of serving a compelling government interest,” Alito writes.

Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, said the decision represents a “dangerous precedent” and that allowing employers to restrict access to contraception leaves women “in limbo.”

“Under the ruling, some corporations will be treated like religious institutions and these so-called ‘religious corporations’ will not have to pay for health care that they disagree with,” Carey said. “So what happens if a woman needs birth control and their employers won’t pay? What happens if a trans woman needs hormones and their bosses won’t pay? What happens if a couple needs fertility treatments and the ‘religious corporation’ they work for won’t pay? Yet again, another barrier put in the way of vital and affordable health care.”

But Alito suggests in his ruling that the Obama administration can set up for employees who seek contraception coverage and work for closely held for-profit corporations the same system already in place under Obamacare for employees who work at religious organization and seek contraception.

Moreover, Alito emphasizes the ruling is limited to contraception and doesn’t allow  closely held for-profit corporations to opt out of any law they choose.

“The principled dissent raises the possibility that discrimination in hiring, for example on the basis of race, might be cloaked as religious practice to escape legal sanction,” Alito writes. “Our decision today provides no such shield.”

In other news from the Supreme Court on Monday, justices announced they will decline to hear litigation known as Pickup v. Brown, which challenges California’s ban on “ex-gay” therapy for minors. The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals last year upheld the constitutionality of the law, which was signed by California Gov. Jerry Brown.


Waiting for justice and feeling proud

I’m not sure which is worse: Waiting for the U.S. Supreme Court to issue its rulings on marriage equality or waiting for the results of a pregnancy test. It would relieve quite a lot of stress in the LGBT community if we could just pee on a stick to know how the justices will decide. Then again, when my spouse and I were starting our family, our doctor told us the sticks wouldn’t work because of the fertility drugs my spouse had taken. We tried them anyway. The doctor was right—we had to be patient and wait for results of the blood test.

I find myself reflecting, though, as I wait for the Supreme Court this Pride Month, that I really do have a lot to feel proud about this year.

First, foremost, and always: my son. He’s as great a kid as I could ever hope for. I’ll spare you excessive parental bragging, and simply say I feel proud just because he is who he is. I’m honored to be one of his moms.

I am proud, too, of my spouse and our extended family. We’re far from perfect, but we’re always there for each other when it counts. Helen and I recently celebrated 20 years together, half of which have been as parents. The world may say what it will; we are a family.

I also feel proud when I hear stories of other children who are standing up for themselves and their families. To share just a few recent examples: Zea and Luna, nine-year-old twins from California, wrote to President Obama about their two-mom family, marriage equality, and the need for education funding and gun control. They were invited to the White House with their parents and grandparents, and introduced the president to the crowd at the White House LGBT Pride Month Reception.

Colorado teen Ted Chalfen used his high school commencement speech to talk about coming out and how the accepting attitudes from his family and friends will help build a better future—not only for him, but for his whole generation.

Eighteen-year-old Riley Roberts, who has lesbian moms, spoke to the Nevada Assembly in favor of a bill to repeal the state’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples.

Nicole Maines, a 15-year-old transgender girl, is fighting in Maine’s highest court for the right to use the girl’s restroom.

And 12-year-old Jazz, a transgender girl, has spoken out publicly about the rights of transgender youth and been the subject of a documentary on the Oprah Winfrey Network. She recently spoke with the Huffington Post about her own desire to become a parent someday.

I am proud of LGBT parents, too—ones like Jennifer Tyrrell, who found herself thrust into the spotlight after being banned as leader of her son’s Cub Scout troop, simply because she is a lesbian, and who has become an outspoken LGBT advocate.

Then there’s Karen Morgan, whose wife Charlie was a chief warrant officer in the New Hampshire National Guard and died of breast cancer. Karen is a plaintiff in a case challenging the Defense of Marriage Act, which prevents her and her children from getting the benefits due to different-sex spouses of deceased service members.

I am proud—and more than a little humbled—to be part of the community of LGBT families that has such people in it.

I am also proud that LGBT families continue to make inroads in the media, with ABC Family’s new drama “The Fosters” stepping away from television’s usual unimaginative depiction of same-sex parents as white and upper middle-class with young children. NBC’s fall show, “Sean Saves the World,” about a single gay dad and his teenage daughter, promises to remind us that the phrase “same-sex parents” doesn’t cover us all. And there are many more stories left to tell of families across the LGBT spectrum.

Finally, I am proud of my country. Regardless of the outcome of the Supreme Court cases, we have made tremendous and accelerating progress toward LGBT equality. I am proud of those who have helped President Obama “evolve” on marriage equality, and continue to pressure him and Congress regarding employment nondiscrimination, immigration rights and transgender equality as well.

No matter how the Supreme Court rules, this is not the end of the road toward equality for all. I have no doubt that LGBT parents will continue to be among those leading the way, if only because, whether starting our families or raising them, we know the importance of both action and patience. Even if we do sometimes buy completely useless pregnancy tests.


A tribute to our hero, Edith Windsor

Edith Windsor, Edie Windsor, gay news, marriage equality, same sex marriage, gay marriage, Washington Blade

Edith Windsor, whose suit went to the U.S. Supreme Court, finally toppling the anti-gay law known as DOMA. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Like many I know, I’ve been on a high since the Defense of Marriage Act was struck down by the Supreme Court. Hero is a word too often thrown around loosely. Yet, Edith Windsor, 83, who fought against DOMA all the way to the nation’s highest court is a true hero.

Windsor sued the federal government after being told that she owed more than $360,000 in inheritance taxes after Thea Spyer, her spouse of more than 40 years, died. Spyer, a psychologist, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1977. As the season of LGBT Pride ends, and July, the month when Disability Pride is celebrated in many cities across the country, Windsor and Spyer’s loving relationship has a particular resonance for those of us who are queer and have disabilities.

Some may think this is a downer. Why, you might ask, bring up disability when we want to bask in the glow of DOMA’s defeat? Perhaps, you’re wondering, what do folks with disabilities have to be proud of? Contrary to these misgivings, I’m not trying to bring you down.  I’m telling you this to open your eyes to a vibrant, but largely invisible and uncelebrated, part of the queer community.

The story of Windsor and Spyer, whose love was celebrated when they got married in Canada in 2007 and again when New York recognized their marriage, is a stellar reminder that LGBT people with disabilities not only exist, but love, work, marry, and, even (you might want to sit down while reading this!) have sex.

I don’t want to sugarcoat what it means to have a disability or to love someone with a disability. As Spyer’s MS progressed, she went from walking with a cane to using two crutches to being in a wheelchair. Windsor retired early from her job to care for Spyer. Yet, as the couple discovered, despite these often painful, difficulties, disability and a joyful, loving relationship aren’t mutually exclusive.

The MS didn’t keep Windsor and Spyer from enjoying sex and intimacy.  In the documentary “Edie and Thea: A Very Long Engagement,” the couple (Spyer in her wheelchair) is shown dancing.  “I had read a lot of books and talked to people at Berkeley about this business of independent living for the disabled,” Windsor said in a “New York Times Magazine” interview, “There were warnings about what not to give up and how to handle it. I read all of that, and I knew what not to give up.”

Often, people believe that folks with disabilities are asexual (or sexual in an exotic, strange way).  “I’d like to be broadminded enough to date a woman in a wheelchair,” a queer, well-meaning, able-bodied friend once said to me, “but who knows what she might do.”  (She would have watched the movie, sipped her drink or whatever else one does on a date, I wanted to say.)

Sometimes we’re intellectualized. Once, I, legally blind, was in a lesbian bar in New York City. Seeing my white cane, a woman exclaimed,  “I love Helen Keller! She did great work! But what are you doing in a place like this?”

At times, disabled people are seen as folks who need to be healed. I respect religion. But faith-healing in the 21 century? Last month, at Whole Foods, a man said to me, “Your eyes make you look bad. Let me pray for you!”

The modern disability rights movement was started in Berkeley, Calif. and New York City in the late 1960s and early 1970s. People with disabilities began to insist that we’re fully evolved, loving, sexual, human beings.

Nearly one in five (51.2 million) Americans has a disability and from three to five million people are LGBT and have a disability, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. As we celebrate the heroism of Edith Windsor, let’s embrace the people with disabilities in our community.

Kathi Wolfe is a poet and writer. She is a regular contributor to The Blade.


LGBT advocates outside Supreme Court remain ‘optimistic’

Proposition 8, Prop 8, DOMA, Defense of Marriage Act, Supreme Court, gay rights, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, marriage equality, gay news, Washington Blade

Activists held signs and a flag in front of the Supreme Court in hopes of a decision on the Proposition 8 and Defense of Marriage Act cases. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Same-sex marriage supporters who gathered outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday said they remain hopeful the justices will strike down California’s Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act.

“We’re hopeful and optimistic that even out of a conservative court is going to come a strong opinion for equality,” Jonathan Lewis of Brookline, Mass., told the Washington Blade as he stood outside the court with his husband of nearly six years, Jonathan Adlar, and their 10-week-old son.

David Baker, a D.C. resident who is originally from Salt Lake City, held a sign outside the Supreme Court that read “Gay Mormon for marriage equality.”

He told the Blade shortly after he learned the justices would not issue a ruling on the Prop 8 and DOMA cases until at least Tuesday that he feels “civil marriage is a civil right.” Baker, who is also a member of Affirmation, an LGBT Mormon group, added same-sex couples in Utah and other states without marriage rights for gays and lesbians would receive federal benefits if the justices strike down DOMA.

“What’s going through my mind is a lot of hopes and prayers that things break our way — that things break for the right side of history,” Baker said.

Gays and lesbians can legally marry in nine states and D.C.

Delaware’s same-sex marriage law will take effect on July 1. Gays and lesbians in Minnesota and Rhode Island will be able to exchange vows as of August 1, while four Michigan lawmakers on Monday introduced a bill that would allow nuptials for same-sex couples in their state.

Supreme Court passersby largely support same-sex marriage

One man held a poster of a gay couple kissing with the word “sodomy” written beneath it as he stood across the street from the Supreme Court on Monday as the decisions were announced. The vast majority of passersby and others who have gathered outside the court over the last week, however, have supported same-sex marriage.

“It will change everyone’s lives, make it so much more fair and equitable,” Mara McKennen of Richmond, Va., told the Blade on Friday as she watched Dennis Niekro and Paul Richmond of Columbus, Ohio, and 24 other same-sex couples marry at the Supreme Court.

Elizabeth North of Florida added she feels a decision that would strike down DOMA would help same-sex marriage advocates in the Sunshine State who last week launched a campaign to overturn a 2008 constitutional amendment that bans nuptials for gays and lesbians.

“It just gives us a leg to stand on,” she told the Blade. “It gives us something to fight with.”

Gwenn Andrix, a transgender woman from Bowling Green, Ohio, who also traveled to D.C. on Friday to attend the mass same-sex wedding that took place outside the Supreme Court, agreed as she held LGBT and trans Pride flags.

“I’m hoping they (the justices) move the country forward,” she told the Blade.

Kris Perry, Sandy Stier, Paul Katami, Jeff Zarillo, Proposition 8, Prop 8, DOMA, Defense of Marriage Act, Supreme Court, gay rights, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, marriage equality, gay news, Washington Blade

Kris Perry and Sandy Stier and Paul Katami and Jeff Zarillo, plaintiffs in the Proposition 8 case, enter the Supreme Court. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Kris Perry and Sandy Stier and Paul Katami and Jeff Zarillo, plaintiffs in the Prop 8 case, did not speak to reporters as they left the Supreme Court with Ted Olson and David Boies and Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin, who co-founded the American Foundation for Equal Rights that filed the lawsuit against California’s voter-approved same-sex marriage ban.

“Obviously we all want to get these rulings and are hopeful that they’re going to be everything we want,” Freedom to Marry President Evan Wolfson told the Blade on Monday as he left the Supreme Court. “What we know is no matter what the court does, we have to keep pushing. And we have victory within reach as long as we keep reaching.”


DOMA ruling to have ‘huge’ impact on D.C. region

Adam Ebbin, Alexandria, Virginia, Senate, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade, DOMA

‘The state’s hands are tied until we change the constitution,’ said Virginia Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) of efforts to extend marriage rights to couples in the commonwealth, following a momentous ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court striking down DOMA. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The large number of federal government employees in the D.C. metropolitan area will ensure that many same-sex married couples living in the region, including those living in Virginia, will soon receive full federal benefits and rights that come with marriage in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision last week to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act.

According to local attorneys familiar with family law, the Obama administration has taken immediate steps to direct the U.S. Office of Personnel Management to provide all federal marriage benefits to government workers and their same-sex spouses.

“Certainly for federal civil servants there will be a clear effort from the administration to allow people who marry anywhere to take advantage of their federal civil service benefits regardless of where they currently live,” said Takoma Park, Md., attorney Susan Silber, whose law firm has represented lesbian and gay couples on matters pertaining to family law.

“So that’s huge for our metropolitan area,” she said. “And it will be huge for people who live in places like Virginia and West Virginia and Pennsylvania” where many federal workers live.

Silber and local attorney Michelle Zavos, who, like Silber, represents LGBT clients in the D.C. metro area, said following the DOMA decision, same-sex couples can expect support in their quest to obtain both state and federal marriage benefits from state officials in D.C., Maryland and Delaware, where same-sex marriage is legal.

But the two attorneys said most of those benefits won’t come automatically and same-sex married couples in the three jurisdictions must come forward to apply for the benefits.

“This is something they have to do proactively,” Zavos told the Blade. “And what I would say is federal workers, especially, need to contact their Human Resources Department immediately to find out what they need to do. They cannot sit on this.”

Zavos noted that similar to any married employee, both federal and private sector employees need to inform their employer through the personnel or human resources department that they are married and will qualify for benefits such as health insurance for their spouse.

In the case of the federal government, enrollment in such benefits often becomes available only during an “open enrollment” period once a year. However, OPM officials have said the federal personnel agency was expected to schedule another open enrollment period in the coming weeks in light of the Supreme Court’s decision overturning DOMA.

Silber, Zavos and other attorneys familiar with Virginia said they were watching closely as Obama administration officials assess ways to extend federal marriage benefits to same-sex couples who legally marry in a state that recognizes same-sex marriage but live in states that do not recognize such marriages.

In the week since the Supreme Court ruling on DOMA, legal experts have said some federal benefits linked to marriage, such as Social Security survivor benefits, are tied to the state where a couple lives rather than the state where the couple married.

Claire Gastanaga, an attorney who serves as general legislative counsel for the statewide LGBT group Equality Virginia, said the question of whether a federal marriage benefit is available to same-sex married couples living in Virginia must be decided by the federal government, not by Virginia state officials.

“It’s really a question of how they choose to interpret the federal law,” Gastanaga said. “There are a thousand different federal laws. Some of them refer to the place of celebration [of the marriage] and some refer to the domicile of the couple,” she said.

“Some of those requirements are statutory, some are regulatory and some are policy,” she added. “So there’s lots to be ironed out at the federal level before we know the answer to that question.”

Adam Ebbin, the gay Virginia state senator representing a district in the Alexandria area, said that while Virginia’s current governor and attorney general are unsympathetic to LGBT issues and oppose marriage equality, any state elected official would be restricted in taking steps to extend benefits to married same-sex couples under an anti-gay marriage amendment passed by voters in 2006, despite the DOMA decision.

“The Virginia marriage amendment, which is part of our state constitution, says the state can’t recognize or grant benefits of marriage for same-sex couples,” Ebbin said. “So the state’s hands are tied until we change the constitution.”

Ebbin said the momentum in support of marriage equality generated by the Supreme Court decision overturning DOMA would have a “major” impact on efforts in Virginia to repeal the same-sex marriage ban.


Baldwin joins ‘Night Out’ at Nationals Stadium

Tammy Baldwin, Night Out at the Washington Nationals LGBT event

Joined by Team D.C.’s Les Johnson (left), U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin greets fans as she prepares to proclaim ‘Play Ball!’ at the 9th annual Night Out at the Washington Nationals Stadium LGBT event. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), the nation’s first openly gay senator, delivered the ceremonial announcement to “play ball” at the start of the 9th Annual LGBT Night Out at Washington Nationals Stadium Tuesday night.

Just under 4,000 people from the LGBT community bought tickets to attend the game, according to Brent Minor, executive director of Team D.C., the local LGBT sports group that organizes the ‘Night Out’ event.

The Nationals beat the Arizona Diamondbacks, 7-5.

Prior to the start of the game, Alan Gendreau, a gay Division I football player who has hopes of becoming the first out player in the National Football League, threw the ceremonial first pitch of the game.

Gautham Raghavan, the White House Associate Director of Public Engagement for LGBT issues, joined Nationals manager Davey Johnson in bringing the official lineup card of Nationals players to the umpires. Participating in this ceremonial task has been considered a tradition of Major League Baseball used to honor a public official or community leader.

For the eighth year in a row, the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington sang the National Anthem at the ‘Night Out’ game, drawing enthusiastic applause from the crowd.

Among those attending the event was gay rights attorney Paul Smith, who argued the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case of Lawrence v. Texas in which the court overturned state sodomy laws exactly 10 years ago.

Smith joined many of the LGBT activists attending the ‘Night Out’ game in expressing optimism that the Supreme Court would issue favorable rulings the next day in two more landmark gay rights cases dealing with same-sex marriage.