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Queery: Grainne Griffiths

Victory Congressional Interns, Victory Fund, Grainne Griffiths, Gay News, Washington Blade

Victory Congressional Intern, Grainne Griffiths, 21, from Tucson, Az., outside of the U.S. Capitol building on Tuesday, July 23, 2013. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Washington is awash in summer interns from all over the country. One of this year’s crop is Grainne Griffiths, a 21-year-old Tucson, Ariz., native who’s getting ready to enter her senior year at Tufts University near Boston and is doing an internship on the Hill with the Victory Fund as one of its Victory Congressional Interns.

The past few months have been her first time living in Washington, a city the young lesbian says she enjoys and would consider moving to after graduation.

Her internship has her on the Hill working in a House representative’s office Mondays through Thursdays, then on Fridays the Fund has high-profile LGBT activists as guest speakers for the eight interns in the program.

“We’ve had a chance to see some LGBT-specific policy and we were here when DOMA was announced and also back in February when they had the arguments … so we’ve really had some great exposure to a lot of amazing things,” she says. “It’s been great.”

She’s a double major at Tufts in women’s gender and sexuality studies and philosophy. She’s not sure what she wants to do career wise after graduating but says she’s increasingly realizing that parlaying her academic theory work into the “real world” could be a challenge.

Griffiths’ family — she says they’re “100 percent supportive” — is in Colorado now. She’s single and enjoys roller skating, tattoos, movies and ice cream in her free time.


How long have you been out and who was the hardest person to tell?

I don’t really make a habit of coming out to other people, but I am very open to answering questions and letting people into my identities. The hardest people to tell are usually non-queer competent health care providers.


Who’s your LGBT hero?

Gertrude Stein, Heather Love, Mara Keisling, Tammy Baldwin and Kyrsten Sinema, among many others.

What’s Washington’s best nightspot, past or present? 

I just turned 21, so I don’t really have the best answer for this question. I do love late night people watching sitting outside at a sidewalk café or waiting for the Metro. I’ve learned a lot about the people who live and work in this city.


Describe your dream wedding.

While I fully support people who want to get married, the only wedding-related dream I have is being able to visit my partner in the hospital or share my work benefits without needing to be married at all.


What non-LGBT issue are you most passionate about?

Respecting every single person’s right to bodily autonomy, be it preserving access to abortion, promoting consent culture on my university campus or supporting and empowering people to make the choices that are right for their individual circumstances.


What historical outcome would you change?

Right now, I would probably go back and add some language to the Constitution of the United States clarifying what separation of church and state truly means. There is a lot of ideological and physical violence done in the name of religion in this country and I wish the Constitution prohibited this more explicitly.


What’s been the most memorable pop culture moment of your lifetime?

I would have to say Jodie Foster’s pseudo-coming out speech at the Golden Globes this year. I couldn’t really even explain why, it just had a visceral effect on me.


On what do you insist?

Candor balanced with respect and encouragement.


What was your last Facebook post or Tweet?

I just went to a Tegan and Sara concert, and so my last status was “Tegan and Sara = pure catharsis — at Merriweather Post Pavilion.” It was a phenomenal show!


If your life were a book, what would the title be?

I don’t think my life is nearly interesting enough to merit a book.


If science discovered a way to change sexual orientation, what would you do?

Nothing, except be confused as to why such a discovery was worthy of anyone’s time or money.


What do you believe in beyond the physical world? 

As a philosophy major, I want to say that I’m not even sure that I believe in the physical world. I believe in my own experiences and the experiences of those around me.


What’s your advice for LGBT movement leaders?

One of my mentors recently told me that I should never assume that my experiences and priorities are the default for other people, which I think is tremendously important. There are so many unique voices in the LGBTQ community and true progress requires valuing them all.


What would you walk across hot coals for?

A chance to meet Simone de Beauvoir.


What LGBT stereotype annoys you most?

The idea that asexuality is a myth or an identity that people take on to camouflage some sort of fixable flaw.


What’s your favorite LGBT movie?

What a difficult question! It’s a tossup between the lesbian vampire film “The Hunger” and the John Waters classic “Desperate Living.”


What’s the most overrated social custom?

Too many people are uneasy about lapses in conversation. I think silence is often more generative than meaningless chatter.


What trophy or prize do you most covet?

I would like to be an elected official someday. Nothing would mean more than being entrusted with the confidence of the people who voted for me.


What do you wish you’d known at 18?

I wish I had known to focus less time and energy on what I thought I was “supposed” to be doing and more of both on what felt right. I’m still working on that one.


Why Washington?

There are always so many simultaneously meaningful and sustaining things going on in this city. I’m not sure what else you could ask for.


White House: Gay troops benefits issue has Obama’s attention

White House, Jay Carney

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said benefits issue for gay troops ‘has the president’s attention’ (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney asserted on Friday that President Obama is considering the issue of outstanding partner benefits that could be extended to gay service members administratively.

Under questioning from the Washington Blade, Carney said Obama is focused on further implementation of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and “the need to ensure that proper benefits are provided,” but referred further questions to the Pentagon.

“The president is absolutely focused on and aware of the need to further implement DADT [repeal], and to ensure that proper benefits are provided,” Carney said. “You know, for more details, I would point you to the Defense Department, but this is an issue the president is aware of and it has his attention.”

Asked by the Blade whether it was reasonable to conclude the Pentagon needs prodding, Carney replied, “Again, this issue has the president’s attention.”

Since the time “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was lifted in September 2011, Pentagon officials have said they’ve been examining possible partner benefits that are currently withheld from gay troops. However, the Pentagon hasn’t taken any action since that time.

While major ticket items like health and pension benefits are precluded under the Defense of Marriage Act and other federal law governing rights of U.S. service members, LGBT advocates say other benefits could be extended administratively, such as military IDs and joint duty assignments, as well as access to housing and family programs.

The issue has received more attention in the wake of controversy over a spousal club at an Army base in Ft. Bragg, N.C., refusing to offer membership to Ashley Broadway, the spouse of the lesbian service member. Groups like the Human Rights Campaign and OutServe-SLDN have called on the Pentagon to action, as has Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who has circulated a letter among U.S. House members calling for the extension of these benefits.

Kevin Nix, a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign responded to Carney’s answers saying that the Pentagon can extend partner benefits to gay troops at any time.

“I would just reiterate that the secretary can issue regulations tomorrow  — a simple fix really that’s doesn’t run afoul of DOMA,” Nix said. “All of this country’s servicemembers, their spouses and partners should be treated equally.”

Defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel, whom President Obama tapped to replace Panetta upon his departure, is expected to answer questions on issues pertaining LGBT troops during his confirmation hearing set for Thursday. In a letter to Sen. Barbara Boxer last week, Hagel already expressed commitment to extending partner benefits to gay troops, saying, “I will do everything possible to the extent permissible under current law to provide equal benefits to the families of all our service members.”

A transcript of the exchange between the Washington Blade and Carney follows:

Washington Blade: Jay, there’s been a lot in the news recently about how service members with same-sex partners aren’t receiving certain benefits that could be extended administratively at any time at the Pentagon. They include military IDs, joint duty assignments and access to certain family programs. Is the President aware of this issue and will he direct the Pentagon to take action on this if they don’t do it on its own?

Jay Carney: I can tell you broadly, I don’t have specifics for you. The president is absolutely focused on and aware of the need to further implement DADT [repeal], and to ensure that proper benefits are provided. You know, for more details, I would point you to the Defense Department, but this is an issue the president is aware of and it has his attention.

Blade: The Pentagon has saying since “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was lifted in September 2011 that they’ve been reviewing this issue, but no action has been taken. Isn’t it reasonable to conclude that they need a little prodding?

Carney: Again, this issue has the president’s attention.


Sean Eldridge mulls run for Congress

Chris Hughes, Sean Eldridge, gay news, Washington Blade

Same-sex marriage advocate and Democratic Party activist Sean Eldridge (right) has filed paperwork to seek a congressional seat. Eldridge married Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes (left) last year. (Photo of Hughes by USV via Wikimedia and Washington Blade photo of Eldridge by Michael Key)

NEW YORK — A Freedom to Marry adviser and the husband of Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes is reportedly considering a run for Congress.

Sean Eldridge formally filed paperwork with the Federal Elections Commission this week to form a committee called “Sean Eldridge for Congress,” representing his Hudson Valley, New York area, challenging two-term Republican Chris Gibson. According to Bloomberg News, while Gibson was elected with 53 percent of the vote in November, the 19th District backed Barack Obama 52-46 in the presidential vote.

The the Blade had previously reported, Hughes purchased and took over as publisher of the magazine The New Republic last year.


Takano calls on Obama to speak out on Prop 8

Mark Takano, United States House, California, gay news, Washington Blade

Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) is calling on President Obama to participate in the Prop 8 case (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A freshman openly gay member of Congress from California is calling on President Obama to participate in litigation challenging Proposition 8 before the Supreme Court as the administration has done in the DOMA case.

In a letter dated Feb. 26, Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) asks President Obama to instruct his Justice Department to argue Prop 8 is unconstitutional on the basis it should be subjected to heightened scrutiny — or a greater assumption it’s unconstitutional — just as it did in a brief filed last week in the case against the Defense of Marriage Act.

“I strongly and respectfully ask that the United States provide an amicus brief to the Supreme Court in Perry to explain how heightened scrutiny, the standard that the United States urges be applied to the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, applies to Proposition 8,” Takano writes. “A brief by the United States will assist the Supreme Court to see that Proposition 8 fails heightened scrutiny and does not further any proper governmental objectives.”

Takano explains in his letter that Prop 8, a ballot initiative that was approved by California voters in 2008, affects couples in his state and district who are unable to marry because of the amendment.

“My district includes thousands of loving gay and lesbian couples, who are not able to marry due to Proposition 8,” Takano writes. “They are our families, our friends and neighbors. They are doctors, veterans, teachers, gardeners, firefighters and police officers. They are Americans. Every day that they cannot enjoy the same rights and obligations enjoyed by other Americans, they and their families suffer.”

The White House has repeatedly declined comment on whether it’ll participate in the Prop 8 lawsuit before the Supreme Court, although President Obama has said Solicitor Donald Verrilli is “looking” at filing a brief. In response to the Takano letter, a White House spokesperson deferred comment to the Justice Department, which didn’t immediately respond to a request to comment.

Other LGBT advocates have been calling on President Obama to participate in the Prop 8 case, known as Hollingsworth v. Perry, by filing a friend-of-the-court brief. The deadline for them to file a friend-of-the-court brief is Thursday.

Herndon Graddick, president of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, or GLAAD, announced on Monday that his organization shares the desire for Obama to participate in the Prop 8 case.

“President Obama has already weighed in on DOMA, but as he himself said in his inaugural address: ‘Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law — for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well,’” Graddick said. “With less than four days left to act, it is time for the administration to make its views known directly to the U.S. Supreme Court by filing a friend of the court brief in the Proposition 8 case as well.”

Takano’s letter comes on the same day as The New York Times reported that more than 75 prominent Republicans have signed their own friend-of-court brief asking the Supreme Court to strike down Proposition 8.

Among the signers of that brief is Ken Mehlman, the gay former chair of the Republican National Committee, who is credited with organizing the brief. Another signature is from Hewlett-Packard CEO and former California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman, who campaigned in support of Prop 8.

Two Republican members of Congress who have sponsored legislation to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act — Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.) — are also among the signers. They are the only two Republicans currently holding federal office who signed the brief.

Other signers are former Utah governor and 2012 Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman, who publicly came out in favor of marriage equality last week, as well as GOP strategist Steve Schmidt, who helped with John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign and came out in support of marriage equality in a 2009 interview with the Washington Blade.

Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, said the brief as reported by the New York Times reflects the growing support for marriage equality — even within the Republican Party.

“A who’s who of the Republican Party has come before the Supreme Court to affirm that support for the freedom to marry is a mainstream position that reflects American values of freedom, family, and fairness, as well as conservative values of limited government and personal responsibility,” Wolfson said. “As opposition to the freedom to marry becomes increasingly isolated and the exclusion from marriage increasingly indefensible, Americans all across the political spectrum are saying it’s time to end marriage discrimination, do right by families, and get our country on the right side of history.”


In first, Pocan obtains congressional spousal ID for same-sex partner

Mark Pocan, United States House of Representatives, Wisconsin, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade

Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) has secured a spousal ID for Philip Frank, whom he legally married in 2006 (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

For apparently the first time ever in the history of the U.S. House, a gay member of Congress has obtained a congressional ID card identifying his same-sex partner as a spouse.

Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) told the Washington Blade on Thursday the House Sergeant at Arms informed him late last month that Philip Frank, whom Pocan legally married in Canada in 2006, would be able to obtain an ID labeling him as congressional spouse. Previously, Frank was given an ID identifying him as a “designee,” but picked up his new ID on April 26.

Pocan said he’s happy Frank has received the ID designating him as spouse, but noted that federal employees with same-sex partners are still denied an array of benefits — including health and pension benefits — because of the Defense of Marriage Act.

“I think it’s an important step toward recognizing equality and we’re very proud of receiving it,” Pocan said. “We also realize there’s still a lot more work to do for same-sex couples that work for the federal government.”

The change of the new congressional ID is symbolic. Frank isn’t able to receive any more benefits as a result. Still, the change for the first time makes same-sex spouses equal to opposite-sex spouses in terms of identification.

At this time, Pocan is the only legally married member of Congress. Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) are in same-sex relationships, but aren’t legally married, even though Polis in 2011 became the first openly gay father in Congress. Former Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) last year became the first member of Congress in a same-sex marriage late last year, but Pocan said Frank’s spouse, Jim Ready, never received a spousal ID.

Pocan said he had been asking the House Sergeant at Arms to make the change since he became a U.S. House in January, or at least explain the reasoning for withholding a spousal ID from a legally married couple. The House Sergeant at Arms’ office on Thursday didn’t immediately respond to the Washington Blade’s request to comment on the situation.

In a previously published profile piece on Pocan, the Washington Blade reported Pocan was asking the House Sergeant at Arms to make the change in partnership with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

Drew Hammill, a Pelosi spokesperson, said upon learning the situation was resolved that the Democratic leader was happy to help Pocan secure an appropriate ID card for his spouse.

“Leader Pelosi was very pleased to assist Congressman Pocan in securing an appropriate ID for his husband, Philip,” Hammill said. “Congressman Pocan is to be commended for using this personal example to highlight the plight that LGBT federal employees face with respect to equal benefits.”

Even though he received the spousal ID, Pocan said the lack of major partner benefits for federal employees continues is a persistent problem. A ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court against DOMA — which may happen in June as the result of pending litigation — would likely take care of it, but Pocan plans in the coming weeks to introduce legislation to address the issue known as the Domestic Partnership Benefits & Obligations Act.

“We realize that symbolism is great and important, especially when it’s recognized by the House, but even more important is making sure that we get those full benefits for the thousands and thousands of folks who work for the federal government who aren’t recognized in the same way,” Pocan said.


Year in review: Record number of gay candidates win House seats

LGBT caucus of the U.S. House of Representatives, gay news, Washington Blade

(clockwise from top left) Jared Polis (D-Colo.), David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Mark Takano (D-Calif.), Mark Pocan (D-Wisc.), and Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.). (Photos of Polis, Cicilline, Maloney and Pocan by Michael Key for the Washington Blade. Photos of Sinema and Takano courtesy of the respective campaigns).

A record number of lesbian, gay and bisexual candidates were elected to the U.S. House this year, nearly doubling the number of out representatives serving in the lower chamber of Congress.

Gay Reps. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and David Cicilline (D-R.I.) won re-election, and on the same night, out candidates Sean Patrick Maloney of New York, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Mark Takano of California and Mark Pocan of Wisconsin won their races. The new additions — minus Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), who are leaving the U.S. House — means LGB representation in the chamber will jump from four lawmakers to seven.

Maloney, who will be the first openly gay U.S. House member from New York, said upon the announcement that he won his bid to unseat Rep. Nan Hayworth (R-N.Y.) that voters in the state’s 18th congressional district voted for change.

“Across four counties on two sides of the Hudson River, in hundreds of schools, firehouses, community centers, in the Democratic vote of a quarter million of our neighbors, the people have settled this debate,” Maloney said. “They have closed this campaign.”

Sinema will become the first openly bisexual member of Congress and Takano will become the first openly gay person of color to have a House seat. Pocan’s election means Wisconsin’s 2nd congressional district will maintain gay representation as Baldwin heads to the U.S. Senate.


Year in review: Better late than never: Anderson Cooper comes out

Anderson Cooper, CNN, gay news, Washington Blade

Anderson Cooper (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A number of celebrities, politicians and other officials came out during 2012.

CNN anchor Anderson Cooper publicly acknowledged being gay for the first time in a statement gay commentator Andrew Sullivan posted to his blog on July 2. Sam Champion, weather anchor for “Good Morning America,” announced on-air in October that he was engaged to his long-time partner, photographer Rubem Robierb. (The couple attended a Freedom to Marry fundraiser in Miami Beach, Fla., a few days later.)

Gay singer Ricky Martin was among those who applauded Puerto Rican boxer Orlando Cruz after he came out on Oct. 3. R&B singer Frank Ocean in July acknowledged his homosexuality, while Jamaican singer Diana King came out on her Facebook page in June. British singer Mika told Instinct Magazine in August he is gay.

Pennsylvania state Rep. Mike Fleck, a Republican who attended Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., earlier this month came out during an interview with a local newspaper. Stefany Hoyer Hemmer, daughter of House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.,) came out as a lesbian during an exclusive interview with the Washington Blade in June.

“My father, as you know, just came out in support of gay marriage,” she said. “The momentum in Maryland right now for the adoption of the gay marriage law is fast-paced. I’m 43 years of age, and I’ve been gay my whole life and I just figured this is a good time to lend my name to the cause.”

DC Comics in June announced the Green Lantern is gay as part of its effort to reinvigorate the “Earth 2” series.