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Gay Catholic group urges city to defy church

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Dignity USA, a gay Catholic group, is encouraging the D.C. City Council to ignore calls from the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington to amend the proposed same-sex marriage bill so that the church’s charitable arm can discriminate against gay employees.

Dignity’s comments came after Catholic Charities, which is run by the local archdiocese, said it would discontinue operating dozens of city-funded programs that serve as many as 68,000 low-income people if the Council doesn’t make certain changes in the bill.

“It’s shameful of the church to put its dogmatic position above the needs of the needy people receiving these services,” said Marianne Duddy-Burke, Dignity USA’s executive director.

“I would encourage the City Council to say, ‘Fine — we’ll take our programs to another vendor,’” Duddy-Burke said.

An official with the archdiocese said the version of the Religious Freedom & Civil Marriage Equality Act of 2009 approved Nov. 10 by a City Council committee narrowed rather than broadened a religious exemption clause that the archdiocese and other religious groups had been calling for.

The bill does not require religious organizations to perform same-sex marriages or make their facilities available for such marriages. But under existing laws, including the D.C. Human Rights Act, religious organizations such as Catholic Charities would be barred from denying benefits to their employees’ same-sex married spouses.

In a letter to the City Council, Jane Belford, the archdiocese’s chancellor, said the bill’s wording would force Catholic Charities to provide a health insurance benefits plan to its employees in which spousal benefits must be offered to the “same-sex married partner of a gay or lesbian employee.” Doing this would violate Catholic teachings that marriage must be restricted to a man and a woman, she said.

She said the bill also would require Catholic Charities and other religious-oriented social service providers to facilitate an adoption or foster care for a same-sex couple and would require a local religious community to “make its hall available for events inconsistent with the community’s sincere religious beliefs.”

Belford sent her letter to members of the Council’s Committee on Public Safety & Judiciary, which voted 4-1 to approve the marriage bill.

She said the archdiocese could not continue to operate its social service programs under city contracts if the marriage bill doesn’t waive these non-discrimination requirements for Catholic Charities and other religious groups. She noted the bill “does not permit Catholic Charities and other religious service organizations to freely function as religious entities serving the needs of District residents.”

Literature on the archdiocese’s web site says Catholic Charities provides services to 68,000 people in the District. It says the group, among other activities, operates city-owned homeless shelters that serve one-third of the city’s homeless population.

Raymond Panas, president of Dignity Washington, said he doesn’t believe the threat by the archdiocese to withdraw its services to the needy.

“While this may be the decision of the hierarchy, it certainly does not reflect the views of all of us who were baptized as Catholics and make up part of the Catholic Church,” Panas said.

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Virginia

Arlington candidates greet LGBTQ voters at ‘Ice Cream Social’

150 turn out at home of gay bar owner Freddie Lutz

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An ice cream social took place at the Arlington home of Freddie Lutz, center. (Washington Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

About a dozen elected officials or candidates running for public office this year in Arlington, Va. and surrounding Northern Virginia areas expressed strong support for LGBTQ rights at an event organized by the Arlington Gay & Lesbian Alliance (AGLA) that drew more than 150 LGBTQ and allied residents of Northern Virginia.

The event, billed as an Ice Cream Social, took place on Sunday, Sept. 25 at the Arlington home of Freddie Lutz, the owner of the Arlington gay bar Freddie’s Beach Bar and the nearby restaurant Federico’s, and Lutz’s husband Johnny Cervantes. The two served as hosts for an event that appeared more like a meet-and-greet for local politicians.

Throughout the event attendees had access to unlimited free servings of ice cream from a commercial ice cream vendors truck parked in the driveway of Lutz and Cervante’s house.

Among those who spoke at the event was gay Virginia State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D), whose district includes parts of Arlington, Alexandria, and Fairfax County. Ebbin, along with several of the other speakers, expressed strong opposition to Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s recently proposed policy guidelines for transgender students in the state’s public schools.

The proposed policy, which Youngkin says will take effect after a 30-day period of public comment, rescinds the trans supportive school policies put in place by former Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration that allowed trans students to use the bathrooms, changing rooms and other facilities that match their gender identity.

Under the new policy guidelines released by the state’s Department of Education, whose leaders were appointed by Youngkin, the state’s 133 school districts must require transgender students to access school facilities and programs that match their biological gender. They also require teachers and school officials to inform parents if their child attempts to present as transgender in school, a development that critics say is the equivalent of “outing” trans kids in a way that could create mental health issues.

“We want to be clear that we value our transgender students,” Ebbin told the gathering. “The governor is bullying and endangering students for cheap political points,” he said. “And his new guidelines are in violation of not just federal court rulings but of the Virginia Human Rights Act, which explicitly states that there shall be no discrimination against transgender people, including in public schools,” Ebbin said.

Others who expressed similar views along with general support for LGBTQ rights, including marriage equality, were State Sen. Barbara Favola (D-Arlington), and Virginia House of Delegates members Alfonso Lopez (D-Arlington/Fairfax Counties), Patrick Hope (D-Arlington), and Elizabeth Bennett-Parker (D-Arlington/Alexandria/Fairfax). 

Bennett-Parker defeated gay House of Delegates member Mark Levine in the June 2021 Democratic primary. Like others who spoke at the AGLA event, Bennett-Parker urged LGBTQ residents of Northern Virginia to do all they can to support state, local, and congressional Democrats in this year’s election and in 2023, when the entire Virginia General Assembly is up for election.

“We need your help to make sure we maintain a commonwealth that will be safe and welcoming and inclusive towards all,” she said.

Arlington County Board members Matt de Ferranti and Kattie Cristol said they and their colleagues on the Arlington Board, which serves as the county’s legislative body, would continue their strong support for the LGBTQ community. De Ferranti noted that the board’s recent legislative actions in support of LGBTQ rights prompted the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ rights organization, to award Arlington a 100 percent rating among municipalities nationwide on LGBTQ-related issues.

AGLA Treasurer Daniel Hays, who served as moderator for the part of the event in which the candidates or public officials spoke, said the LGBTQ group invited all candidates and elected officials representing Arlington to attend and speak at the event, including Republicans and independents as well as Democrats.

Among those who spoke were Karina Lipsman, the Republican candidate running against incumbent U.S. Rep. Don Beyer (D-Arlington), a longtime supporter of LGBTQ rights.

“I am pro-marriage equality,” said Lipsman, who identified herself as “the only Ukrainian born refugee immigrant running for Congress in the entire country.”

Also speaking was Matthew Hurtt, communications director for the Arlington County Republican Committee. 

The LGBTQ attendees, which local activists say was reflective of the largely Democratic electorate of Arlington and Northern Virginia in general, responded with polite applause for Lipsman and Hurtt as well as for Adam Theo, a candidate for the Arlington County Board who described himself as a progressive libertarian running as an independent.

One of the final speakers was gay D.C. Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Travis Swanson of ANC 7B03 in Ward 7, who thanked the speakers for their support of the LGBTQ community and called on those attending the event to urge their members of Congress to support D.C. statehood. 

“AGLA is not endorsing any of the candidates you heard today,” Hays told the gathering in closing remarks, noting that it is a nonpartisan group.

“However, what we strongly endorse is that you go out and make sure you are fully aware of what the individuals who are asking for your vote to be able to have another two years or four years or six years in office, that you know exactly what they’ve done or what they’re going to do,” he said.   

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District of Columbia

White House officials, HHS secretary praise local monkeypox response

D.C. Health points to data showing sharp decline in new cases

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HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra praised D.C. Health’s response to monkeypox.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and two leaders of the White House monkeypox response team joined officials with the D.C. Department of Health on Thursday for a visit to D.C.’s recently opened Monkeypox Vaccine Clinic on Martin Luther King Jr. Ave., S.E. in Ward 8.

In a briefing for reporters, who were invited to join Becerra and the White House officials on a tour of the clinic, the D.C. and federal officials pointed to a sharp decline in new monkeypox cases in D.C. as a sign of a successful federal and local government partnership in dramatically boosting the number of people at risk for monkeypox who have been vaccinated.

“I welcome you all to our Ward 8 Monkeypox Vaccine Clinic,” said Dr. Sharon Lewis, Interim Director of the D.C. Department of Health, which is also referred to as D.C. Health.

“Please take note that D.C. Health was very active in initiating back in May” the city’s effort to address monkeypox, she said. “We started our planning and as soon as we were aware of the first case in June, we had actually set up vaccines and were ready to implement our plan.”

Dr. Anil Mangla, the State Epidemiologist for the D.C. Department of Health, told the gathering the number of D.C. monkeypox cases peaked during the week of July 17, and new cases in the District have declined since then by an average of over 20 percent per week.

“I would call it our success story in D.C.,” Mangla said. “So, our cases peaked nine weeks ago, the week of July 17. If you look at the national trends and statistics, the nation essentially peaked about six weeks ago, so we were already three weeks in advance,” he said.

Mangla pointed out that the clinic where the HHS and White House officials visited on Thursday at 3640 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave., S.E. and the city’s two other Monkeypox vaccination clinics are walk-in facilities where D.C. residents can go for a vaccination without an appointment. The other two are located at 1900 I St., N.W. and 7530 Georgia Ave., N.W.

Becerra praised Mangla and his boss, Dr. Lewis, and their team of public health officials for aggressively reaching out to those at risk for monkeypox, including gay and bisexual men, to encourage them to get vaccinated and promptly treating those who tested positive for the monkeypox virus.

“So, let me first say to Director Lewis, Dr. Mangla, and to all your team, thank you for being affirmative in bringing in the steps to stop monkeypox,” Becerra said. “And more importantly, to go where the people are rather than waiting for the people to come to you.”

He said D.C. efforts in addressing monkeypox were among the efforts in other cities and states across the country where a joint federal-local partnership was taking place. 

“We need strong partnerships,” he said. “We need your help, because you know the many trusted voices in the communities that you’ve got more of than we would,” he said. “We’ll provide the vaccine,” said Becerra, noting that the Biden administration in partnership with various federal agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration, has distributed more than a million vaccine doses nationally.

Among the White House officials who spoke at the briefing and joined the tour of the Ward 8 Monkeypox Vaccination Clinic was Robert Fenton, who President Biden on Aug. 2 named as White House National Monkeypox Response Coordinator. Also speaking was Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, who Biden named as White House National Monkeypox Response Deputy Coordinator.

A statement released by the White House at the time Biden appointed the two men says Fenton has served as Regional Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Region 9 in the western part of the U.S. and was considered one of the nation’s most experienced emergency management leaders.

The statement says Daskalakis, a leading public health expert, is currently the Director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of HIV Prevention.

“Widely known as a national expert on health issues affecting the LGBTQIA+ communities, his clinical practice has focused on providing care for the underserved LGBTQIA+ communities,” the White House statement says.

In his remarks at the briefing on Thursday, Daskalakis also praised D.C. Health officials and the communities they have reached out to for encouraging behavioral changes among the groups most at risk for monkeypox.

“So, the clear message is that gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men, transgender individuals, and other gender diverse folks who have sex with men are not only getting the vaccine and testing, but also what they can do in their daily lives to be able to prevent infection,” he said. “I think that is another testament to the work you’ve done and is another example of the great partnership between federal public health and local public health.”

The D.C. Department of Health’s most recent data on monkeypox cases in the city shows that as of Sept. 15, the city had a cumulative total of 488 cases, with 19 hospitalizations and no deaths. Out of the 488 total, 97.3 percent were male, and 1.2 percent were female.

Regarding the sexual orientation of those who make up the 488 cases, 48 percent were listed as gay, 5.7 percent as bisexual, 3.9 percent as straight/heterosexual, 1 percent as “other,” and 41.4 percent as “Unknown.” The data released included an asterisk for the number of lesbian cases, which a footnote says could be four or fewer such cases.

At the briefing on Thursday, the Blade asked Dr. Mangla, the D.C. Health epidemiologist, to explain why he thought the number of D.C. monkeypox cases in gay men and other men who have sex with men were initially listed by D.C. Health officials to be over 90 percent of the total cases. But in recent weeks, the Blade pointed out, the data show the number of “gay” cases were at about 50 percent or a little lower and a new category of “unknown” sexual orientation cases was in the 40 percent to 50 percent range.

Mangla said he thought the discrepancy was due to a flaw in the data gathering during the early stage of the monkeypox outbreak in D.C. that has since been corrected. “It took us a few weeks to make that kind of adjustment and to say we are now confident enough that the data is accurate for policy decisions and anything else,” he said.

He did not say whether he or D.C. Health knows which demographic groups made up the “Unknown” category of 41.4 percent in the most recent data released.

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Maryland

FreeState Justice files lawsuit against former executive director

Jeremy LaMaster allegedly launched ‘coordinated attack’ on organization’s operations

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Former FreeState Justice Executive Director Jeremy LaMaster (Photo courtesy of Jeremy LaMaster)

FreeState Justice on Wednesday filed a federal lawsuit against its former executive director who has accused its board of directors of having a “white supremacist culture.”

The lawsuit, which FreeState Justice filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, notes the board on Sept. 16 informed Jeremy LaMaster that “they were relieved of their duties, and the final two weeks of their employment were to be spent cooperating in the transition of FreeState’s operations.”

“LaMaster abruptly left the meeting early and immediately began a coordinated attack on FreeState’s operations; in particular, its IT assets,” reads the lawsuit. “When FreeState discovered LaMaster’s improper interference, it terminated their employment effective immediately, ordered them to cease and desist and to rectify their actions. LaMaster did not abide and continued to hijack and misappropriate FreeState’s IT infrastructure and documents.” 

The lawsuit alleges that LaMaster “unilaterally and without authorization changed user permissions and shared login information so only they had access to numerous systems and accounts.” 

“They also removed employees’ administrative access to numerous systems and accounts, leaving such access to only themself,” reads the lawsuit. “In doing so, LaMaster has left FreeState’s employees with little to no access to client files, case files, dashboard reports,and case notes. LaMaster also changed the password to FreeState’s WordPress account, leaving LaMaster in sole control of FreeState’s website.” 

LaMaster, who uses nonbinary and binary pronouns, in a message they sent from his FreeState Justice email account on Monday announced their resignation after they said the board declined to step down.

“This morning, I requested the FreeState Justice board of directors to submit their immediate resignations due to persistent violations of our board handbook, consistent failures in their fiduciary responsibilities, and using positions of power to engage in partisan lobbying within FreeState Justice and their repeated refusal to add new members and leadership to the board,” wrote LaMaster.

LaMaster in their email noted they “exhausted every avenue over the past two years to get our board fully staffed and running, and I made good faith efforts to work with the board to ensure that our clients and low-income LGBTQ Marylanders remained at our center.” 

“Instead, the board has refused to accept any new board members since 2021 and refused to staff and run core board activities as per our handbook,” wrote LaMaster. “Instead, they have worked to consolidate power and amend the board handbook in secret to lower the minimum number of board members required and ensure that our policy positions prioritize relationships with legislators, not the best interests of our clients and community. I have provided clear warnings and consistent concerns over these issues that were repeatedly ignored.”

“These are the hallmarks of white supremacist culture: The concentration of power, power hoarding, defensiveness, right to comfort, fear of open conflict, hyper-individualism, and a false sense of urgency,” added LaMaster.

FreeState Justice in response to LaMaster’s allegations said it fired them on Sept. 16 “after prolonged and thoughtful deliberation” and further noted their statement “does not reflect the views or ideals of FreeState Justice’s board and staff.” FreeState Justice has named Phillip Westry as LaMaster’s successor.

The lawsuit alleges LaMaster “has commandeered” Westry’s Google account, “rendering him unable to access his emails, internal work calendars, and collaborative documents shared and worked on via Google Drive.” 

“LaMaster also now has unfettered and improper access to employee lists, donor lists, volunteer lists, mailing lists, client lists, and pro bono attorney lists,” reads the lawsuit. 

“Despite FreeState’s insistence that they cease their unlawful activities and restore operations immediately, LaMaster proceeded to upload a defamatory post to FreeState’s website and disseminated it to approximately 43,000 recipients on FreeState’s mailing list, which they accessed without authorization,” it notes. “The post, titled, ‘Whistleblowing: Public Call for the Resignation of the FreeState Board of Directors’ falsely depicts the circumstances surrounding their departure from FreeState by stating that they resigned, without basis alleged that the Board engaged in ethical violations, and likened FreeState’s Board to White Supremacists, claiming they supported white supremacist culture and practices, and were not ‘anti-racist.’ This is false, defamatory, and denigrating of FreeState and its board members, and extraordinarily damaging for a social justice organization.” 

The lawsuit further notes that because “LaMaster did not comply with FreeState’s cease and desist letter, because LaMaster continues to infiltrate FreeState’s systems and accounts, and because LaMaster, after receiving FreeState’s cease and desist letter published a post defaming FreeState, and without authorization, posted it to FreeState’s website, and disseminated it to its mailing list of approximately 43,000 people with his FreeState email address, FreeState has no choice but to seek judicial intervention to prevent further unlawful conduct, and irreparable harm to FreeState.”

“FreeState requests an immediate hearing on this matter,” reads the lawsuit. “It can be reasonably presumed that LaMaster will continue to use FreeState’s proprietary information to interfere with FreeState’s business relations and continue to interfere with FreeState’s possessory interests in its systems and accounts, depriving FreeState personnel of access to the accounts, documents, and files they need to perform their work.”

The Washington Blade has reached out to LaMaster for comment on the lawsuit. 

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