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Council gives final approval to marriage bill



Same-sex marriage supporters rallied on Monday night in advance of the Council’s historic vote. (DC Agenda photo by Michael Key)

In an action hailed as historic and groundbreaking, the D.C. City Council voted 11-2 this week to give final approval of a bill allowing same-sex marriages to be performed in the nation’s capital.

Tuesday’s vote triggered a burst of applause from dozens of LGBT activists and same-sex couples who packed the Council chambers to watch the debate and final roll-call vote on the Religious Freedom & Civil Marriage Equality Amendment Act of 2009.

“Today is the final step in a long march toward equality in the District of Columbia,” said Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), who chairs the committee that shepherded the bill through the Council.

Alisha Mills, president of the local same-sex marriage advocacy group Campaign for All Families, called the Council’s action “a historic day for the District of Columbia” and its lesbian and gay couples.

“Equality for all D.C. residents has prevailed,” she said. “The Council’s decision today embodies the true essence of leadership. Thanks to their bold work, all D.C. families will have the same protections, opportunities and obligations under the law.”

The bill next goes to Mayor Adrian Fenty, a long-time same-sex marriage supporter who has pledged to sign it. It then goes to Capitol Hill, where it must undergo a required 30 legislative day review by Congress.

Both Democratic and Republican leaders in the House and Senate agree that an attempt by same-sex marriage opponents to overturn the legislation through a disapproval resolution is not expected to succeed in the Democratic controlled Congress. Most Capitol Hill observers expect the legislation to clear the congressional review and become law sometime in March.

But political observers in the District and on Capitol Hill say opponents would have a better shot at killing the bill next year by seeking to attach a repeal amendment to an appropriations bill, possibly the D.C. appropriations bill, which Congress must approve each year.

The city’s same-sex marriage law also is being targeted by a bill introduced earlier this year that would ban same-same marriage in the city. The bill, known as the D.C. Defense of Marriage Act, currently has 61 co-sponsors in the House. It has yet to be introduced in the Senate. Most Capitol Hill observers say it has little or no chance of passing any time soon under a Democratic controlled Congress.

But Brian Brown, executive director of the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage, issued a statement after the Council vote vowing that gay marriage opponents will “win” in their efforts to overturn the law.

“The media would have you believe this fight is over,” Brown said in the statement. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”

Among other things, Brown predicted gay marriage opponents would prevail in a pending court case to force the District to hold a voter referendum calling for banning same-sex marriage in the city, a referendum that he said voters would pass.

If the city’s same-sex marriage bill clears its congressional review and withstands efforts to challenge it through a referendum, D.C. would join Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont and New Hampshire as a U.S. jurisdiction that allows same-sex marriages to be performed within its borders.

Gay Council members David Catania (I-At Large), author of the D.C. same-sex marriage bill, and Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) noted that the Council’s action culminated 40 years of advocacy work in the city by LGBT activists and their straight allies.

“It’s very easy for someone like me to be overcome by the emotion of this action,” said Graham, who was involved in gay activism as head of D.C.’s Whitman-Walker Clinic before winning election to the Council.

Graham called passage of the same-sex marriage bill “the final prize” in the quest for full LGBT equality in the city, although he added that efforts to push for non-discrimination policies would continue.

Gay activist Bob Summersgill, who has coordinated efforts to expand the city’s domestic partnership law and to push for same-sex marriage, said he was hopeful that gay-supportive congressional allies, including Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), would beat back attempts to overturn the law through the appropriations process.

“This was the next big step that we had,” Summersgill said of the Council’s approval of the same-sex marriage bill.

“But now we’re done with the easy part of getting marriage in D.C.,” he said. “We’ve had the ability to get this through the Council for about a decade. The real challenge now is for the Congress not to act, not to hurt us in the 30 days, when no one thinks they will, and the appropriations time, where we’re less sure.”

Same-sex marriage opponents are currently waging a court fight to challenge a decision by the city’s Board of Elections & Ethics against allowing a voter referendum or initiative on the marriage bill. The board ruled that the city’s election law doesn’t allow voter initiatives or referenda if the outcome of such a ballot measure would result in discrimination barred by the city’s Human Rights Act.

The board ruled twice that a ballot measure on the marriage bill would violate the D.C. Human Rights Act’s ban on sexual orientation discrimination. Same-sex marriage opponents have challenged that ruling in D.C. Superior Court and have vowed to take their legal action to the U.S. Supreme Court if they lose in the lower courts.

Meanwhile, Bishop Harry Jackson, pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Md., and a leader in the fight to oppose same-sex marriage in the District, told the D.C. Agenda that he and his supporters would file papers next week for yet another referendum to overturn the marriage bill approved Tuesday.

As such, the D.C. Board of Elections & Ethics would once again be asked to rule on whether such a referendum is allowed. Most legal observers believe the board will turn down Jackson’s application for a referendum, just as it has for Jackson’s two similar requests earlier this year.

The first attempt at a referendum was aimed at a bill the Council approved in May that allows the city to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states and countries. That measure became law in July after it cleared its congressional review.

The recognition measure allows same-sex couples in D.C. to travel to other states to marry and to return to the District with full marriage rights under D.C. law. Activists viewed the recognition law as a trial run for the full same-sex marriage bill approved Tuesday, which allows same-sex couples to marry in the city.

But same-sex couples that marry in D.C., just like their counterparts in other states that have legalized same-sex marriage, cannot obtain any of the more than 1,000 federal rights and benefits associated with marriage, such as Social Security survivor benefits. The 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, known as DOMA, bans same-sex couples from receiving federal marital benefits and rights.

Gay advocacy groups are urging Congress to repeal DOMA. Democratic lawmakers supportive of LGBT rights have said, however, that they don’t have the votes to pass a DOMA repeal measure in the immediate future.

Council member and former mayor Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) and Council member Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7) were the only members of the 13-member Council to vote against the same-sex marriage bill Tuesday.

Both said they support LGBT rights in all other areas but could not back same-sex marriage based on their religious beliefs and strong opposition to the legislation from their constituents.

During the Council debate, Catania called on the LGBT community not to judge Barry and Alexander solely on the gay marriage vote, saying both have strong pro-LGBT records on all other issues.

“They are not the typical individuals that you would find casting votes against the GLBT community,” Catania said.

“That doesn’t mean I’m not disappointed [in their vote],” he said. “But I don’t want their entire service within the GLBT community to be judged by this one vote. I don’t think that’s fair. They are my friends, and they’re decent. This is simply a difference of opinion.”

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District of Columbia

D.C.’s Capital Pride to resume ‘large-scale’ outdoor events

Organizers say one of the largest ever parades and festivals set for June



Happy days are here again? Scenes like this from 2019 could be back in 2022. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Capital Pride Alliance, the group that organizes D.C.’s annual LGBTQ Pride events, has announced on its website that it plans to resume the city’s Pride Parade and Festival in June 2022 that traditionally has attracted tens of thousands of participants after canceling the two events in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID pandemic.

“The Capital Pride Alliance is excited to announce the highly anticipated return of our annual large-scale outdoor Pride Celebration in June 2022!” the group says on its website. “Registration for the Capital Pride Parade on June 11, 2022, and the Capital Pride Festival on June 12, 2022, will be open soon,” the website message says.

Ryan Bos, the Capital Pride Alliance executive director, told the Washington Blade the group met with D.C. government officials on Monday to coordinate plans for the upcoming outdoor events in June. He said an updated announcement with more details of the events would be released later this week or early next week.

The Capital Pride website message focuses on the parade and festival.

“Join the LGBTQ+ community for the return of the historic Capital Pride Parade,” the website message says. “In 2022, a modified route will honor our history and acknowledge the evolution of the LGBTQ+ neighborhoods in Washington, DC, while respecting the origins and importance of taking to the streets in our fight for equality,” it says.

“Be prepared to experience one of the largest Pride Parades to ever take place in the United States Capital,” the message adds.

The message says the Pride Festival will resume at its traditional location on Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. near the U.S. Capitol that it refers to as America’s Mainstreet.

“Enjoy a full day of entertainment on three stages, food, drink and advocacy with over 300 exhibitors,” the website message says. “The Festival is the largest annual event in the national capital region,” the message continues, adding that the Capital Pride Concert will also return this year at its usual locations at the site of the festival.

“You will experience entertainment on three stages, from international headliners to our best local regional LGBTQ+ talent,” according to the Capital Pride website message. It says concert performances will take place from 12-10 p.m. And a “Capitol” Sunset Dance Party will take place at the festival site from 8-10 p.m.

“The concert may end but the dancing will continue,” the message says. “Enjoy the electronica sounds of an international DJ sensation while you dance in the middle of America’s Main Street on Pennsylvania Avenue, with the sun setting on the U.S. Capitol.”

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and the city’s public health officials ended the city’s COVID-related restrictions on the number of people allowed to attend outdoor events as well as indoor entertainment events last May as the number of COVID infections began to decline.

But as the number of Omicron variant cases of the COVID virus increased dramatically in the fall of 2021, the mayor resumed the requirement of the use of face masks in all indoor public places.

Also put in place earlier this month by the city was a requirement that restaurants, bars, nightclubs, and other entertainment establishments require customers to show proof of vaccination as a condition for admission to the establishments. Bowser, however, has said the city was not considering resuming restrictions on the number of people allowed in establishments such as restaurants and bars or outdoor stadiums.

Capital Pride Alliance has not said whether it will put in place a vaccination requirement for admission to the Pride festival and parade as well as some of its planned indoor events. With the number of Omicron related COVID cases beginning to drop in the past two weeks in D.C. and the surrounding suburbs, the prospect of a resumption in restrictions on the number of people allowed to assemble at outdoor events like the Pride Parade and Festival appears to be less likely.

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Man who killed one in 2000 Roanoke gay bar shooting dies in prison

One of the worst bias attacks targeting LGBTQ community



Ronald Edward Gay died while serving life sentences for attacking a Virginia gay bar. (Washington Blade clipping from Sept. 29, 2000)

A man sentenced to four consecutive life terms in prison for the September 2000 shooting at a gay bar in Roanoke, Va., in which one man lost his life and six others were wounded, died of natural causes on Jan. 15, according to the Virginia Department of Corrections.

A spokesperson for the Department of Corrections told WSLA 10 TV News that Ronald Edward Gay died while being treated at a hospital near the Deerfield Correctional Center, a state prison where he had been living as an inmate. He was 75. 

Witnesses and law enforcement officials reported at the time of the shooting that a middle-aged man later identified as Gay arrived alone at Roanoke’s Backstreet Café, a popular gay bar, on the night of Sept. 22, 2000.

According to an account by an eyewitness to the incident who spoke last week with the Roanoke Times newspaper, after ordering a beer and standing next to the bar for a short time, Gay reached into the long trench coat he was wearing, pulled out a 9mm pistol, and fired a round “straight into the chest of 43-year-old Danny Overstreet, before opening fire on the rest of the bar.”

Overstreet, a beloved regular patron at the Backstreet Café, died at the scene of the shooting. Six others, who were wounded by bullets fired by Gay, later recovered, but they and many others who were present and witnessed the shooting were left emotionally scarred, the Roanoke Times reported.

In the weeks following the shooting, news media outlets, including the Washington Blade and the Washington Post, reported findings of an investigation by local police that Gay told police he went to Backstreet specifically to target gay people because he became bitter after years of being taunted and teased for his last name of “Gay.”

The Roanoke Times reported that, among other things, Gay told police “God told him to do it” and that he once wrote that there was an evil inside of him telling him “to shoot or have no rest.”

Gay later pleaded guilty to multiple charges against him, including murder. On July 23, 2001, he was sentenced to four consecutive life sentences in prison for the shooting incident and the murder of Overstreet.

The Backstreet incident in Roanoke was considered by LGBTQ rights advocates and others to be one of the worst incidents in which LGBTQ people were targeted for a shooting until the June 2016 shooting at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., in which 49 people died and 53 more were wounded in a mass shooting by 29-year-old Omar Mateen.

Mateen, who was shot and killed by Orlando police after a three-hour standoff, told police in a phone call from inside the nightclub after the shooting began that he swore allegiance to the leader of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and his attack against the gay nightclub was motivated by the U.S. military intervention in Iraq and Syria. The FBI later classified the incident as a terrorist attack.

The Roanoke Times reported that the shooting incident at Backstreet Café prompted LGBTQ residents and allies to gather in the days and weeks after the incident for vigils and marches. About 1,000 people walked through the streets of downtown Roanoke to honor the life of Overstreet and to urge Congress to pass federal hate crimes legislation, the newspaper reported.

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Va. senator introduces anti-transgender student athlete bill

Democrats have vowed to thwart anti-LGBTQ measures in state Senate



transgender, Gender Conference East, trans, transgender flag, gay news, Washington Blade
(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A Virginia lawmaker has introduced a bill that would ban transgender students from joining school sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity.

Senate Bill 766, which state Sen. Jennifer Kiggans (R-Virginia Beach) introduced on Friday, would require “each elementary or secondary school or a private school that competes in sponsored athletic events against such public schools to designate athletic teams, whether a school athletic team or an intramural team sponsored by such school, based on biological sex as follows: (i) ‘males,’ ‘men,’ or ‘boys’; (ii) ‘females,’ ‘women,’ or ‘girls’; or (iii) ‘coed’ or ‘mixed.'”

“Under the bill, male students are not permitted to participate on any school athletic team or squad designated for ‘females,’ ‘women,’ or ‘girls’; however, this provision does not apply to physical education classes at schools,” adds the bill. “The bill provides civil penalties for students and schools that suffer harm as a result of a violation of the bill. Such civil actions are required to be initiated within two years after the harm occurred.”

Kiggans introduced her bill less than a week after Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin took office.

Youngkin during his campaign said he does not support allowing trans children to play on sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity. Elizabeth Schultz, an anti-LGBTQ former member of the Fairfax County School Board, has been named the Virginia Department of Education’s Assistant Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The General Assembly’s 2022 legislative session began on Jan. 12 with Republicans in control of the state House of Delegates. Democrats still control the state Senate, and they have pledged to thwart any anti-LGBTQ bills.

“Let’s be clear: This is part of an ongoing, nationwide effort to exclude trans people from enjoying the benefits of sports like their cisgender peers,” tweeted the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia on Friday after Kiggans introduced SB 766. “We won’t tolerate this.”

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