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An early holiday gift for city’s gay couples

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Mayor Adrian Fenty (DC Agenda photo by Michael Key)

With about 200 spectators cheering from the pews, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty signed a bill last week to legalize same-sex marriage in Washington during a ceremony at a church that played a leading role in pushing for black civil rights in the 1950s and 1960s.

“To the world, today an era of struggle ends for thousands of residents of Washington, D.C., who have been denied the fundamental right to marry the person of their choosing,” Fenty told the gathering at All Souls Unitarian Church in Northwest D.C.

“I say to all those residents who watch the nation’s capital today that our city is taking a leap forward in ensuring freedom and equality to all residents.”

Fenty signed the Religious Freedom & Civil Marriage Equality Amendment Act of 2009 four days after the D.C. Council gave its final approval of the measure, 11-2.

The signing also came five months after a separate bill passed by the Council and signed by Fenty, which recognizes same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions, became law after clearing its required congressional review.

The measure that Fenty signed Friday was expected to be sent to Capitol Hill this week, where it, too, must undergo a congressional review of 30 legislative days. Most congressional observers expect the Democratic controlled Congress will allow the bill to become law by taking no legislative action to overturn it.

“The signing of this bill marks a watershed moment for human rights in the District of Columbia,” said Rev. Robert Hardies, pastor of All Souls Unitarian Church and one of the leaders of a coalition of D.C. clergy members who support same-sex marriage equality.

“I and the nearly 200 D.C. clergy who supported this bill look forward to celebrating the marriages of loving lesbian and gay couples in sanctuaries like this one all over our city,” he said.

Among those standing behind Fenty as he signed the bill at a table set up in front of the church alter were D.C. Council Chair Vincent Gray (D-At Large); gay Council member David Catania (I-At Large), author and lead sponsor of the bill; and Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), chair of the committee that shepherded the bill through the Council.

Also standing at the table for the signing were gay Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), in whose ward the church is located; Council members Jack Evans (D-Ward 1); Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), and Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5); and Fenty’s LGBT Affairs Office director, Christopher Dyer.

(DC Agenda photo by Michael Key)

Fenty and Catania, among others participating in the bill signing ceremony, said the decision to hold the event in a church was symbolic of the message they sought to project during the campaign to legalize same-sex marriage in the city: that the legislation would not infringe on the rights of people of faith and would, in fact, give ministers supportive of marriage equality the right to legally perform same-sex marriages.

Most of the opposition to the legislation was led by clergy who oppose same-sex marriage on religious grounds. Bishop Harry Jackson, pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Md., and the lead spokesperson for the bill’s opponents, has vowed to continue efforts to urge Congress to overturn the legislation.

Jackson and his supporters also are appealing in D.C. Superior Court a ruling by the city’s election board denying a proposed voter initiative that sought to ban same-sex marriage in the District of Columbia.

Catania told people gathered for the bill’s signing that six generations of his family, including his grandfather, have been Baptist ministers. He noted that leaders of the churches in which his ancestors were a part were outspoken abolitionists in the fight against slavery prior to the Civil War.

“I was raised in a household that loved this country,” he said. “And at times, even in our struggles, we wonder whether our best days are behind us. I have to be completely honest with you. I’ve never been more certain in my life that our best days are before us.”

Catania said the passage and signing of a same-sex marriage bill was the culmination of years of work from committed LGBT activists and their allies, beginning with veteran D.C. gay activist Frank Kameny, who is credited with founding the local LGBT rights movement in the early 1960s.

“I was fortunate enough to simply guide the process and draft [the bill], but it would not have taken place without the extraordinary leadership of Phil Mendelson on the Judiciary Committee and our non-stop support from our [Council] chairman. And enough cannot be said about the rank and file members of this Council, who stood with us.”

Sources familiar with the mayor’s office said Fenty also considered holding the signing ceremony at Covenant Baptist church in

Southeast D.C., which is headed by pro-same-sex marriage pastors Dennis and Christine Wiley. The Wileys, along with Hardies of All Souls, were co-chairs of the coalition of clergy backing same-sex marriage. One source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Fenty is thought to have chosen All Souls in part because it’s located in the neighborhood where he grew up.

In his remarks, Fenty introduced his parents, who were in the audience, and noted that their status as an interracial couple made them a part of the marriage equality movement.

“My parents know a little something about marriage equality,” he said. “They married almost 40 years ago and in a country at the time where every jurisdiction didn’t agree that an interracial couple should be married. Had they not been able to, I would not be standing here as mayor of the District of Columbia right now.”

Graham, who, along with Catania, has been a longtime LGBT rights advocate, appeared to express the emotion that many LGBT activists and same-sex couples present at the bill signing event shared.

“Thank God for this day,” he said. “Thank God that I was able to live to see this day.”

All Souls Unitarian Church (DC Agenda photo by Michael Key)

Graham praised Fenty for standing out as a “certainty” that the bill would be signed whenever the Council felt the time was right to pass it.

He also pointed to the historic support All Souls Unitarian Church provided for the African American civil rights movement in the 1950s, when the church founded one of the city’s first integrated youth clubs. It was at a time when D.C.’s youth recreation facilities were segregated among black and whites.

“We can’t overlook how fitting it is that we are in this church,” he said, “because this church has a great tradition of fighting for civil rights and human rights.”

Fenty, Catania and Graham were beseeched after the ceremony by activists and same-sex couples attending the event who asked them to pose for pictures with them and to sign copies of a mayoral press statement announcing the bill signing.

“It’s an exciting day for many of us,” said gay Democratic activist Peter Rosenstein, one of the organizers of the same-sex marriage advocacy group Campaign for All D.C. Families. “It’s a day that many of us thought wouldn’t come in our lifetimes. It’s for us and for future generations.”

Michael Crawford, co-chair of D.C. for Marriage, said he doesn’t believe Fenty and the 11 Council members who voted for the bill would face serious opposition in their upcoming elections over this specific issue.

“The folks who are claiming they will enact political retribution against Council members that voted for marriage equality, by and large, don’t live in the District,” he said. “So it’s going to be pretty difficult for them to have an impact on District elections.”

Rev. Abena McCray, pastor of D.C.’s LGBT welcoming Unity Fellowship Church, and Bishop Rainey Cheeks, pastor of the city’s Inner Light Ministries, which also has a largely LGBT congregation, each said the mayor’s signing of the marriage bill would boost the faith and morale of LGBT people of faith.

“I don’t anticipate a backlash,” McCray said, when asked about clergy who have opposed the bill.

“God is in control,” she said. “God spoke today. History was made. And we’re going to move forward in only one thing, and that’s love.”

Cheeks said he expects efforts by people of faith to fight the legislation will be diminished once they understand it.

“When they really understand that this law does not take away anything from anybody, it adds to,” they will be far less likely to try to reverse the law, he said.

“Every church and every denomination already has the right to say no to whomever they want to say no to,” Cheeks said, on the question of performing same-sex marriages. “It simply expands the right for us to be able to do what we need to do.”

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District of Columbia

Four LGBTQ candidates running for delegate to Democratic National Convention from D.C.

Thirty-two candidates competing for 13 elected delegate positions in April 20 party caucus

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From left, candidates include John Fanning, Jimmie Williams, Monika Nemeth and David Meadows. (Photos courtesy of the D.C. Democratic Party)

Four LGBTQ Democratic Party activists are running for election as delegates from D.C. to the Democratic National Convention at an April 20 local Democratic Party caucus election in which all D.C. voters who are registered as Democrats will be eligible to vote.

The four LGBTQ candidates are among 32 candidates competing for just 13 elected delegate positions. D.C. will have a total of 51 delegates to the Democratic Convention, but the other 38 include elected officials and party leaders who are considered “automatic” or appointed delegates. The convention will be held in Chicago Aug. 19-23,

Under the delegate selection process put in place by the D.C. Democratic Party, six of the thirteen elected delegate positions will be elected by voters in a section of the city designated as District 1, which includes Wards 1,2, 6, and 8. The other seven elected delegates will be chosen by voters in District 2, which includes Wards 3, 4, 5, and 7.

The LGBTQ candidates include longtime gay Democratic activists David Meadows of Ward 6 and John Fanning of Ward 2 who are running in District 1. Transgender rights advocate and Democratic Party activist Monika Nemeth of Ward 3 and gay Democratic activist Jimmie Williams of Ward 7 are running in District  2.

All four of the LGBTQ candidates have been active members of the Capital Stonewall Democrats, one of D.C.’s largest LGBTQ political organizations. Nemeth and Meadows are past presidents of the organization. Williams has served as chair of the Ward 7 Democratic Committee and is a current member of the committee. Fanning has served as an elected member of the D.C. Democratic State Committee from Ward 2 and served as a delegate to the 2016 Democratic National Convention.

A total of 12 candidates are running in each of the two districts. Under party rules the highest six vote getters in District 1 and the highest 7 vote getters in District 2 will be declared the winners.

The Saturday, April 20 caucus election for the delegate candidates will take place at the Walter E. Washington D.C. Convention Center. An announcement by party officials says two voting sessions will take place, one from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. and the other from 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

Aside from the elected delegates, two prominent D.C. LGBTQ Democratic leaders will be appointed as delegates to the 2024 Democratic National Convention in their role as members of the Democratic National Committee from D.C.

They are Claire Lucas, a highly acclaimed Democratic Party and LGBTQ rights advocate and party fundraiser; and Earl Fowlkes, one of the lead organizers of D.C.’s annual Black LGBTQ Pride celebration and former president of Capital Stonewall Democrats.

Lucas and Fowlkes and the four LGBTQ candidates running in the April 20 caucus election are committed to backing President Joe Biden as the Democratic nominee for re-election.

Statements from each of the candidates running for delegate in the April 20 caucus election, including the four LGBTQ candidates, can be accessed here: Candidates for Delegate | DC Democratic Party

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District of Columbia

HIPS D.C. launches ‘Harm Reduction’ vending machine program

LGBTQ supportive group says program aimed at ‘saving lives’ in response to overdose crisis

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HIPS official Alexandra Bradley, at right, provides information about the HIPS Harm Reduction Vending Machine at Whitman-Walker's Max Robinson Center as University of Maryland Professor Andrea Lopez, who is conducting a study of the vending machine program, stands beside a red syringe disposal bin that accompanies the vending machines. (Washington Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

HIPS D.C., the LGBTQ supportive organization that provides support and services for drug users and sex workers, officially launched on April 5 a ‘Harm Reduction Vending Machine Pilot Program’ that it says will help save lives by providing free of charge harm reduction supplies for drug users in locations where there is a “higher than average” rate of overdose cases.

The announcement of the project was held outside the Whitman-Walker Health Max Robinson Center building at 1201 Sycamore Dr., S.E., next to where one of the first three HIPS vending machines is located.

Alexandra Bradley, HIPS’ Outreach and Community Engagement Manager, told a small gathering at the announcement event that among the supplies provided free of charge through the vending machines are naloxone, the life-saving nasal spray medication used to treat an opioid drug overdose; fentanyl test kits, syringes, and syringe wound care kits; drug snort kits, condoms, and other items, including  water bottles and snack food such as crackers and granola bars.

Bradley and other officials with HIPS and Whitman-Walker Health said they believe most people, when informed of the rationale behind the vending machines and other programs supporting drug users, will understand that the programs are not encouraging drug use.

“People will use drugs,” Bradley said. “We want them to use them safely,” she added, with the hope that they will seek support to get off drugs. “We can’t help anybody if they are dead. We want to keep people safe,” Bradley said.

A statement released by HIPS says the vending machine pilot program is being funded by a grant from the D.C. Department of Health. It says anyone can access the machines free of charge by contacting HIPS through a phone number posted on the machines – 202-779-0486 – to obtain a four-digit participant code “that they will then punch in to use the machines.” It says that as of April 5, 150 individuals had already registered and enrolled in the program.

Bradley pointed out that registration is not required to obtain naloxone supplies, which can be obtained through a code number posted on the machines. She said each of the three machines are also accompanied by a metal disposal receptacle for safely placing used syringes.

“These machines have been placed in areas where there are higher concentrations of overdose deaths and/or underserved areas with high levels of need for access to services and supplies,” the HIPS statement says.

In addition to the HIPS vending machine at the site of Whitman-Walker’s Max Robinson Center, the second HIPS vending machine is located at The Michelle Obama Southeast Center of Bread for the City at 1700 Marion Barry Avenue, S.E., and the third one is located at Bread for the City’s Shaw neighborhood facility at 1525 7th Street, N.W.

The announcement of the vending machine harm reduction project comes at a time when many in the D.C. LGBTQ community have mourned the loss of beloved local LGBTQ members from a drug overdose, including accidental drug overdoses caused by contamination of their preferred drug such as cocaine with fentanyl.

Also speaking at the announcement event was Andrea Lopez, an Associate Professor at the University of Maryland’s Department of Anthropology, which she said is partnering with HIPS to conduct a  study of the vending machine pilot program and its impact as a public health project and the public health benefits of vending machines as an “intervention” in support of those in need.

Others who spoke at the event and provided details of the vending machine project were Cyndee Clay, the HIPS Executive Director; Starr O’Leary, the HIPS Community Outreach Coordinator;  and Jona Tanguay, an official with Whitman-Walker Health.

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Maryland

Md. lawmakers pass several LGBTQ rights bills during 2024 session

Senate committee failed to vote on HIV decriminalization bill

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Maryland lawmakers passed a number of LGBTQ rights bills during this year’s legislative session that ended on Monday.

House Bill 1397, which would strengthened the state’s nondiscrimination law that includes sexual orientation and gender identity, passed on Monday. 

The Freedom to Read Act, which, among other things, would “protect local library personnel from dismissal or disciplinary action for doing their jobs, in accordance with prescribed standards,” passed in the Maryland Senate on April 5. 

The state Senate on April 4 passed House Bill 602, which would bolster Maryland’s employment discrimination law. The Maryland House of Delegates on the same day approved a measure that would make Maryland a sanctuary state for transgender people and their health care providers.

FreeState Justice Policy Advocate and Legal Impact Coordinator Camila Reynolds-Dominguez in a statement notes lawmakers also “affirmed Maryland’s commitment to the federal Equal Rights Amendment” and “created much needed oversight for Maryland’s prison system.” 

She noted lawmakers “defeated a myriad of anti-trans bills and harmful amendments” during this year’s legislative session. Reynolds-Dominguez also criticized the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee over its failure to vote on a bill that would repeal the criminalization of people with HIV.

“This legislative session was monumental for LGBTQIA+ Marylanders,” she said. “While we are extremely disappointed that the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee did not bring an HIV criminalization repeal law to a vote for the second year in a row, there is much else to celebrate.”

“It is too apparent from the harmful comments and misinformation we heard during legislative debates that there is still so much work that must be done to change certain legislators’ anti-LGBTQIA+ biases,” added Reynolds-Dominguez. “Nonetheless, we’re also celebrating the overwhelming majority of our elected officials who are wonderful and supportive allies in the fight to make Maryland an inclusive state where everyone has dignity and equal rights no matter who they are or who they love. We would like to thank all the advocates, allies and activists who helped us achieve so many victories this session — none of this would be possible without dozens of people’s hard work, tireless effort and unwavering dedication.”

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