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D.C. judge rejects ballot measure on gay marriage



Opponents of same-sex marriage in the District of Columbia lost their second court challenge in less than a year Thursday when a Superior Court judge ruled that a voter initiative seeking to ban such marriages cannot be placed on the ballot.

Judge Judith Macaluso ruled that the D.C. Board of Elections & Ethics acted properly in November when it rejected a proposed initiative calling for banning same-sex marriages in the city.

The election board said seeking a gay marriage ban was an impermissible subject for a ballot measure because it would violate the city’s Human Rights Act, which bans discrimination based on sexual orientation.

“Today’s decision affirms the District’s effort to make our city open and inclusive,” said D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, who signed a same-sex marriage bill last month shortly after the City Council approved it.

City officials and Capitol Hill observes believe the bill will become law the first week in March, when it’s expected to clear a required congressional review of 30 legislative days.

“Thanks to the Superior Court, this historic legislation is now one crucial step closer to being implemented,“ said D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles, who filed the city’s court brief opposing the ballot initiative.

“Many District residents have waited decades for full marriage rights,” he said. “Their wait will soon be over.”

The case on which Macaluso ruled, Harry Jackson Jr. v. District of Columbia Board of Elections & Ethics, is named for Bishop Harry Jackson, the Beltsville, Md., minister who is leading efforts to ban same-sex marriage in D.C.

Another Superior Court judge ruled against Jackson last year when he filed papers with the election board for a voter referendum to overturn a separate law that authorized the city to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions.

Similar to Thursday’s ruling, the earlier ruling upheld an election board decision rejecting Jackson’s proposed referendum on grounds that it would violate the city’s Human Rights Act.

Among those who signed on as co-plaintiffs with Jackson in the case decided Thursday were Rev. Walter Fauntroy, the city’s former congressional delegate; Ward 5 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Robert King; and Rev. Anthony Evans, a D.C. minister.

Attorneys representing Jackson and the other plaintiffs argued in court papers that the right of citizens to propose initiatives and referenda was established as an amendment to the congressionally approved D.C. City Charter. They noted that the restriction used by the city to disqualify initiatives and referenda that would violate the city’s Human Rights Act was established by a regular law passed by the City Council aimed at implementing the City Charter amendment.

According to Jackson and his attorneys, the Council’s restriction on an initiative or referendum seeking to ban same-sex marriage violates the City Charter, which created the initiative and referenda process without such a restriction.

In her ruling Thursday, Macaluso said the City Charter Amendment in question was passed by the City Council before being ratified by Congress. She said it gave the Council full authority to carry out the initiative and referenda process through implementing legislation.

“The most reasonable interpretation of events is that [the] Council … knew what it intended when it directed itself ‘to adopt such acts as are necessary to carry out the purpose of this [charter amendment ]’and that this intention included protection of minorities from the possibility of discriminatory initiatives,” Macaluso says in her ruling.

“Judge Macaluso applied the law impartially in this case, recognizing the D.C. Council’s right to define the initiative process consistent with the D.C. Charter,” said Tom Williamson, one of a team of attorneys who represented same-sex couples in a friend of the court brief supporting the city’s position in the case.

“The decision upholds the Council’s right to broadly protect human rights for all District residents,” said Williamson, who is with the D.C. law firm Covington & Burling, which is providing pro bono legal counsel to the same-sex couples.

Jackson and his fellow plaintiffs in the case could not be immediately reached for comment. They have said in the past that they would likely appeal a decision against them by Macaluso.

But some legal experts, including Williamson, have said Jackson most likely would not be able to appeal the case beyond the D.C. Court of Appeals to the federal courts, including the Supreme Court, because it doesn’t involve a federal constitutional issue.

Thirty-seven Republican members of the House of Representatives and two GOP U.S. senators had filed a separate friend of the court, or amicus, brief backing Jackson’s position in the case.

The GOP lawmakers are expected to take steps through congressional action later this year to overturn the city’s same-sex marriage bill after it becomes law in March. Same-sex marriage supporters, including national LGBT groups such as the Human Rights Campaign, have said they are hopeful that the Democratic controlled Congress will kill any attempt to overturn the marriage law.

“This second, back-to-back ruling by the D.C. Superior Court is an overwhelming victory for fairness, the rule of law and the protection of all D.C. residents against discrimination,” said Joe Solmonese, HRC’s president. “D.C. has the right to govern itself and make its own laws without the interference of 39 Republican members of Congress more interested in scoring cheap political points than in the everyday lives of D.C. residents.”



Bomb threat shuts down Takoma Park holiday drag show

MotorKat evacuated when Tara Hoot was performing



Tara Hoot was performing at MotorKat in Takoma Park, Md., on Dec. 9, 2023, when a bomb threat forced the business' evacuation. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Police cordoned off a popular strip in Takoma Park on Saturday after a bomb threat shut down businesses, including a holiday performance by drag artist Tara Hoot.

MotorKat General Manager Mike Rothman told the Washington Blade that Takoma Park police notified them of a bomb threat to their business around noon.

Tara Hoot was delivering a holiday brunch performance at the MotorKat when the evacuation order came in.

Rothman said they were notified “five minutes into her final performance.” Tara Hoot herself told the audience to leave for their safety.

Police proceeded to tape off the area and evacuated all businesses between Eastern and South Carroll Avenues, including TakomaBevCo, which is co-owned by MotorKat Wine Director Seth Cook.

Cook told the Blade that police brought in “bomb-sniffing dogs” to clear the area before allowing businesses to reopen around 2 p.m.

“The timing is unfortunate as this is one of the busiest weekends before the holidays,” Cook said.

Rothman was also disappointed by the lost revenue due to what ultimately was a false threat, but he was firm that the Takoma Park LGBTQ community is resilient and would continue to thrive despite this setback.

“Takoma Park is a pretty proud and resilient community,” he said. “I don’t expect people to lay down and be scared by this.”

MotorKat and TakomaBevCo reopened for business around 3 p.m.

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Comings & Goings

Jimmy Alexander joins WTOP News as a feature reporter



Jimmy Alexander (Photo courtesy of Jimmy Alexander)

The Comings & Goings column is about sharing the professional successes of our community. We want to recognize those landing new jobs, new clients for their business, joining boards of organizations, and other achievements. Please share your successes with us at: [email protected]

Congratulations to Jimmy Alexander who has been hired at WTOP News as a feature reporter. Over the last four years Alexander has been covering stories as varied as the Jan. 6 insurrection to the 17th Street High Heel Race. He has been working as a co-host on the Jack Diamond Morning show on Cumulus Media, Manning Media. On his acceptance of the new position Alexander said, “I’m thrilled that at WTOP News, I will be able to focus on events and people that bring hope to your heart and a smile to your face.”

Alexander is a versatile multimedia broadcaster with more than two decades of experience covering both major news events in Washington D.C., and important human-interest stories outside the Beltway. He is an engaging interviewer with a track record of having compelling conversations with the biggest names in government and show business, from presidents to Paul McCartney. Prior to this he worked as a freelance feature reporter with WDCW50-DC News Now. He is also with Writer-20, Twenty Country Countdown, United Stations Radio Networks. There he developed a concept for a countdown show featuring country music’s weekly top songs on-air and online and prepared weekly scripts for a three-hour show. 

Alexander conducted the only Jan. 6, 2021 interview with “The QAnon Shaman” Jacob Chansley. Since 2016, he has served by request of the D.C. mayor as official host of the 17th Street High Heel Race, the city’s second largest LGBTQ event of the year. He is featured in the documentary “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work,” and is a frequent guest on CNN’s Morning Show “New Day.” He covered White House visits by Queen Elizabeth, the Pope, and the yearly Easter Egg Roll. He also won $10,000 on the game show “Pyramid.” 

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LGBTQ University of Maryland students prepare to celebrate Hanukkah

Eight-day festival to begin Thursday night



(Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

A number of Hanukkah events for LGBTQ students will take place at the University of Maryland this week.

Queer Jewish students and allies are welcome to attend Crazy Cozy Chill Chanukah Celebration on Sunday at the University of Maryland Hillel. Hamsa, home to queer Jewish life on campus, hosted a study break with hot drinks, snacks and games and a chance to welcome Hanukkah early. 

The first night of Hanukkah is Thursday.

Chabad UMD is hosting a menorah lighting on Thursday in front of McKeldin Library and plans to mention the war between Israel and Hamas, according to Rabbi Eli Backman of Chabad UMD. The event is going to be a focus on the positivity and the message of the Hanukkah story.  

“We’ve been around for thousands of years and all those who’ve tried to make sure that we didn’t live to see the next generation (is) no longer here,” Backman said. “That message will really resonate at home for the holiday.”

The story of the Maccabees is one of the few stories where Jewish people fought, Backman said. In Jewish history, people don’t see a military response in many of the other holiday moments. 

“It should give us a boost of energy,” Backman said. “A boost of strength (and) a boost of hope.”

Part of the Hanukkah story’s message is that Jewish people were in a position that they needed to form a military to secure their borders, Backman said. And they succeeded. 

For some, celebrating Hanukkah depends on the people they’re around, Florence Miller, a sophomore English and Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies who is Hamsa’s president, said.

Miller is agnostic and does not find themself to be a religious person, but the thing that has kept their Jewish faith is the people about whom they care are Jewish and the sense of community that comes from being Jewish.

“I just wanted to do a Hanukkah event,” Miller said. “It’s been a good refresher with how the semester has been.”

Miller last year attended a Hanukkah party and played a game of dreidel, a spinning top with four sides marked with a Hebrew letter. The people who were in attendance wanted to bet something, but the only thing they could find were pinto beans. 

“When I took them out of my pocket one got stuck in there,” Miller said. “I still have that bean.”

For some Jewish students it’s important to go to Hanukkah events like Hamsa’s celebration to be around like-minded Jewish people, Yarden Shestopal, a sophomore American Studies major, said. 

“Which is why I like Hamsa,” Shestopal said. “Since we’re all queer people or allies we kind of share that mentality of acceptance.”

Being part of the Jewish community at the University of Maryland has opened Shestopal up to how diverse the LGBTQ and Jewish communities are. Shestopal this year, however, debated whether or not to put his menorah up on the windowsill of his apartment because of the rise in anti-Semitism due to the war in Israel.  

“I’m pretty sure I am going to put the menorah in my window,” Shestopal said. “The only way to combat anti-Semitism is to stay visible.” 

Several University of Maryland students lived in Israel before or during their time at the university. 

Elisheva Greene, a junior animal science major, went to seminary, a school for women to learn about Torah, during the pandemic. Greene said celebrating Hanukkah while a war is happening is going to be a similar feeling. 

“I’m able to do what I can from over here by supporting my family and friends,” Greene said. “The biggest thing I can be doing is living my life as a Jewish person and showing that I express my Judaism and I’m not afraid.”

Greene recalled they could not go more than 1,000 feet from home for two months and Hanukkah took place during that time. While it was difficult, Greene said people still put their menorahs on their windowsill.  

“Knowing the resilience the Israelis have and the fact people like to show their Jewishness (is not) gonna stop me,” Greene said. “Like there’s a war going on but you’re gonna be a Jew and you’re gonna flaunt that.”

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