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Early win could be only pro-LGBT victory this year in Va.



A bill to reinstate sexual orientation in Virginia’s public employment non-discrimination policy passed the state Senate last week — marking what some LGBT activists fear could be their only success this year.

Virginia Partisans President Terry Mansberger said a near total shut-out by the minority Republican senators on Senate Bill 66 means it’s unlikely to see a vote in the Republican-controlled House. And he noted that any other LGBT-inclusive bill could meet the same fate.

“When you put forward things like this that protect people from discrimination, most people agree that’s wrong,” he said. “But the teabaggers who’ve taken over the Republican Party think any legislation that helps gays and lesbians is bad.”

Sen. Frederick Quayle (R-Suffolk) was the sole GOP member to back the bill that appeared to square with Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell’s stance that expanding the policy was a matter for the legislature.

Newly elected Sen. Dave Marsden (D-Burke), who defeated anti-gay Republican Steve Hunt by 327 votes in the Fairfax special election, was among the 7-6 majority who earlier endorsed the bill in subcommittee.

Mansberger said the narrow victory in subcommittee showed the importance of supporting pro-gay candidates like Marsden, even if the bill itself doesn’t become law this year.

Aside from the public employment non-discrimination push, several bills advancing LGBT rights have been introduced at the Virginia General Assembly, which gave community activists a tangible goal to focus on at Equality Virginia’s lobby day earlier this month.

Dels. Tom Rust (R-Hendon) and Adam Ebbin (D-Arlington) introduced House Bill 352 to allow employers to extend life insurance benefits to workers’ domestic partners. Ebbin also introduced a House version of the inclusive public employment non-discrimination policy.

House Bill 1142 from Del. Jim Scott (D-Merrifield) would add sexual orientation to the state’s hate crimes law. It also would add the right for hate crime victims to bring civil action for damages and allow Internet providers to restrict access to anti-gay hate material.

But several bills introduced this session would cut same-sex partners out of typical next-of-kin roles, such as House Bill 650 introduced by Del. Ward Armstrong (D-Martinsville), which excludes domestic partners in disputes over funeral arrangements. And Del. Chris Peace (R-Mechanicsville) introduced House Bill 719, which allows spouses and dependents to petition for power of attorney, but not domestic partners.

Despite this year’s robust legislative agenda, state LGBT activists and supporters are tackling an additional task: working toward a vote to overturn the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.

A proposal to repeal the 2005 constitutional amendment has been introduced into the state’s House by Del. David Englin (D-Alexandria). It does not replace the amendment text with language enacting same-sex marriage; it simply removes the current restrictions that preclude the legislature from recognizing same-sex relationships.

Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, Equality Virginia’s chief counsel and legislative lobbyist, said laying the groundwork for repealing the amendment through hearts-and-minds campaigning is already underway and will continue until a majority of lawmakers back the measure.

If enough legislators vote for the measure before the next election, the earliest the proposed change could go before voters would be 2012, as it has to pass two consecutive sessions. However, Guthrie Gastañaga said she’d be surprised to see the issue on the ballot again before 2016.

Nonetheless, Freedom to Marry Executive Director Evan Wolfson said Virginia’s pro-LGBT forces could work toward victory by following the path activists are blazing in Oregon.

“Once that constitutional amendment passed in 2004, Basic Rights Oregon, the Equality Virginia counterpart, moved to begin laying the foundation to undo that discrimination,” Wolfson said. “At first, they secured a statewide non-discrimination law as well as a partnership law, so even with the passage of the anti-gay amendment, Oregon moved on to win more protections than we had there before the amendment.

“It’s now embarking on the vigorous public education and outreach effort, asking people in Oregon to have conversations with their neighbors and to get involved in raising their voices and creating the climate to overturning the amendment, possibly in 2012.”

Wolfson said there’s no substitute in this process for local engagement, with conversations beginning among neighbors and leading toward a reshaped national dialogue.

“None of us can rely on the courts,” he said. “We have to get out there. Even though it may not immediately topple the amendment, and though it may not immediately lead to marriage in Virginia, it helps create the climate nationwide.”

But Isaac Wood, assistant communications director at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, said it could be too soon for LGBT Virginians to expect change.

“With a heavily Republican and very conservative House of Delegates and a conservative governor, it is unlikely that the LGBT lobby will make much headway in Richmond this year or in the near future,” he said.

“Politics is cyclical and Virginia is a battleground state, so it is possible the ideological makeup of the legislature could change significantly over the next five years. While it is unlikely that Democrats could retake the House of Delegates in 2011, they can bolster their razor-thin majority in the state Senate and get within striking distance to retake the House in the 2013 elections. In politics, as in sports, there is always next year.”


District of Columbia

Bowser: No credible threats to D.C. Pride events

Mayor spoke with the Blade after flag-raising ceremony at the Wilson Building



D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser at the flag-raising of the Progress Pride flag at the Wilson Building in D.C. on June 1, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser on Thursday said authorities have not received any credible threats to upcoming Pride events.

“We don’t have any to report,” she told the Washington Blade.

“MPD is constantly working with all of our agencies to make sure we have safe special events and we’re going to keep going with our planning, like we do every year,” added Bowser. “There’s always a scan for any threats to the District.”

Bowser spoke with the Blade after she joined D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson, Council members Anita Bonds, Charles Allen, Kenyon McDuffie and Zachary Parker, D.C. Attorney General Brian Schwalb, D.C. Mayor’s LGBTQ Affairs Office Director Japer Bowles and other officials and activists in raising the Progress Pride flag in front of the Wilson Building.

The Blade last month reported D.C. police are investigating a bomb threat a Twitter user made against the annual District Pride concert that will take place at the Lincoln Theater on June 29. Bowles in a May 19 statement said his office reported the tweet, but further stressed that “no credible threat at this time has been made.”

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Moore issues Pride month proclamation

Governor on May 3 signed Trans Health Equity Act



Maryland Gov. Wes Moore (Public domain photo/Twitter)

Maryland Gov. Wes Moore on Thursday proclaimed June as Pride month in recognition of  “the contributions, resilience, courage and joy of LGBTQIA+ Marylanders,” according to a press release.

“In Maryland, we lead with love and inclusion. I want everyone in our LGBTQIA+ community to know that they deserve to be seen for who they are, and our administration will stand with them in the fight for equality and equity,” Moore said. “We need to elevate the stories, embrace the courage, and celebrate the humanity of our LGBTQIA+ community — and as long as I am governor, we will take the steps forward to protect and celebrate all Marylanders.”

Moore on March 31 became the first governor in Maryland history to recognize the Transgender Day of Visibility and last month he signed into law the Trans Health Equity Act into law, which requires Maryland Medicaid to provide coverage for gender-affirming care beginning next year.

“This month is a celebration of the beauty and uniqueness of the queer community, but it’s also a time to reaffirm our commitment to uplifting LGBTQIA+ Marylanders and continuing to fight against hatred, discrimination, and bigotry,” Lt. Gov. Aruna Miller said in the same press release that Moore’s office released. “LGBTQIA+ Marylanders deserve to be who they are, to live their pride — without fear or having to hide. This administration will always stand alongside and protect the rights of all Marylanders.”

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District of Columbia

Point Foundation offers growing range of scholarships, support

‘Resources to succeed and thrive rather than just make it through’



Celina Gerbic, a member of the Point Foundation’s board of directors, speaks at last year’s event. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Many in D.C. know the Point Foundation for its longstanding scholarship program and its popular Taste of Point fundraiser each spring. But the nonprofit is offering a growing range of services to its young scholars, including mental health resources and social media support.

This year’s Taste of Point brought mixologists, restaurateurs, and donors together on May 3 at Room and Board for the annual celebration. With a number of local businesses and organizations donating to the silent auction, the event both raised money for Point Foundation’s scholarships while recognizing scholarship recipients and program alumni.

Among the lineup of featured speakers was one of the foundation’s flagship scholarship recipients, Rio Dennis, a dual master’s and law candidate at Georgetown University.

“I applied for the Point Foundation Flagship Scholarship because I believed in its mission of helping LGBTQ+ students achieve their academic goals while also providing training and resources so we can become better leaders within the LGBTQ community during school and long term,” Dennis said in her speech. 

The Taste of Point celebration began in 2013, born from another event called the Cornerstone Reception. Originally planned as a normal fundraiser with hor d’oeuvres, the foundation transformed it into the current Taste of Point celebration that facilitates partnerships with new, local restaurants.

Some restaurants, like Compass Rose and Hank’s Oyster Bar, partnered with Point Foundation for their first celebration. They have been catering at the fundraiser ever since.

“It really gives you the sense of the amount of love and the amount of community that we have around the Point Foundation and mission,” said Celina Gerbic, a member on the foundation’s board of directors. “They really see, with hearing from the scholars, what the effects can be if we’re raising money for those scholarships and mentoring opportunities.”

The event also allows the foundation to showcase new offerings, such as the Community College Scholarship that was rolled out just before the pandemic in collaboration with Wells Fargo. The community college program gives scholars a financial scholarship each year of their community college experience as well as coaching and admissions counseling for students planning to transfer to a university. 

Meanwhile, the foundation is also expanding its new BIPOC scholarship, which announced its next round of recipients on May 22. The scholarship is currently supporting between 500 and 555 scholars across the country.

Omari Foote, one of the current BIPOC scholarship recipients, appreciates how the scholarship recognizes her as a Black queer student. She is even encouraging other queer students and friends to apply to receive similar assistance.

However, Point is even more than that, Dennis notes. 

Before the school year started, the Point Foundation sent Dennis and all of the new flagship scholars to Los Angeles for a leadership development conference. Scholars discussed how to become active leaders on campus, how to ask for certain resources, what is offered by their campuses, and what tutoring programs are available.

This year, Point also did a joint partnership with an online therapy program to offer discounted prices for all scholars. 

“I have anxiety and depression and I struggled a lot in undergrad with trying to balance that with my having to support myself financially,” Dennis said. “So I was definitely grateful that Georgetown did have a program that is specifically for people of color to get free therapy and Point definitely helped with… asking those questions because it is one of those programs that isn’t as well publicized.”

Point even provided Dennis with a mentor who was also a Point Scholar in law school. Meeting monthly on Zoom and texting all throughout the month, Dennis’s mentor provides academic support that helps her use the right resources and make decisions about her career.

Foote finds the scholarship unique in other ways as well. As a recipient of a handful of other scholarships outside of Point, Foote’s interactions with her scholarship programs mostly stop after they send instructions for writing donor thank you notes. But Point keeps reaching out to maintain a relationship with scholars long after that.

“They’ve reached out to me to spotlight me on Instagram,” Foote said. “They reached out to me even for this dinner, paying for my transportation to and from the dinner … It’s like they’re not just there to give you the money. They’re there to really help you navigate the college world and to be that caring supportive system that a lot of us just don’t have anymore now that we are living by ourselves.”

Last November, the foundation also held an Out in Higher Ed Week, wherein they teach scholars how to be LGBTQ+ advocates on campus. These resources help students navigate the ins and outs of discussing LGBTQ+ issues in university settings.

After graduation, Dennis has even thought about returning to the Point Foundation as a mentor to help future Black queer students, especially first generation law students, balance their mental health and financial situations.

“Point has connected me with fellow scholars who have become my friends. Point has provided me with resources and support to succeed and thrive rather than just make it through,” Dennis said. “I definitely plan on continuing to be involved with Point.”

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