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'Today was like a dream'

Couples, D.C. officials celebrate arrival of same-sex marriage

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(DC Agenda video by Steve Fox)

Under the watchful eye of nearly two dozen television cameras and news photographers, three same-sex couples took their wedding vows Tuesday morning before about 150 guests at a ceremony held less than a mile from the White House.

The weddings, held at the Human Rights Campaign headquarters, were among the first to take place after the city’s same-sex marriage law took effect last week.

D.C. residents Angelisa Young, 47, and Sinjoyla Townsend, 41, who have been a couple for 12 years, were the first to say “I do” after exchanging rings before a barrage of clicking cameras.

“Today was like a dream for me,” Young said after the ceremony. “I always felt like it would come true. But it’s here now, and it’s really real, we want to thank everyone who made this possible.”

Next to exchange their wedding vows at the ceremony were Reginald Stanley and Rocky Galloway, both 50. As Rev. Sylvia Sumter performed the wedding, the couples’ two 16-month-old daughters watched with interest as they were held in the arms of two adult family members just a few feet away.

The last of the three couples to marry during the HRC ceremony were Rev. Elder Darlene Garner and Rev. Lorilyn Candy Holmes, members of the Metropolitan Community Church of Washington, which has a mostly gay congregation. Rev. Dwayne Johnson, pastor of the church, performed the marriage.

“Today, the love you have is recognized by the District of Columbia,” Johnson said. “I now declare you legally married.”

HRC Vice President David Smith said the building’s first-floor meeting hall, which the group calls the Equality Forum, has been host to numerous same-sex commitment ceremonies in the past and the group was delighted to provide its facility for one of the first same-sex marriages in the District.

But while the three weddings at the HRC building drew most of the media spotlight, two other same-sex weddings Tuesday morning held at the D.C. Superior Court building are believed to have been the first such marriages to take place under the city’s Religious Freedom & Marriage Equality Amendment Act.

District residents Jeremy Moon, 31, and Bryan Legaspi, 30, both of whom work in the Obama administration, wed shortly after the court opened at 8:30 a.m. in a courtroom ceremony performed by Judge Brook Hedge.

At the same time, D.C. residents Robb Hawthorne, 24, and James Betz, 23, were married on a plaza outside the courthouse by Rev. Bonnie Berger. Hawthorne and Betz, who met while they were students at George Washington University, both work at the university’s affiliated clinic, Medical Faculty Associates.

Hawthorne said the two met Berger through her role as a chaplain at George Washington University Hospital.

“We arrived at the courthouse at 3:30 in the morning to get in line,” Hawthorne said, noting that the couple wanted to be among the first to pick up their marriage licenses.

The city’s existing marriage law requires a waiting period of three business days between the time people apply for a marriage license and the time it is issued by the court. More than 200 same-sex couples applied for marriage licenses beginning March 3, when the same-sex marriage law took effect, through March 5, according to a court spokesperson. Tuesday was the first day same-sex marriages could be performed.

Among the people attending the ceremony at the HRC building were D.C. Council members David Catania (I-At Large), who wrote and took the lead role in advancing the same-sex marriage bill, and Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), a long-time supporter of same-sex marriage rights. Both are gay.

The two were joined after the ceremony by D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, who stood alongside the newly married couples to congratulate them and talk to reporters. Fenty signed the marriage bill shortly after the City Council passed it 11-2 in December.

“It’s tough to represent a city,” he told the couples. “It’s tough to represent a community, and it’s also tough to represent a nation. But the six of you today do that. Whether you realize it or not, whether you like it or not, you represent what this entire country is about.”

Fenty added, “As mayor of the District of Columbia, I cannot be more excited or proud to be here. I think this is not only a great step forward for all six of you, but…it is also great step forward for equality in general, for our great city…and for our great country.”

Catania, who called the ceremonies “incredibly moving,” drew nods of approval when he compared them in at least one respect to most other weddings.

“Council member Graham said we all cry at weddings and that was especially true today,” Catania said. “This is one of the most profoundly rewarding experiences I’ve ever had the privilege of being a part of.”
Catania and Graham said they never thought they would see same-sex marriage happen in their lifetime.

“There’s been no event in my life that has been more uplifting, more positive, more affirming than these three marriages this morning,” Graham said, “because it says so much about human dignity, about valuing each other or who they are and nothing less — nothing short of that.”

Also attending the ceremony and participating in the press conference was veteran D.C. gay activist Frank Kameny, who is credited with founding the city’s LGBT rights movement.

“This represents a major victory, one that has been in the making for 35 to 40 years, although back then we never remotely thought it would really come to pass,” Kameny said. “And hopefully it sets the tone for other victories. This is not the last that we need. There are others that are in the making, and we’re going to have to continue working on those and hopefully with equal success in the very near future.”

The ceremonies at the HRC building were sponsored by the Campaign for All D.C. Families and D.C. Clergy United for Marriage Equality, two groups that were part of a coalition of gay and straight organizations that lobbied for the same-sex marriage bill.

Rick Imirowicz, 43, and Terrance Heath, 41, both District residents and a couple for ten years, were married Tuesday afternoon at All Souls Unitarian Church in Northwest D.C. Rev. Robert Hardies, pastor of the church, performed the ceremony.

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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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