Connect with us

Local

'Today was like a dream'

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

Published

on

div/>

(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.

Advertisement
FUND LGBTQ JOURNALISM
SIGN UP FOR E-BLAST

District of Columbia

46 out commissioners join ANC Rainbow Caucus

Raising the profile of issues unique to D.C.’s LGBTQ residents

Published

on

(Washington Blade file photo by Aram Vartian)

At least 46 out members of the city’s Advisory Neighborhood Commissions who were elected in November have joined the ANC Rainbow Caucus, according to caucus co-chair Vincent Slatt, who won election to the Dupont Circle ANC Single Member District 2B03.

Slatt said he and ANC Rainbow Caucus co-chair Ryan Cudemas-Brunoli of ANC 3F01 plan to continue the caucus’ activities since its founding in 2018 of raising the profile of problems and issues unique to LGBTQ residents throughout the city and to use caucus members’ positions to push for a D.C. government response to those issues.

At least 34 straight-identified commissioners have signed up as allies to work with the Rainbow Caucus, Slatt said.

The city currently has a total of 46 ANCs representing neighborhoods throughout the city that have between two and as many as 10 single member districts (SMDs) each with an elected commissioner, with a total of 345 commissioners. Under the city’s Home Rule Charter, ANC seats are nonpartisan, unpaid positions whose elected members are charged with advising the D.C. government on local neighborhood issues.

Among the caucus’ past accomplishments, Slatt said, was the active role it played in lobbying the D.C. Council to amend the city’s hate crimes law to ban the so-called LGBTQ “panic defense.” Defense attorneys have used that defense to argue that a client charged with physically assaulting or murdering an LGBTQ person did so after they panicked upon learning the victim was gay or LGBTQ.

Slatt noted that the caucus, among other actions related to crime targeting LGBTQ people, submitted a community impact statement to a D.C. Superior Court judge at the time of sentencing for a man charged with a violent hate crime assault targeting a gay Asian man and his elderly parents. The judge denied a request by the defendant’s attorney to issue a suspended jail term with probation and instead sentenced the man to seven months in jail.

Slatt said the ANC Rainbow Caucus is currently closely monitoring the police investigation into the January 2023 murder of D.C. transgender woman Jasmine Star Parker.

“As in previous caucus work, we’ll have letters, resolutions, and proclamations on different matters,” Slatt said, which will be posted on a website the caucus plans to launch soon.

The caucus can currently be contacted via email at ancrainbowcaucus.org.

Continue Reading

District of Columbia

Newly diagnosed HIV cases increased slightly in D.C. in 2021

Report cautions fewer people were tested during COVID-19 pandemic

Published

on

Clover Barnes, Director of the D.C. Department of Health’s HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, STD and TB Administration (HAHSTA), was among those playing a lead role in preparing the newly released D.C.HIV/AIDS surveillance report. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The D.C. Department of Health’s Annual Epidemiology and Surveillance Report released on Tuesday shows there were 230 newly diagnosed HIV cases in the D.C. in 2021, the most recent year in which data have been analyzed.

The report says the 230 cases in 2021 represents an 83 percent decline in new cases from the peak number of 1,374 cases in 2007, but a slight increase from 219 cases reported in 2020. The report shows there were 273 newly reported HIV cases in 2019, 331 cases in 2018 and 386 in 2017.

In addition to HIV, the report includes data related to the number of newly reported cases of hepatitis, tuberculosis, and other sexually transmitted infections such as syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia. 

“Annual surveillance data is critical to our understanding of disease trends and our planning and programmatic efforts to control and prevent disease,” the report says. “However, the data in this year’s report must be examined in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic continues to have an immense impact on the availability, accessibility and utilization of disease screening, prevention, and care services,” according to the report.

Among other things, the report says the D.C. Department of Health, to which it refers as D.C. Health, saw a 20 percent decline in the volume of HIV, chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis and hepatitis laboratory reports received in 2020 compared to 2019, indicating fewer people were being tested and diagnosed for the diseases. 

“HIV lab volume decreased further from 2020 to 2021 with a 20 percent decline, and an overall decline from 2019 to 32 percent,” the report says. “Given disruptions to screening services, the potential for underdiagnosis and underreporting is most substantial for those with asymptomatic infections,” it says.

The Annual Epidemiology and Surveillance Report was released at a Tuesday event at the city’s Town Hall Education Arts Recreation Campus in Southeast D.C. in commemoration of Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. 

Among those who attended or spoke were Harold Phillips, director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy, and Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, deputy coordinator of the White House Mpox Response who’s on leave from his role as director of HIV/AIDS Prevention at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Also participating in the event were Rita Harcrow-Flegel, drector of the U.S. Department Housing and Urban Development’s Office of HIV/AIDS Housing; Dr. Sharon Lewis, interim director of D.C. Health; Clover Barnes, senior deputy director of D.C. Health’s HIV/AIDS, STD, and TB Administration, and Erin Whelan, executive director of the D.C. LGBTQ youth advocacy group SMYAL.

Statements at the event by the White House and D.C. officials and a statement released by the office of D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser point to stepped up efforts by D.C. to provide HIV testing and treatment services to all those at risk for HIV, including services free of charge for those unable to pay for them.

Among the services announced is the availability of Post Exposure Prophylaxis, or PEP, a medication D.C. Health is offering free of charge that is taken to prevent HIV infection if taken within 72 hours of being exposed to HIV. Also available, officials said, is the medication known as Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, or PrEP, which, when taken as a daily pill, prevents people from becoming infected with HIV. That too is available free of charges for those in need, the statement from the mayor’s office says.

“We want people in D.C. to know their status and get connected to the right care at the right time — with no shame or stigma attached,” Bowser said in the statement. “We have so many fantastic healthcare partners in D.C., and they have helped us expand access to free PEP, free PrEP, free condoms, free at-home tests, and more,” the mayor said. “Now, we need to make sure people know what’s available and how to access it.”

The statement calls on the public, especially those at risk for HIV, to access information about the city’s HIV prevention and support related services through a new website: sexualbeing.org.

It says the city continues to push for its “bold goal” of having fewer than 21 new HIV diagnoses each year by 2030. It says the city is also stepping up efforts to ensure that everyone who tests positive for HIV will quickly access the anti-retroviral medication that, if used as directed, prevents HIV related illness and suppresses a person’s HIV viral load to a point where they cannot transmit HIV to another person through sexual contact.

The newly released report includes these findings for the year 2021:

• There were 11,904 current D.C. residents, or 1.8 percent of the population, living with HIV in 2021.

• Sexual contact was the leading mode of transmission of newly diagnosed HIV cases in 2021. 

• There were 230 newly diagnosed HIV cases in 2021, a small increase over the 219 new cases reported in 2020, but a significant drop from the 1,373 cases in the peak year of 2007 and the continued decline in cases in subsequent years.

• The proportion of people living with HIV in D.C. in 2021 that are Black is 71 percent

• The proportion of Black men diagnosed with HIV in 2021 who have sex with men (MSM) was 35 percent.

• The proportion of white men diagnosed with HIV in 2021 who have sex with men (MSM} was 8 percent. 

• The proportion of Black heterosexual men diagnosed with HIV in 2021 was 8 percent.

• The proportion of Black heterosexual women diagnosed with HIV in 2021 was 15 percent.

• The report does not show the proportion of white heterosexual men who tested positive for HIV in 2021.

• The proportion of transgender persons diagnosed with HIV in 2021 was 3.5 percent. 

• In 2021, the overall gender breakdown in the proportion of newly diagnosed HIV cases was 73.9 percent male and 22.6 percent female. 

The report was expected to be posted for access on the D.C. Health website at www.dchealth.dc.gov

Continue Reading

Virginia

Va. House passes two anti-transgender bills

Measures likely to die in Democratic-controlled state Senate

Published

on

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Republican-controlled Virginia House of Delegates on Tuesday approved two anti-transgender bills.

State Del. Karen Greenhalgh (R-Virginia Beach)’s House Bill 1387, which would ban trans athletes from school sports teams that correspond with their gender identity, passed by a 51-47 vote margin. State Del. Dave LaRock (R-Loudoun County)’s House Bill 2432, which would require school personnel to out trans students to their parents, passed by a 50-48 vote margin.

“We are dealing with forcibly outing kids regardless of the safety of their home,” said state Del. Danica Roem (D-Manassas) on Monday when she spoke against HB 2432. “You have no idea of the harm you’re causing. Do better for them.”

Roem, who is the first openly trans woman seated in a state legislature in the U.S., also spoke against HB 1387 on the House floor.

Equality Virginia and the Human Rights Campaign are among the groups that condemned the bills’ passage.

“It can be hard for people to understand what it means to be a transgender or nonbinary young person if they’ve never met one. But trans and nonbinary young people are our friends, family members and neighbors, and like all young people, they deserve safe and inclusive learning environments where they can thrive and be supported as they are,” said Kasey Suffredini, vice president of advocacy and government affairs at the Trevor Project, in a statement. “These bills would only contribute to further isolation and stigma at a time when trans young people are already struggling.”

The two bills will now go before the Democratic-controlled Virginia Senate.

The Senate Education Committee last week killed six measures that would have banned transition-related health care for minors in Virginia and prevented trans athletes from school teams that correspond with their gender. It is likely HB 1387 and HB 2432 will meet a similar fate.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Sign Up for Weekly E-Blast

Follow Us @washblade

Advertisement

Popular