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Virginia colleges mum on Cuccinelli letter

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Public colleges and universities in Virginia were considering their options this week after state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli declared their policies barring discrimination against gays illegal.

Many student and LGBT groups mobilized against Cuccinelli’s letter March 4 to 40 school presidents, which says the institutions cannot treat sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression as protected classes in non-discrimination policies. But the schools largely reserved comment.

Only one major institution, Virginia Commonwealth University, released before DC Agenda deadline any official statement, but it said only that students, faculty and staff would be consulted.

Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) seemed to offer the schools a small reprieve earlier this week. A spokesperson affirmed the governor’s view that only the General Assembly can extend anti-discrimination protections to a new class, a view consistent with Cuccinelli’s advice.

But the spokesperson, Tucker Martin, noted executive branch appointments to school boards would not focus on this issue.

“The governor will appoint board members based solely on their ability and on their strong commitment to educational excellence in Virginia. The governor expects that no Virginia college or university, or any other state agency, will engage in discrimination of any kind.”

Equality Virginia CEO Jon Blair called on McDonnell to prove his stance against discrimination by asking the General Assembly to send him a bill adding sexual orientation to the state’s policy.

“Attorney General Cuccinelli’s letter was Gov. McDonnell’s opportunity to prove whether he was the Robert McDonnell who said through his entire campaign that he opposed discrimination or he was the Robert McDonnell who wrote the thesis from 20 years ago,” Blair said, referring to past writings where the governor opposed gay rights. “I think if he fails to act on this, he’s proven exactly which one he is.”

On Tuesday, the state House voted down a motion to force a vote on the bill that would have added sexual orientation to the state’s non-discrimination laws. The measure failed 55-42. The bill previously passed the state Senate, but did not make it out of subcommittee in the House.

One university’s diversity coordinator, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said some schools would defy the request if they could, but they would face significant political pressure to comply with the current administration.

Campus groups, meanwhile, have begun campaigns asking school administrators to ignore Cuccinelli’s directive. University of Virginia’s Queer & Allied Activism group began by uploading to Facebook photos of the attorney general that were doctored to poke fun at him.

Inspired by the grammatically incorrect lolcatz pictures, some photos of Cuccinelli included the words “In ur AG office … hatin’ on ur gays” and “Gays? We don’t have them in my state.”

One group on Facebook that stood against Cuccinelli’s letter, “We Don’t Want Discrimination in Our State Universities and Colleges,” gathered more than 4,000 members within days.

Seth Kaye, a second year engineering student at UVA and member coordinator of Queer & Allied Activism, said he felt hurt by the attorney general’s attack and wanted to know why anyone thought it was acceptable to go after LGBT people.

“I don’t understand how that can pass a rational basis test,” Kaye said. “It seems totally biased.”

UVA was making significant improvements toward offering services to LGBT students, Kaye said, including starting a queer studies minor program and a new gay fraternity.

“I hope the universities all come together and say we’re not going to follow this order,” he said. “Hopefully, if the state sues them, it turns out in our favor and maybe [we] even get sexual orientation as a protected class.”

With most students away from campus on spring break, Kaye said campaigning on the issue has been largely performed online, with a particular focus on Facebook and e-mail. He wondered if the letter’s timing was deliberate to avoid a more robust student backlash.

For his part, Cuccinelli took to local airwaves this week to defend his advice to schools. He said his letter was consistent with opinions of the state’s previous five attorneys general, which included three Democrats.

But on his Twitter profile, Cuccinelli was less cautious: “Still much sound and fury about simply stating what the law is now and has been pretty much forever in Virginia … but on a touchy subject.”

Fears that the Republican would use his office to advance a socially conservative agenda, rather than merely advise on law, were expressed as early as his campaign launch, including from vocal members of the Log Cabin Republicans of Virginia.

“Just as we feared, Mr. Cuccinelli is becoming an embarrassment to the entire state with his extreme views on this issue,” said David Lampo, vice president of the Log Cabin Republican Club of Virginia.

“We call on Virginia’s state colleges and universities to resist this outrageous demand and to continue their policies of hiring and firing on the basis of merit rather than sexual orientation, and we call on Gov. McDonnell to end this legal limbo for gay and lesbian state employees by supporting a bill to outlaw employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.”

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District of Columbia

New D.C. LGBTQ+ bar Crush set to open April 19

An ‘all-inclusive entertainment haven,’ with dance floor, roof deck

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Crush (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

D.C.’s newest LGBTQ+ bar called Crush is scheduled to open for business at 4 p.m. on Friday, April 19, in a spacious, two-story building with a dance floor and roof deck at 2007 14th St., N.W. in one of the city’s bustling nightlife areas.

A statement released by co-owners Stephen Rutgers and Mark Rutstein earlier this year says the new bar will provide an atmosphere that blends “nostalgia with contemporary nightlife” in a building that was home to a popular music store and radio supply shop.

Rutgers said the opening comes one day after Crush received final approval of its liquor license that was transferred from the Owl Room, a bar that operated in the same building before closing Dec. 31 of last year. The official opening also comes three days after Crush hosted a pre-opening reception for family, friends, and community members on Tuesday, April 16.

Among those attending, Rutgers said, were officials with several prominent local LGBTQ organizations, including officials with the DC Center for the LGBTQ Community, which is located across the street from Crush in the city’s Reeves Center municipal building. Also attending were Japer Bowles, director of the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs, and Salah Czapary, director of the Mayor’s Office of Nightlife and Culture.  

Rutgers said Crush plans to hold a grand opening event in a few weeks after he, Rutstein and the bar’s employees become settled into their newly opened operations.

“Step into a venue where inclusivity isn’t just a promise but a vibrant reality,” a statement posted on the Crush website says. “Imagine an all-inclusive entertainment haven where diversity isn’t just celebrated, it’s embraced as the very heartbeat of our venue,” the statement says. “Welcome to a place where love knows no bounds, and the only color or preference that matters is the vibrant tapestry of humanity itself. Welcome to Crush.”

The website says Crush will be open Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 4 p.m. to 12 a.m., Thursdays from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m., Fridays from 4 p.m. to 3 a.m., Saturdays from 2 p.m. to 3 a.m., and Sundays from 2 p.m. to 12 a.m. It will be closed on Mondays.

Crush is located less than two blocks from the U Street Metro station.

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District of Columbia

Reenactment of first gay rights picket at White House draws interest of tourists

LGBTQ activists carry signs from historic 1965 protest

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About 30 LGBTQ activists formed a picket line in front of the White House April 17. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

About 30 LGBTQ activists formed a circular picket line in front of the White House Wednesday afternoon, April 17, carrying signs calling for an end to discrimination against “homosexuals” in a reenactment of the first gay rights protest at the White House that took place 59 years earlier on April 17, 1965.

Crowds of tourists looked on with interest as the activists walked back and forth in silence in front of the White House fence on Pennsylvania Avenue. Like the 1965 event, several of the men were dressed in suits and ties and the women in dresses in keeping with a 1960s era dress code policy for protests of the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C., the city’s first gay rights group that organized the 1965 event.

Wednesday’s reenactment was organized by D.C.’s Rainbow History Project, which made it clear that the event was not intended as a protest against President Joe Biden and his administration, which the group praised as a strong supporter of LGBTQ rights.

“I think this was an amazing event,” said Vincent Slatt, the Rainbow History Project official who led efforts to put on the event. “We had twice as many that we had hoped for that came today,” he said.

“It was so great to see a reenactment and so great to see how far we’ve come,” Slatt said. “And also, the acknowledgement of what else we still need to do.”

Slatt said participants in the event who were not carrying picket signs handed out literature explaining the purpose of the event.

A flier handed out by participants noted that among the demands of the protesters at the 1965 event were to end the ban on homosexuals from working in the federal government, an end to the ban on gays serving in the military, an end to the denial of security clearances for gays, and an end of the government’s refusal to meet with the LGBTQ community. 

“The other thing that I think is really, really moving is some of the gay staff inside the White House found out this was happening and came out to greet us,” Slatt said. He noted that this highlighted how much has changed since 1965, when then President Lyndon Johnson’s White House refused to respond to a letter sent to Johnson from the Mattachine Society explaining its grievances. 

“So now to have gay people in the White House coming out to give us their respects and to say hello was especially meaningful to us,” Slatt said. “That was not expected today.”

Among those walking the picket line was longtime D.C. LGBTQ rights advocate Paul Kuntzler, who is the only known surviving person who was among the White House picketers at the April 1965 event. Kuntzler said he proudly carried a newly printed version of the sign at Wednesday’s reenactment event that he carried during the 1965 protest. It stated, “Fifteen Million Homosexuals Protest Federal Treatment.”  

Also participating in the event was Japer Bowles, director of D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs. Bowles presented Slatt with a proclamation issued by Bowser declaring April 17, 2024, Mattachine Society Day in Washington, D.C.

“Whereas, on April 17, 1965, the Mattachine Society of Washington courageously held the nation’s inaugural picket for gay rights, a seminal moment in the ongoing struggle for LGBTQIA+ equality in the United States, marking the genesis of public demonstrations advocating for those rights and paving the way for Pride Marches and Pride celebrations worldwide,” the proclamation states.

About 30 minutes after the reenactment event began, uniformed Secret Service agents informed Slatt that due to a security issue the picketers would have to move off the sidewalk in front of the White House and resume the picketing across the street on the sidewalk in front of Lafayette Park. When asked by the Washington Blade what the security issue was about, one of the Secret Service officers said he did not have any further details other than that his superiors informed him that the White House sidewalk would have to be temporarily cleared of all people.

Participants in the event quickly resumed their picket line on the sidewalk in front of Lafayette Park for another 30 minutes or so in keeping with the 1965 picketing event, which lasted for one hour, from 4:20 p.m. to 5:20 p.m., according to Rainbow  History Project’s research into the 1965 event.

Although the LGBTQ picketers continued their procession in silence, a separate protest in Lafayette Park a short distance from the LGBTQ picketers included speakers shouting through amplified speakers. The protest was against the government of Saudi Arabia and organized by a Muslim group called Al Baqee Organization.

A statement released by the Rainbow History Project says the reenactment event, among other things, was a tribute to D.C.-area lesbian rights advocate Lilli Vincenz, who participated in the 1965 White House picketing, and D.C. gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny, who founded the Mattachine Society of Washington in the early 1960s and was the lead organizer of the 1965 White House protest. Kameny died in 2011 and Vincenz died in 2023.

The picket signs carried by participants in the reenactment event, which were reproduced from the 1965 event, had these messages:

• “DISCRIMINATION Against Homosexuals is as immoral as Discrimination Against Negroes and Jews;”

• “Government Should Combat Prejudice NOT PROMOTE IT”

• “White House Refuses Replies to Our Letters, AFRAID OF US?

• “HOMOSEXUALS Died for their Country, Too”

• “First Class Citizenship for HOMOSEXUALS”

• “Sexual Preference is Irrelevant to Employment”

• “Fifteen Million U.S. Homosexuals Protest Federal Treatment”

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District of Columbia

Organizers announce details for D.C. Black Pride 2024

Most events to take place Memorial Day weekend at Westin Downtown

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Black Pride 2024 details were announced this week. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The Center for Black Equity, the organizer of D.C. Black Pride, the nation’s first and one of the largest annual African-American LGBTQ Pride celebrations, announced this year’s event will take place Memorial Day Weekend from May 24-27.

The announcement, released April 16, says that most 2024 D.C. Black Pride events will take place at the Westin Washington, D.C. Downtown Hotel at 999 9th St, N.W.

“With the theme Black Pride Forever, the event promises a weekend filled with vibrant celebrations, empowering workshops, and a deep exploration of Black LGBTQIA+ history and culture,” the announcement says.

It says events will include as in past years a “Rainbow Row” vendor expo at the hotel featuring “organizations and vendors created for and by the LGBTQIA+ community” offering products and services “that celebrate Black excellence.”

According to the announcement, other events include a Health and Wellness Festival that will offer workshops, demonstrations, and activities focused on “holistic well-being;” a Mary Bowman Poetry Slam “showcasing the power and beauty of spoken word by Black LGBTQIA+ artists;” the Black Pride Through the Decades Party, that will celebrate the “rich history of the Black LGBTQIA+ movement;” and an Empowerment Through Knowledge series of workshops that “delve into various topics relevant to the Black LGBTQIA+ community.”

Also, as in past years, this year’s D.C. Black Pride will feature its “Opening Night Extravaganza” reception and party that will include entertainment and live performances.

The announcement notes that D.C.’s annual Black Pride celebration, started in 1991 as a one-day outdoor event at Howard University’s Banneker Field, has inspired annual Black LGBTQ Pride events across the United States and in Canada, United Kingdom, Brazil, Africa, and the Caribbean. More than 300,000 people attend Black LGBTQ Pride events each year worldwide, the announcement says.

Full details, including the official schedule of events, can be accessed at dcblackpride.org.

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