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Rare peek behind closed doors of secret gay donor confab

Md. governor, looking for donations, offends high-profile contributors

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Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley told a group of 200 LGBT donors that he supports civil unions over marriage rights for same-sex couples. (Photo courtesy of Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell's office)

A controversial appearance by Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley prompted participants in a closed-door conference of wealthy LGBT political donors, held May 15-16 in Chicago, to breach a strict a confidentiality policy after he told the gathering he favors civil unions over same-sex marriage.

O’Malley was one of at least four U.S. governors invited to address the annual Political OutGiving conference, a highly confidential event for a network of more than 200 big-stakes LGBT contributors to political campaigns.

The network is operated by the Denver-based Gill Action Fund, which was founded in 2006 by gay entrepreneur and multimillionaire Tim Gill

Members of the network are warned that violating the confidentiality policy could result in their expulsion.

But several participants, speaking on condition that they not be identified, ignored the warnings and informed the Washington Blade about an exchange between O’Malley and Julie Goodridge, the lesbian plaintiff in the Massachusetts lawsuit that led to the legalization of same-sex marriage in that state.

Goodridge reportedly interrupted O’Malley and told him that he appeared to be talking about civil unions the way people did in the early 2000s, multiple sources attending the event said.

“It’s 2010,” the sources quoted Goodridge as saying. It’s totally unacceptable to be pushing civil unions in a state like Maryland at this time when full marriage equality is gaining momentum among voters, sources paraphrased Goodridge as saying.

At least three people present during the exchange said the audience applauded Goodridge for her comments to O’Malley.

They said O’Malley, who expressed support for LGBT rights, replied that voters in his state aren’t ready for gay marriage. A recent Washington Post poll found for the first time that more Marylanders now support same-sex marriage than oppose it.

Joanne Kron, a spokesperson for Gill Action Fund, said in an e-mail that the group would not comment on the Goodridge-O’Malley exchange because “we don’t discuss the Political OutGiving conference, which is a private event.”

“Political OutGiving is a focused, bipartisan state-based strategy that concentrates on delivering resources from dedicated and generous donors to select campaigns in a limited number of states,” Kron said in her e-mail.

“Political OutGiving started in 2006 when hundreds of donors contributed around $3 million to targeted campaigns aimed at protecting or increasing the number of pro-LGBT supporters in state legislatures,” she said. “Political OutGiving similarly engaged in elections in 2008 and will be involved in campaigns in 2010.”

Goodridge did not return calls Tuesday seeking comment on her interaction with O’Malley.

Rick Abbruzzese, a spokesperson for O’Malley’s re-election campaign, said O’Malley flew to Chicago to attend the OutGiving conference on May 15, after presenting the winning trophy at Baltimore’s annual Preakness horse racing event.

“The governor’s position has been clear on this issue and consistent — that he does support civil unions and that he felt we could have reached a consensus within the Maryland General Assembly to move the issue of civil unions forward,” Abbruzzese said.

“He has not supported gay marriage in the past,” he said, adding that while O’Malley doesn’t believe enough support exists to pass a same-sex marriage bill, he feels the legislature “could move and pass legislation on civil unions.”

But O’Malley once favored same-sex marriage. He privately told LGBT supporters in 2006 and 2007 in e-mails and during meetings that he supported civil marriage rights for gay couples, before the state’s high court ruled against such rights. He once told a Baltimore TV station that he backed civil marriage rights for gays.

Sources familiar with the OutGiving conference, which was held in Chicago’s upscale Peninsula Hotel, said O’Malley was joined at the event by Democratic governors Chet Culver of Iowa, John Lynch of New Hampshire, and Edward Rendell of Pennsylvania.

Also attending were Democratic Lt. Gov. Diane Denish of New Mexico, who is running for governor, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, and Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.).

Attendees said a session in which O’Malley, Denish and other panelists participated was moderated by gay journalist Jonathan Capehart, who is an editorial writer for the Washington Post. Capehart could not immediately be reached for comment. Sources familiar with the event said Capehart, like most other participants in the event, agreed to keep his role and the meeting itself off the record.

Due to OutGiving’s confidentiality policy it could not be determined whether the Gill Action Fund, which operates the donor network, would give its support to O’Malley, who is being challenged this year by Republican former Gov. Robert Ehrlich.

O’Malley defeated Ehrlich in 2006, and political insiders are predicting a close race between the two rivals this year.

Morgan Meneses-Sheets, executive director of Equality Maryland, a non-partisan statewide LGBT group, said that while the group is disappointed in O’Malley’s support for civil unions over same-sex marriage, she noted that he has repeatedly pledged to sign a same-sex marriage bill should it reach his desk.

By contrast, Meneses-Sheets points to Ehrlich’s decision to veto during his tenure as Maryland governor a limited domestic partnership bill that called for giving hospital visitation right to same-sex partners and medical decision-making authority for an incapacitated partner. She noted that Ehrlich has expressed opposition to same-sex marriage and, unlike O’Malley, could be expected to veto a marriage bill passed by the legislature.

Meneses-Sheets said that although pushing a same-sex marriage equality bill through the legislature next year will be a “challenge,” she and her Equality Maryland colleagues are hopeful that the remaining members of the State Senate who have blocked advancement of a marriage equality bill will be defeated in the November election.

“We have a plan in place and we’re working on all of the pieces it will take to get a win,” she said. “This is not a pie in the sky.”

Other LGBT activists in the state have expressed concern that O’Malley’s pledge to sign a marriage bill rings hollow because he refuses to use his political influence to push wavering lawmakers to back a marriage measure. Some activists say they doubt the November election, in which all members of the legislature come up before the voters, will result in enough new supporters to pass a marriage bill.

‘Moneyed gay people making things happen’

Although Gill Action’s Political OutGiving has been the subject of media coverage, including coverage in the LGBT press, the exchange between Goodridge and O’Malley appears to have triggered for the first time discussion and questions among members of the donor network about the need for the secrecy imposed by Gill Action’s leaders.

In response to the Blade’s inquiries about the Chicago conference, Gill Action Fund’s executive director, Patrick Guerriero, and its deputy executive director, Bill Smith, sent a joint e-mail to network donors on Tuesday urging them not to speak with the media.

“Doing really important work often attracts the media and we’ve been informed that a reporter is buzzing about the 2010 Political OutGiving conference,” the two said in their e-mail.

“As you know, the event is private and participant attendance is confidential,” Guerriero and Smith said.

Smith, who heads the Gill Action Fund’s Washington office, is a former aide to Bush administration official Karl Rove. Smith told the Advocate in a 2008 interview that pragmatic and sometimes hard-hitting tactics employed by Rove can be used by Gill Action for the advancement of LGBT equality.

“We’re not afraid to learn from anyone across the political spectrum who’s doing really smart work, be it EMILY’s List or GOPAC,” Smith told the Advocate.

EMILY’s List is a Democratic, liberal leaning group pushing for women’s rights that’s credited with helping elect Democrats to Congress. GOPAC is a Republican political action committee said to be responsible for helping Republicans win control of Congress during the 1990s.

Guerriero is a former Republican state legislator from Massachusetts and former president of the national gay GOP group Log Cabin Republicans.

Guerriero and Smith have said in the past that Gill Action Fund assesses candidates running for public office to determine whether they should be supported or opposed. It then sends its recommendations to its “top secret” donor list, according to one source familiar with the group.

The donors then make individual contributions to the recommended candidates. The system makes it difficult to measure which candidates are benefiting from the gay network.

Although the names of contributors must be reported to the Federal Election Commission, which makes its reports available for public inspection, reviewing FEC records would be useless for identifying OutGiving donors because Gill Action Fund never releases their names.

“The fact that it’s being kept out of the public eye — that’s bad news,” said New York gay rights attorney and activist Bill Dobbs. “It’s too much wheeling and dealing behind closed doors.”

One of the OutGiving donors who spoke to the Blade on condition of anonymity disagreed with the strict confidentiality policy.

“I think part of it is they don’t want to run the risk that there would be stories that these rich gay people get together and push their agenda and it’s the moneyed gay people that are making things happen,” the donor said.

But the donor said the donations were helping the LGBT rights movement in the long run by sending more supportive lawmakers to Congress and the state legislatures.

Sources who attended the Political OutGiving conference said that in addition to the donors, a number of prominent officials with other LGBT rights groups attended the event. Among them were Evan Wolfson, executive director of the same-sex marriage advocacy group Freedom to Marry; Steve Elmendorf, a gay former congressional staffer and Washington political consultant; Mary Breslauer, a Boston-based consultant for the Human Rights Campaign; Chuck Wolfe and Robin Brand, director and deputy director of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund; and Matt Foreman, former National Gay & Lesbian Task Force director and a current official with the Evelyn & Walter Haas Jr. Fund, which awards grants to LGBT organizations and causes.

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Pennsylvania

Gay journalist murdered inside Philadelphia home

Josh Kruger’s death has left city ‘shocked and saddened’

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Josh Kruger with his cat Mason (Photo courtesy of Josh Kruger's Facebook page)

An openly gay journalist was shot to death in his Point Breeze neighborhood home in the 2300 block of Watkins Street in South Philadelphia early Monday morning.

According to Officer Shawn Ritchie, a spokesperson for the Philadelphia Police Department, 39-year-old Josh Kruger was shot at about 1:30 a.m. and collapsed in the street after seeking help. Kruger was transported to Penn Presbyterian Hospital where he was pronounced dead at 2:13 a.m.

Police said that Kruger was shot seven times throughout the chest and abdomen and that no weapons were recovered nor have any arrests been made. Homicides investigators noted that there was no sign of forced entry and the motive remains unclear.

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner said in a statement:

“Josh Kruger lifted up the most vulnerable and stigmatized people in our communities — particularly unhoused people living with addiction. As an openly queer writer who wrote about his own journey surviving substance use disorder and homelessness, it was encouraging to see Josh join the Kenney administration as a spokesperson for the Office of Homeless Services.

Josh deserved to write the ending of his personal story. As with all homicides, we will be in close contact with the Philadelphia police as they work to identify the person or persons responsible so that they can be held to account in a court of law. I extend my deepest condolences to Josh’s loved ones and to all those mourning this loss.”

WHYY reported Kruger had written extensively with bylines in multiple publications, including the Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Magazine, the Philadelphia Citizen, WHYY, and Billy Penn.

CBS News reported that Kruger overcame homelessness and addiction to work for five years in city government, handling Mayor Jim Kenney’s social media and serving as the communications director for the city’s Office of Homeless Services.

He left city government in 2021 to return to journalism, according to his website.

“He was more than just a journalist,” Kendall Stephens, who was a friend and neighbor of Kruger’s, told CBS News. “He was more than just a community member. He was somebody that fought that great fight so many of us are not able to fight that fight because we’re too busy sheltered in our own homes wondering if someone is going to knock down our doors and kill us the same way they killed him. The same way they tried to kill me. And we’re tired of it.”   

Kenney said in a statement that he is “shocked and saddened” by Kruger’s death.

“He cared deeply about our city and its residents, which was evident in his public service and writing. Our administration was fortunate to call him a colleague, and our prayers are with everyone who knew him.”

The District Attorney’s LGBTQ+ Advisory Committee issued the following statement:

“Many of us knew Josh Kruger as a comrade who never stopped advocating for queer Philadelphians living on the margins of society. His struggles mirrored so many of ours — from community rejection, to homelessness, to addiction, to living with HIV, to poverty — and his recovery, survival, and successes showed what’s possible when politicians and elected leaders reject bigotry and work affirmatively to uplift all people. Even while Josh worked for the mayor, he never stopped speaking out against police violence, politicized attacks on trans and queer people, or the societal discarding of homeless and addicted Philadelphians.

We are devastated that Josh’s life was ended so violently. We urge anyone who has information that could lead to an arrest and prosecution for Josh’s murder to contact the Philadelphia Police or the DA’s Office directly. LGBTQ+ Philadelphians experience violence of all kinds every day; few people used their platforms to remind powerful people in government of that reality as effectively as Josh Kruger did. Josh and the communities he advocated for every day of his life deserve nothing less than justice and accountability for this outrageous crime.”

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U.S. Federal Courts

Lesbian mother from El Salvador released from ICE custody

Jessica Barahona-Martinez arrested on June 26, 2017

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(Bigstock photo)

A federal judge last week ordered the release of a lesbian mother from El Salvador who had been in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody since June 2017.

Jessica Patricia Barahona-Martinez and her three children entered the U.S. on May 31, 2016. A court filing notes she fled “persecution she faced in El Salvador as a lesbian, and because the government had falsely identified her as a gang member.”

Barahona-Martinez lived with her sister and other relatives in Woodbridge, Va., until ICE arrested and detained her on June 26, 2017. She was housed at two ICE detention centers in Virginia until her transfer to the South Louisiana ICE Processing Center, a privately-run facility the GEO Group, a Florida-based company, operates in Basile, La., in October 2020. 

An immigration judge in November 2019 granted Barahona-Martinez asylum for the second time. The government appealed the decision and the Board of Immigration Appeals, which the Justice Department oversees, ruled in their favor.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Louisiana last month filed a writ for habeas corpus petition in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana’s Lafayette Division that asked for Barahona-Martinez’s release. U.S. District Judge Terry A. Doughty on Sept. 27 ruled in her favor.  

“Petitioner (Barahona-Martinez) ultimately argues that her prolonged detention violates due process; she moves that this court issues a temporary restraining order, requests release, a bond hearing, an expedited hearing and costs and attorney fees,” wrote Doughty.

“This court finds that petitioner has plausibly alleged her prolonged detention violates due process,” added Doughty.

An ACLU spokesperson on Monday told the Blade that ICE has released Barahona-Martinez and she is once again in Virginia with her children and sister. 

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State Department

State Department hosts intersex activists from around the world

Group met with policy makers, health officials, NGOs

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The State Department last week hosted a group of intersex activists from around the world. (Courtesy photo)

The State Department last week hosted five intersex activists from around the world.

Kimberly Zieselman, a prominent intersex activist who advises Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad, brought the activists to D.C.

• Morgan Carpenter, co-founder and executive director of Intersex Human Rights Australia

• Natasha Jiménez, an intersex activist from Costa Rica who is the general coordinator of Mulabi, the Latin American Space for Sexualities and Rights

• Julius Kaggwa, founder of the Support Initiative for People with Atypical Sex Development Uganda

• Magda Rakita, co-founder and executive director of Fujdacja Interakcja in Poland and co-founder of Interconnected UK

• Esan Regmi, co-founder and executive director of the Campaign for Change in Nepal.

Special U.S. Envoy for Global Youth Issues Abby Finkenauer and Assistant Health Secretary Rachel Levine are among the officials with whom the activists met.

Zieselman told the Washington Blade on Sept. 21 the activists offered State Department officials an “intersex 101” overview during a virtual briefing.

More than 60 Save the Children staffers from around the world participated in another virtual briefing. Zieselman noted the activists also met with Stern, U.N. and Organization of American States officials, funders and NGO representatives while in D.C.

“The people we met were genuinely interested,” Rakita told the Blade.

Stern in an exclusive statement to the Blade said “the visiting intersex activists clearly had an impact here at State, sharing their expertise and lived experience highlighting the urgency to end human rights abuses, including those involving harmful medical practices against intersex persons globally.” Andrew Gleason, senior director for gender equality and social justice at Save the Children US, in a LinkedIn post he wrote after attending his organization’s meeting with the activists echoed Stern.

“There are many learnings to recount from today’s discussion, but one thing is clear, this is unequivocally a child rights issue, and one that demands attention and action at the intersection of LGBTQI+ rights, reproductive rights and justice, disability justice and more,” wrote Gleason. “Gratitude to the panelists for sharing such poignant testimonies and providing insights into what organizations like ours can do to contribute to the broader intersex movement; and thank you to Kimberly for your leadership and bringing this group together.”

The activists’ trip to D.C. coincided with efforts to end so-called sex “normalization” surgeries on intersex children.

Greek lawmakers in July passed a law that bans such procedures on children under 15 unless they offer their consent or a court allows them to happen. Doctors who violate the statute face fines and prison.

Germany Iceland, Malta, Portugal and Spain have also enacted laws that seek to protect intersex youth. 

A law that grants equal rights and legal recognition to intersex people in Kenya took effect in July 2022. Lawmakers in the Australian Capital Territory earlier this year passed the Variation in Sex Characteristics (Restricted Medical Treatment) Bill 2023.

Intersex Human Rights Australia notes the law implements “mechanisms to regulate non-urgent medical care to encourage child participation in medical decisions, establish groundbreaking oversight mechanisms and provide transparency on medical practices and decision making.” It further points out the statute “will criminalize some deferrable procedures that permanently alter the sex characteristics of children” and provides “funding for necessary psychosocial supports for families and children.”

“It’s amazing,” Carpenter told the Blade when discussing the law and resistance to it. “It’s not perfect. There was some big gaps, but physicians are resisting every step of the way.”

The State Department in April 2022 began to issue passports with an “X” gender marker.

Dana Zzyym, an intersex U.S. Navy veteran who identifies as non-binary, in 2015 filed a federal lawsuit against the State Department after it denied their application for a passport with an “X” gender marker. Zzyym in October 2021 received the first gender-neutral American passport.

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