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Stein Club backs Mendelson

Kwame Brown wins support in Council chairman race

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The Gertrude Stein Democratic Club this week endorsed D.C. City Council member Phil Mendelson over his gay challenger, Clark Ray. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city’s largest LGBT political group, voted this week to endorse at-large D.C. City Council member Phil Mendelson over his gay challenger, Clark Ray, 62 percent to 35 percent.

Stein members also on Monday endorsed at-large Council member Kwame Brown in the race for City Council Chairman over his main rival, former Ward 5 Council member Vincent Orange, 80 percent to 16 percent.

The club’s endorsement of Mendelson and Brown for the Sept. 14 Democratic primary followed its decision last month to endorse City Council Chairman Vincent Gray over Mayor Adrian Fenty in the hotly contested mayoral race.

Mendelson, whose gay supporters portrayed him as an unfailing straight ally who shepherded the city’s same-sex marriage law through the Council last year, received just two points above the 60 percent threshold required for an endorsement under the club’s rules.

Monday’s endorsements came after the candidates spoke during a club forum at the gay nightclub Town, and members debated whom to back. About 100 members voted on the endorsements, according to Stein Club President Jeffrey Richardson.

A third candidate running in the at-large Council race, D.C. shadow senator Michael Brown, did not receive any votes from Stein members, although he received loud applause for what he said was the main mission of his candidacy: to promote D.C. statehood.

Michael Brown expressed strong support for the city’s same-sex marriage law and pledged to be a “champion” for LGBT rights if elected to the at-large Council seat.

During the forum, several Mendelson supporters praised Ray as a highly qualified candidate. But they said it would be wrong not to stand behind Mendelson, a pro-LGBT Council member who has a record of support on a wide range of LGBT issues such as same-sex marriage equality, gay adoptions and domestic partnership laws during his nearly 12 years on the Council.

“Here in the District of Columbia, we have more rights as members of the LGBT community than we do in other states,” said transgender activist Jeri Hughes. “And it’s due to legislation from men like Phil Mendelson. So no matter how much I love Clark Ray, I’m not going to forget what Phil Mendelson has done and the progress that has been made in the District. I’m supporting Phil Mendelson.”

Ray, who also praised Mendelson for his role in helping pass the local same-sex marriage law, said he was running to bring change to a Council “status quo” that has impeded progress for city residents.

“I’m a firm believer that for a city to breathe and move forward, you need fresh leadership,” he said.

Ray pointed to his many years of experience in public service, including his work for Vice President Al Gore in the Clinton administration, his role as head of the constituent services office under former D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams and a similar post under Mayor Adrian Fenty. Ray also served as director of the Department of Parks & Recreation under Fenty.

“I have not asked any one of you to vote for me because I’m an openly gay man,” Ray told Stein Club members. “I want you to vote for me because I’m qualified.”

But Ray and his supporters also stressed that as an openly gay man, he would provide the LGBT community with another “seat at the table” in city government, where he would have a greater understanding of the needs and concerns of LGBT people.

“I’m not only a friend of the LGBT community, I am a member of that community,” he said.

If Ray wins the election, he would become the third openly gay person on the 13-member City Council. Gay Council members David Catania (I-At Large) and Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who are running this year for re-election, are considered strong favorites to win another term on the Council.

Among the club members who spoke on Ray’s behalf at the Stein forum were Nick McCoy and Carlene Cheatam, two of the lead organizers of a coalition of local activists and city residents who lobbied the Council to pass the same-sex marriage law.

Among the club members supporting a Mendelson endorsement were lesbian activist Barbara Helmick and nationally recognized gay rights attorney Nancy Polikoff.

Polikoff told club members that while Mendelson’s work on the same-sex marriage law captured most of the community’s attention, he introduced and played a key role in passing a gay adoption law that is considered the most far-reaching such measure in the country.

“None of this would have happened without Phil,” she said.

Mendelson said after Stein Club members voted that he was honored to have won the club’s endorsement and he would continue his commitment to LGBT rights and causes.

During a question and answer period, one written question directed at Ray asked whether he would consider running for the other at-large Council seat that would become vacant if Kwame Brown wins his race for Council chairman.

Under the city’s election rules, the D.C. Democratic State Committee would appoint Kwame Brown’s interim replacement until a special election is held several months later. Ray said he’s running to win in his race against Mendelson but added that he would view a Council vacancy created by Kwame Brown’s possible election as Council chairman as a development “of interest” to him.

Several club members supporting Mendelson said they would back Ray for an at-large seat vacated by Brown.

Orange addresses flip
on same-sex marriage

In his opening remarks at the Stein forum, Orange addressed an issue he seemed to know would hurt him in his quest for the club’s endorsement: his stated opposition to same-sex marriage during his unsuccessful mayoral bid in 2006.

In a development that riled LGBT activists, Orange said then that any of his fellow candidates for mayor who backed a proposed same-sex marriage bill were not fit to hold public office.

“In 2006, I did say marriage was for a man and a woman,” he told Stein members Monday. “Now, in 2010, I strongly support the Marriage Equality Act.”

Orange added that he had a long record of support on LGBT civil rights issues during his tenure as a Ward 5 Council member and later in his post as an executive with the Potomac Electric Power Company, where he said he pushed for a company policy of providing benefits to employees’ domestic partners.

When gay activist Lane Hudson, a Kwame Brown supporter, questioned Orange’s commitment to same-sex marriage, Orange reiterated his support for the same-sex marriage law, calling it the “law of the land.”

“I made some mistakes that I’m not proud of,” he said, referring to his 2006 comment. Orange said he changed his position to support marriage equality “long before” he decided to enter the Council chairman’s race.

Kwame Brown was among the 11 Council members who voted for the same-sex marriage bill in December. He told Stein members he’s strongly committed to LGBT equality in all areas, not just marriage.

He noted that his commitment to same-sex marriage is “unwavering,” despite expressions of outrage against his vote on the marriage bill by some community activists and clergy members who opposed the bill.

In response to an audience question, Kwame Brown said he opposes a ballot measure proposed by same-sex marriage opponents that would allow city voters to decide whether to keep or overturn the law.

Orange said he supports the marriage law but did not say, after repeated requests to comment on the matter, what his position is on a possible ballot measure to overturn the marriage law.

“I’m not going to speculate on hypotheticals,” he said.

Ray told the Blade he was disappointed but not discouraged over the Stein Club’s decision to endorse Mendelson.

“This is not going to hinder me at all,” Ray said. “I’m in this thing for the long haul and I’m in this to win. I plan to take my message to all residents — gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, straight, questioning — all the residents of the District of Columbia.”

Although Michael Brown, the D.C. shadow senator, received no votes from Stein Club members in his bid for the at-large seat, some political observers have said he poses a potential problem for Ray.

Michael Brown the shadow senator, who is white, has the same name as popular at-large D.C. Council member Michael Brown, who is black and is the son of the late Democratic National Committee chair and Clinton administration official Ron Brown.

Some activists say a significant number of voters are likely to confuse shadow senator Brown with Council member Brown and mistakenly vote for shadow senator Brown in the at-large Council race.

This would hurt Ray, some political observers say, because voters likely to back the wrong Brown would not be supporters of Mendelson, who enjoys widespread name recognition citywide, but instead could be potential votes for Ray.

The city’s two shadow senators, along with one shadow representative, hold unpaid elected posts created by the city to advocate voting rights for the District. They are not members of Congress and have no congressional authority or duties.

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District of Columbia

Activists, policy makers mark Celebrate Bisexual Day in D.C.

BiPlus Organizing US hosted event at HRC

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Adrian Shanker, senior advisor for LGBTQI+ health equity in the U.S.Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health, speaks at a Bisexual Awareness Day event at the Human Rights Campaign on Sept. 23, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Cal Benn)

BiPlus Organizing US on Saturday hosted a Celebrate Bisexual Day event at the Human Rights Campaign.

Fiona Dawson, co-founder of BiPlus Organizing US, and Mélanie Snail, committee member of the organization, emceed the event. HRC Senior Vice President of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Rebecca Hershey welcomed attendees. 

Heyshey discussed her journey as a bisexual, mixed race, Jewish woman. Hershey paraphrased Adrienne Maree Brown, stating “change is coming, we are creating change.” 

PFLAG Learning and Inclusion Manager Mackenzie Harte gave a presentation on the history of bisexual identities, defined terms surrounding gender and sexuality and went over statistics of discrimination and health disparities that bisexual individuals face.

Harte’s presentation noted 48 percent of bisexual individuals reported an annual income of less than $30,000, compared to 30 percent of gay men, 39 percent of lesbians and 28 percent of all adults in the U.S. 

Harte went on to say 28 percent of bisexual students report having attempted suicide; and bisexual people have a higher risk of mood disorders, substance abuse and mental illness than their lesbian, gay, or straight cohorts. Bisexual people of all genders face higher rates of sexual assault than those same peers. One reason for these statistics is isolation: 39 percent of bisexual men and 33 percent of bisexual women report not being out to any health care provider, and only 44 percent of bisexual youth report having an adult they could turn to if they were sad. 

Harte also spoke about the Bisexual Manifesto, which the Bay Area Bisexual Network wrote in 1990. 

“The bisexual manifesto very intentionally was not binary,” Harte said.

They said the text works against the stigma and stereotypes that claim bisexuality is confined to “male, female.” 

Tania Israel, a bisexual advocate and psychology professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, shared some of her bisexual haikus, which she calls, “bikus.”

Dawson moderated the next panel.

Panelists included Nicole Holmes, a bisexual advocate and public health professional, National Center for Transgender Equality Communications Director Leroy Thomas and NCTE Policy Counsel Kris Tassone. 

The panel talked about how shame and stigma drive the statistics that negatively impact the bisexual community. Another word that came up as a driving force was “intersectionality.” 

Holmes said that when it comes to intersectionality, it’s important to not just “list identities,” but to look deep into “the purpose behind why we are talking about intersectional identities” in the first place.

Adrian Shanker, senior advisor on LGBTQ+ Health Equity for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, spoke about health equity for the bisexual community. 

“Striving for health equity remains a core priority. It also remains an unmet dream,” said Shanker. “Queer people have always had to be our own health advocates.” While health equity may not be here yet, Shanker says there is much in the works for the LGBTQ community, bisexuals specifically. 

Shanker cited a National Cancer Institute funding opportunity that invites research proposals to cancer care for sexual and gender minorities, stating bisexual specific proposals are welcome. The impending potential government shutdown may postpone it. 

The Biden-Harris administration is also working to ban so-called conversion therapy at the federal level. Additionally, 988, the national suicide prevention hotline, began a program to offer specialized support for LGBTQ youth and young adults last year. 

Shanker said bisexual people should prioritize preventative screenings for skin cancer, oral cancer, lung cancer, regular cervical and anal pap tests, mammograms, prostate exams and colonoscopies. 

“If you have a body part, get it screened,” said Shanker. 

Megan Townsend, senior director of entertainment research and analysis for the GLAAD Media Institute, did a presentation on bisexual representation in the media and opportunities for advancement. 

 “I want to see bi+/pan colors displayed on the White House,” said Dawson. “I want every national LGBTQIA+ organization to be talking about us, to put our concerns front and center.”

The data presented can be found here.

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Delaware

Flight attendants union endorses Sarah McBride

Del. lawmaker would be first transgender member of Congress

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Delaware state Sen. Sarah McBride speaks at the LGBTQ+ Victory Fund National Champagne Brunch in D.C. on April 10, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Delaware congressional candidate Sarah McBride has earned the support of the Association of Flight Attendants, the nation’s most prominent flight attendant union.

It’s the second big labor endorsement for McBride after the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 27’s endorsement. The Association of Flight Attendants praised her for spearheading efforts to bring paid family and medical leave to Delaware, which will take effect in 2026. 

“Sarah’s record in the Delaware Senate shows that she understands how to work collaboratively, build power and make big things happen,” the union’s president, Sara Nelson, wrote in a press release shared exclusively with the Washington Blade. “That’s the kind of leader we need in Congress, and we’re proud to endorse her candidacy.”

McBride also announced her support for creating a list of abusive passengers and banning them from flying. Each airline has a list of passengers banned from flying, but airlines don’t share the lists with each other, though Delta Air Lines has asked them, because of “legal and operational challenges,” as a representative for the airline industry trade group Airlines of America told a House committee in September 2021.

“Right now, someone can be violent towards a flight attendant or another passenger and walk directly off of that flight and onto one with a different airline to endanger more people,” an Association of Flight Attendants spokesperson wrote in a statement. 

The Protection from Abusive Passengers Act would put the Transportation Security Administration in charge of building the database of passengers fined or convicted of abuse and has bipartisan support but has sat idly in committee since March. It failed to pass last year, and civil rights groups including the American Civil Liberties Union have charged that the list would disproportionately target people of color and strip and a better step to reducing hostility would be making flights more comfortable. Reports of defiant and unruly passengers have more than doubled between 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic, and 2022.

“I thank the Association of Flight Attendants for endorsing our campaign,” McBride wrote in the press release. “It’s important that we recognize and celebrate the symbiotic relationship between strong, unionized workforces and the continued growth of employers here in our state.”

The union representing 50,000 flight attendants across 19 airlines is putting pressure on airlines to grant union demands in contract negotiations. At American Airlines, unionized flight attendants voted to authorize a strike — putting pressure on the airline to accede to its demands. Flight attendants at Alaska Airlines say they are ready to strike but have not voted to authorize one yet. United Airlines flight attendants picketed at 19 airports around the country in August, ratcheting up the pressure. 

The union’s endorsement adds to a growing list of McBride endorsements, including 21 Delaware legislators, the United Food and Commercial Workers, the Human Rights Campaign, EMILY’s List, and Delaware Stonewall PAC. McBride, who would be the first openly transgender politician in Congress, has powerful connections in Washington — including with the White House — and is favored to win Delaware’s lone House seat. 

A poll commissioned by HRC shows her leading the pack of three candidates vying for the seat — 44 percent of “likely Democratic voters” told pollster company Change Research, which works with liberal organizations. The poll of 531 likely Delaware Democratic primary voters, though, was conducted only online — meaning those with less familiarity or access to the internet may not have been counted — and Change Research’s methodology for screening likely voters is unclear. The company also did not provide a breakdown of respondents by age, gender, and race, but says it uses an algorithm to make the results representative.  

Nelson said McBride’s time in Delaware’s state Senate shows her prowess in building power and working collaboratively.  

“That’s the kind of leader we need in Congress, and we’re proud to endorse her candidacy,” she wrote.

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Virginia

Lawsuit seeks to force Virginia Beach schools to implement state guidelines for trans, nonbinary students

Va. Department of Education released new regulations in July

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(Bigstock photo)

Two parents in Virginia Beach have filed a lawsuit that seeks to force the city’s school district to implement the state’s new guidelines for transgender and nonbinary students.

NBC Washington on Friday reported Cooper and Kirk, a D.C.-based law firm, filed the lawsuit in Virginia Beach Circuit Court.

The Virginia Department of Education in July announced the new guidelines for which Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin asked. Arlington County Public Schools, Fairfax County Public Schools and Prince William County Schools are among the school districts that have refused to implement them. 

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