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Jackson petitions Supreme Court in D.C. marriage case

Local officials mum on filing opposition brief

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Attorneys for Bishop Harry Jackson, the minister who has led efforts to kill D.C.’s same-sex marriage law, filed a petition last week asking the U.S. Supreme to weigh in on whether the city should allow voters to decide whether to overturn the law.

In a filing known as a petition for a Writ of Certiorari, Jackson’s attorneys asked the high court to allow Jackson and six others to appeal a decision earlier this year by the D.C. Court of Appeals rejecting their lawsuit seeking to force the city to hold a ballot measure on the marriage law.

D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles, who has been praised for his strongly worded briefs defending the same-sex marriage law in court, has yet to say whether the city will file a brief opposing Jackson’s Supreme Court petition.

City officials, including presumptive Mayor-elect Vincent Gray, have said they remain strongly supportive of the same-sex marriage law and would martial all the needed resources to defend it if the Supreme Court agrees to take Jackson’s case.

Supreme Court rules say briefs opposing a Petition for a Writ of Certiorari are not mandatory. One gay rights attorney said opposing parties often don’t file opposition briefs if they believe the high court is unlikely to approve a certiorari petition.

“I would think Peter Nickles might still write something,” said gay rights attorney Mark Levine. “But he may choose not to.”

Spokespersons for Nickles and the mayor’s office did immediately respond to calls asking if the city plans to file an opposition brief on the case.

The city has 30 days to file an opposing brief.

Four of the nine Supreme Court justices are needed to approve a petition for certiorari, which allows a case to come before the court for consideration on its merits. The court turns down the overwhelming majority of cases that come before it through petitions of certiorari, according to information posted on the court’s website.

Should the court agree to take the case, five of the nine justices are needed to issue a ruling in Jackson’s favor by overturning the appeals court decision.

Levine said it’s unlikely that the Supreme Court would agree to take the case, although he said its past rulings on some controversial cases have surprised legal observers.

The D.C. Court of Appeals ruled earlier this year that the city’s Board of Elections and Ethics was correct in disqualifying Jackson’s proposed ballot measure seeking to overturn the same-sex marriage law. The election board cited a city law governing voter initiatives and referenda that it said prohibits the city from holding such a ballot measure because, if approved, it would violate the D.C. Human Rights Act’s ban on discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Jackson and his attorneys argue that the law restricting ballot measures that go against provisions in the D.C. Human Rights Act is invalid because it violates the city’s Home Rule Charter, which Congress passed in the early 1970s.

The election board and a D.C. Superior Court judge rejected that claim as did the Court of Appeals. Each said the ballot measure restriction doesn’t violate the Home Rule Charter.

In March, before the appeals court issued its decision on the case, Jackson’s lawyers filed an emergency motion asking the Supreme Court to issue a stay preventing the same-sex marriage law from taking effect until the appeals court ruled on the matter.

Chief Justice John Roberts denied the request for a stay, saying Jackson and others opposed to the marriage law could not show that they could win the case on its merits, or that allowing the law to take effect would cause them irreparable harm at that time.

However, Roberts said in his three-page ruling that Jackson’s argument that the city acted improperly by denying a request for a ballot measure on grounds that it would violate the Human Rights Act “has some force.”

That comment by Roberts has led to speculation by legal experts that the Chief Justice might give at least some consideration to supporting a petition that the Supreme Court take the case, even though the court has a longstanding history of deferring to lower courts on matters that don’t relate to the U.S. constitution or to federal law.

In a comment that same-sex marriage supporters viewed as a hopeful sign, Roberts also stated in his ruling in March that Congress had full authority to prevent the city from adopting its law prohibiting ballot measures that violate the Human Rights Act, but Congress chose not to do so.

Nickles, who wrote the city’s briefs defending the same-sex marriage law against Jackson’s lawsuit, has argued that the law barring ballot measure that violate the Human Rights Act was adopted in full compliance with the Home Rule Charter. He noted that Congress’s decision not to overturn either the ballot measure law or the same-sex marriage law shows there is no federal or constitutional interest in either law and Jackson has no grounds for asking the courts to overturn it.

The Supreme Court is not expected to announce its decision on whether or not to take Jackson’s case until sometime next year.

In addition to Jackson, the individuals that signed on to the petition seeking Supreme Court intervention in the case include Ward 5 ANC Commissioner Robert King, local minister Anthony Evans, former D.C. congressional delegate Walter Fauntroy, Dale Wafer, Melvin Dupree, and Howard Butler.

The group is being represented by attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative religious-oriented litigation group that has challenged same-sex marriages laws in other states.

“Today’s petition by Bishop Jackson to the U.S. Supreme Court is nothing more than a last-ditch attempt by outside interests to try to eliminate marriage equality in the District,” said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, in a statement last week. “Every court that has reviewed this case, including two D.C. Superior Court judges and the full Court of Appeals, has found Jackson’s arguments to be without merit,” he said. “The Council and mayor, representing District residents, overwhelmingly approved legislation providing for marriage equality. And we will remain vigilant against any efforts to take it away.”

(Jackson photo is a Blade file photo by Michael Key)

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Virginia

Va. House subcommittees advance two anti-transgender bills

Senate Democrats have pledged to block any anti-LGBTQ measures

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Virginia Capitol Building (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Two anti-transgender bills advanced in the Virginia House of Delegates on Monday.

A House Education Subcommittee by a 5-3 margin voted to advance state Del. Dave LaRock (R-Loudoun County)’s House Bill 2432, which Equality Virginia notes “would require public school personnel to contact a student’s parent if they believe that the student’s self-identified gender does not align with their ‘biological sex.'” The House Higher Education Subcommittee by a 6-4 margin advanced state Del. Karen Greenhalgh (R-Virginia Beach)’s House Bill 1387, which would ban transgender athletes from school sports teams that correspond with their gender identity.

Both bills will now go before the full House Education Committee.

The House Early Childhood/Innovation Subcommittee last week voted unanimously to kill state Del. Jason Ballard (R-Giles County)’s House Bill 1434, which would have required trans students to obtain a court order to update their name in school records. The Senate Public Education Subcommittee on Jan. 26 also tabled three measures that would have banned trans athletes from school teams corresponding with their gender identity.

Republicans currently control the House of Delegates by a 51-47 margin. Democrats, who have a 22-18 majority in the state Senate, have said they will oppose any anti-LGBTQ measure that reaches their chamber.

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Virginia

Va. Senate subcommittee tables three anti-transgender bills

Measures would have banned trans athletes from school teams

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A Virginia Senate subcommittee on Thursday tabled three bills that would ban transgender athletes from school teams corresponding with their gender identity.

The Senate Education and Health Committee’s Public Education Committee tabled state Sen. John Cosgrove (R-Chesapeake)’s Senate Bill 911, state Sen. Bryce Reeves (R-Louisa County)’s Senate Bill 1186 and state Sen. Mark Peake (R-Lynchburg)’s Senate Bill 962.

“We’re one step closer to these bills being gone for good,” said Equality Virginia in a tweet.

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District of Columbia

‘Talking Trans History’ explores lives of D.C. advocates

Rainbow History Project holds first panel for city-funded Trans History Initiative

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Seated from left panelists Earline Budd, Rayceen Pendarvis, and Gabrielle ‘Gibby’ Thomas are joined by Rainbow History Project officials and supporters. (Washington Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

Longtime D.C. transgender rights advocates Earline Budd and Gabrielle ‘Gibby’ Thomas gave personal accounts of their transition as transgender women and their work as trans rights advocates Tuesday night, Jan. 24, at a “Talking Trans History” panel discussion organized by D.C.’s Rainbow History Project.

Joining them as a panelist was Rayceen Pendarvis, the acclaimed local event host, public speaker, and LGBTQ community advocate. Pendarvis, among other things, told of being nurtured and taught by dynamic transgender women who proudly affirmed their identity not only as trans people but productive citizens in the community at large.

Vincent Slatt, Rainbow History Project’s director of archiving, served as moderator of the panel discussion. He told the audience of about 25 people who gathered at the Southwest Branch of the D.C. Public Library that the event was the first of many such panels planned by the project’s recently launched Trans History Initiative.

Slatt noted that Rainbow History Project received a $15,000 grant for fiscal year 2023 from the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs to conduct the Trans History Initiative. The initiative plans to “better integrate the often-under-represented histories of trans people into our programming,” according to a RHP statement.

Budd, 64, who has been a trans-identified activist since the 1970s, became involved in the 1980s with supporting people with HIV/AIDS before founding the D.C. organizations Trans Health Empowerment and Empowering the Transgender Community (ETC), for which she currently serves as executive director. She has received numerous awards for her work in support of the trans community and her self-proclaimed role as “the advocate” for the trans and LGBTQ community.

In her remarks at the panel discussion, Budd told of her childhood upbringing in a religious family where, like many trans people, her parents didn’t approve of her early identity as a girl.

“I want to say that around eight or nine my mother found me to be different,” Budd said. “The difference was she would lay my clothes out, my sister’s clothes and my clothes for us to go to school. And when I would come downstairs, I would always have on my sister’s clothes,” Budd told the gathering.

“And she would say why do you have on your sister’s clothes?” Budd continued. “I said mommy, it fits. No, it does not, you’re a boy,” Budd quoted her mother as responding. “And let me tell you, that went on and on and on,” said Budd, who told how she eventually parted ways with her parents and left the house to embark on her role as one of D.C.’s leading trans advocates.

Among her many endeavors was successful discrimination complaints, including one against a D.C. skating rink and another against the D.C. Jail for discrimination based on gender identity. Budd told how she won in both cases, with strong backing from the D.C. Office of Human Rights. 

Pendarvis, among other things, spoke about how an association with trans women as a young adult helped to shape Pendarvis’s longstanding and award-winning role as co-founder of Team Rayceen Productions, including 10 years as leading host of “The Ask Rayceen Show,” which highlighted topics promoting the LGBTQ and trans community in D.C.

Similar to Budd, Pendarvis has received numerous awards and honors, including recognition from the D.C. City Council, for work as a host and speaker at LGBTQ-related festivals, fundraisers and other events.

“As an activist and host, I have been blessed to do many things,” Pendarvis told the panel discussion gathering. “For many who do not quite know how to identify or ask me to identify, first of all, I’m a human being,” Pendarvis said. “I am a father of five and a mother of many.”

Pendarvis added, “I’m a human being first and foremost, a child of God. And my trans sisters uplifted me first, embraced me first. I came out in a community where our transgender sisters were always on the front line.”

Thomas, 65, told the panel session she is a native of North Brentwood, Md., located just outside D.C., but D.C. became her home since shortly after finishing high school. She began her work in the LGBTQ community in 1989 as a caregiver for people with HIV. She has since worked for the local organizations Us Helping Us, Transgender Health Empowerment, and Terrific, Inc. She currently works for Damien Ministries and its “Trans Specific” programming called Shugg’s Place that, among other things, focuses on providing services for transgender older adults.

She told of her growing up as one of seven children in a family whose mother and father, she said ‘were very loving.” But like other trans kids, Thomas said her parents were uncomfortable over her desire to identify as a girl. A more understanding next door neighbor allowed Thomas to spend time in her house as Thomas helped with household errands.

 “I would go to the store and things like that for her,” Thomas said. “But what’s most important, I could dress as I wanted to in her house. She would give me dresses that I could wear. And I could go up there and put on my dresses and watch TV,” Thomas continued. “And then I would get to take my dress off and go home because mom and daddy wasn’t standing for that.”

At around the age of 10, Thomas said, she was aware of current events and observed that her father was a strong supporter and admirer of Martin Luther King Jr. and his civil rights leadership. “I said you can march with Martin Luther King for everybody else’s rights but you are going to deny me mine,” she recalled telling her father.

Thomas said she initially began patronizing D.C. gay bars after befriending gay men from her high school. A short time later, after realizing that the gay scene was not who she was, she discovered the then D.C. gay drag bars Louis’ and The Rogue and had a chance to meet “people like me.” But she said someone she met at one of those two bars introduced her to the then D.C. Black gay bar called the Brass Rail, where transgender women hung out.

“And I said, oh my God, I am home. This is heaven,” Thomas told the panel gathering. “When I came to the Brass Rail I felt like I was home” as a trans person, Thomas said. “I met so many terrific people.”

She went on to tell about the trials and tribulations of fully transitioning as a trans woman and her growth as a transgender activist with a career dedicated to supporting the trans and LGBTQ community.

Japer Bowles, director of the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs, spoke briefly at the start of the Talking Trans History panel discussion. He said the mayor’s office was excited to be supporting the Rainbow History Project’s newly launched Trans History Initiative.

“I’m really, really excited to work for a mayor who not only is fighting for things for our community, but truly funding these opportunities,” Bowles said. “This is about you and our trans communities. So, I’m here to listen.”

Slatt also announced at the panel session that Rainbow History Project has a paid job opening for one or more positions to help run the city funded Trans History Initiative. He said information about the job opening for people interested in applying can be obtained through RHP’s website. He said a video recording of the panel session would be posted on the website in a week or two.

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