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Maryland lawmaker makes history with win

Mary Washington is nation’s second out black lesbian in state office

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Mary Washington says she expects Maryland to enact marriage equality within four years. (Photo courtesy of Washington)

Mary Washington is not only a newly elected Maryland state legislator, who won her seat as a Democrat in the 141-member House of Delegates on Nov. 2. She is also only the second out black lesbian elected to statewide office in the nation.

And she’s confident about the expansion of LGBT rights in decidedly blue Maryland. Does she see same-sex marriage rights coming soon?

“Yes,” she declares, “I’m very encouraged that we will absolutely see recognition of civil marriage in Maryland within the next four years.”

Washington was endorsed by the Ministerial Alliance, the most prominent area inter-denominational coalition. She adds that “gays and lesbians have moved so far in Maryland already, and I strongly feel that we also now need to focus on protections for transgendered people.”

She recognizes that Maryland bucked “a red tide on Election Day,” when Democrats lost more than 650 state legislative seats nationwide. “Maryland now stands as a beacon of hope for progress and social justice,” according to Washington. The reason the Republican riptide faltered in Maryland is that, “we have a tradition of moderation and civility and we don’t typically have strong, ultra-conservative voters,” and she adds that “we also know how to organize our candidates for great campaigns.”

But even so, dirty tricks were employed late on Election Day, when robo-calls — what Washington called “ugly phone calls” to suppress minority turnout — went to more than 50,000 voters, urging them to “relax” and stay home instead of voting. According to stories in the Washington Post and Baltimore Sun, the automated calls were at the behest of a political operative working for former Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich, the Republican who lost the rematch race to Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat.

Washington, 48, the eldest of six children, is a Philadelphia High School for Girls graduate. She took a while to complete college, calling herself “a very non-traditional student” who had to work for several years and then enrolled in Antioch University’s branch campus in Philadelphia. She earned a bachelor’s degree and teaching certificate in 1987.

While in college she was already politically active, she says, protesting often against Reagan-era social and economic policies. She coordinated volunteers for voter registration during the Rainbow Coalition’s Freedom Summer in 1984.

In 1989, she moved to Baltimore to begin a doctoral study in sociology at Johns Hopkins University, where she was elected president of the university’s Graduate Student Association. With her emphasis on demographic studies, population statistics and education, she focused in particular on racial data gathered through the U.S. Census.

As for Baltimore, it was love at first sight for the city, she now says. But in 1996, she began a four-year stint teaching sociology at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania and then in 2000 she won a post-doctoral fellowship back in Philadelphia at the University of Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, she was exploring her sexual orientation and coming out, but she mostly keeps such aspects of her personal life, including details on the person she is dating now, private.

After her return to Baltimore, she founded the city’s HousingStat program, targeting the municipal housing agency to make it more accountable to the needs of residents. In her own northeast Baltimore neighborhood, she served as president of the Abell Improvement Association for two years.

In 2006, she ran for but narrowly lost election to the House of Delegates. Then, in 2007-2008 she was an organizer in Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. But she also had her eye on running again in the next state legislative election in 2010. This time Washington ran on the “leadership team” in the 43rd District on a slate with Sen. Joan Carter Conway and Dels. Curt Anderson and 18-year House veteran Maggie McIntosh, also a lesbian, who since 2001 has been in the House Democratic leadership as majority leader.

The state will now send a record number of seven openly gay or lesbian lawmakers to Annapolis, three more than before, including incumbent State Sen. Rich Madaleno in Montgomery County, along with incumbent Dels. Heather Mizeur, Anne Kaiser and McIntosh, joined by freshmen Dels. Bonnie Cullison, Luke Clippinger and Washington.

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District of Columbia

D.C. house with rainbow Pride flag set on fire

Investigators seeking help from public in search for suspect

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A Pride flag remained displayed at the house in Shaw this past Sunday, one week after the fire in the rear of the house which fire officials have listed as arson. (Washington Blade photos by Lou Chibbaro Jr.)

The D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department has classified as arson a June 19 fire at a two-story row house on the 1800 block of 8th Street, N.W. in the city’s Shaw neighborhood that had an LGBTQ rainbow Pride flag prominently displayed on the front of the house.

A Fire & EMS Department spokesperson said the fire was ignited in a detached wooden garage in the rear of the house accessible only through an alley, and fire investigators have yet to identify a suspect or a motive for what evidence shows was an intentionally set fire.

Although the front of the brick rowhouse where the Pride flag was displayed was not damaged, the fire in the garage spread to the rear of the house, destroying a wooden outdoor deck, and caused extensive damage to the kitchen, bathroom, and second floor bedroom. Fire investigators have sealed the house, requiring its three occupants to find a temporary residence as the investigation continues.

One of the three occupants of the house, who was the only one at home when the fire started at about 2 a.m., escaped without injury, according to sources who know the occupants.

“The Pride flag on the front of the house was present at the time of the fire,” Jennifer Donelan, director of communications for the Fire & EMS Department, told the Washington Blade. “We do not have any information, at this time, that suggests the arson was related to the presence of the flag, however we are still working on the case,” she said.

“We are aggressively working to identify a suspect and a motive,” Donelan said. “Until such time, we won’t be able to make a determination as to whether or not this was a hate crime.”

She said the Fire & EMS Department is seeking help from the public in its effort to identify one or more suspects responsible for the fire. Anyone with information that could be helpful to the investigation is asked to call fire investigators at 202-673-2776.

The fire at the D.C. house with the Pride flag took place less than a week after Baltimore police said a house in that city’s Waverly neighborhood on which “Pride décor” was displayed was set on fire on June 15, causing extensive damage to the house and nearby houses.

Baltimore police and fire department officials said a Pride flag on a house across the street from the house set on fire was also ablaze when firefighters arrived on the scene. Two men were hospitalized in critical condition and a woman was listed in serious condition because of the fire ignited in the house.

Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott released a statement saying fire department officials had yet to determine a motive for the fire.

“At this point, we cannot confirm that this was a hate crime,” Scott said. “However, my agencies will bring every appropriate resource to bear to get to the bottom of this tragic event,” he said. “I continue to stand in solidarity with our LGBTQ+ community.”

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District of Columbia

D.C. officials vow to fight any GOP effort to ban abortion in nation’s capital

Without statehood, District vulnerable to congressional interference

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D.C. Congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton vowed to fight to protect abortion access in the city. (Blade file photo by Drew Brown)

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, D.C. Congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, and six members of the D.C. Council said they were united in fighting an attempt by Congress to ban abortions in the nation’s capital following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

At a press conference on the day the Supreme Court handed down its controversial decision, the D.C. officials pointed out that unlike any of the states, D.C. is vulnerable to the authority Congress has over the city under its limited Home Rule Charter, including the authority by Congress to pass a law to ban abortions in the city.

The press conference was held at the headquarters in Northeast D.C. of Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, D.C., whose leaders said they would continue to provide abortion services in the District at the present time.

At this time, “Nothing has changed in Washington, D.C.,” Bowser said at the press conference. “Abortion remains legal, and women and girls we know, however, are worried,” the mayor said. “We are worried because we know we are vulnerable as a jurisdiction because of our lack of statehood.”

Norton told news media representatives and others attending the press conference that she expects at least some congressional Republicans to introduce legislation to ban abortions in D.C. now that the Supreme Court has given them the authority to do that.

“We are subservient still to the House and Senate,” she said. “I’m calling on the Congress to immediately codify the right to an abortion in federal law,” Norton said. “That is the very least the District needs to save this city from what will surely be an attempt by Republicans in Congress to move first on the District of Columbia to make sure that abortions are not available for women in our city.”

Norton added, “We always have more work cut out for us than other jurisdictions. But I assure you I am up to the task. There is a lot to fight for here, and I’m ready for that fight.”

Norton and Bowser also pointed out that Congress over a decade ago added a permanent provision to D.C.’s annual budget that prohibits the city from using any of its funds to pay for abortions either directly or through the funding of private organizations like Planned Parenthood that provide abortion related services.

With the prospect that Republicans might regain control of the House or Senate or both in the November congressional elections, D.C. officials said they were especially concerned about an attempt to ban or greatly restrict abortions in the city.

D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson said he was hopeful that such an attempt would be blocked by a Democratic-led filibuster in the Senate as well as by a presidential veto if President Biden or another Democrat continues to occupy the White House.

Bowser, Mendelson, and D.C. Councilmember Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) also pointed out that the legal reasoning used by the justices to overturn Roe v. Wade, especially the rationale given by Justice Clarence Thomas, could be used in future cases to overturn previous court rulings establishing a constitutional right to same-sex marriage and the right to intimate sexual acts between same-sex couples.

“We are about to enter into decades of darkness with this court that we have,” Cheh said at the press conference. “And don’t be fooled. We’re told, OK, it’s just abortion,” she said. “Don’t you believe it. The very reasoning of the case – and I spend a lot of time teaching constitutional law – means that many other liberties will be in jeopardy.”

LGBTQ rights advocates have pointed to the concurring opinion handed down by Justice Thomas on the day the court overturned Roe v. Wade that specifically calls on the high court to “reconsider” the 2003 ruling of Lawrence v. Texas, which overturned state laws banning sodomy between consenting adults, both gay and straight. Thomas’s concurring opinion also called for reconsidering the high court’s 2015 Obergefell ruling, which legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.

Others speaking at the June 24 press conference included Laura Meyers, president of Planned Parenthood of the D.C. area, and D.C. Council members Elissa Silverman (I-At-Large), Christina Henderson (I-At-Large), and Brooke Pinto (D-Ward 2). 

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Virginia

Va. delegate comes out as bisexual

Del. Kelly Convirs-Fowler spoke at Hampton Roads Pride

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(Public domain photo)

Virginia state Del. Kelly Convirs-Fowler (D-Virginia Beach) came out as bisexual on June 25 during an appearance at Hampton Roads Pride in Norfolk.

“I’m bisexual,” the Virginia Beach Democrat told Pride attendees. “I just never felt like I could say that out loud.”

Convirs-Fowler has represented Virginia’s 21st House District since 2018.

State Del. Mark Sickles (D-Fairfax County) is gay and state Del. Dawn Adams (D-Richmond) is a lesbian. State Del. Danica Roem (D-Manassas) in 2018 became the first openly transgender person seated in any state legislature in the U.S.

“For those who don’t know, Del. @FowlerforVA and I are both part of the Class of 2017 #RedToBlue legislators who flipped seats that Nov. 7,” tweeted Roem on Monday. “We’ve both earned re-election twice since then and I couldn’t be more proudof her declaration of Pride =).”

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