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Marriage, trans bills get boost in Md. House

Valentine’s Day picked for lobbying on both measures



The same-sex marriage and transgender non-discrimination bills pending in the Maryland legislature cleared another hurdle last week when the speaker of the House of Delegates appointed a majority of supporters of the two bills to the committees that must first approve them.

House Speaker Michael Busch (D-Anne Arundel County) had been expected to retain a majority on the House Judiciary Committee in favor of the marriage equality bill as he has in past years, and did so again on Dec. 29.

But officials with Equality Maryland, the statewide LGBT advocacy organization, were less certain about the makeup of the House Committee on Health and Government Operations. That panel has jurisdiction over a pending bill that would ban employment discrimination based on gender identity and expression, which would protect transgender people. In past years, the panel has not taken a vote on the transgender bill.

Equality Maryland Executive Director Morgan Meneses-Sheets said the group was delighted with Busch’s decision on Dec. 29 to also name at least 13 supporters of the transgender measure to the 23-member Health and Government Operations Committee. The action ensures that the bill will be reported out of committee for an up or down vote in the House of Delegates.

In early December, a majority of pro-marriage equality members were named to the Maryland Senate’s Judicial Proceedings Committee, ensuring for the first time that a same-sex marriage measure would clear that key panel and reach the Senate floor for a vote. Up until now, the Judicial Proceedings Committee has blocked the marriage bill from coming to a floor vote.

“We want to move the marriage bill first in the Senate and the gender identity bill first in the House,” Meneses-Sheets said in discussing the timetable planned for the bills among a coalition of supporters.

She said further refinement of the timetable for moving both measures was to be discussed Wednesday in a conference call between Equality Maryland officials and all seven members of the legislature’s gay and lesbian caucus.

Similar to past years, Meneses-Sheets and others advocating for the two bills believe there appear to be enough votes to pass the marriage bill in the House. Supporters in the Senate believe they have the 24 votes needed to pass the marriage bill on an up or down vote but were less certain over whether they have the 29 votes needed to stop an expected filibuster by same-sex marriage opponents.

“The question is whether we can get cloture to break a filibuster,” said Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery County), who supports both the marriage equality and transgender non-discrimination bills.

“That’s the mystery at this point,” he said.

Raskin said he was not familiar enough with the positions of his colleagues on the transgender bill to predict its outcome other than to say he sees support growing for that measure.

Sen. Richard Madaleno (D-Montgomery County), who is gay, said on Wednesday he’s more confident in the prospects for the marriage bill.

“I have never been so optimistic about getting this done,” he said. “Today at lunch I sat quietly by myself with a list of the members of the new Senate going over again and again in my head where the votes are, and I’m feeling really good right now both for the floor vote and the cloture vote.”

Madaleno is among seven out gays and lesbians now serving in the Maryland legislature — one in the Senate and six in the House — who said they will push hard from the inside to pass both the marriage and transgender rights bill.

Meneses-Sheets said Equality Maryland has scheduled a lobby day for Feb. 14 on Valentine’s Day, where the group hopes large numbers of LGBT Marylanders and their straight supporters will come to the state capital in Annapolis to push for both bills.

She said the group is inviting LGBT people to bring family members with them to the all-day lobbying event, with the intention that they visit the offices of members of the Senate and House of Delegates from all parts of the state.

“We’re so close that it will take just a handful of votes to push this through,” she said of the marriage bill. “The electorate is with us on this. The young voters are with us on this issue.”

Concerning the transgender bill, she said its prospects “look good on the floor of the House” but “there may be challenges” in the Senate.

Among the challenges, she noted, are arguments by opponents that a transgender non-discrimination measure would enable men dressed as women to harass women in women’s bathrooms in public places.

Transgender activists have disputed the so-called “bathroom” argument, which usually surfaces when transgender non-discrimination legislation is introduced.

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, has said no reports of women being targeted in bathrooms have surfaced in any of the states, cities or counties where transgender non-discrimination laws have been adopted.

“It’s a myth,” she said.

“We need to persuade people that you should be judged on the merits when it comes to your job,” said Meneses-Sheets. “It’s an economic issue.”

She said Equality Maryland is bringing on three more full-time staff members to work on the two bills beginning Jan. 12, when the Maryland General Assembly opens its 2011 session.

The session lasts for just 90 days, a development that LGBT activists say gives them only until April 11 to secure the passage of the marriage and transgender rights measures.

“We have a lot of work to do in a short time,” said Meneses-Sheets.

Madaleno said that under the longstanding practice in the General Assembly, nearly all important or controversial bills don’t come to a final vote until the last two or three weeks of the session in April.

A late passage of both the marriage and transgender rights bill would make it more difficult for opponents to collect the required signatures for a referendum to kill the bills. Nearly all observers of the General Assembly expect opponents to take out petitions to call a referendum, which would stop the bills from taking effect until after voters decide on the issue — assuming the required number of petitions is obtained.

Under the state constitution, one-third of the required number of petition signatures must be obtained by the end of May and the remainder of the signatures needed must be collected by the end of June. The gathering of petitions cannot begin until both houses of the General Assembly passes a bill being challenged. That means it would be to the advantage of supporters of the two bills to wait until the end of the session to pass them.

The number of signatures needed is three percent of the qualified voters in the state based on the total number of votes cast in the most recent election for governor.


District of Columbia

Nex Benedict honored at D.C. candlelight vigil

Upwards of 100 people paid tribute to nonbinary Okla. student at As You Are



A candlelight vigil is held outside of the LGBTQ café and bar As You Are on Feb. 22, 2024, for 16-year-old nonbinary student Nex Benedict. (Washington Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

Nearly 100 people turned out on Feb. 22 for a candlelight vigil hosted by the D.C. LGBTQ café and bar As You Are to pay tribute to 16-year-old nonbinary student Nex Benedict.

Benedict died Feb. 8 at a hospital in Owasso, Okla., one day after family members say Benedict was beaten up by three older female students in an Owasso High School bathroom after a fight broke out. Owasso police have said they are investigating the circumstances surrounding Benedict’s death but said preliminary autopsy findings do not show the death was caused by physical injuries.

Family members, including Benedict’s mother, told news media outlets that Benedict suffered severe bruises to their face and head and the family believes the injuries from an assault caused their child’s death. Family members have also said Benedict had been targeted for bullying at school because of their status as a nonbinary person.

People who spoke at the As You Are candlelight vigil said they considered the death an anti-LGBTQ hate crime.

“Today we are brought together to mourn the loss of Nex Benedict,” As You Are co-owner Rachel “Coach” Pike told the gathering, which was held on the As You Are outdoor patio and surrounding sidewalk. “Nex Benedict, your life matters. It will always matter, and more than that your life was precious,” Pike said.

“You had the right to live as you were and all parts of your identity were beautiful and should have been celebrated, supported, and safe,” Pike added.

Pike and other speakers, some of whom identified as nonbinary and transgender, pointed out that Benedict’s family are members of the Choctaw Nation, a Native American community. A speaker at the vigil who identified himself as Bo and said he identified as a two-spirit individual called on the gathering to pay tribute to Benedict’s role as one of the Choctaw people.

“When I first heard the news of Nex Benedict’s murder I was shocked,” Bo said. “I thought of how young. I thought about how much life was taken from this child.”

Another speaker, native American advocate Shiala King, whose family are members of the Sicangu Lakota Nation in South Dakota, arranged for her father, Frank John King, a faith leader and medicine man, to speak to the gathering by phone hookup from his residence in South Dakota. After greeting the gathering and expressing his condolences over the death of Benedict, Frank King further honored Benedict by singing a spiritual song in the Lakota language as part of a tradition of uplifting the spirit of beloved people who pass away.

Jo McDaniel, the other co-owner of As You Are whose also Pike’s spouse, said they were pleased with the response to their announcement of the vigil on social media. 

“To see this child taken from us this way, it’s chilling and it’s horrible and it’s not right and it’s not fair,” McDaniel told the Washington Blade after the vigil ended. “And so, we knew that the only thing we could do to help our community heal was to gather. And we wanted to do that in as honorable and wonderful a way as possible as that kid deserves,” she said.

Sue Benedict, Nex Benedict’s mother, told the British newspaper The Independent that Nex was a “courageous, smart teenager who had simply been living their true identity.” The Independent reports that Sue Benedict said Nex had been subjected to taunts, insults and bullying due to their gender fluid identity for over a year. 

Owasso police officials have said detectives were interviewing school officials and students to obtain more details on how the fight started and whether charges will be brought against those who allegedly assaulted Benedict. A police spokesperson told The Independent police were awaiting the findings of toxicology and autopsy reports from the Oklahoma Medical Examiner’s Office to determine whether anyone will be charged with a criminal offense.

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District of Columbia

New gay bar on 14th Street to open in April

Owners say Crush to offer ‘cozy, inclusive space’



Exterior of Crush. (Photo courtesy of Crush)

A new D.C. bar catering to the LGBTQ community called Crush is expected to open for business in April in a two-story building with a roof garden at 2007 14th St., N.W., in the center of one of the city’s bustling nightlife neighborhoods. 

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

“This new venue, catering especially to the LGBTQ+ community, offers a cozy, inclusive space that reminisces about the times of record stores and basement hangouts with friends,” the statement says. “In its past life as a music store and radio supply shop, Crush transforms its legacy into a modern-day haven,” the statement continues. “It features top-notch DJ booths, a dance floor and a summer garden, alongside a premium sound system to ensure every night is memorable.” 

Rutstein told the Washington Blade the new bar will have a capacity of accommodating 300 people on its two floors. He notes that the name ‘Crush” stems from the romantic crush that people often have for one another and his and Rutgers’ new bar is aimed at providing a friendly space for people to meet and socialize. 

“We’re looking to be inclusive to everyone,” Rutstein said. “It’s certainly going to be heavy on the LGBT community” because he and Rutgers have been part of that community for many years. But he added, “We want to be inclusive to gays and lesbians being able to bring their friends and allies in along with them and not feel weird about it.” 

Crush will be located across the street from the Reeves Center D.C. municipal building where government agencies and community groups, including the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community, has its office. 

“Crush isn’t just our name,” the statement issued by Rutstein and Rutgers says. “It’s the essence of our space. We aim to create an atmosphere where everyone can celebrate life and love.”

Editor’s note: Stephen Rutgers is the Blade’s Director of Sales and Marketing.

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Are Md. prisons out of bounds with federal requirements for trans prisoners?

Department of Correctional Services says transgender prisoners ‘housed according to physical genitalia’



BY BEN CONARCK | Nearly a year after formerly incarcerated transgender people testified to Maryland lawmakers about the troubling conditions they faced in state prisons and Baltimore jails, the agency in charge of their care continues to violate federal standards in how it houses trans prisoners, according to a coalition of trans rights advocates.

The Trans Rights Advocacy Coalition, bolstered by policy experts and attorneys, contends that while the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services has made some strides towards improving conditions, its policy of housing trans prisoners “according to physical genitalia” violates the federal standard that those individuals should be housed on a case-by-case basis determined by health and safety and any security problems, among other factors. The group laid out its argument in a 15-page memo presented to the department and lawmakers this week.

The rest of this article can be read on the Baltimore Banner’s website.

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