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Supreme Court rejects D.C. marriage challenge

Action ends effort to force ballot measure

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(Blade photo by Michael Key)

The U.S. Supreme Court issued an order today denying a request by a local minister to consider a case seeking to force the District of Columbia to allow voters to decide whether to repeal the city’s same-sex marriage law.

The order, which did not include any statement or opinion, ends the effort by Bishop Harry Jackson and other local opponents of same-sex marriage to go through the courts to impose a ballot measure calling for overturning the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Equality Amendment Act of 2009, which legalized same-sex marriage in the District.

None of the Supreme Court’s nine justices issued a dissent in their unanimous determination not to take the case.

“We are pleased that the Supreme Court turned down Bishop Jackson’s request for review of the Court of Appeals decision on marriage equality,” said Peter Rosenstein, president of the Campaign for All D.C. Families, the local group that campaigned for passage of the marriage equality law.

“This confirms our belief that what the D.C. Council did is both legal and just,” he said. “Equality will not be denied.”

Rosenstein was referring to a decision last October by the D.C. Court of Appeals that upheld an earlier ruling by the city’s Board of Elections and Ethics to reject a voter initiative proposed by Jackson and other same-sex marriage opponents calling for repealing the marriage equality law.

In the case known as Jackson v. the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics, Jackson sought to force the city to hold a voter initiative that, if approved, would repeal the same-sex marriage law and replace it with a new law defining marriage in the District as a union only between a man and a woman.

The Court of Appeals decision stated that D.C. City Council acted within its authority under the city’s congressionally mandated Home Rule Charter when it imposed certain restrictions more than 30 years ago on the types of initiatives and referenda that could be placed on the ballot.

Among the restrictions adopted then was a ban on ballot measures that, if approved by voters, violate the non-discrimination provisions of the D.C. Human Rights Act. The act, among other things, bans discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Jackson and a team of lawyers representing him argued that Council violated the Home Rule Charter by adopting the ballot measure restrictions.

The Supreme Court today rejected Jackson’s request for a Petition for a Writ of Certiorari, which asked the court to hear the case to enable Jackson to appeal the ruling of the D.C. Court of Appeals. By denying that request, the Supreme Court allowed the Court of Appeals decision to permanently remain in effect.

“Today’s action by the Supreme Court makes abundantly clear that D.C.’s human rights protections are strong enough to withstand the hateful efforts by outside anti-LGBT groups to put people’s basic civil rights on the ballot,” said Joe Solmonese, president of Human Rights Campaign.

“For almost two years, the National Organization for Marriage and the Alliance Defense Fund, along with Bishop Harry Jackson, have fought a losing battle to shamelessly harm gay and lesbian couples in D.C. who seek nothing more than to share in the rights and responsibilities of marriage,” Solmonese said.

According to the Supreme Court’s public docket, the nine justices deliberated over whether to hear the Jackson case in a private conference held last Friday. Under longstanding court rules, the justices usually announce a decision on whether to accept or reject a case on the next business day following such a conference.

With the Supreme Court denying Jackson’s court challenge to the same-sex marriage law, marriage equality opponents are expected to take their fight back to Congress by resuming earlier requests for Congress to either overturn the D.C. marriage law or to impose a new law forcing the city hold a ballot measure to allow voters to decide the issue.

D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large), who chairs the committee that shepherded the same-sex marriage law through the Council in 2009, said city voters have demonstrated through the city’s 2010 primary and general election that the marriage law was not a pressing issue for them.

He noted that despite promises by same-sex marriage opponents to work for the defeat of all Council members who voted for the marriage law, just a few candidates opposing the law surfaced in the elections and all of them lost by lopsided margins.

“They’ve lost in the courts, they lost overwhelmingly in the Council 12 to 1 [when the marriage bill came up for a vote in December 2009], and they lost at the ballot box,” he said. “Now they’ve lost their last chance, their last gasp in the judicial system.”

Jackson couldn’t be immediately reach for comment.

Rev. Anthony Evans, a D.C. minister who is working with Jackson to overturn the D.C. same-sex marriage law, called the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the Jackson case “a travesty of justice.”

“This law was forced down the church’s throat and what the Supreme Court has set up is the greatest civil war between the church and the gay community,” Evans said. “And let me just state for the record, we don’t want that fight. We love our gay brothers and sisters. But if the Supreme Court is not going to acknowledge the fact that we have a right as religious people to have a say-so in the framework of religious ethics for our culture and society, then we reject the Supreme Court on this issue.”

Supporters of the same-sex marriage law have noted that large numbers of local religious leaders from all denominations, including black churches, came out in support of the law. Many have begun peforming same-sex marriages.

Evans, an official with the D.C.-based National Black Church Initiative, said local same-sex marriage opponents have began discussions with “our Republican friends” in Congress to take steps to challenge the D.C. marriage law. He declined to disclose further details but said he and others opposed to the marriage law lobbied GOP leaders on the Hill to strip congressional delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) of her voting privileges on the House floor.

Since Republicans took control of the House earlier this month, GOP leaders revoked Norton’s limited floor voting privileges that Democrats gave her when they took control of the House in 2007. House GOP leaders also revoked the limited voting privileges for delegates representing U.S. territories and Puerto Rico.

“[O]ur first action was to make sure that Eleanor didn’t get a vote as punishment for her wholehearted support for same-sex marriage in this city and also for her to ignore the black religious community,” Evans said. “There is a consequence to her actions. That was one of them.”

Norton, reached at her office late Wednesday, disputed Evans’ claim that same-sex marriage opponents played any role in her loss of House voting privileges.

“He can’t take credit for that. He had nothing to do with it,” she said. “I can tell you without fear of contradiction that our vote was taken this time in the same way it was taken last time — because the Republicans oppose voting rights for the District of Columbia, not because anybody in the District had any power to persuade them to do anything except what they want to do.”

Norton was referring to House Republican leaders’ decision to strip her of voting privileges when they gained control of the House in 1995. Democrats restored her voting privileges when they regained control of the House in 2007.

“But in any case, shame on any resident who wants the District of Columbia not to have a vote,” she said.

Norton said she expected some members of Congress to attempt to overturn the city’s same-sex marriage law through legislation, although she was hopeful that Democrats and moderate Republicans would join forces to defeat such legislation.

“I can tell you that I’ve had a good conversation with an important Republican who’s not interested,” she said, referring to efforts to overturn the D.C. marriage law. “That doesn’t mean that won’t happen. But there are Republicans here who would not like to get all mixed up with social issues.”

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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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