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Md. lieutenant guv backs marriage bill

Anthony Brown believes bill would survive voter referendum

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In his first public remarks on same-sex marriage, Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown told the Washington Blade Wednesday that he supports marriage equality for lesbians and gays and favors the approval of a same-sex marriage bill pending in the Maryland Legislature.

LGBT activists believe Brown, a Prince George’s County Democrat who is considered a potential candidate for governor in 2014, could play a key role in defending the marriage bill against a voter referendum in 2012 if the legislature passes it this year, as most political observers expect.

“I have always believed that all Marylanders should have an equality of rights and responsibilities and that includes marriage equality,” he said in an exclusive interview.

“So regardless of gender, we should be able to choose who it is that we are going to marry and hopefully spend the rest of our lives with. And so I’m supportive of that,” he said.

Brown said he has friends and acquaintances who are in same-sex relationships and he has seen first-hand how they are “successfully raising children,” a development that has helped shape his views on the marriage issue.

Brown’s expression of support for the marriage bill came on the same day that Republican State Sen. Allan Kittleman announced he was dropping plans to introduce a civil unions bill and would vote instead for the marriage bill.

Some LGBT activists viewed a civil unions bill as a possible competing measure that might have derailed the marriage bill.

The decision by Kittleman, the former Senate minority leader, to abandon plans to introduce a civil unions bill and to back the marriage measure, and Brown’s firm statement backing same-sex marriage, are likely to be viewed by LGBT activists as a major boost for the marriage measure.

Up until now, Brown had not taken a public stand on the marriage bill, although his press secretary, Mike Raia, said Brown had informed colleagues and friends of his support for the measure.

“The lieutenant governor’s statement comes as a surprise, but certainly a welcome surprise,” said Lisa Polyak, a board member and spokesperson for Equality Maryland, the statewide LGBT group leading efforts to pass the bill.

“We’re grateful for all elected officials, especially those in leadership roles, who understand that our families seek equal treatment under the law,” she said. “And we welcome the lieutenant governor’s joining the coalition to achieve civil marriage for same-sex couples.”

Gov. Martin O’Malley has said he would sign a same-sex marriage measure approved by the legislature. And most political observers in the state say supporters of the bill have the votes to get it through the legislature.

Before being named by O’Malley as his running mate in the 2006 gubernatorial race, Brown had served two terms in the Maryland House of Delegates from P.G. County. During his second term, Brown was named the House of Delegates’ majority whip, a leadership post that enabled him to build a good working relationship with his fellow lawmakers.

Noting that his job as whip involved “counting heads” to determine the support of various bills, Brown said he believes the marriage measure has solid support in the House of Delegates and appears to enjoy a “slim majority” in the Senate.

Asked what he thinks the chances are for opponents to place the marriage bill before the voters in a referendum, Brown said he believes a referendum on the issue will make it to the ballot, but he thinks voters will uphold the law rather than overturn it.

“It’s not a high hurdle in Maryland to get an issue on the ballot,” he said. “So it would be on the ballot for 2012 during the presidential campaign. There’s going to be a lot of voter turnout as we typically see in presidential campaigns. No doubt, like other referenda, it’s going to be hotly contested and debated.”

Brown added, “As I said today, my position is in support [of the marriage bill]. As we approach 2012 I’ll certainly evaluate what role I’m going to play on that issue.”

As a prominent black elected official, LGBT advocates for the marriage bill would likely seek Brown’s help in campaigning for the bill in a referendum fight in his home turf of majority black P.G. County. In California in 2008, exit polls showed that a majority of black voters supported overturning that state’s same-sex marriage law in the bitterly fought ballot measure known as Proposition 8.

“I think Prince George’s County, which is predominantly African American, should not be viewed as a monolithic entity or county or community,” Brown said. “I think we’re going to get varying degrees of support and varying degrees of opposition. We know from public comments that many of the traditional civil rights organizations have come out in support of it,” he said, referring to the same-sex marriage bill.

“We also know that a number of members of the clergy from the African-American churches have come out or spoke against it,” he said. “So there’s not a clear or I should say single voice in Prince George’s County on this issue as I suspect is true in most all of the large counties in Maryland.”

Brown was asked what he thought of assertions by Bishop Harry Jackson, a Maryland minister who led efforts to oppose D.C.’s same-sex marriage law. Jackson and his supporters, among other things, argued that same-sex unions endanger black families because they undermine traditional marriage.

“Well, my only response, and this is not a response to the impact on black families, white families, or any other families,” he said. “My response to that is I have had experience through friendships and acquaintances with couples – same-sex couples – who are successfully raising children. And that’s in a number or variety of racial or ethnic backgrounds. So I have difficulty understanding that comment.”

Brown’s official biography on the Maryland State website shows that he has served in the Army since 1984 both on active duty and currently in the reserves. He served a 10-month tour in Iraq as part of a Multi-National Force in 2004 that provided humanitarian assistance to the Iraqi people. In 2007 he was promoted to the rank of colonel and, as an attorney with a degree from Harvard Law School, he currently commands a Pennsylvania-based Army Legal Support unit.

With that as a backdrop, Brown was asked what he thought of the successful effort to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the law that barred gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military.

“Well, first I’ll say I couldn’t be more proud of our president for moving forward on the elimination of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and recognizing full membership, if you will, in uniform services of men and women regardless of who they choose to be in a relationship with,” he said. “So I’m proud of that and I think it’s a big step forward for the armed forces and it’s a big step forward for our country.”

Added Brown, “And I will also say that after 26 years of active and reserve duty, I’d be kidding people if I told them that I never encountered a soldier who didn’t tell me that they were gay. And yet I have observed these soldiers performing their duty patriotically with the same level of diligence and commitment and that their preference had no relevance to their performance of their military duties.”

When asked about a transgender non-discrimination bill that was introduced last week into the House of Delegates with 55 co-sponsors, Brown didn’t disclose whether he has a position on the measure.

“I’m not familiar with that one,” he said. “I know I’ve dealt with some transgender bills when I was on the House Judiciary Committee, but this one in particular I’m not familiar with.”

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District of Columbia

D.C.’s Capital Pride to resume ‘large-scale’ outdoor events

Organizers say one of the largest ever parades and festivals set for June

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Happy days are here again? Scenes like this from 2019 could be back in 2022. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Capital Pride Alliance, the group that organizes D.C.’s annual LGBTQ Pride events, has announced on its website that it plans to resume the city’s Pride Parade and Festival in June 2022 that traditionally has attracted tens of thousands of participants after canceling the two events in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID pandemic.

“The Capital Pride Alliance is excited to announce the highly anticipated return of our annual large-scale outdoor Pride Celebration in June 2022!” the group says on its website. “Registration for the Capital Pride Parade on June 11, 2022, and the Capital Pride Festival on June 12, 2022, will be open soon,” the website message says.

Ryan Bos, the Capital Pride Alliance executive director, told the Washington Blade the group met with D.C. government officials on Monday to coordinate plans for the upcoming outdoor events in June. He said an updated announcement with more details of the events would be released later this week or early next week.

The Capital Pride website message focuses on the parade and festival.

“Join the LGBTQ+ community for the return of the historic Capital Pride Parade,” the website message says. “In 2022, a modified route will honor our history and acknowledge the evolution of the LGBTQ+ neighborhoods in Washington, DC, while respecting the origins and importance of taking to the streets in our fight for equality,” it says.

“Be prepared to experience one of the largest Pride Parades to ever take place in the United States Capital,” the message adds.

The message says the Pride Festival will resume at its traditional location on Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. near the U.S. Capitol that it refers to as America’s Mainstreet.

“Enjoy a full day of entertainment on three stages, food, drink and advocacy with over 300 exhibitors,” the website message says. “The Festival is the largest annual event in the national capital region,” the message continues, adding that the Capital Pride Concert will also return this year at its usual locations at the site of the festival.

“You will experience entertainment on three stages, from international headliners to our best local regional LGBTQ+ talent,” according to the Capital Pride website message. It says concert performances will take place from 12-10 p.m. And a “Capitol” Sunset Dance Party will take place at the festival site from 8-10 p.m.

“The concert may end but the dancing will continue,” the message says. “Enjoy the electronica sounds of an international DJ sensation while you dance in the middle of America’s Main Street on Pennsylvania Avenue, with the sun setting on the U.S. Capitol.”

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and the city’s public health officials ended the city’s COVID-related restrictions on the number of people allowed to attend outdoor events as well as indoor entertainment events last May as the number of COVID infections began to decline.

But as the number of Omicron variant cases of the COVID virus increased dramatically in the fall of 2021, the mayor resumed the requirement of the use of face masks in all indoor public places.

Also put in place earlier this month by the city was a requirement that restaurants, bars, nightclubs, and other entertainment establishments require customers to show proof of vaccination as a condition for admission to the establishments. Bowser, however, has said the city was not considering resuming restrictions on the number of people allowed in establishments such as restaurants and bars or outdoor stadiums.

Capital Pride Alliance has not said whether it will put in place a vaccination requirement for admission to the Pride festival and parade as well as some of its planned indoor events. With the number of Omicron related COVID cases beginning to drop in the past two weeks in D.C. and the surrounding suburbs, the prospect of a resumption in restrictions on the number of people allowed to assemble at outdoor events like the Pride Parade and Festival appears to be less likely.

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Virginia

Man who killed one in 2000 Roanoke gay bar shooting dies in prison

One of the worst bias attacks targeting LGBTQ community

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Ronald Edward Gay died while serving life sentences for attacking a Virginia gay bar. (Washington Blade clipping from Sept. 29, 2000)

A man sentenced to four consecutive life terms in prison for the September 2000 shooting at a gay bar in Roanoke, Va., in which one man lost his life and six others were wounded, died of natural causes on Jan. 15, according to the Virginia Department of Corrections.

A spokesperson for the Department of Corrections told WSLA 10 TV News that Ronald Edward Gay died while being treated at a hospital near the Deerfield Correctional Center, a state prison where he had been living as an inmate. He was 75. 

Witnesses and law enforcement officials reported at the time of the shooting that a middle-aged man later identified as Gay arrived alone at Roanoke’s Backstreet Café, a popular gay bar, on the night of Sept. 22, 2000.

According to an account by an eyewitness to the incident who spoke last week with the Roanoke Times newspaper, after ordering a beer and standing next to the bar for a short time, Gay reached into the long trench coat he was wearing, pulled out a 9mm pistol, and fired a round “straight into the chest of 43-year-old Danny Overstreet, before opening fire on the rest of the bar.”

Overstreet, a beloved regular patron at the Backstreet Café, died at the scene of the shooting. Six others, who were wounded by bullets fired by Gay, later recovered, but they and many others who were present and witnessed the shooting were left emotionally scarred, the Roanoke Times reported.

In the weeks following the shooting, news media outlets, including the Washington Blade and the Washington Post, reported findings of an investigation by local police that Gay told police he went to Backstreet specifically to target gay people because he became bitter after years of being taunted and teased for his last name of “Gay.”

The Roanoke Times reported that, among other things, Gay told police “God told him to do it” and that he once wrote that there was an evil inside of him telling him “to shoot or have no rest.”

Gay later pleaded guilty to multiple charges against him, including murder. On July 23, 2001, he was sentenced to four consecutive life sentences in prison for the shooting incident and the murder of Overstreet.

The Backstreet incident in Roanoke was considered by LGBTQ rights advocates and others to be one of the worst incidents in which LGBTQ people were targeted for a shooting until the June 2016 shooting at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., in which 49 people died and 53 more were wounded in a mass shooting by 29-year-old Omar Mateen.

Mateen, who was shot and killed by Orlando police after a three-hour standoff, told police in a phone call from inside the nightclub after the shooting began that he swore allegiance to the leader of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and his attack against the gay nightclub was motivated by the U.S. military intervention in Iraq and Syria. The FBI later classified the incident as a terrorist attack.

The Roanoke Times reported that the shooting incident at Backstreet Café prompted LGBTQ residents and allies to gather in the days and weeks after the incident for vigils and marches. About 1,000 people walked through the streets of downtown Roanoke to honor the life of Overstreet and to urge Congress to pass federal hate crimes legislation, the newspaper reported.

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Local

Va. senator introduces anti-transgender student athlete bill

Democrats have vowed to thwart anti-LGBTQ measures in state Senate

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transgender, Gender Conference East, trans, transgender flag, gay news, Washington Blade
(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A Virginia lawmaker has introduced a bill that would ban transgender students from joining school sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity.

Senate Bill 766, which state Sen. Jennifer Kiggans (R-Virginia Beach) introduced on Friday, would require “each elementary or secondary school or a private school that competes in sponsored athletic events against such public schools to designate athletic teams, whether a school athletic team or an intramural team sponsored by such school, based on biological sex as follows: (i) ‘males,’ ‘men,’ or ‘boys’; (ii) ‘females,’ ‘women,’ or ‘girls’; or (iii) ‘coed’ or ‘mixed.'”

“Under the bill, male students are not permitted to participate on any school athletic team or squad designated for ‘females,’ ‘women,’ or ‘girls’; however, this provision does not apply to physical education classes at schools,” adds the bill. “The bill provides civil penalties for students and schools that suffer harm as a result of a violation of the bill. Such civil actions are required to be initiated within two years after the harm occurred.”

Kiggans introduced her bill less than a week after Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin took office.

Youngkin during his campaign said he does not support allowing trans children to play on sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity. Elizabeth Schultz, an anti-LGBTQ former member of the Fairfax County School Board, has been named the Virginia Department of Education’s Assistant Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The General Assembly’s 2022 legislative session began on Jan. 12 with Republicans in control of the state House of Delegates. Democrats still control the state Senate, and they have pledged to thwart any anti-LGBTQ bills.

“Let’s be clear: This is part of an ongoing, nationwide effort to exclude trans people from enjoying the benefits of sports like their cisgender peers,” tweeted the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia on Friday after Kiggans introduced SB 766. “We won’t tolerate this.”

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