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LGBT activists protest National Prayer Breakfast

Obama speaks of importance of faith in remarks

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(Blade photo by Michael Key)

Protesters gathered at the Washington Hilton in D.C. on Thursday to denounce the National Prayer Breakfast taking place in the hotel and to shed light on the event organizer’s connection to anti-gay activity in Uganda.

About two dozen activists — affiliated with GetEQUAL, a group responsible for organizing protests and acts of civil disobedience across the country over LGBT issues — participated in what they called a “Breakfast without Bigotry” to draw attention to the Foundation’s work overseas.

The Foundation, also known as “The Family,” is a U.S. evangelical group that reportedly has promoted anti-LGBT views abroad. The organization, which couldn’t be reached for comment for this article, has ties to David Bahati, a lawmaker in Uganda who authored pending legislation that would institute the death penalty for homosexual acts.

Last week, the Uganda anti-gay bill received renewed attention when David Kato, an activist who was working against the pending measure, was brutally murdered after a publication in the country identified him as gay.

Clad in heavy coats and carrying harm-warmers as they braved the February cold, protesters waived Pride flags and held up signs reading “If Christians Kill Kato, They’ll Kill Me” and “David Kato: Brutally Loved to Death by Christian Missionaries.”

Activists chanted, “One, two, three, four, don’t let the Family hide any more,” and, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, the Uganda bill has got to go.”

As the motorcade approached the Washington Hilton carrying to the event President Obama, who was in attendance at the breakfast, protesters belted out the song, “We Shall Overcome.”

Dan Fotou, eastern region field director for GetEQUAL, said the intent of the protest was to inform the public about the Foundation’s involvement with anti-gay activity abroad in places like Uganda.

“The goal is to educate the attendees [about] not only the Family’s role in this, but also in their role in this Uganda “Kill the Gays” bill and their reach worldwide,” Fotou said. “What they’re really trying to do is annihilate LGBT people.”

Carol Lautier, 42 and a queer D.C. resident, said she was at the protest “as a progressive Christian” and that her views are often unheard among Christian audiences.

“I think it’s important that Christian evangelicals not have the corner market on Christianity,” she said. “We need to enter the conversation that’s being dominated by conservatives.”

Many of the protest participants expressed displeasure with Obama’s participation in the National Prayer Breakfast. U.S. presidents have taken part in the breakfast consistently since the Eisenhower administration.

During his remarks at the event, Obama emphasized the importance of his faith as a guiding force for him during his presidency.

“And it is my faith, then, that biblical injunction to serve the least of these, that keeps me going and that keeps me from being overwhelmed,” Obama said. “It’s faith that reminds me that despite being just one very imperfect man, I can still help whoever I can, however I can, wherever I can, for as long as I can, and that somehow God will buttress these efforts.”

The president made no mention of Uganda or the Foundation’s ties to anti-gay initiatives abroad during his remarks.

Fotou said he would prefer Obama didn’t participate in the breakfast and would stand on the side of those who were critical of the gathering.

“It gives prestige to this breakfast,” Fotou said. “So, I would rather that they didn’t raise their stature worldwide by attending and speaking. I would ask that he didn’t [attend] this morning and breakfasts in the future.”

Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, noted that the president has spoken out against the killing of Kato and alluded to the Uganda anti-gay bill last year during his speech at the National Prayer Breakfast.

“As you heard this morning, the President used this opportunity to reflect on how his faith has sustained him over the last few years,” Inouye said. “It’s worth noting that it was at this venue that last year the president strongly condemned the proposed legislation in Uganda.”

Last week, in response to the murder of Kato, Obama issued a statement that “LGBT rights are not special rights; they are human rights” and recommitted his administration to “strongly support[ing] human rights and assistance work on behalf of LGBT persons abroad.”

But protester Janelle Mungo, 23, a straight D.C. resident, said speaking about the protest last year shouldn’t be enough for Obama.

“I think the fact that he spoke against the bill last year isn’t enough,” she said. “He should be speaking out against the breakfast, and not be there.”

At the beginning of the protest, activists positioned themselves on the sidewalk directly in front of the Washington Hilton, but later situated themselves across the street after D.C. police directed them to move.

Heather Cronk, managing director of GetEQUAL, said police told protesters they had to move from their initial position because they lacked a permit.

“We went to get a protest permit last week and we were told that we didn’t need one because we were going to be on public property rather than the private property of the hotel,” she said. “The police are now telling us — apparently at the request of Secret Service — that we had to be across the street.”

Cronk added that she knows Secret Service directed D.C. police to move the protesters because the officers were overheard discussing the Secret Service’s involvement in the decision.

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7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. BubbaLou

    February 4, 2011 at 1:52 pm

    “Can anybody find me somebody to [HATE]?”

  2. riz

    February 4, 2011 at 3:04 pm

    No you will never be satisfied. Why dont you grow some cahones & go demonstrate against say a muslum group . Oh right they play for keeps, they would just as soon kill you on the spot .Wait I got it , make an obscene depiction of Mohammed , the way some of you like to do to Jesus! Nope , thats too dangerous too . Well lets go back to the easy stuff,& blame the Christians; doesn’t matter most people dont take us seriously, we’ll demonize who ever else doesn’t agree with us anyway . (Except muslims of course ; too scary!)

    • doubleshott

      February 11, 2011 at 1:09 pm

      it seems that Christian america has done a fine job demonizing Muslims and other arabs (because guess what, they’re Not all muslim) on their own, but its exactly what the vast majority of americans have come to expect from any group that seeks activism through organized religion. Regardless, this protest has nothing to do with the fact that this foundation is a christian one and everything to do with the fact that they are tying their horse to an egregious violation of human rights. Perhaps next time you decide to leave a comment you will first make sure that you understand the central focus of the article you are critiquing. Maybe next time they’ll put a fatwah on your head.

  3. K

    February 4, 2011 at 3:35 pm

    If you could get an editor, that’d be great. Unless they really did use harm-warmers instead of hand-warmers in their protest to protect them from the cold.

  4. AndrewW

    February 4, 2011 at 4:56 pm

    And nobody noticed.

    Simply trying to get attention, in a self-serving attempt to raise money, continues to neuter GetEqual and their silly stunts.

    This little “action” didn’t change any minds or garner any support. Thankfully, it won’t raise any money, either.

  5. PeculiarRib

    February 10, 2011 at 12:12 pm

    Were the first four commentors on this page all directed here by the same website/blog? With the possible exception of K they all seem to miss the point of this story or purposely rail against it.

  6. Tony

    February 13, 2011 at 12:08 pm

    It has always been interesting that the “The Foundation” or the Family have operated in secret for so many years and have shamed the members of Congress and the WhiteHouse into participating in their nefarious activities while trying to hide their bigotry. For the Prayer breakfast they emerge from theirs cave in Arlington to masquerade as mainstream Christians but in secret they are always plotting against human rights for people they disagree with.

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Minnesota

Minnesota middle school principal ousted for displaying Pride flag

Critics ramped up attacks on the career educator- some compared her to the Devil after publicly associating with LGBTQ+ people and students

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Screenshot via Marshall Public Schools, YouTube Channel

MARSHALL, Mn. — A former middle school principal in Minnesota who lost her job after displaying a Pride flag alleges in a federal lawsuit that the school system retaliated against her for supporting LGBTQ+ students.

Mary Kay Thomas filed the complaint against Marshall Public Schools in the U.S. District Court of Minnesota Tuesday after anti-LGBTQ+ middle school staff, parents, students and local clergy began efforts to remove the Pride flag that she put up in her middle school’s cafeteria in 2020 as a part of an inclusiveness effort.

According to the lawsuit, Thomas has been a teacher and principal for more than three decades with a long track record of success. She held the principal position at Marshall Middle School for 15 years, receiving contract renewals, pay raises and praise for her performance.

“But when Thomas decided to display an LGBTQ Pride Flag in the school cafeteria in early 2020, everything changed,” reads the complaint. 

Thomas refused to take down the Pride flag as critics ramped up attacks on the career educator. The lawsuit alleges that some even compared her to the Devil after publicly associating with LGBTQ+ people and students. 

“Sadly, the Marshall School District has sided with these critics,” her lawyers wrote. 

What followed was an “escalating series of adverse actions” taken by the Marshall School District, said the lawsuit. She claims that the school targeted her by threatening her employment, conducting a “bad-faith” investigation, putting her on indefinite involuntary leave, suspending her without pay and putting a notice of deficiency in her personnel file. 

The complaint says that the deficiencies were “false, distorted, and/or related to Thomas’s association with members of the LGBTQ community.”

Thomas also claims that the District attempted to get her to quit by removing her as principal and assigning her to a “demeaning ‘special projects’ position.”

At one point, Marshall Public Schools Superintendent Jeremy Williams, who is named as a defendant in the case, told Thomas he could “make this all go away” if she stepped down, according to the complaint. 

The school removed the Pride flag in August 2021 after settling a lawsuit brought by residents who opposed it. 

The Blade reached out to Williams for comment but did not receive a response. However, according to the Marshall Independent, Williams did release a statement on the matter. 

“Marshall Public Schools is committed to the education of every child and has strong policies and practices in place against discrimination, against both students and staff members. The school district is committed to creating a respectful, inclusive, and safe learning and working environment for students, staff and our families,” Williams said. “While the school cannot comment about the specific allegations made in the complaint, the school district strongly denies any allegation of discriminatory conduct. The school will vigorously defend itself against these allegations.”

In addition, Thomas alleges that she resisted unwanted sexual advancements from school board member Bill Swope. She claims she told Williams about the sexual harassment.

As of Thursday, the school has not filed a response, and no hearing has been scheduled yet. 

Thomas is seeking a jury trial, damages and reinstatement as principal of Marshall Middle School.

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National

Matthew Shepard honored at National Cathedral

Daylong services held to mark his 45th birthday

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Matthew Shepard, gay news, Washington Blade
Matthew Shepard Thanksgiving and Celebration at the National Cathedral in 2018. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The parents of gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard, who was murdered in a 1998 hate crime that drew international attention to anti-LGBTQ violence, were among those attending a day of religious services commemorating Shepard’s 45th birthday on Wednesday at the Washington National Cathedral.

The services, which the Cathedral organized in partnership with the Matthew Shepard Foundation, included tributes to Shepard at the Cathedral’s St. Joseph’s Chapel, where his remains were interred in a ceremony in 2018.  

“Matthew Shepard’s death is an enduring tragedy affecting all people and should serve as an ongoing call to the nation to reject anti-LGBTQ bigotry and instead embrace each of our neighbors for who they are,” the Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith, Dean of Washington National Cathedral, said at the time of Shepard’s interment.

“In the years since Matthew’s death, the Shepard family has shown extraordinary courage and grace in keeping his spirit and memory alive, and the Cathedral is honored and humbled to serve as his final resting place,” Hollerith said.

The first of the Cathedral’s Dec. 1 services for Shepard began at 7 a.m. with prayers, scripture readings, and music led by the Cathedral’s Rev. Canon Rosemarie Logan Duncan. The service was live streamed on YouTube.

An online, all-day service was also held from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. that Cathedral officials said was intended to “connect people around the world to honor Shepard and the LGBTQ community and pray for a more just world.”

The Shepard services concluded with a 5:30 p.m. in-person remembrance of Shepard in the Cathedral’s Nave, its main worship space. Among those attending were Shepard’s parents, Dennis and Judy Shepard, who have said they created the Matthew Shepard Foundation to continue their son’s support for equality for all.

A statement released by the Cathedral says a bronze plaque honoring Matthew Shepard was installed in St. Joseph’s Chapel to mark his final resting place at the time Shepard was interred there in 2018. 
Following the Cathedral’s Dec. 1 services for Shepard, the Adams Morgan gay bar Pitchers hosted a reception for Dennis and Judy Shepard, according to Pitchers’ owner David Perruzza.

One of the two men charged with Shepard’s murder, Russell Henderson, pleaded guilty to the charge after prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty for him. The second of the two men charged, Aaron McKinney, was convicted of the murder following a lengthy jury trial.

Prosecutors said McKinney repeatedly and fatally struck Shepard in the head with the barrel of a handgun after he and Henderson tied Shepard to a wooden fence in a remote field outside Laramie, Wy., on Oct. 6, 1998. Police and prosecutors presented evidence at McKinney’s trial that McKinney and Henderson met Shepard at a bar in Laramie on that day and lured him into their car, where they drove him to the field where authorities said McKinney fatally assaulted him.

Shepard died six days later at a hospital in Ft. Collins, Colo., where he was taken after being found unconscious while still tied to the fence.

In a dramatic courtroom scene following the jury’s guilty verdict for McKinney, Dennis Shepard urged the judge to spare McKinney’s life by not handing down a death sentence. He said that out of compassion and in honor of his son’s life, McKinney should be allowed to live. The judge sentenced McKinney to two consecutive terms of life in prison without the possibility of parole, the same sentence given to Henderson.

(VIDEO COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON NATIONAL CATHEDRAL VIA YOUTUBE)
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‘Very familiar’: Mark Glaze’s story brings into focus mental health for gay men

Experts see common story as LGBTQ people enter middle age

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Mark Glaze's death by suicide is bringing into focus mental health issues faced by gay men.

The death by suicide at age 51 of Mark Glaze, a gun reform advocate who was close to many in D.C.’s LGBTQ community, is striking a chord with observers who see his struggles with mental health and alcoholism as reflective of issues facing many gay men as they enter middle age.

Glaze’s story resonates even though much of the attention on mental health issues in the LGBTQ community is devoted to LGBTQ youth going through the coming out process and transgender people who face disproportionate violence and discrimination within the LGBTQ community in addition to a growing focus on LGBTQ seniors entering later stages of life.

Randy Pumphrey, senior director of behavioral health for the D.C.-based Whitman-Walker Health, said Glaze’s story was “very familiar” as a tale of mental health issues facing gay men in the middle stage of life.

“You’re talking about a gay-identified man who is in his 50s, somebody who has struggled with alcohol misuse — or maybe abuse or dependence— and also depression,” Pumphrey said. “I think that there has always been a higher incidence of suicide for men in general in their middle age 50 and above, but this increases when you’re talking about gay men, and also if you’re talking about gay men who suffer with mental health issues, or substance use disorder issues.”

Several sources close to Glaze said his death did not come as a surprise. His family has been open about his death by suicide last month while he was in jail after allegedly fleeing the scene of a car accident in Pennsylvania and a long history of depression and alcoholism.

Pumphrey said Glaze’s situation coping with mental health issues as well as the consequences for his role in the accident, were reflective of someone who might “begin to perceive that this is an issue that they can’t get away from, or the consequences they can’t get away from exposure and that can lead somebody to a fatal outcome.”

“My experience is that there have been gay men that I have worked with over the years — particularly in their 50s and early 60s — it’s taken them a long time to recognize the severity of the problem, whether it’s their depression or their substance abuse, and then they find themselves in a very precarious situation because of shame, and so they may not necessarily seek help even though they need help.”

A 2017 study in the American Journal of Men’s Health found the prevalence of depression among gay men is three times higher than the general adult population, which means they are a subgroup at high risk for suicide.

The study found “scant research exists about gay men’s health beyond sexual health issues,” most often with HIV, which means issues related to depression and suicidality “are poorly understood.”

“Gay men’s health has often been defined by sexual practices, and poorly understood are the intersections of gay men’s physical and mental health with social determinants of health including ethnicity, locale, education level and socioeconomic status,” the study says.

The study acknowledged being male itself is one factor incorporated in addressing mental health issues in this subgroup because “regardless of sexual orientation, men can be reluctant to seek help for mental health problems.” Another study quoted in the report found 23 percent, less than one quarter of gay men, who attempted suicide sought mental health or medical treatment.

In addition to mental health issues facing gay men in Glaze’s age group, others saw his situation as a common story in the culture of Washington, which is notorious for celebrating and prioritizing success with little tolerance for personal setbacks.

In the case of Glaze, who had sparred on Fox News with Tucker Carlson as executive director of Everytown for Gun Safety, the threat of exposure and threat to his career may have seemed overwhelmingly daunting.

Steven Fisher, who knew Glaze since the 1990s and worked with him at the D.C.-based Raben Group, said one factor that contributed to Glaze’s condition was “he could only see upward in terms of his career trajectory.”

“We saw that in him and it had me very concerned because I felt like he might end up in a place that wasn’t good once he left Everytown, and that’s tragically and sadly what happened,” Fisher said. “I think he just had trouble adjusting to what is usually a roller coaster ride, I think, in people’s careers, especially in the D.C. world.”

Along with Glaze, Fisher has worked on gun issues for Everytown, which has been a client of his since 2015 after he worked for them in 2012 after the Newtown shooting.

Compounding the challenges that Glaze faced is a culture among many gay men focused on sexuality, which prioritizes youth and appearance and presents problems as those qualities start fading when men enter middle age.

Fisher said another factor in Glaze’s condition was social media, pointing out public perception about his identity was important to him.

“If you look at his social media — I think this is instructive to the rest of us — a lot of the comments are about how Mark was so good looking and he was charming, and he was so smart and so funny,” Fisher said. “That’s all true, and that’s why he was very appealing to many people, but those qualities don’t really tell you everything about a person. In fact, one could argue they’re superficial in a way, and people have to remember people are more complicated than what you see on social media.”

One issue for gay men facing mental health issues as they enter middle age is they don’t have the same resources as those available to LGBTQ youth, who have been more of a focus in terms of mental health issues in the LGBTQ community.

Among the leading organizations for LGBTQ youth is the Trevor Project, which has resources and a hotline for LGBTQ youth facing mental health crises.

Kevin Wong, vice president of communications for the Trevor Project, said his organization would be receptive to an older LGBTQ person who calls the hotline, but ultimately would refer that person elsewhere.

“If an LGBTQ person above the age of 25 reaches out to The Trevor Project’s crisis services for support and expresses suicidal thoughts, our counselors will listen, actively and with empathy, and work with them to de-escalate and form a safety plan, like any other contact,” Wong said. “However, our organization has remained youth-centric since its founding and our volunteer crisis counselors are specifically trained with younger LGBTQ people in mind.”

Much attention is focused on the coming out process for LGBTQ people, a time that can upend close relationships — as well as reaffirm them — and a process more commonly associated with youth.

Ilan Meyer, senior scholar of public policy at the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, said data is scant about suicide rates among LGBTQ people, but information on suicide attempts shows they tend to be at a heightened rate for LGBTQ people as they go through the coming out process.

“What we do know is that there is a connection with the coming out period at whatever age coming out happens,” Meyer said. “And so, we see a proximity to coming out whatever age that happened, we see the suicide attempts proceeding and after that.”

Suicide attempts, Meyer said, are much higher for LGBTQ people than the population at large. The self-reported rate of suicide attempts in the U.S. population as a whole, Meyer said, is 2.4 percent, but that figure changes to 20 to 30 percent among LGBTQ youth, which about to 10 to 15 times greater.

Black and Latino people, Meyer said, have been less likely to make suicide attempts in their lifetimes, although he added that may be changing in recent years.

With the primary focus on mental health issues elsewhere in the LGBTQ community, Glaze’s death raises questions about whether sufficient resources are available to people in his demographic, or whether individuals are willing to seek out care options that are available.

Meyer said whether the resources for suicidal ideologies among LGBTQ people are sufficient and what more could be done “is the the million-dollar question.”

“It’s definitely not determined by just mental health,” Meyer said. “So many people have depression, but they don’t attempt suicide. And so, then the difficult thing is to find the right moment to intervene and what that intervention should be.”

Meyer said much of the focus on mental health is on a person’s last moments before making a suicide attempt, such as making suicide hotlines readily available, but some of the stressors he sees “are more chronic, ongoing things related to homophobia and the kind of experience that LGBT people have as they come to terms to realize their sexual identity.”

Pumphrey said another factor in mental health issues not to be underestimated for almost two years now is “dealing with the COVID and loneliness epidemic,” which appears to have no immediate end in sight with the emergence of the Omnicron variant.

“There was always this piece of sometimes the experience of being in your 50s and early 60s…we talk about the invisibility factor,” Pumphrey said. “But when there’s just this sense of being disconnected from community, especially in the early days of the pandemic, and kind of being locked down, I think that just raised the risk.”

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