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Marriage bill stalled by ‘holdout’ lawmaker

O’Malley reiterates support, lobbies Md. delegates



Maryland House of Delegates member Tiffany Alston (D-Prince George’s County), one of two lawmakers who failed to show up for an expected committee vote Tuesday on a same-sex marriage bill, said she is now ready to vote on the bill, raising hope among supporters that the legislation would be approved by the committee late this week.

But Del. Jill Carter (D-Baltimore City), who joined Alston in boycotting the marriage bill vote as a means of promoting at least two unrelated bills stalled in the legislature, continued to withhold her vote on the marriage measure as of late Wednesday. Her action drew attention to the fragile coalition of lawmakers that LGBT advocates must rely on to enact same-sex marriage in Maryland.

Carter and Alston stunned backers of the Civil Marriage Protection Act on Tuesday morning by staying away from a meeting of the House Judiciary Committee in which a vote on the marriage bill was scheduled to take place, and announced they would not vote on the measure until Democratic leaders pay more attention to other issues they feel are equally important.

Both Carter and Alston are co-sponsors of the marriage bill. And due to the close division of committee members on the bill, their votes are needed to secure the committee’s approval of the bill to enable it to reach the House floor for a final vote.

Carter told the Baltimore Sun that Alston joined her in staying away from what had been expected to be a committee vote in favor of the same-sex marriage bill as a means of gaining “leverage” for other, unrelated issues such as restoring proposed cuts in school funding in their respective districts.

Backers of the Civil Marriage Protection Act have only enough support on the committee to pass the bill by a one-vote margin. Carter noted that it’s still relatively early in the legislative session and other bills, in addition to the marriage bill, should be placed on the fast track.

Meanwhile, Gov. Martin O’Malley reiterated his support on Tuesday for the marriage bill, repeating his commitment to sign it if it reaches his desk.

“The governor has committed to signing the bill,” said O’Malley spokesperson Shaun Adamec. “His personal support is for full equality for same-sex couples as is enjoyed by heterosexual couples. Regardless of the label the General Assembly puts on it, the governor’s objective is to achieve equality.”

Adamec said that O’Malley has been involved in lobbying for the marriage bill and has “made phone calls in support of the bill.” O’Malley has stopped short of saying he supports marriage equality. His lieutenant governor and attorney general have both publicly endorsed full marriage rights for same-sex couples.

Del. Joseph Vallario (D-Prince George’s County), chair of the House Judiciary Committee, responded to Carter and Alston’s ’protest’ action by rescheduling the vote on the marriage bill for later in the day on Tuesday, after the committee held a public hearing on as many as 16 other bills.

But at the end of the committee’s session, Carter made it known she was not ready to vote for the bill, even though she said she supports it. Vallario said he would assess the situation on Wednesday to determine when to schedule a vote on the marriage measure.

Del. Luke Clippinger (D-Baltimore City), a member of the committee who is gay, said Wednesday that Vallario tentatively set a committee voting session for Thursday afternoon. However, Clippinger said it was unclear whether the voting session would take place since Carter had yet to say whether she would attend.

Supporters of the marriage bill, which passed in the Maryland Senate last week, initially planned to hold off on a vote in the House until toward the end of the legislative session in April. But they moved up the vote to this week after determining a furious campaign against it by opponents might lead to the erosion of support.

Sen. Richard Madaleno (D-Montgomery County), the bill’s author and lead sponsor in the Senate, joined a spokesperson for the statewide LGBT group Equality Maryland in expressing confidence that the committee would soon approve the bill.

“I just think you see politics going on,” said Madaleno, who is gay. “It’s a high-profile issue and you’ve got some legislators who are supporters of the bill who still say they are supporting the bill who are just trying to bring attention to issues that they care about as well.”

He added, “I remain optimistic that we’re going to have the votes needed to pass it when it gets to the floor. Obviously, the first step is getting it through the committee. And we have the majority of the committee who are co-sponsors.”

Linsey Pecikonis, communications manager for Equality Maryland, said her group also remains confident that the committee will approve the bill.

“None of the delegates that have been supporting the bill in the past – none of them have wavered in their support,” Pecikonis said. “They just want to make sure that they are drawing attention and people are aware of other issues that are going on within the committee.”

Madaleno noted that opponents of the bill would seize on the wrinkle that surfaced in the House Tuesday to advance their claim that support for the bill is eroding.

“I think that just speaks to what we have to do, and that is, do the same thing — pull out all the stops,” he said. “No one should take anyone for granted in this debate. People should be calling their delegates and asking them to vote for the bill.”



Va. lieutenant governor misgenders Danica Roem

Manassas Democrat is first trans person elected to state Senate



Virginia Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears speaks at CPAC in 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Virginia Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears on Monday misgendered state Sen. Danica Roem (D-Manassas) on the Virginia Senate floor.

WVTF Richmond Bureau Chief Brad Kutner in an X post said Earle-Sears, who is a Republican, referred to Roem, who is a transgender woman, as “sir” during a debate on House Bill 964, which would allow attorneys to serve as the executive director of the Virginia Board of Medicine. 

Kutner said the Senate went “recess twice after reportedly ‘Sears refused to apologize.'”

“I’m not here to upset anyone, I’m here to do the job the people of Virginia have called me to do,” Earle-Sears later said, according to Kutner.

Roem in 2018 became the first trans person seated in a state legislature in the country when she assumed her seat in the Virginia House of Delegates.

Voters in the 30th Senate District last November elected her to the Senate. Roem is the first trans person seated in the chamber.

The Washington Blade on Monday reached out to Roem, but she declined comment.

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District of Columbia

GW transgender, nonbinary student group criticizes Utah governor’s on campus comments 

Spencer Cox decried ‘genital-mutilation surgeries’



Republican Utah Gov. Spencer Cox (Photo courtesy of Cox's office)

A George Washington University transgender and nonbinary student group has criticized Republican Utah Gov. Spencer Cox’s comments about gender-affirming health care that he made last week during an on-campus.

The GW Hatchet reported Cox on Feb. 21 described gender-affirming health care as “genital-mutilation surgeries” during a “Disagree Better” event the university’s School of Media and Public Affairs hosted. Jonah Goldberg, a conservative writer and commentator, and NPR “Morning Edition” host Michel Martin also participated in the event that Frank Sesno, a GWU School of Media and Public Affairs professor who was previously CNN’s Washington Bureau chief, moderated.

The Transgender and Nonbinary Students of GW in a post to its Instagram page said it is “hurt, ashamed and frustrated that such harmful language was allowed to be given a platform on our campus.”

“Fear mongering claims that young trans people are ‘mutilating our bodies’ are factually incorrect and damaging to our community,” said the group in its post that notes the event took place days after Nex Benedict, a nonbinary student in Oklahoma, died after a fight in their high school’s bathroom. “Gender-affirming care for minors saves lives, and is approved by reputable institutions, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and American Psychiatric Association.”

The GW Hatchet notes Cox told Sesno that he invited trans youth and their families to the Governor’s Mansion in Salt Lake City “to discuss state measures that pertain to transgender people, a conversation that he said led to legislative change.” 

Cox in 2022 vetoed a bill that banned trans students from playing on sports teams that correspond with their gender identity. The Utah Legislature later overrode his veto.

The governor last year signed a bill that bans gender-affirming health care for minors in his state. Cox last month signed a bill that prevents trans and nonbinary people from using restrooms and locker rooms in public schools and government buildings that correspond to their gender identity.

The GW Hatchet reported Cox in response to a student’s question said “no one” in Utah has died by suicide because they were unable to access gender-affirming care.

“I care deeply about these kids. I love these kids. I want these kids to thrive. I want these kids to be successful,” Cox said, according to the GW Hatchet. “I think there’s a better way to do that than by having genital-mutilation surgeries before they’re 18 and old enough to have a rational decision, to actually make a decision for themselves. And so we can disagree with that.”

“As the only trans student org at GW, we refuse to let our community have their right to exist be put up for debate and threatened by disinformation,” said the Transgender and Nonbinary Students of GW in their statement. “We call on GW administration to consider ways in which they can repair the harm caused by Gov. Cox’s statements on campus, and make the safety of their trans students, faculty and staff a priority in a sociopolitical climate that is fixated on our eradication.”

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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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