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Anniversary for marriage

One year after the first same-sex couples wed in D.C., all eyes are on Maryland

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Candy Holmes (left) and Darlene Garner on their wedding day last March. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

As the battle over marriage equality in Maryland reaches its endgame, the sparks it throws are reflected in the lives of real people, including a married couple wed just next door in Washington on the first day the D.C. same-sex marriage law went into effect in March of 2010.

Residents of Bowie, Md., one of the three couples wed with fanfare at the Human Rights Campaign headquarters on March 9, 2010  — Candy Holmes and Darlene Garner — looked back this week at the struggles to win equality in D.C. and the continuing efforts in Maryland.

“In retrospect, it’s been a mixed year,” Holmes says. “Because it was a great year to be married in D.C. in my hometown and Darlene’s adopted city, really it was a year of a piece of heaven, once we got through the murky waters that it might be taken away by the courts. It was the realization of something long desired by us, to be married, and legally acknowledged so, to the love of my life.”

“But when we come back to where we live, in Maryland, where our marriage is not recognized, the struggle goes on because we were free to be married in D.C., but we are not free to be married in Maryland — yet.”

Holmes and Garner — who dated on and off for 14 years before getting married — are both ordained ministers in the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC), a liberal, mostly gay Christian denomination — and now they are determined to see the blessings afforded to them by marriage become theirs by right also where they live.

“We have so much enjoyed the last 12 months as a married couple,” Garner says. “We have been completely embraced by our extended and blended families — children, grandchildren, even great-grandchildren, cousins — and I will be eternally grateful to the D.C. government elected officials, and also remain hopeful that the elected officials in my home state will follow the example set in our national capital.”

When Garner and Holmes boast of their blended, extended family, they are not talking idly. Garner is the mother of four, grandmother of seven and great-grandmother of three, the eldest of whom is now 3 years old.

Holmes considers Garner’s offspring hers too.

The giddiness and hoopla from a year ago now long since subsided, how do they assess what marriage equality means to them today? Once they were married, “there’s been a big difference at work,” says Holmes, who has worked as a manager in the federal government’s GAO (now called the Government Accountability office) for 34 years. “It shows up in how people greet me and treat me, the respect and regard from others.”

Statistics from D.C. Superior Court’s Marriage Bureau show a surge of weddings in the District, more than double the number from the prior year, March 2009-March 2010.

Those numbers — 6,604 marriages in D.C. from March 3, 2010, when the same-gender right to marry, enacted in December 2009, went into effect, through March 2, 2011 — vaulted over the number from the prior year, when only 3,101 couples applied for marriage licenses in D.C.

The city doesn’t track how many straight couples there were versus same-sex couples, but the court attributes the spike to the change in the marriage law.

Speaking last week at an event held to celebrate enactment of the new law, Mayor Vincent Gray said he “was thrilled to hear this,” adding that the new law “has been so smoothly implemented,” even though he acknowledged that he has lost some friends due to his own outspoken support for the measure when he served on City Council until being elected mayor in November. But he said that was a price he willingly has paid for doing what he called “the right thing.”

As for the possibility that the new Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives might still seek to roll back the new law, the mayor said he was aware it could happen, but “I haven’t heard anything yet” about it.

And so the dust in D.C. has settled. And in the wake of the new law have come party planners and experts in wedding officiating like Deborah Cummings-Thomas and Sheila Alexander-Reid, both licensed and ordained to perform weddings, lesbians and partners since May of last year in Marry Me in D.C., which helps connect people wanting to marry in D.C. with what Cummings-Thomas calls “our network of gay and gay-friendly service providers who celebrate, not just tolerate them on their wedding day.”

On March 19, Marry Me in D.C. hosts a “Marriage Equality Wedding Expo,” from noon to 4 p.m. at the Washington Court Hotel, 525 New Jersey Avenue NW, on Capitol Hill. Tickets are $10 in advance or $15 at the door. Advance registration is encouraged at marrymeindc.com.

Robin McGehee (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Marriage not a happy ending for all

With the legalization of same-sex marriage comes, inevitably, gay divorce.

Robin McGehee has felt its sting. The 37-year-old California resident and lesbian who decided to wed in June 2008, says she decided to un-wed a year and a month later, in July 2009. She and her partner took their vows under California’s same-sex marriage law prior to its being overturned by the state’s voters in November 2008 ballot when Proposition 8 passed. Their marriage remained valid however under a grandfather clause.

But it fell victim nevertheless, in an ironic way, says McGehee, since it was the fight against its passage that brought her into the fray to oppose Prop 8.

After getting iced out of volunteer work at her son’s Catholic school, she became a gay activist and helped organize the National Equality March, held in Washington in October 2009. As a newly mobilized activist, she says, she was “on the road almost every weekend for months at a time.”

And that activism led her away, she acknowledges, from placing a focus needed at home, to repair the fraying ties that bound her with her spouse, a woman 19 years her senior, with whom she had joined in 2001 in a domestic partnership contract under California law. They had been a couple for 11 years at the time of their wedding.

She says she “met someone on the road, someone I connected with emotionally.” Basically, she admits, “I fell for someone else.” They have now been together for a year and a half, and they face, McGehee says, “the same challenges,” because now she is also working a second job, as executive director of GetEqual, a group that focuses on using non-violent civil disobedience to advance LGBT rights.

As for her former spouse, they remain in constructive discussions over dual issues, caught up still in legal proceedings over the terms of ending both their marriage and their earlier domestic partnership. Closure should come, she expects, “any time now.”

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Virginia

Suspect in 1996 murder of lesbian couple in Shenandoah National Park identified

Convicted serial rapist died in prison in 2018

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Laura 'Lollie' Winans and Julianne 'Julie' Williams (Photo courtesy of the FBI)

The FBI has identified a then-48-year-old man from Ohio who it describes as a convicted serial rapist as the person it believes committed the May 1996 murder of a lesbian couple at their campsite in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.

In a statement released on June 20, the FBI says newly analyzed DNA evidence and an extensive review of other evidence surrounding the 28-year-old murder case has enabled it to identify Walter Leo Jackson, Sr., as the prime suspect in the murders of Laura “Lollie” Winans, 26, and Julianne “Julie” Williams, 24. 

The FBI statement says the two women’s bodies were found on June 1, 1996, after an extensive search by rangers with the National Park Service after family members reported them missing. 

“In 2021, a new FBI Richmond investigative team was assigned to conduct a methodic review of the case,” the statement says. “FBI special agents, intelligence analysts, and other FBI Richmond employees reassessed hundreds of leads and interviews,” according to the statement. “They spent countless hours to identify and prioritize evidence from the crime scene to retest and submit the items to an accredited private lab.”

It says the lab successfully extracted DNA from several items of evidence and, with help from Virginia State Police, and through the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System a positive DNA match to Jackson was obtained. 

“Those results confirmed we had the right man and finally could tell the victim’s families we know who is responsible for this heinous crime,” Stanley M. Meador, the FBI Richmond special agent in charge, said in the statement. 

“After 28 years, we are now able to say who committed the brutal murders of Lollie Winans and Julie Williams in Shenandoah National Park,” U.S. Attorney Christopher R. Kavanaugh said in the statement. “I want to again extend my condolences to the Winans and Williams families and hope today’s announcement provides some small measure of solace,” he said. 

The FBI statement says Jackson, who died in prison in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, in March 2018, had a lengthy criminal record that included kidnapping, rapes, and assaults. It says Jackson worked as a residential painter and “was an avid hiker and was known to visit Shenandoah National Park.”

Walter Leo Jackson, Sr. (Photo courtesy of the FBI)

The FBI has stated in past statements regarding the two women’s murders that it did not have evidence to classify the murders as a hate crime in which Jackson targeted the women because of their sexual orientation. 

Media reports at the time of the murders identified Williams as a native of Minnesota who moved to Vermont, where she helped form a group supportive of LGBTQ people with a Presbyterian church ministry. Winans was a wilderness guide in Michigan and met Williams through an outdoor program in Minnesota called “Woodswomen,” media reports said. 

A report in the Advocate published before the FBI’s identification of Jackson as the man responsible for the women’s murders, said the two women had been dating for about two years before their murders. It reported they had planned to move in together that summer to a home in Huntington, Vt., and that Williams had recently accepted a new job as a geologist at a location near Lake Champlain in Vermont. 

“The FBI will continue to work with law enforcement partners to determine if Jackson is responsible for other unsolved crimes,” the FBI’s June 20 statement says. “Anyone with information on Jackson should call 1-800-CALL FBI or submit it online at tips.fbi.gov,” the statement concludes.

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District of Columbia

Bernie Delia, attorney, beloved Capital Pride organizer, dies at 68

Activist worked at Justice Department, White House as attorney

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Bernie Delia (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Bernie Delia, a founding member of the Capital Pride Alliance, the group that organizes most D.C. LGBTQ Pride events, and who served most recently as co-chair of World Pride 2025, which D.C. will be hosting next June, died unexpectedly on Friday, June 21, according to a statement released by Capital Pride Alliance. He was 68.

“It is with great sadness that the Capital Pride Alliance mourns the passing of Bernie Delia,” the statement says. “We will always reflect on his life and legacy as a champion, activist, survivor, mentor, friend, leader, and a true inspiration to the LGBTQ+ community.”

The statement says that in addition to serving six years as the Capital Pride Alliance board president, Delia served for several years as president of Dignity Washington, the local LGBTQ Catholic organization, where he helped create “an environment for spiritual enrichment during the height of the AIDS epidemic.”

“He also had a distinguished legal career, serving as one of the first openly gay appointees at the U.S. Department of Justice and later as an appellate attorney,” the statement reads.

Delia’s LinkedIn page shows that he worked at the U.S. Department of Justice for 26 years, serving as an assistant U.S. attorney from 2001 to 2019. Prior to that, he served from 1997 to 2001 as associate deputy attorney general and from 1994 to 1997 served as senior counsel to the director of the Executive Office for United States Attorneys, which provides executive and administrative support for 93 U.S. attorneys located throughout the country.

His LinkedIn page shows he served from January-June 1993 as deputy director of the Office of Presidential Personnel during the administration of President Bill Clinton, in which he was part of the White House staff. And it shows he began his career as legal editor of the Bureau of National Affairs, which published news reports on legal issues, from 1983-1993.

The Capital Pride Alliance statement describes Delia as “an avid runner who served as the coordinator of the D.C. Front Runners and Stonewall Kickball LGBTQ sports groups.”

“He understood the value, purpose, and the urgency of the LGBTQ+ community to work together and support one another,” the statement says. “He poured his soul into our journey toward World Pride, which was a goal of his from the start of his involvement with Capital Pride.”

The statement adds, “Bernie will continue to guide us forward to ensure we meet this important milestone as we gather with the world to be visible, heard, and authentic. We love you, Bernie!”

In a statement posted on social media, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said she and her administration were “heartbroken” over the news of Delia’s passing.

“Bernie leaves behind an incredible legacy in our city and country — through his life and advocacy, he helped pave a path for LGBTQIA+ residents in our city and within the federal government to live and work openly and proudly,” the mayor says in her statement.

“He helped transform Capital Pride into one of the largest and most inclusive Pride celebrations in the nation — a true reflection and representation of our people and values,” the statement says. “This is the D.C. that Bernie helped build and that he leaves behind.”

“All of the hopes and dreams that we had about what Pride could be and what CPA could do, are things that Bernie actualized over the last many years and in his work for next year,” said Vincent Slatt, Rainbow History Project’s director of archiving in a statement. “He wasn’t the first one to say it, but he always reminded everyone: ‘we make each Pride special because, for someone, it is their first Pride, and they’ll remember it always.’ Bernie lived that ideal each and every year. WorldPride 2025 will be a testament to his efforts and his legacy will live on — it will be someone’s first Pride. We’ll try to make Bernie proud of us.”

Delia’s oral history interview is part of the Rainbow History Project Archives. You can access it at rainbowhistory.org.

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District of Columbia

D.C. Council budget bill includes $8.5 million in LGBTQ provisions

Measure also changes Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs

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The D.C. Council approved Mayor Muriel Bowser’s budget proposal calling for $5.25 million in funding for World Pride 2025. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The D.C. Council on June 12 gave final approval for a $21 billion fiscal year 2025 budget for the District of Columbia that includes more than $8.5 million in funding for LGBTQ-related programs, including $5.25 million in support of the June 2025 World Pride celebration that D.C. will be hosting.

Also included in the budget is $1.7 million in funds for the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs, which includes an increase of $132,000 over the office’s funding for the current fiscal year, and a one-time funding of $1 million for the completion of the renovation of the D.C. Center for the LGBTQ Community’s new building in the city’s Shaw neighborhood.

The D.C. LGBTQ+ Budget Coalition earlier this year asked both the D.C. Council and Mayor Muriel Bowser to approve $1.5 million for the D.C. Center’s building renovation and an additional $300,000 in “recurring” funding for the LGBTQ Center in subsequent years “to support ongoing operational costs and programmatic initiatives.” In its final budget measure, the Council approved $1 million for the renovation work and did not approve the proposed $600,000 in annual operational funding for the center.

The mayor’s budget proposal, which called for the $5.25 million in funding for World Pride 2025, did not include funding for the D.C. LGBTQ Center or for several other funding requests by the LGBTQ+ Budget Coalition.

At the request of D.C. Council member Zachary Parker (D-Ward 5), the Council’s only gay member, the Council approved at least two other funding requests by the LGBTQ+ Budget Coalition in addition to the funding for the LGBTQ Center. One is $595,000 for 20 additional dedicated housing vouchers for LGBTQ residents who face housing insecurity or homelessness. The LGBTQ housing vouchers are administered by the Office of LGBTQ Affairs.

The other funding allocation pushed by Parker is $250,000 in funds to support a Black LGBTQ+ History Commission and Black LGBTQIA+ history program that Parker proposed that will also be administered by the LGBTQ Affairs office.

Also at Parker’s request, the Council included in its budget bill a proposal by Parker to change the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs to become a “stand-alone entity” outside the Executive Office of the Mayor. Parker told the Washington Blade this change would “allow for greater transparency and accountability that reflects its evolution over the years.”

He said the change would also give the person serving as the office’s director, who is currently LGBTQ rights advocate Japer Bowles, “greater flexibility to advocate for the interest of LGBTQ residents” and give the Council greater oversight of the office. Parker noted that other community constituent offices under the mayor’s office, including the Office of Latino Affairs and the Office of Veterans Affairs, are stand-alone offices.

The budget bill includes another LGBTQ funding provision introduced by D.C. Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) that allocates $100,000 in grants to support LGBTQ supportive businesses in Ward 6 that would be awarded and administered by the Office of LGBTQ Affairs. Allen spokesperson Eric Salmi said Allen had in mind two potential businesses on 8th Street, S.E. in the Barracks Row section of Capitol Hill as potential applicants for the grants.

One is the LGBTQ café and bar As You Are, which had to close temporarily earlier this year due to structural problems in the building it rents. The other potential applicant, Salmi said, is Little District Books, D.C.’s only LGBTQ bookstore that’s located on 8th Street across the street from the U.S. Marine Barracks.

“It’s kind of recognizing Barrack’s Row has a long history of creating spaces that are intended for and safe for the LGBTQ community and wanting to continue that history,” Salmi said  “So, that was his kind of intent behind the language in that funding.”

The mayor’s budget proposal also called for continuing an annual funding of $600,000 to provide workforce development services for transgender and gender non-conforming city residents experiencing homelessness and housing instability.

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