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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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Comings & Goings

Nathanson takes role at Outright Action

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Rikki Nathanson

The Comings & Goings column is about sharing the professional successes of our community. We want to recognize those landing new jobs, new clients for their business, joining boards of organizations and other achievements. Please share your successes with us at: [email protected] 

The Comings & Goings column also invites LGBTQ+ college students to share their successes with us. If you have been elected to a student government position, gotten an exciting internship, or are graduating and beginning your career with a great job, let us know so we can share your success. 

Congratulations to Rikki Nathanson on her new position as Senior Advisor – Global Trans Program with OutRight Action International in New York. Nathanson will be based in D.C.  

 “I am absolutely thrilled to be taking on this new role as Senior Advisor in OutRight’s Global Trans Program,” said Nathanson. “I have finally found the perfect fit for me: as a trans woman who has been fighting for equality not only for myself, but for others globally, this position is not only a job, it’s intrinsically part of who I am. So, what better way to live, nurture and grow myself.” 

Nathanson will be working closely with all program staff to ensure a cohesive and intentional approach to gender issues throughout OutRight’s programs, including its approach to gender ideology movements. She will lead new initiatives on gender advocacy and policy change, focused but not limited to legal gender recognition and anti-discrimination legislation and policies.

Prior to this Nathanson was director of housing programs at Casa Ruby in D.C. She has also held a number of other positions including: founder/executive director of Trans Research, Education, Advocacy & Training (TREAT), Zimbabwe; chairperson Southern Africa Trans Forum, SATF, Cape Town, South Africa; executive director, Ricochet Modeling Agency, Zimbabwe; and company secretary for Dunlop Zimbabwe Limited, Zimbabwe. 

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SMYAL Director Shakir to step down Dec. 31

Board to launch Executive Search beginning in January

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SMYAL Executive Director Sultan Shakir addresses the crowd at the 2021 Fall Brunch. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Sultan Shakir, who has served as executive director of D.C.’s LGBTQ youth advocacy organization SMYAL since August 2014, announced on Friday that he will be stepping down from his position effective Dec. 31.

In a Dec. 3 announcement, SMYAL said details of Shakir’s future career plans would be announced in the coming weeks.

“While we are sad to see Sultan leave, we wish him nothing but the same success in his new endeavor as he had at SMYAL,” said Rob Cogorno, SMYAL’s board chair. “His leadership and vision enabled SMYAL to expand greatly needed services to LGBTQ youth in the DC metro area throughout his tenure,” Cogorno said.

“I am immensely proud of the work we have been able to accomplish together in my time at SMYAL,” Shakir said in a statement released by SMYAL. “SMYAL has been an integral and vital resource in the DMV community for over 37 years, and while we have come a long way in combating homophobia, transphobia, racism, sexual health stigma, homelessness, violence against the LGBTQ community, and oppression, we have a long way to go,” he said.

“This work has never been about one person,” said Shakir. “SMYAL was founded by our community and we’re still around because of our community,” he said. “I leave knowing that the commitment and passion of the SMYAL Board, staff, volunteers, and youth leaders have created a solid foundation from which our work will continue to grow until LGBTQ youth no longer need us.”

The SMYAL statement says that under Shakir’s tenure, SMYAL, which stands for Supporting and Mentoring Youth Advocates and Leaders, expanded its programs and services for LGBTQ youth. Among other things, in 2017 SMYAL opened its first of several housing facilities for homeless LGBTQ youth that include culturally competent case management, education and employment assistance.

“The Youth Housing Program now comprises five programmatic models that serve a combined 61 youth residents,” the statement says.

It points out that also under Shakir’s leadership, SMYAL expanded the age range of the youth its programs serve under a new Little SMYALs program, which welcomes LGBTQ youth ages 6-12. And earlier in 2021 under Shakir’s guidance, SMYAL began a new Clinical Services Department “which provides affirming and accessible mental health counseling,” the statement says.

“The SMYAL Board of Directors will officially launch an Executive Search beginning in January 2022 and expects to have named a new Executive Director by summer 2022,” the statement says. It says the board will soon name an interim executive director to work with SMYAL’s Deputy Executive Director, Jorge Membreno, and the organization’s leadership team to oversee the day-to-day activities until a new executive director is named.

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Rainbow History Project to honor LGBTQ ‘Pioneers’

Virtual celebration to take place on Dec. 9

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David Mariner, gay news, Washington Blade
David Mariner (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

D.C.’s Rainbow History Project says it will honor and recognize 12 individuals and one organization by designating them as Community Pioneers “for their diverse contributions to the Washington-area LGBTQ community” at a Dec. 9 virtual celebration.

“Rainbow History Project is an all-volunteer organization dedicated to collecting, preserving and sharing the LGBT history of metropolitan Washington, D.C.,” the group says in a statement announcing the event. “The Pioneers awards recognize diverse community leaders for their roles as organizational founders, innovators, advocates and volunteers,” the statement says.

“The Pioneers celebration will be held virtually and is designed with special features that reproduce the feeling of attending in-person, such as live streaming and video chatting with other attendees and Pioneers before and after the core awards programing,” according to the statement.

“Celebrating our Community Pioneers has been a cherished tradition since Rainbow History Project’s founding 21 years ago,” said Rob Berger, the organization’s chairperson. “It’s always an inspiring event, and we are happy that our virtual platform will still allow participants to meet and talk with the Pioneers,” Berger said in the statement.

The virtual event is free and open to the public, the statement says. Organizers released this link for those interested in attending, saying a short registration process may require registering in advance. 

Remo Conference

Following is the list of Community Pioneers scheduled to be honored at the Dec. 9 event as released by Rainbow History Project along with the project’s description of their backgrounds.

Arlington Gay and Lesbian Alliance, a local group that since its founding has addressed equal rights issues for LGBTQ Virginians from a state and local perspective.

– Eboné F. Bell, founder and editor-in-chief of Tagg Magazine and Tagg Communication LLC.

Bart Forbes, founding member of “Gay Fairfax,” a pioneering television newsmagazine program in Northern Virginia.

– Ellen Kahan, youth and family advocate, president of Rainbow Families, former director of the Lesbian Services Program at Whitman-Walker Health, and currently senior director of programs and partnerships at the Human Rights Campaign Foundation.

– Theodore Kirkland (deceased), a co-founder of D.C. Black Pride in 1991, member of the Gay Liberation Front and Skyline Faggots, active community health volunteer and advocate.

– Paul Marengo, community leader through LGBTQ organizations including Reel Affirmations, Cherry Fund, and Pride celebrations for youth, Latino, Black and Transgender communities.

– David Mariner, executive director of CAMP Rehoboth, and former executive director of the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community.

– Mark Meinke founder longtime chair, Rainbow History Project, and co-founder of Rainbow Heritage Network, a national organization for the recognition and preservation of sites, history and heritage associated with sexual and gender minorities.

– Michael “Micci” Sainte Andress, artist, health educator and advocate and an early leader in bringing African Americans into HIV/AIDS clinical trials.

– Boden Sandstrom, founder and owner of Woman Sound (later City Sound), the first all-woman sound company, which makes LGBTQ rights rallies and the women’s music scene possible.

Casse Culver (deceased), nationally acclaimed D.C. lesbian feminist singer-songwriter, and partner of Boden Sandstrom, whose followers said her love songs and feminist lyrics moved audiences from foot stomping to silent reflection.  

Alan Sharpe, playwright, director and co-founder of the African American Collective Theater in Washington, D.C., in 1976, which now focuses on LGBTQ life and culture in the Black community.

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