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Md. marriage bill dead for year

Equality group remains optimistic; leaders call move a ‘strategic step’

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Delegate Mary Washington (D-Baltimore City) (Blade photo by Michael Key)

A bill to legalize same-sex marriage in Maryland died in the Maryland House of Delegates Friday after supporters determined they did not have the votes to pass it and sent it back to committee without taking a vote.

The decision to return the bill to the House Judiciary Committee, which approved it two weeks ago by a one-vote margin, came after an impassioned two-and-a-half hour debate in which six of the House’s seven openly gay members urged their colleagues to support marriage equality.

“It is best to delay this historic vote until we are absolutely sure we have the votes to win,” Equality Maryland, a statewide LGBT group, said in a statement. “While we are disappointed the House did not vote to pass marriage equality today, we are confident we will win in the future.”

House Speaker Michael Busch (D-Anne Arundel County) said in a news conference after the debate that the bill would be brought back in 2012.

Many LGBT activists watching from the visitor’s gallery did not know of plans to pull the bill if the 71 votes needed to pass it in the 141-member House could not be obtained. Some reacted with shrieks and gasps when the House approved by voice vote a motion to “recommit” the bill to committee, with nearly all of the bill’s supporters voting “aye.”

When asked how close the vote would have been, Busch told reporters that backers of the bill believed a vote would have been “very close” but decided the best course of action would be to give wavering delegates more time to mull over the issue.

“There was a chance we could have had 71,” he said. “There was an opportunity to have 70 or 69…But I think they didn’t feel comfortable that there was the full 71 vote.”

Busch was also asked why a close vote that might have resulted in the bill’s defeat this year was ruled out if everyone agreed to bring the legislation back for a vote next year.

“In my personal opinion, I think those who felt uncomfortable might have voted no and had a tough time coming back and voting yes,” he said.

According to Busch and others familiar with the House of Delegates, no more than about 10 delegates would likely be swayed to change their vote one way or the other. If a vote were held Friday and some voted no, they might be reluctant to vote for the bill next year out of fear of being accusing of being a “flip-flopper,” some of the bill’s supporters said.

Equality Maryland board member Daryl Carrington agreed with Busch’s rationale for avoiding a vote.

“We did not want to have a negative vote on the record,” said Carrington. “And we believe that it gives us the time we need. It was a strategic step to give us the additional time we need to get this done.”

Supporters lined up enough votes to defeat two amendments considered hostile to the bill, raising the possibility that backers of the bill might have enough support to pass the measure.

One of the amendments, introduced by Del. John Olszewski (D-Baltimore County), called for expanding a provision in the bill that allows religious institutions to refuse to provide goods and services and accommodations related to the “promotion of marriage” if doing so violates the institution’s religious beliefs.

The bill limits the exemptions to “religious programs, counseling, educational courses, summer camps, and retreats.” Oloszewski’s amendment would have expanded the exemption to include any program or activity operated by a religious institution, even if such products or services were offered to the general public.

The amendment was defeated by voice vote.

The second amendment, offered by Del. Cheryl Glenn (D-Baltimore City), called for eliminating the bill’s marriage provisions entirely and turning it into a civil unions bill.  Her amendment also went down to defeat by a voice vote. When she asked for a roll call vote to verify the vote breakdown, Busch used his authority as speaker to refuse the roll call vote request.

Del. Emmett Burns (D-Baltimore County), an opponent of the bill, argued during the debate that the bill’s supporters were incorrectly comparing their quest for marriage equality and other LGBT rights initiatives with the black civil rights movement.

He said same-sex marriage had nothing to do with civil rights, adding that it would “validate and uphold the homosexual lifestyle,” which is contrary to his religious beliefs.

“I am a black man. I cannot change my color,” he said. “Those who are gay can disguise their propensity. They can disguise who they are.”

Del. Keiffer Mitchell (D-Baltimore City), a supporter of the marriage bill, took exception to Burns’ interpretation of the civil rights movement. Noting that he is the grandson of nationally acclaimed African-American civil rights activist Clarence Mitchell, Keiffer Mitchell said he was honored that the LGBT community and other minorities have modeled their own struggles for equality on the black civil rights movement.

Although the LGBT civil rights struggle is not the same as the black civil rights struggle, it is still falls under the category of civil rights.

“When we deny people equality under the law it is a civil rights issue,” he said.

Lesbian Delegates Heather Mizeur, Anne Kaiser, and Bonnie Cullison, each a Democrat from Montgomery County; lesbian Del. Mary Washington (D-Baltimore City); and gay Del. Luke Clippinger (D-Baltimore City) each gave impassioned floor speeches about how legalizing same-sex marriage would impact them.

While not mentioning fellow delegates opposing the bill by name, each said they were troubled and, in some cases, hurt and offended by opponents’ claims that allowing them to marry would harm children, take away religious rights, and damage the institution of marriage.

Mizeur told of her own struggle as a devout Catholic with her sexual orientation as a teenager and young adult. She said she has long since reconciled her identity as a lesbian and devoted Christian, saying she believes deeply that God accepts her for who she is.

Noting she and her partner have been married for five years, Mizeur said, “What we’re asking for is equal protection under the law…You can still choose to believe we are immoral.”

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12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Peter the saint

    March 11, 2011 at 3:20 pm

    It’s sooo nice that Democrats all believe in equality, freedom, and fairness (bleh!! puke!). Politics is also, ultimately, about principles and integrity. So if the Democratic Party operatives refuse to stand by principles of equality, then progressives seriously need to step away and just start our own political party. If other countries can do this and survive, then so can the United States of America. Enough fear already. It will probably even help, in speeding up debate about all sorts of issues. Shelving our problems leaves us all defenseless. It is un-american and it is WRONG.

  2. Tim

    March 11, 2011 at 3:51 pm

    Clearly it is time to target the Democratic Delegates who betrayed us for defeat in the next primary season. We need solid Progressive Democrats who support LGBT rights not bigots who vote with Republicans to deprive us of our equality. Delegates such as: Aisha Braveboy, (D-Prince George’s County), Jill Carter, (D-Baltimore City), Tiffany Alston, (D-Prince George’s County), Sam Arora (D-Montgomery County), and John Donoghue, (D-Washington County). Of course there are several other Democrats who are working against us and Equality Maryland and other Pro-LGBT groups need to start naming the traitors now so we can replace them with good Democrats. Obviously, the GOP is against us, so that goes without saying.

  3. Bruce in Missouri

    March 11, 2011 at 4:51 pm

    I come from a state where the voters amended the state constitution to forever prevent marriage equality. I worry that if you go too far too fast you could trigger a voter backlash and end up with a similar constitutional amendment in Maryland. In every state where marriage equality has ever gone to a referendum, the voters have always voted against it.

    Has Equality Maryland considered passing a “marriage in everything but the name” bill first, and then go for full marriage equality later? How many of the Democratic delegates that were named might be willing to vote for a “marriage in everything but the name” bill now?

    • Frankie James

      March 14, 2011 at 10:08 am

      Don’t fret none – every consititution allows for amendments. This too will one day be amended. There is not much in life that is “forever.”

  4. El Dorado

    March 11, 2011 at 5:51 pm

    You bitches would be better off thinking how to change the attitudes in people in Maryland about gay marriage. Once marriage equality finally becomes law, the asswipes against it will take it to the ballot box for a vote.

    It may take a generation or two more before a majority supports marriage equality. It will happen but not as fast as we would like it. Some of us may need walkers to walk down the aisle by then and that’s sad!

    • Peter the saint

      March 11, 2011 at 10:06 pm

      Every single person in America can hate me, despise my boyfriend, believe I am a “sinner” and we STILL have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I do NOT need to beg anyone to please “like” me and “vote for me” in order to be granted civil rights. It’s NOT a prerequisite, despite what the HRC tries to argue.

  5. Kat

    March 11, 2011 at 8:07 pm

    @ Bruce in Missouri:

    “Has Equality Maryland considered passing a “marriage in everything but the name” bill first, and then go for full marriage equality later?”

    No, ‘Equality’ Maryland only believes in so-called incremental progress for trans people.

  6. well, well

    March 12, 2011 at 8:56 am

    Once again denied the basic civil right to ________. These representatives from Baltimore need to look at their motivation for being anti same-sex marriage. Even more we need to look at why we elected these losers. Oust them and start over.

  7. Tim

    March 12, 2011 at 12:00 pm

    I also think the Democrats avoided the vote, not because they wanted to avoid a possible failure, (which happened anyway) but because they didn’t want to draw attention to their own homophobic Democrat members who were voting against us. God knows that would hurt fundraising and actually help us figure out which of the Dems are actually with us and which ones are stabbing us in the back. Make no mistake, we need to replace non-supportive Dems in the assembly by running Pro-LGBT candidates against the Anti-LGBT Dems in next year’s primaries. We know of at least 7-10 Dems we should be lining up opponents for right now, why isn’t Equality Maryland doing something along this line? They should forget about sucking up to the Democratic Party at the expense of LGBT rights and start reminding them that they need us more than we need them. If they can’t take the hint, cut them off financially and only work for LGBT candidates and candidates with proven records of support.

  8. Jen

    March 14, 2011 at 5:07 pm

    This is what the Victory Fund does. Stop byatching and donate money directly to them. BTW Jill Carter was a “For” vote.

    Apparently, in P.G. County, finding pro-marriage equality delegates is not enough. We need to find candidates that are smart enough to understand the legislative process and what civil rights are and that just because you have a homophobic majority who want to Christian-ize the entire State of Maryland as your constituents does not mean that you vote that way. Can you imagine someone explaining 60 years ago as Delegate Alston has today that “Well, I’m for the right of blacks to be able to go to the same schools, but I have to stay where my redneck racist constituents are and they just aren’t into desegregation. So wait for the courts to help you.”

    We need to replace Emmett Burns just as an act of spite.

  9. Kevin

    March 15, 2011 at 3:48 pm

    So much for the self righteous people of color who only cared about their rights. Once they got to use the water fountain everyone else can go to hell. After this display from subhumans like Emit Burns I am now in favor of a return to slavery for people like him.

  10. Stonewaller

    March 15, 2011 at 5:09 pm

    I am a human rights activist who has particpated in virtually every major as well as many social reform movements since and including the 1960’s. This includes the Black civil rights movement. I am also a Stonewall veteran.

    PETER THE SAINT: Along with some others, I have questioned the wisdom of placing all of the LGBT movement’s eggs in one Democrat policitcal basket. A democratic socialist and one of only a handful of New Leftists who supported LGBT rights, I have no objection to the establishment of a third party in principle.
    But US is not a parliamentary democracy and past similar efforts have failed.
    TIM: It might also be wise poltical strategy to reach out to Republicans not only for this effort but for future ones on behalf of LGBT a/w/a other groups. Historically, parties have not avoided what they believe will be favorable outcomes in order to protect dissenters within their own party. Contrary to inaccurate extrapolations from the Kinsey study, Lesbians and Gays comprise only 3% of the population which would not be enough to determine most election outcomes. One-quarter of Lesbians and Gays vote Republican and one-quarter more would also do so were they not single issue voters when it comes to L&G rights (if Bisexuals were included, the numbers would be much larger, but Bi’s are discriminated against in the so-called LGbt rights movement. Furthermore, virtually all Bi’s and Trans along with most Black, Latino and Asian L&G as well as the majority of state LGBT organizations do not believe SSM should be the primary movement issue.
    BRUCE IN MISSOURI: You are correct in stating that the “marriage only” strategy has been a dismal failure. In every jurisdicition in which domestic partnership has has been the issue, we have been successful. The original architects of spousal rights for L&G (from 30 years ago) oppose a “marriage only” strategy. Harvard Law Professor William Eskridge, the dean of gay rights law, has adovcated a civil unions strategy for both practical as well as legal reasons.
    EL DORADO: I agree with you on all points. Nate Silver, a NYT statistician who is Gay, estimates that same sex marriage will be won on a stated-by-state basis in 20 years. The feminist movement is still fighting a culture war over the abortion issue 35 years after Roe v. Wade. CUNY Government Professor Dan Pinello, a SSM advocate, did a study after the Prop 8 campaign which showed that “coming out” is not a factor in voting on such issues. We need a new strategy.
    KAT: I have worked in several successful political campaigns to elect radical-liberal officials in my home state of New York. But most of my poltical work has taken place outside of electoral politics which means I do not have to be an apologist for any party and can afford to be an absolutist. However, the twin pillars of electoral politics are compromise and incrementalism — in all things. Though not trans, I have been advocating for trans rights since Stonewall and during my time at the Task Force which was notoriously trans and bi phobic during the 1970’s and 1980’s. Not much has changed in those regards since.

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In plea deal, D.C. trans woman’s killers could be free in 3 years

Two in 2016 killing of Dee Dee Dodds guilty of voluntary manslaughter

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Deeniquia Dodds, gay news, Washington Blade
Deeniquia ‘Dee Dee’ Dodds was killed on July 4, 2016. (Photo via Facebook)

A D.C. LGBTQ anti-violence group will be submitting a community impact statement for a D.C. Superior Court judge scheduled to sentence two men on Dec. 10 for the July 4, 2016, shooting death of transgender woman Deeniquia “Dee Dee” Dodds in a case D.C. police listed as a hate crime.

Stephania Mahdi, chair of the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community’s Anti-Violence Project, told the Washington Blade the project has been in contact with the Office of the U.S. Attorney for D.C., which is prosecuting the case against the two defendants set to be sentenced this week, to arrange for the submission of a statement on the impact the murder of Dodds has had on the community.

The impact statement would also apply to the sentencing of two other men charged in the Dodds murder case who are scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 20.

The Dec. 10 sentencing for Jolonta Little, 30, and Monte T. Johnson, 25, was set to take place a little over two months after Little and Johnson pleaded guilty on Sept. 30 to a single count of voluntary manslaughter as part of a plea bargain deal offered by prosecutors.

In exchange for the guilty plea for voluntary manslaughter, prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office agreed to drop the charge of first-degree murder while armed originally brought against the two men. The plea agreement also called for dropping additional charges against them in connection with the Dodds murder, including robbery while armed, possession of a firearm during a crime of violence, and unlawful possession of a firearm.

In addition, the plea agreement includes a promise by prosecutors to ask D.C. Superior Court Judge Milton C. Lee, who is presiding over the case, to issue a sentence of eight years in prison for both men. Under the D.C. criminal code, a conviction on a voluntary manslaughter charge carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison.

Johnson has been held without bond for five years and three months since his arrest in the Dodds case in September 2016. Little has been held without bond since his arrest for the Dodds murder in February 2017. Courthouse observers say that judges almost always give defendants credit for time served prior to their sentencing, a development that would likely result in the two men being released in about three years.

The plea deal for the two men came two and a half years after a D.C. Superior Court jury became deadlocked and could not reach a verdict on the first-degree murder charges against Johnson and Little following a month-long trial, prompting Judge Lee to declare a mistrial on March 6, 2019.

The two other men charged in Dodds’ murder, Shareem Hall, 27, and his brother, Cyheme Hall, 25, accepted a separate plea bargain offer by prosecutors shortly before the start of the 2019 trial in which they pled guilty to second-degree murder. Both testified at Johnson and Little’s the trial as government witnesses.

In dramatic testimony, Cyheme Hall told the jury that it was Johnson who fatally shot Dodds in the neck at point blank range after he said she grabbed the barrel of Johnson’s handgun as Johnson and Hall attempted to rob her on Division Ave., N.E., near where she lived. Hall testified that the plan among the four men to rob Dodds did not include the intent to kill her.

In his testimony, Hall said that on the day of Dodd’s murder, he and the other three men made plans to commit armed robberies for cash in areas of D.C. where trans women, some of whom were sex workers, congregated. He testified that the four men got into a car driven by Little and searched the streets for victims they didn’t expect to offer resistance.

D.C. police and the U.S. Attorney’s office initially designated the murder charge against Little and Johnson as an anti-trans hate crime offense based on findings by homicide detectives that the men were targeting trans women for armed robberies. But during Johnson and Little’s trial, Judge Lee dismissed the hate crime designation at the request of defense attorneys on grounds that there was insufficient evidence to support a hate crime designation.

At the request of prosecutors, Judge Lee scheduled a second trial for Johnson and Little on the murder charge for Feb. 25, 2020. But court records show the trial date was postponed to June 22, 2020, and postponed several more times – to Jan 11, 2021, and later to Feb. 17, 2022, due to COVID-related restrictions before the plea bargain offer was agreed to in September of this year.  The public court records do not show why the trial was postponed the first few times prior to the start of COVID restrictions on court proceedings.

Legal observers have said long delays in trials, especially murder trials, often make it more difficult for prosecutors to obtain a conviction because memories of key witnesses sometimes become faulty several years after a crime was committed.

“The D.C. Anti-Violence Project is disappointed to hear about the unfortunate proceedings in the case to bring justice for Dee Dee Dodds,” Mahdi, the Anti-Violence Project’s chair, told the Blade in a statement.

“A plea bargain from first-degree murder to voluntary manslaughter as well as a reduction of years in sentencing from 30 to 8 communicates not only a miscarriage of justice, but a message of penalization for victims who attempt to protect themselves during a violent assault,” Mahdi said. “The continual impact of reducing the culpability of perpetrators who target members of specifically identified communities sends a malicious message to criminals that certain groups of people are easier targets with lenient consequences,” she said.

“As a result of this pattern, the D.C. community has failed to defend the life and civil rights of Dee Dee Dodds and leaves criminally targeted LGBTQ+ community and other cultural identity communities critically undervalued by stewards of justice in the nation’s capital,” Mahdi concluded.  

William Miller, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, has declined to disclose the reason why prosecutors decided to offer Johnson and Little the plea bargain deal rather than petition the court for a second trial for the two men on the first-degree murder charge.

Attorneys familiar with cases like this, where a jury becomes deadlocked, have said prosecutors sometimes decide to offer a plea deal rather than go to trial again out of concern that another jury could find a defendant not guilty on all charges.

During the trial, defense attorneys told the jury that the Hall brothers were habitual liars and there were inconsistencies in their testimony. They argued that the Halls’ motives were aimed strictly at saying what prosecutors wanted them to say so they could get off with a lighter sentence.

The two prosecutors participating in the trial disputed those claims, arguing that government witnesses provided strong evidence that Johnson and Little should be found guilty of first-degree murder and other related charges.

Before the jury announced it was irreconcilably deadlocked on the murder charges, the jury announced it found Little not guilty of seven separate counts of possession of a firearm during a crime of violence and found Johnson not guilty of five counts of possession of a firearm during a crime of violence.

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Howard County activists and allies hit back at censorship, hate

More than 100 people attended ‘We ARE the People’ rally

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(Photo by Bob Ford)

A diverse crowd of 100 to 200 folks gathered at the Columbia Lakefront on Saturday to attend a rally to push back against censorship in the county’s public schools as well as homophobia and transphobia emanating from a group of conservative parents.

The rally called “We ARE the People” was organized in response to the comments and actions by members of a Maryland-based conservative group “We the People 2” that among other things are anti-masks, anti-vaccinations and are opposed to teaching racial history in the schools. They also oppose two books that are in Howard County Public Schools library shelves: “Gender Queer” and “Lawn Boy.”

Speakers at a We the People 2 rally last month at an Elkridge warehouse condemned the books, which contain LGBTQ characters, as sexually explicit. The group later filed police reports against the Board of Education alleging the books constitute pornography with “graphic sexual content and materials being used and disseminated in public schools,” according to the group’s press release.  A flier announcing this action used the loaded terminology, “We must not allow our children to be abused and victimized.”

Among the speakers at the Elkridge rally was Republican Gordana Schifanelli who is running for lieutenant governor on the ticket with Daniel Cox. Another speaker, George Johnson, a teacher from Baltimore City, was heard on a video of the event saying, “We’re doing God’s work because Marxism, homosexuality and transgenderism is the devil.”

In response, the pro-LGBTQ rally in Columbia announced the following:

We are taking a stance against hate in the community as we raise our voices in support of equity in our schools. Attacks on teachers and school staff have prompted us to stand united and drown out the noise.

In addition, We ARE the People states:

We stand for LGBTQ+ students and educational professionals

Teaching accurate history to our students

Supporting equitable practices in our schools

Providing students with relevant LGBTQ+ media through their school libraries

The two-hour rally, which was attended by several county council members, featured speakers representing a wide swath of community, educational, religious and political organizations. They included: Community Allies of Rainbow Youth (CARY), Black Lives Activists of Columbia (BLAC), Absolutely Dragulous, Howard County Schools, PFLAG-Columbia/Howard County, IndivisibleHoCoMd, Columbia Democratic Club, Howard Progressive Project, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia (UUCC), HoCo Pride, Progressive Democrats of Howard County, and the Columbia United Christian Church.

Many of the speakers denounced the censorship of materials that are needed by many LGBTQ students. Genderqueer and non-binary students, they point out, are most vulnerable and need affirming literature to help with their development and self-acceptance. The speakers also decried hate speech, which has surfaced again, as well as the opposition to teaching history as it relates to race.

Others argued that the community must not sit back and take it from extremist groups.

“You are all defenders,” said Cynthia Fikes, president of the Columbia Democratic Club, in a fiery speech. “But to succeed a strong defense also needs a strong offense.”

The two books in question were recently the center of controversy in the Fairfax County (Va.) school system. The books were removed in September from the shelves of the high schools pending a comprehensive review following opposition from a parent at a school board meeting. It should be noted that both books were previous winners of the American Library Association’s Alex Awards, which each year recognize “10 books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults, ages 12 through 18.”  

The board established two committees consisting of parents, staff and students to assess the content of the books and make recommendations to the assistant superintendent of instructional services who would make the final determination.

One committee found that “Lawn Boy” includes themes that “are affirming for students” with marginalized identities. “There is no pedophilia in the book,” the committee added. The other committee found that “Gender Queer” depicts “difficulties non-binary and asexual individuals may face.” The committee concluded that “the book neither depicts nor describes pedophilia.” The books were restored to the shelves.

“As this backlash against LGTBQ+ literature demonstrates, we must be ready to stand up and defend the progress we have made,” said Jennifer Mallo, member of the Howard County Board of Education, expressing her own point of view. “We must ensure our elected officials understand and share our values and will fight for our marginalized students.”

The enthusiastic crowd was clearly pleased with the event.

“Today’s rally was meant to inspire our community to take action,” said Chris Hefty, who was the lead organizer of the rally and the emcee. “Action that protects our youth. Action that protects our educators and admins. This action comes in the form of advocacy, communication with elected officials so they know your voice, and through well informed voting to ensure those who represent us are those we know will support us. We shared a message of love, acceptance, and warmth.”

Hefty adds, “The unity we facilitated through this rally was a sight to behold. As the lead organizer I couldn’t have been more pleased! In the future we will be sure to better meet the needs of all our community members. We thank all those in our community for their support and feedback and look forward to accomplishing great things together moving forward.”

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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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