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Log Cabin endorses Mara

Republican hopeful for Council seat emerges as rival to gay-backed Dem candidates

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Patrick Mara (Photo courtesy of Mara)

The D.C. Chapter of Log Cabin Republicans, an LGBT political group, voted unanimously on Wednesday to endorse GOP candidate Patrick Mara in the city’s April 26 special election to fill an at-large seat on City Council.

Mara, a member of the city’s board of education from Ward 1, expressed strong support for LGBT rights, including same-sex marriage, in an unsuccessful race for a D.C. Council seat in 2008 and in his successful school board race last year.

“Patrick is an amazing candidate and a great friend not only to Log Cabin, but also to the entire LGBT community,” said Log Cabin D.C. President Robert Turner II.

Although Turner didn’t mention it in a Log Cabin press release announcing the Mara endorsement, Mara has surfaced as one of the lead rivals to Democrat Sekou Biddle, considered by most pundits as the frontrunner in the nine-candidate race for the at-large seat.

Biddle has the backing of most of the city’s establishment politicians, including Mayor Vincent Gray and D.C. Council Chair Kwame Brown (D-At-Large). He also received the endorsement of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city’s largest LGBT political groups, and is backed by many of the city’s prominent LGBT activists.

“He is the only candidate who actually testified in support of bringing marriage equality to the District,” Turner said of Mara in the Log Cabin press release. “Recent events have shown that the Council needs a watchdog looking out for taxpayers, and we believe Patrick Mara will provide that oversight.”

Robert Kabel, the openly gay chair of the D.C. Republican Committee, called Mara “the only candidate for the April 26 special election who has a proven record on gay and lesbian issues.” He noted that Mara “vigorously” lobbied Republican members of Congress last year against a Republican proposal to overturn the city’s same-sex marriage law.

Gay Democrats backing Biddle note that Biddle expressed strong support for the city’s same-sex marriage law as it moved through the City Council for approval in 2009 and has been an outspoken backer of LGBT issues on the school board.

But they acknowledge that Biddle could be hurt by his endorsements from Gray and Brown following the sensational revelations over the past two months that media reports have labeled as scandals swirling over the heads of Gray and Brown.

Brown’s request for, and his decision later to return, two city funded and “fully loaded” Lincoln Navigator vehicles for his use as Council chair drew widespread criticism from voters in all parts of the city.

Gray, meanwhile, has come under investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s office over allegations that a top official in his election campaign allegedly paid another candidate to denounce Mayor Adrian Fenty, Gray’s main rival in the election, at candidate forums across the city.

Gray’s mayoral staff later hired the rival candidate, Sulaimon Brown, for an $110,000 city job before firing him from the job when news surfaced that Brown had a past record of more than one arrest, including an arrest for an assault charge that was later dismissed. Other allegations surfaced that high level officials in Gray’s new administration hired relatives to fill various city jobs in a possible violation rules prohibiting nepotism.

Mara’s campaign initially seized on the scandals surrounding Gray and Kwame Brown, with Mara calling on voters to elect an “independent voice” to the Council to monitor what his campaign called an out-of-control Democratic political machine.

But Mara faced ethics questions about his own campaign when the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics earlier this month disclosed it had discovered at least 160 forged signatures on Mara’s nominating petitions required for placement on the ballot. Board officials said the forged signatures were found on petitions turned in by petition circulators who were paid for their services by the D.C. Republican Committee.

Although the city’s election law gives the election board authority to disqualify all nominating petitions if some are “tainted by fraud,” the board ruled that Mara submitted more than 3,000 valid signatures needed to place him on the ballot, and that he should not be penalized for the actions of the paid circulators.

With Mara’s placement on the ballot confirmed, his supporters – both gay and straight – are hoping he can put together a winning coalition of moderate and progressive Republican and independent voters that will outnumber the voters Biddle must obtain in a field of six Democratic candidates.

Biddle’s supporters say his popularity among Democratic voters is much stronger than that of his Democratic rivals and he likely will receive enough Democratic votes to put him over the top.

Others note that voter turnout in special elections has always been very low, making the outcome unpredictable. If Mara can attract votes from gay Democrats and independents he might be able to pull off an upset victory in a close race, according to some political observers, even though Democrats outnumber Republicans among the city’s registered voters by a margin of nearly ten to one.

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Va. senator introduces anti-transgender student athlete bill

Democrats have vowed to thwart anti-LGBTQ measures in state Senate

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transgender, Gender Conference East, trans, transgender flag, gay news, Washington Blade
(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A Virginia lawmaker has introduced a bill that would ban transgender students from joining school sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity.

Senate Bill 766, which state Sen. Jennifer Kiggans (R-Virginia Beach) introduced on Friday, would require “each elementary or secondary school or a private school that competes in sponsored athletic events against such public schools to designate athletic teams, whether a school athletic team or an intramural team sponsored by such school, based on biological sex as follows: (i) ‘males,’ ‘men,’ or ‘boys’; (ii) ‘females,’ ‘women,’ or ‘girls’; or (iii) ‘coed’ or ‘mixed.'”

“Under the bill, male students are not permitted to participate on any school athletic team or squad designated for ‘females,’ ‘women,’ or ‘girls’; however, this provision does not apply to physical education classes at schools,” adds the bill. “The bill provides civil penalties for students and schools that suffer harm as a result of a violation of the bill. Such civil actions are required to be initiated within two years after the harm occurred.”

Kiggans introduced her bill less than a week after Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin took office.

Youngkin during his campaign said he does not support allowing trans children to play on sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity. Elizabeth Schultz, an anti-LGBTQ former member of the Fairfax County School Board, has been named the Virginia Department of Education’s Assistant Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The General Assembly’s 2022 legislative session began on Jan. 12 with Republicans in control of the state House of Delegates. Democrats still control the state Senate, and they have pledged to thwart any anti-LGBTQ bills.

“Let’s be clear: This is part of an ongoing, nationwide effort to exclude trans people from enjoying the benefits of sports like their cisgender peers,” tweeted the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia on Friday after Kiggans introduced SB 766. “We won’t tolerate this.”

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Comings & Goings

Hazen inducted into Cooperative Hall of Fame

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Paul Hazen

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 Paul Hazen on his being inducted into the 2022 Cooperative Hall of Fame.  On receiving the honor, he said, “I am very lucky to be given the opportunity to combine my work in international development with my volunteer cooperative development work in Washington DC.”

Hazen is executive director, U.S. Overseas Cooperative Development Council (OCDC) and has devoted his career to elevating the cooperative voice domestically and internationally. U.S. co-ops include Ace Hardware, Land O’Lakes, Inc., Sunkist, REI and the Associated Press. Hazen helped establish federal legislation promoting rural co-op development.  

Prior to joining OCDC, he was CEO of Washington, D.C.-based National Cooperative Business Association CLUSA International. During his 25-year tenure with the organization, he held key positions, including chief operating officer, vice president of public policy, vice president of member services and director of consumer cooperatives.

He worked for Rep. Al Baldus (Wisc.). He was executive director of Rural Housing Inc. in Madison, Wisc., where he developed co-ops and affordable housing projects in rural communities. 

As a volunteer, Hazen formed the Community Purchasing Alliance (CPA) with 12 congregations in D.C.  In 2020, CPA secured more than $18.7 million in contracts resulting in an investment of $13 million in D.C.-based small businesses owned by people of color.

Ben Finzel

Congratulations also to Ben Finzel, who was inducted into the National Capital Public Relations Hall of Fame. Upon receiving the honor, he said “To be recognized by your peers is wonderful; to be honored by them is amazing. I still can’t quite believe I have done enough to be worthy of this recognition, but I know enough to be thankful and appreciative of this high honor. Thank you PRSA National Capital Chapter for including me in such inspiring company; I will be forever grateful.”

Finzel is president of RENEWPR, a D.C.-based public affairs, communications consulting firm. In 2004, he helped launch FH Out Front, the first global LGBTQ communications practice at an international firm, Fleishman Hillard, and served as its first global chair. He started DC Family Communicators, a professional networking group for LGBTQ communications professionals. Finzel served on the Victory Campaign Board of the LGBTQ Victory Fund from 2007 to 2017.

His firm is currently celebrating its seventh year in business. To recognize that accomplishment, Finzel is launching an endowed scholarship at his alma mater, Texas Tech University. His business is certified as an LGBT Business Enterprise by the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce.

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Maryland

Judge rules trans teacher’s lawsuit against P.G. County can go to trial

Gay man files separate case charging discrimination

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Jennifer Eller, gay news, Washington Blade
Jennifer Eller alleges the P.G. County school system subjected her to discrimination and harassment. (Photo courtesy of Lambda Legal)

A federal judge in Maryland issued a ruling on Tuesday, Jan. 18, clearing the way for a lawsuit filed by transgender former English teacher Jennifer Eller in 2018 charging the Prince George’s County, Md., Public Schools with discrimination and harassment based on her gender identity to proceed to a trial.

In the ruling, Judge Theodore D. Chuang of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland denied key parts of several motions filed by attorneys representing the P.G. County Public Schools that in effect called for the dismissal of the lawsuit. The motions, among other things, claimed the lawsuit failed to provide sufficient evidence that Eller was subjected to discrimination and harassment, which forced her to resign due to a hostile work environment.

Chuang also ruled against a separate motion introduced by Eller’s attorneys calling for him to issue a summary judgement decision affirming all the lawsuit’s allegations that would have ended the litigation in Eller’s favor without the need to go to trial.

Eller’s lawsuit charges that school officials acted illegally by failing to intervene when she was subjected to a hostile work environment for five years that included abuse and harassment by students, parents, fellow teachers, and supervisors and retaliation by school administrators.

The lawsuit alleges that the school system and its administrators in its actions against Eller violated Title VII of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX of the federal Education Amendments Act of 1972, the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution, the Maryland Fair Employment Practices Act, and the nondiscrimination provision of the Prince George’s County Code.

“We think the judge did as best he could,” said Omar Gonzales-Pagan, an attorney with the LGBTQ litigation group Lambda Legal, which, along with the D.C. law firm Arnold & Porter, are representing Eller in her lawsuit.

“The takeaway is that the case is now in a posture to proceed to trial,” Gonzales-Pagan told the Washington Blade. “The court found that the alleged facts and the information as discovered throughout the case in the discovery process is sufficient to allow a jury to find whether Jennifer Eller was subjected to a hostile work environment and constructive discharge and retaliation unlawfully by the defendants,” he said.

By the term constructive discharge, Gonzales-Pagan was referring to the lawsuit’s charge that Eller was forced to resign from her teaching job in 2017 after being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder due to the alleged abuse she faced on the job.

P.G. County Public Schools officials have declined to comment on the lawsuit on grounds that the school system has a longstanding policy of not discussing pending litigation. However, in its response to the lawsuit in court filings, school system officials have denied Eller’s allegations of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation.

“For years, I was aggressively misgendered, attacked and harassed in the hallways and even in my own classroom by students, peers and supervisors,” Eller said in a statement released by her attorneys.

“My pleas for help and for sensitivity training on LGBTQ issues for students and staff, were ignored,” Eller said in her statement. “The relentless harassment stripped me of the joy of teaching and forced me to resign,” she said. “It is time for Prince George’s County Public Schools to be held accountable.”

The lawsuit says the harassment and discriminatory action against her began in 2011 when she began presenting as female during the school year. It says school officials initially responded to her complaints about the harassment by demanding that she stop dressing as a woman and return to wearing men’s clothes, which she refused to do.

In a separate action, gay former Spanish teacher Jared Hester filed on his own without an attorney a lawsuit in the Maryland federal court charging the P.G. County Public Schools with failing to take action to prevent him from being subjected to discrimination and harassment similar to some of the allegations made in Eller’s lawsuit.

Hester told the Blade that he was subjected to harassment by students who repeatedly called him “faggot,” but school officials, including the principal of the middle school where he taught, refused to take action to stop the harassment.

He provided the Blade with copies of earlier complaints he filed against school system officials with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights, and the P.G County Public Schools’ internal Office of Equity Assurance. Each of the three agencies issued rulings against Hester’s complaints, with two of them saying sufficient evidence could not be found to support his allegations.

The EEOC, in a Nov. 3, 2021 “dismissal” notice, told Hester the EEOC “will not proceed further with its investigation, and makes no determination about whether further investigation would establish violations of the statute.” The notice added, “This does not mean the claims have no merit” or that the respondent, meaning the P.G. County Public Schools, “is in compliance with the statutes.”

The notice did not give a reason for why it chose to end its investigation into Hester’s complaint, but it said his filing with the EEOC cleared the way for him to file a lawsuit to further his case against the school system. 

Hester told the Blade he reached out to Lambda Legal to represent him in his lawsuit, but the LGBTQ litigation group declined to take on his case without giving a reason. Gonzalez-Pagan, the Lambda attorney working on the Eller case, said he was unfamiliar with Hester’s request for representation. Another Lambda official couldn’t immediately be reached to determine the reason for its decision not to represent Hester.

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