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In shakeup, HRC poised to lead Md. marriage effort

Longtime activist Dana Beyer will serve as executive director of a new group, Gender Rights Maryland, which will work to pass a gender identity anti-discrimination bill; HRC poised to lead revamped Md. marriage effort.

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Dana Beyer

The Human Rights Campaign is expected to emerge as the coordinator of a reorganized coalition of national and local LGBT groups pushing for passage of a same-sex marriage bill in the Maryland Legislature next year, according to sources familiar with the effort.

In a separate development, a new statewide transgender advocacy organization called Gender Rights Maryland announced its presence on the Maryland political scene this week, saying it will take the lead role in pushing for a “comprehensive” gender identity non-discrimination bill.

Attempts failed earlier this year to pass same-sex marriage and gender identity bills in the Maryland Legislature. Now, insiders familiar with LGBT politics in the state say these two new developments represent a shakeup of the established order, where the LGBT group Equality Maryland led lobbying efforts on behalf of the two bills for the past seven years.

Meanwhile, rumors that HRC has offered to make a significant cash contribution to the financially troubled Equality Maryland in exchange for the group allowing HRC to select its next executive director were heightened this week when HRC’s regional field director, Sultan Shakir, began working at Equality Maryland’s headquarters office in Baltimore on Monday.

“HRC is working with local and national groups to help build a strong campaign to pass Equality Maryland’s entire legislative agenda next year,” said HRC spokesperson Fred Sainz. “While HRC currently has a field staffer working in the Baltimore headquarters to support their new executive director, there are no set plans to keep him there,” he said.

“Reports of large cash contributions in return for certain actions are completely false as evidenced by the fact that Equality Maryland has a leader,” Sainz told the Blade on Wednesday.

Sainz was referring to the selection last month by the Equality Maryland board of LGBT rights advocate Lynne Bowman of Ohio as Equality Maryland’s interim executive director. The board, which said it was conducting a search for a permanent executive director, named Bowman to the interim post after firing the previous executive director, Morgan Meneses-Sheets.

Meneses-Sheets’ dismissal prompted the group’s development director and chief fundraiser, Matthew Thorn, to resign in protest, raising questions about whether the staff turmoil would further hinder the group’s finances.

Two sources familiar with Equality Maryland who spoke on condition that they not be identified, said some Equality Maryland staffers and board members reported that HRC had expressed an interest in installing HRC’s Shakir as the lead decision maker for Equality Maryland regardless of the title he would assume.

The sources said Shakir is well-liked by most LGBT activists in Maryland who know him and is viewed as a qualified strategist on LGBT issues. But they said reports of HRC arranging for one of its chief lieutenants to assume a lead role in Equality Maryland’s day-to-day operations would be viewed by some Maryland activists as an intrusion by a national group into the affairs of an established state organization.

“Sultan is here to look at, with me, which is part of the job I was brought in to do, how the marraige campaign was run during the beginning of this year and to start to make some plans for how we can move foward,” Bowman said on Wednesday. “He is not an employee of Equality Maryland. He’s not going to start running Equality Maryland. It’s simply a partnership extra hand on deck as we move things forward.”

Bowman noted that Shakir worked on the marriage campaign during the Maryland legislative session this year as part of HRC’s field team.

“He has a history and perspective that I don’t have,” she said.

Patrick Wojahn, a member of the board of the Equality Maryland Foundation, which operates out of the same offices as Equality Maryland, said it wasn’t unusual for a staff member of HRC – which he noted is one of Equality Maryland’s national coalition partners – to be spending time in the Equality Maryland office.

“But I can tell you Sultan Shakir has no formal relationship with our organization right now and there is no intention to give him one,” Wojahn said. “I can say that we’re working together with HRC. We appreciate their support but our relationship is as a coalition partner with them and no more,” he said.

Evan Wolfson, executive director of the national same-sex marriage advocacy group Freedom to Marry, confirmed that his organization is among the national groups working with HRC to put together a revamped and strengthened Maryland marriage equality coalition.

“Freedom to Marry is going to look closely together with HRC, with Equality Maryland, with local leaders and other players at how best to set up the team effort to get the job done,” he said. “I look at this as a really positive thing.”

Wolfson acknowledged that many in the LGBT community were disappointed over a decision earlier this year to recommit Maryland’s same-sex marriage bill to committee in the state’s House of Delegates after it passed in the State Senate by a comfortable margin. Recommitting the measure to committee killed it for the legislature’s 2011 session, which ended April 11.

Advocates for the bill were divided over the decision to recommit it to committee. Some blamed the national groups — including HRC and Freedom to Marry — for pressuring Equality Maryland and the seven gay or lesbian members of the House of Delegates to go along with a decision to pull the bill rather than risk a losing vote.

“We decided we needed a little more time to make the case and pick up the extra couple of votes that were short,” Wolfson told the Blade on Tuesday. “And so what we’re looking at now is how we do that in the strongest, best way possible to pick up where we left off, fix the things that we need to do better and make the case to pick up the remaining votes.”

He said representatives of the emerging new coalition are already making plans for an aggressive outreach to the black community in Prince George’s County and other parts of the state where black lawmakers were reluctant to support the bill following opposition from black churches.

“We believe there is actually significant African-American support in Maryland and there are certainly many African-American families and allies who have important stories to tell that can help shore up the votes,” Wolfson said. “And we want to get those stories out there. So the work over the next several months is to do exactly that.”

Beyer to head new trans group

Dana Beyer (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

In a statement released on Tuesday, the newly formed group Gender Rights Maryland announced that former eye surgeon and nationally recognized transgender rights advocate Dana Beyer will serve as the group’s executive director.

Sharon Brackett, president and CEO of a Maryland-based systems engineering company, will serve as chair of the group’s board, a statement released by the group said.

Three other founding board members include Donna Cartwright, co-president of Pride AT Work, an LGBT group within the AFL-CIO; Caroline Temmermand, division chief for Parks and National Resources for Arlington County, Va.; and Alex Hickcox, former board member of Equality Maryland.

“The purpose of Gender Rights Maryland is to promote civil rights, education, tolerance, equality and acceptance on the basis of sex and gender identity/expression in the State of Maryland,” the group said in its statement. “Gender Rights Maryland’s initial legislative goal is to see the passage of a comprehensive gender identity anti-discrimination bill by the end of the 2012 legislative session.”

Beyer told the Blade that the new group plans to work closely with Equality Maryland, which led efforts to push for the gender identity bill this year and in past years.

But she noted that the staff shake-up at Equality Maryland in April, when the board fired Meneses-Sheets and its chief fundraiser resigned in protest, has raised questions about whether it has the capability to begin lobbying effectively on the gender identity bill between now and January, when the legislature begins its 2012 session.

Beyer said one of the group’s first objectives will be to raise funds needed to hire a professional lobbyist to coordinate a campaign on behalf of the gender identity bill.

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Real Estate

Finding your footing in fall housing market

Act quickly before winter arrives when selling

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Fall can be a good time to sell, but act fast before winter sets in.

Though it may not feel quite like fall weather quite yet in some parts of the country, as students return to school, we know that it means fall is right around the corner. Without question, fall is usually a wonderful season – it is the perfect time to enjoy beautiful weather, and plenty of festivals and fun. The return to school also means, for many, a return to routine – to getting organized and beginning again to check things off the to-do list after the lazy days of summer are over. 

You may have heard that housing inventory and activity is often lower in the fall than in the popular spring and summer seasons – and this is true. On the other side of the coin, however, fall buyers are often more serious about buying. They may be eager to buy quickly to get children enrolled in school, because of a job relocation, or due to a change in their family situation. Often, fall buyers are eager to find a home they love quickly, and to take action once they find it.

The good news is that if you plan to list your home for sale in the fall, there are a few tips and things you can add to your to-do list that will help you market your home in the best way possible and maximize your chances of a quick and successful sale. These include:

Act quickly: Depending upon the area of the country that you live in, beautiful, crisp, colorful fall weather might quickly give way to less desirable winter weather. It’s often far easier to sell a home in the fall than it is to sell in December, January, or February when bad weather might make traveling difficult, and potential buyers less likely to want to leave their homes. Once you’ve decided you’re ready to sell, it’s best to make every effort to list your home quickly to take advantage of good weather and buyers on the market.

Photograph the property as soon as possible: In many parts of the country, fall is a truly beautiful season of the year. Fall typically also offers plenty of beautiful, natural light. Take advantage of those ideal conditions by taking pictures of your property early. Don’t wait until the leaves begin to fall and the skies turn gray. Get your pictures early and use them to attract potential buyers to the unique beauty, both indoors and out, that can be enjoyed in your home.

Feature some fall curb appeal: You may not have spring flowers in the fall, but there’s abundant natural beauty to enjoy nevertheless. If you have falling leaves, make sure to regularly rake and bag them. Mow the lawn, perhaps add some new mulch, or consider adding some fall flowers. These steps don’t take long or cost much money, but they can go a long way toward catching the eye of potential buyers. 

Leave the lights on: In fall, the sun begins to set early. As a result, it’s important to keep your home as bright and inviting as possible. Clean your windows, open the curtains or blinds, and encourage as much natural light to come in as possible. If you have very dark paint colors, consider having a few rooms repainted to lighter shades. This will maximize light, and make your home appear more open and airy. Finally, if the showing is later in the day, be sure to leave plenty of lights on within the home. This will not only increase your curb appeal as potential buyers approach the home by making it look warm and inviting – it will also help buyers feel more comfortable inside your home as they envision themselves in that space. 

While these tips are intended to be helpful, it’s important to remember that one of the best steps you can take to truly increase your chances of a successful home sale is to hire a real estate agent who knows and loves the community and can help you truly tailor the marketing and pricing of your home to potential buyers in your area. Finding and connecting with an agent that can help you do exactly that is essential. At GayRealEstate.com, we’re here to help. 

At GayRealEstate.com, we aren’t just passionate about real estate. We’re passionate about real estate with a purpose. Our mission is to connect LGBTQ home buyers and sellers all over the country with knowledgeable, talented, and experienced LGBTQ-friendly realtors who know their communities well and are dedicated to helping clients every step of the way. Wherever you are in the real estate process, and whatever your goals, we’re here for you, and we’re ready to help. If you’re ready to get started, connect with us today. 

Jeff Hammerberg is founding CEO of Hammerberg & Associates, Inc. Reach him at 303-378-5526 or [email protected].

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Living

Late summer must-haves for gay beach lovers

Sunglasses, beach chairs, and more to keep you stylish in the sand

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Finish the dog days of summer in style with these beach-ready requisites to enhance your fun in the sun.


Helinox Beach Chair

Standard camp chairs don’t hold a candle to Helinox’s high-back, splayed-leg beach seats that offer more than just stability in the sand: Sturdy aluminum construction allows for up to 320 pounds of weight while mesh ventilation panels, side pockets for small essentials, and an adjustable headrest for pillow placement provide comfort while you cruise the coastline. $170


Welly Bottle

Triple-walled vacuum insulation, a comfortable loop cap and slip-proof base contribute to the practical aspects of Welly Bottle, but it’s the sexy minimalist design that’ll turn more heads than your teeny-weeny polka-dot bikini. $40


Nomadix Original Towel

Super-absorbent, quick-drying MicroTerry fabric keep Nomadix’s lightweight Original Towels resistant to sand and lingering odor, slip-resistant when activated by moisture, and uber-stylish since the post-consumer recycled material lends itself to more than 30 dye-less prints that won’t fade like your farmer’s tan. $40


Feisedy Sunglasses

Even though “Zack Morris Is Trash” – according to Dashiell Driscoll and Jason Flower’s 50-ep strong “Funny or Die” series – he’s still the quintessential ’90s himbo, and you can channel his too-cool-for-school energy in Feisedy’s oversized mirror-shield sport sunglasses with lightning bolt temples that keep pointed gazes concealed on the beach and beyond. $26


PureBreeze Personal Fan

Martha and the Vandellas waxed melodic about a heat wave in the early 1960s, but it probably didn’t compare to today’s record-smashing scorchers that require reinforcements, like PureBreeze’s rechargeable personal fan featuring three speeds and an optional aromatherapy diffuser for enhanced R&R. $25


JBL Clip 3

Jury’s still out on 2022’s song of the summer (and with heavy hitters like Beyonce, Harry Styles and Lizzo vying for the title, deliberation ain’t easy), but you can cast your vote by pumping up the volume through the waterproof, so-light JBL Clip 3, which makes transporting superior sound quality from the parking lot to your sunning spot a real breeze. $40


Body Glove Water Shoes

Body Glove’s 3T Cinch water shoes protect your pads from jagged rocks, slimy seaweed, and the occasional crab picking at your piggies so you can sing wee-wee-wee all the way home. $38


Quicksilver Straw Hat

Leave it to venerated beach brand Quiksilver to design an outdoor hat that’s not only functional but fashionable: the straw-constructed Outsider Waterman provides UV protection on your head and face while its McConaughey vibe will keep you feelin’ alright, alight, alright.  $28-$34


The Blade may receive commissions from qualifying purchases made via this post.

Mikey Rox is an award-winning journalist and LGBT lifestyle expert whose work has been published in more than 100 outlets across the world. Connect with Mikey on Instagram @mikeyroxtravels

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Business

Fla. ‘Pride Leadership’ firm survives pandemic to face anti-LGBTQ legislation

‘Are gay leaders better? Of course we are!’

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Dr. Steven Yacovelli has spent more than 25 years delivering diversity training and developing LGBTQ leaders.

(Editor’s note: This is the sixth in a multi-part summer series of stories taking a closer look at how a group of diverse LGBTQ entrepreneurs survived and thrived during the pandemic. The series is sponsored by the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce. All installments in the series are available on our website.)

Dr. Steven Yacovelli has spent more than 25 years delivering diversity training and developing LGBTQ leaders, but after surviving a nearly half-million-dollar loss during the pandemic, the “Pride Leadership” author and Top Dog Learning Group co-founder now fears legal repercussions from Florida’s “Stop W.O.K.E. Act.”

“I can go to a Florida-based client and potentially both the company and an employee could now sue me as the deliverer of the diversity training,” Yacovelli told the Blade. “That training is now potentially illegal because of the Act.”

Top Dog Learning Group is a diversity and inclusion consulting firm based in Orlando and has been delivering training, to include leadership development for the LGBTQ community since 2002, initially as Yacovelli’s “side hustle” while a corporate executive.

At the height of the pandemic’s economic crisis in 2020, Yacovelli said he lost nearly half of his business earnings in two weeks. They were able to survive and recover mostly due to his previous experience with Zoom and other virtual platforms.

But while they could increase their instructional capacity by going virtual, and grow through the crisis, the current impact of Florida’s anti-LGBTQ legislation now threatens his small business.

In April, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), whom conservative voters in a 2024 presidential election straw poll chose over former President Donald Trump for the second year in a row, signed the new law he dubbed the “Stop Wrongs Against our Kids and Employees Act.” It took effect July 1, despite First Amendment legal challenges.  

The Florida law, though targeting the alleged teaching of critical race theory in public schools, also prohibits instruction that “compels” employees or students to believe privilege or oppression “is necessarily determined by his or her race, color, sex, or national origin.”

This legislation, and the popularly known “Don’t Say Gay” bill passed earlier, have served to decrease Florida’s score on Out Leadership’s 2022 State Level Business Climate Index, published amid a cascade of anti-LGBTQ measures pursued across state legislatures.

New York’s LGBTQ business climate ranked No. 1 for the second year in a row, earning 93.67 out of 100 points, while South Carolina scored last with 33.63 points.

Florida, ranked 31, and Oklahoma, ranked 49, lost points for their “Don’t Say Gay” bills among other anti-LGBTQ legislation.

“LGBTQ-friendly environments are business-friendly environments,” Todd Sears, Out Leadership founder, told Axios in June.

Florida’s “Stop W.O.K.E. Act” also vaguely states that an individual shouldn’t feel “discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress” as a result of the training experience due to their “race, color, sex, or national origin.”

This “discomfort” ban worries Yacovelli as he facilitates difficult conversations in a currently accepting community.

“I look at this as a taxpayer and as a human who lives here,” he said. “But the good news is I live in a very inclusive community because of the Pulse [shooting] and for other reasons. We’ve got each others’ back.”

Yacovelli said his local government and representatives have been very supportive, “but it’s hard.”

The problem of capital

When he was between jobs in 2008, after having been terminated from an executive position without explanation (Florida is an “at-will” state meaning an employer can fire an employee without cause), he followed his friend and co-founder, Ruth Bond, to Paris where he had an epiphany.

In a Paris cafe, he saw a simple yet elegant logo for a French telecommunications company and decided it was time to design a similar, simple logo for his side-hustle and move it into full-time reality.  

Years later, he now sees the comforting spirit of his “fur-daughter” Ella, a mini-Labradoodle who died from cancer last summer, in the friendly dog visitors encounter on the company’s website.

“2008 wasn’t a good time to start a business,” Yacovelli said. “But there’s never going to be a good time. You’ll always find an excuse not to do this, but put that aside. Whether it’s the economy, or your own limited finances – just put that all aside and just do it.”

Access to startup capital has been a historic problem for minority business owners. The Federal Reserve Banks reported in 2018 that limited access to credit was a “compounding factor that hurts the underlying health of minority-owned small businesses.”

Many, like Yacovelli, turn to personal funds to get their dream off the ground.

“I was self-funded,” Yacovelli said. “But on the advice of a friend, I took out one small business loan. And thank goodness I did, because I had an established relationship with a bank when COVID hit.”

During the height of the pandemic, the Paycheck Protection Program was administered through banks, limiting access to the survival funding, according to a Brookings Institute report in 2020.

Brookings also pointed out that closing the financial and other disparities could add millions more new small businesses to the U.S. economy and with them more jobs.

The National LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce states LGBTQ-owned businesses contribute more than $1 trillion to the U.S. economy, and in 2015 more than 900 certified LGBTQ-owned businesses created more than 33,000 jobs across the country.

But pandemic challenges continue.

“In the years since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, LGBTQ+ businesses have faced severe financial challenges and many are at risk of permanently closing,” Zack Hasychak, Director of Membership Outreach at the Human Rights Campaign, told the Blade.

To help LGBTQ businesses, HRC teamed up with Showtime to start their “Queer to Stay” initiative. For two years the partnership awarded funds to 30 LGBTQ-owned businesses across the country and has committed to supporting at least 25 businesses this round.

Applications are accepted via their website until Aug. 31.

The U.S. Small Business Administration is also shining a spotlight on LGBTQ-owned small businesses.

SBA Deputy Press Director Cecelia Taylor told the Blade about the Elevating Small Business webinar series in June that celebrated LGBTQ small businesses across the country while focusing on financial wellness and the importance of equity and opportunity.

“Equity is a top priority for me and for the Biden-Harris administration, and we believe all of America’s entrepreneurs deserve a level playing field, regardless of zip code, race, gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation” said SBA Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman in a Pride month statement.

“During COVID, we’ve learned how critical equitable access is to surviving and thriving, and at the SBA we are working to build better connections to and for the 1.4 million LGBTQ+ owned businesses in communities across this country,” Guzman said.

Still, Yacovelli emphasized the need for the federal government to step up and make the process of procuring contracts easier.

“The federal government is the largest opportunity for contracts,” he said. “Yet, the process to get them is insanely hard. That’s a missed opportunity.”

Yacovelli said it took a week away from his business to complete a “dissertation-type application” only to have it “go into a black hole” without any feedback.

“It was for diversity training for 911 operators,” he said, stunned by why he didn’t hear back about his application. “Coach me so I can make the application better. It took us a week to get this packet done, and that’s a week I didn’t work on any client proposals.”

But despite challenges, Top Dog grew to exceed its pre-pandemic levels, making 2021 its best year to date.

“Are gay leaders better?” asked Yacovelli who literally wrote the book on “Pride Leadership,” which has been widely praised as influential by multiple business and political leaders. “Of course we are! We’re fabulous. I looked at my queer siblings in leadership roles and moving our community forward in areas of equality and justice. They exercise competencies all leaders could use.”

“You play with a lot of leaders in my business,” Yacovelli, a.k.a “The Gay Leadership Dude,” told the Blade. “You start to see patterns of behaviors for leaders that are crushing it and those that are crashing and burning.”

In his book “Pride Leadership,” Yacovelli combines academic insights gained though his doctorate in education and his years as a corporate leader to identify six leadership traits: being authentic, leading with courage, having empathy, effective communication, building relationships, and influencing organizational culture.

Yacovelli pointed out that the LGBTQ coming out process also involves using these leadership skills to navigate that tough line between being authentic and respecting the feelings and experiences of others.

“You have those difficult conversations. You’re having empathy for yourself and for the person receiving the news for the first time,” he said. “That one experience can be translated into leadership courage, and those traits are the foundation for a really effective leader.”

He stated that for trans siblings to live their lives authentically is powerful, and to channel that energy into a leadership role is using their “rainbow superpowers.”

“And we freakin’ need it now more than ever,” he added.

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