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Obama asserts marriage issue should be left to states

At NYC fundraiser, president encourage states to debate the way ‘to treat people fairly’

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President Obama (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

NEW YORK CITY — President Obama reiterated on Thursday that the marriage issue should be left to the states during an LGBT fundraiser in New York City that took place amid increasing pressure for him to endorse marriage rights for gay couples.

During his remarks, Obama noted legislation is pending before the New York State Legislature that would legalize same-sex marriage in the nation’s third-largest state, but offered no explicit remarks either for or against the bill.

Obama drew on his opposition to the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits same-sex marriage, in his remarks on the New York marriage bill and leaving the issue to the states. The president has called for legislative repeal of DOMA and, in February, announced the law was unconstitutional and his administration would no longer defend it in court.

“Part of the reason that DOMA doesn’t make sense is that traditionally marriage has been decided by the states,” Obama said. “I understand there is a little debate going on here in New York about whether to join five other states and D.C. in allowing civil marriage for gay couples. I want to say that under the leadership of Governor [Andrew] Cuomo, with the support of Democrats and Republicans, New York is doing exactly what democracies are supposed to do. There’s a debate; there’s deliberation about what it means here in New York to treat people fairly in the eyes of the law.”

Obama’s remarks that relationship recognition should be left to the states emphasizes a different note of what he’s already said on the issue, but slightly deters from the White House and president’s greater emphasis in recent months on how the president could evolve to support same-sex marriage.

About 600 donors, mostly male, sat at round tables in a large ballroom for the $1,250-a-plate dinner at the Sheraton Hotel and Towers in New York. Gay actor Neil Patrick Harris and Capt. Jonathan Hopkins, a West Point graduate who was discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” introduced Obama at the start of the event.

Advocates had been hoping that Obama, who has previously suggested his position could evolve on same-sex marriage, would come out for gay nuptials and endorse the New York marriage bill during the fundraiser. But before the fundraiser, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said during a press gaggle that Obama wouldn’t issue such an endorsement during the speech.

At an earlier point in his remarks, while beginning to list his achievements for the LGBT community, Obama was interrupted by hecklers who shouted, “Marriage! Marriage!” in an apparent attempt to get the president on board with marriage equality.

The president replied, “I heard that. Believe it or not I anticipated that.” Despite the heckling, no attendees were escorted out of the event.

Obama continued listing his accomplishments for the LGBT community and said he would continue to fight against discrimination against LGBT people, recalling that legislative passage of a hate crimes protections and legislation allowing for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal occurred under his watch.

“I believed that discrimination because of somebody’s sexual orientation or gender identity ran counter to who we are as a people, and it’s a violation of the basic tenets on which this nation was founded,” Obama said. “I believe that gay couples deserve the same legal rights as every other couple in this country.”

The president made a reference to Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” — in addition to often dismissed speculation that he wasn’t in fact born in the United States — during his recollection of what he’s done for the LGBT community, eliciting laughter and applause from the audience.

“Ever since I entered into public life, ever since I have a memory about what my mother taught me, and my grandparents taught me, I believed that discriminating against people was wrong,” Obama said. “I had no choice. I was born that way — In Hawaii.”

Josh Cohen, a gay New York City-based activist who attended the fundraiser, said the two most important parts of Obama’s speech were his assertion that gay couples deserve the same legal rights as opposite-sex couples and his stated empathy over people’s frustration with the slow pace of progress.

“When people in the audience hollered for an explicit answer on the M-word question, [Obama] didn’t blame them for doing so,” Cohen said. “He expressed understanding for why people holler and keep the pressure up. He even understood the need for people to holler and keep the pressure up on him.”

Cohen said he’d like the president to move faster on LGBT rights, but added, “given the tools he has to work with, and all the constituencies he needs to balance to stay in office, he’s moving along at an acceptable pace.”

Prior to the fundraiser, grassroots LGBT groups demonstrated outside the hotel. Around 20 activists affiliated with Queer Rising and GetEQUAL waived and banners and shouted chants urging President Obama to endorse marriage equality.

Some protesters held a sign listing a number of prominent Republicans who support same-sex marriage — including former Vice President Dick Cheney, former first lady Laura Bush and gay former Republican National Committee Chair Ken Mehlman — while noting Obama has yet to do the same.

The protesters shouted the now familiar GetEQUAL refrain, “I am … somebody … and I deserve … full equality.” They later chanted, “What do you we want? Marriage equality! When do we want it? Now!”

Dan Fotou, eastern regional field director for GetEQUAL, said the demonstration was held because the president came to an LGBT fundraiser in New York amid the marriage equality battle in the state while remaining opposed to same-sex marriage.

“We’re here to remind him that his position on marriage equality is unacceptable,” Fotou said. “He’s got other Republicans, prominent Republicans, who are for marriage equality — who’ve never promised equality, who’ve never promised to be our ‘fierce advocate’ — they’ve come out for marriage equality.”

Eugene Lovendusky, secretary of Queer Rising, also said he wanted to protest because of Obama’s lack of support for marriage equality amid the push for marriage legislation in New York.

“Fifty-eight percent of New York are in favor of marriage equality and Obama is staying silent, but has no problem taking money from the gays here, though, so that’s why we’re here,” Lovendusky said.

Fotou said Obama should come out for same-sex marriage because his leadership position means his support for marriage equality would lead to greater protections for the LGBT community.

“When we have governmental support — hate crimes, suicides, LGBT homelessness — all the things that are really part of our community that are harmful — it has a tendency to take the sting out of that,” Fotou said. “The more equal we become, the more visible we become in society, the less harm we are facing. So that, I think, is a really important thing that I think Obama can recognize in his position to evolving to support for marriage equality.”

NOTE: This post has been updated.

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9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. Eugene Lovendusky

    June 24, 2011 at 1:22 am

    Thank you for being present at the Queer Rising/GetEQUAL demonstration this evening.

  2. Robert Wiley

    June 24, 2011 at 8:28 am

    I was there last night. Obama didn’t say marriage should be left to the states. He says what you quoted in your article. Saying that progress in New York is good is NOT the same thing as saying marriage should be left to the states.

  3. Traditionalist

    June 24, 2011 at 8:37 am

    The Gaga Lady claims that kids are born with a sexual orientation. That claim is utterly false. The Amerfican Psychological Association represents the researchers and scientists in the science of psychology. Their statement on this question virtually rules out any possibility that sexual orientation is innate. Go to http://WWW.APA.ORG and search for “sexual orientation causes.” See for yourself what the experts have to say.

  4. blue-heron

    June 24, 2011 at 8:43 am

    “If I am not in the Whitehouse in 2012 who do you think will be addressing Gay Issues?…A Republican?” is what Obama should be saying repeatedly.

    “If I Had Not Been elected President in 2010, just how much do you think would have been accomplished on behalf of Gays?” is another point to be made.

    Any Republican Candidate, no matter how “Tolerant” or “Supportive” they may attempt to paint themselves during the campaigns, will allow the GOP to dictate that they must legislate to the Far Right. Merely look at history.

  5. Ed Taylor

    June 24, 2011 at 8:54 am

    I am tired of my campaign donations & votes being taken for granted. I will not make anymore campaign donations until the party takes decisive action & passes gay marriage.
    We have seen Obama use executive orders for some tawdry topics. If he cannot offer the leadership to get gay marriage passed through congress, then I expect an executive order.
    Not another penny until this is done.

    • laurelboy2

      June 24, 2011 at 12:25 pm

      Ed, executive orders apply only to Executive Branch operating procedures. The president is precluded from implmenting nationwide equal marriage rights by executive order.

  6. Rebecca Juro

    June 24, 2011 at 11:21 am

    It’s worth noting that despite GENDA also pending right now in NY and ENDA still a hot federal policy issue, Obama didn’t bother to address the reality that LGBT’s can still be fired from our jobs just for being gay in 29 states and for being trans in 36. In this economy that’s unconscionable, and it demonstrates a detachment and disengagement from the real economic and quality-of-life issues faced by the majority of LGBT Americans that’s at best concerning and at worst deeply worrying to average lower and middle class LGBT working families .

    When you add in the fact that Obama couldn’t even bring himself to mention workplace rights in his Pride proclamation this year, unlike last year’s, I think it’s obvious that once again Obama is apologizing for Democrats screwing over the poor and working class in the 111th Congress by pandering to the concerns of the uber-wealthy. It didn’t work last year and it’s not going to work this time either. It’s time for this guy to step outside of the DC bubble and address the issues the majority of this community care most, employment and jobs, just as in the straight community, about rather than focusing solely on the concerns of the wealthiest 1%.

  7. Dottie Laird

    June 24, 2011 at 3:45 pm

    Leaving this to the states is a formula for failure. How many states already have constitutional amendments defining marriage as between one man and one woman, and how many more are on the ballots in states across the country for 2012? More than half. Obama is really “punting” on this issue and still expecting his “fans” will contribute huge sums of money so we can go around in circles for the next four years, with a hat tip here and a mention there.

  8. laurelboy2

    June 24, 2011 at 9:02 pm

    What’s wrong with civil unions anyway? All “marriages” are essentially civil unions, but with a church or religious twist. Hang it up and move to the next issue. Civil unions are fine.

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Minnesota

Minnesota middle school principal ousted for displaying Pride flag

Critics ramped up attacks on the career educator- some compared her to the Devil after publicly associating with LGBTQ+ people and students

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Screenshot via Marshall Public Schools, YouTube Channel

MARSHALL, Mn. — A former middle school principal in Minnesota who lost her job after displaying a Pride flag alleges in a federal lawsuit that the school system retaliated against her for supporting LGBTQ+ students.

Mary Kay Thomas filed the complaint against Marshall Public Schools in the U.S. District Court of Minnesota Tuesday after anti-LGBTQ+ middle school staff, parents, students and local clergy began efforts to remove the Pride flag that she put up in her middle school’s cafeteria in 2020 as a part of an inclusiveness effort.

According to the lawsuit, Thomas has been a teacher and principal for more than three decades with a long track record of success. She held the principal position at Marshall Middle School for 15 years, receiving contract renewals, pay raises and praise for her performance.

“But when Thomas decided to display an LGBTQ Pride Flag in the school cafeteria in early 2020, everything changed,” reads the complaint. 

Thomas refused to take down the Pride flag as critics ramped up attacks on the career educator. The lawsuit alleges that some even compared her to the Devil after publicly associating with LGBTQ+ people and students. 

“Sadly, the Marshall School District has sided with these critics,” her lawyers wrote. 

What followed was an “escalating series of adverse actions” taken by the Marshall School District, said the lawsuit. She claims that the school targeted her by threatening her employment, conducting a “bad-faith” investigation, putting her on indefinite involuntary leave, suspending her without pay and putting a notice of deficiency in her personnel file. 

The complaint says that the deficiencies were “false, distorted, and/or related to Thomas’s association with members of the LGBTQ community.”

Thomas also claims that the District attempted to get her to quit by removing her as principal and assigning her to a “demeaning ‘special projects’ position.”

At one point, Marshall Public Schools Superintendent Jeremy Williams, who is named as a defendant in the case, told Thomas he could “make this all go away” if she stepped down, according to the complaint. 

The school removed the Pride flag in August 2021 after settling a lawsuit brought by residents who opposed it. 

The Blade reached out to Williams for comment but did not receive a response. However, according to the Marshall Independent, Williams did release a statement on the matter. 

“Marshall Public Schools is committed to the education of every child and has strong policies and practices in place against discrimination, against both students and staff members. The school district is committed to creating a respectful, inclusive, and safe learning and working environment for students, staff and our families,” Williams said. “While the school cannot comment about the specific allegations made in the complaint, the school district strongly denies any allegation of discriminatory conduct. The school will vigorously defend itself against these allegations.”

In addition, Thomas alleges that she resisted unwanted sexual advancements from school board member Bill Swope. She claims she told Williams about the sexual harassment.

As of Thursday, the school has not filed a response, and no hearing has been scheduled yet. 

Thomas is seeking a jury trial, damages and reinstatement as principal of Marshall Middle School.

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National

Matthew Shepard honored at National Cathedral

Daylong services held to mark his 45th birthday

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Matthew Shepard, gay news, Washington Blade
Matthew Shepard Thanksgiving and Celebration at the National Cathedral in 2018. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The parents of gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard, who was murdered in a 1998 hate crime that drew international attention to anti-LGBTQ violence, were among those attending a day of religious services commemorating Shepard’s 45th birthday on Wednesday at the Washington National Cathedral.

The services, which the Cathedral organized in partnership with the Matthew Shepard Foundation, included tributes to Shepard at the Cathedral’s St. Joseph’s Chapel, where his remains were interred in a ceremony in 2018.  

“Matthew Shepard’s death is an enduring tragedy affecting all people and should serve as an ongoing call to the nation to reject anti-LGBTQ bigotry and instead embrace each of our neighbors for who they are,” the Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith, Dean of Washington National Cathedral, said at the time of Shepard’s interment.

“In the years since Matthew’s death, the Shepard family has shown extraordinary courage and grace in keeping his spirit and memory alive, and the Cathedral is honored and humbled to serve as his final resting place,” Hollerith said.

The first of the Cathedral’s Dec. 1 services for Shepard began at 7 a.m. with prayers, scripture readings, and music led by the Cathedral’s Rev. Canon Rosemarie Logan Duncan. The service was live streamed on YouTube.

An online, all-day service was also held from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. that Cathedral officials said was intended to “connect people around the world to honor Shepard and the LGBTQ community and pray for a more just world.”

The Shepard services concluded with a 5:30 p.m. in-person remembrance of Shepard in the Cathedral’s Nave, its main worship space. Among those attending were Shepard’s parents, Dennis and Judy Shepard, who have said they created the Matthew Shepard Foundation to continue their son’s support for equality for all.

A statement released by the Cathedral says a bronze plaque honoring Matthew Shepard was installed in St. Joseph’s Chapel to mark his final resting place at the time Shepard was interred there in 2018. 
Following the Cathedral’s Dec. 1 services for Shepard, the Adams Morgan gay bar Pitchers hosted a reception for Dennis and Judy Shepard, according to Pitchers’ owner David Perruzza.

One of the two men charged with Shepard’s murder, Russell Henderson, pleaded guilty to the charge after prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty for him. The second of the two men charged, Aaron McKinney, was convicted of the murder following a lengthy jury trial.

Prosecutors said McKinney repeatedly and fatally struck Shepard in the head with the barrel of a handgun after he and Henderson tied Shepard to a wooden fence in a remote field outside Laramie, Wy., on Oct. 6, 1998. Police and prosecutors presented evidence at McKinney’s trial that McKinney and Henderson met Shepard at a bar in Laramie on that day and lured him into their car, where they drove him to the field where authorities said McKinney fatally assaulted him.

Shepard died six days later at a hospital in Ft. Collins, Colo., where he was taken after being found unconscious while still tied to the fence.

In a dramatic courtroom scene following the jury’s guilty verdict for McKinney, Dennis Shepard urged the judge to spare McKinney’s life by not handing down a death sentence. He said that out of compassion and in honor of his son’s life, McKinney should be allowed to live. The judge sentenced McKinney to two consecutive terms of life in prison without the possibility of parole, the same sentence given to Henderson.

(VIDEO COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON NATIONAL CATHEDRAL VIA YOUTUBE)
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National

‘Very familiar’: Mark Glaze’s story brings into focus mental health for gay men

Experts see common story as LGBTQ people enter middle age

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Mark Glaze's death by suicide is bringing into focus mental health issues faced by gay men.

The death by suicide at age 51 of Mark Glaze, a gun reform advocate who was close to many in D.C.’s LGBTQ community, is striking a chord with observers who see his struggles with mental health and alcoholism as reflective of issues facing many gay men as they enter middle age.

Glaze’s story resonates even though much of the attention on mental health issues in the LGBTQ community is devoted to LGBTQ youth going through the coming out process and transgender people who face disproportionate violence and discrimination within the LGBTQ community in addition to a growing focus on LGBTQ seniors entering later stages of life.

Randy Pumphrey, senior director of behavioral health for the D.C.-based Whitman-Walker Health, said Glaze’s story was “very familiar” as a tale of mental health issues facing gay men in the middle stage of life.

“You’re talking about a gay-identified man who is in his 50s, somebody who has struggled with alcohol misuse — or maybe abuse or dependence— and also depression,” Pumphrey said. “I think that there has always been a higher incidence of suicide for men in general in their middle age 50 and above, but this increases when you’re talking about gay men, and also if you’re talking about gay men who suffer with mental health issues, or substance use disorder issues.”

Several sources close to Glaze said his death did not come as a surprise. His family has been open about his death by suicide last month while he was in jail after allegedly fleeing the scene of a car accident in Pennsylvania and a long history of depression and alcoholism.

Pumphrey said Glaze’s situation coping with mental health issues as well as the consequences for his role in the accident, were reflective of someone who might “begin to perceive that this is an issue that they can’t get away from, or the consequences they can’t get away from exposure and that can lead somebody to a fatal outcome.”

“My experience is that there have been gay men that I have worked with over the years — particularly in their 50s and early 60s — it’s taken them a long time to recognize the severity of the problem, whether it’s their depression or their substance abuse, and then they find themselves in a very precarious situation because of shame, and so they may not necessarily seek help even though they need help.”

A 2017 study in the American Journal of Men’s Health found the prevalence of depression among gay men is three times higher than the general adult population, which means they are a subgroup at high risk for suicide.

The study found “scant research exists about gay men’s health beyond sexual health issues,” most often with HIV, which means issues related to depression and suicidality “are poorly understood.”

“Gay men’s health has often been defined by sexual practices, and poorly understood are the intersections of gay men’s physical and mental health with social determinants of health including ethnicity, locale, education level and socioeconomic status,” the study says.

The study acknowledged being male itself is one factor incorporated in addressing mental health issues in this subgroup because “regardless of sexual orientation, men can be reluctant to seek help for mental health problems.” Another study quoted in the report found 23 percent, less than one quarter of gay men, who attempted suicide sought mental health or medical treatment.

In addition to mental health issues facing gay men in Glaze’s age group, others saw his situation as a common story in the culture of Washington, which is notorious for celebrating and prioritizing success with little tolerance for personal setbacks.

In the case of Glaze, who had sparred on Fox News with Tucker Carlson as executive director of Everytown for Gun Safety, the threat of exposure and threat to his career may have seemed overwhelmingly daunting.

Steven Fisher, who knew Glaze since the 1990s and worked with him at the D.C.-based Raben Group, said one factor that contributed to Glaze’s condition was “he could only see upward in terms of his career trajectory.”

“We saw that in him and it had me very concerned because I felt like he might end up in a place that wasn’t good once he left Everytown, and that’s tragically and sadly what happened,” Fisher said. “I think he just had trouble adjusting to what is usually a roller coaster ride, I think, in people’s careers, especially in the D.C. world.”

Along with Glaze, Fisher has worked on gun issues for Everytown, which has been a client of his since 2015 after he worked for them in 2012 after the Newtown shooting.

Compounding the challenges that Glaze faced is a culture among many gay men focused on sexuality, which prioritizes youth and appearance and presents problems as those qualities start fading when men enter middle age.

Fisher said another factor in Glaze’s condition was social media, pointing out public perception about his identity was important to him.

“If you look at his social media — I think this is instructive to the rest of us — a lot of the comments are about how Mark was so good looking and he was charming, and he was so smart and so funny,” Fisher said. “That’s all true, and that’s why he was very appealing to many people, but those qualities don’t really tell you everything about a person. In fact, one could argue they’re superficial in a way, and people have to remember people are more complicated than what you see on social media.”

One issue for gay men facing mental health issues as they enter middle age is they don’t have the same resources as those available to LGBTQ youth, who have been more of a focus in terms of mental health issues in the LGBTQ community.

Among the leading organizations for LGBTQ youth is the Trevor Project, which has resources and a hotline for LGBTQ youth facing mental health crises.

Kevin Wong, vice president of communications for the Trevor Project, said his organization would be receptive to an older LGBTQ person who calls the hotline, but ultimately would refer that person elsewhere.

“If an LGBTQ person above the age of 25 reaches out to The Trevor Project’s crisis services for support and expresses suicidal thoughts, our counselors will listen, actively and with empathy, and work with them to de-escalate and form a safety plan, like any other contact,” Wong said. “However, our organization has remained youth-centric since its founding and our volunteer crisis counselors are specifically trained with younger LGBTQ people in mind.”

Much attention is focused on the coming out process for LGBTQ people, a time that can upend close relationships — as well as reaffirm them — and a process more commonly associated with youth.

Ilan Meyer, senior scholar of public policy at the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, said data is scant about suicide rates among LGBTQ people, but information on suicide attempts shows they tend to be at a heightened rate for LGBTQ people as they go through the coming out process.

“What we do know is that there is a connection with the coming out period at whatever age coming out happens,” Meyer said. “And so, we see a proximity to coming out whatever age that happened, we see the suicide attempts proceeding and after that.”

Suicide attempts, Meyer said, are much higher for LGBTQ people than the population at large. The self-reported rate of suicide attempts in the U.S. population as a whole, Meyer said, is 2.4 percent, but that figure changes to 20 to 30 percent among LGBTQ youth, which about to 10 to 15 times greater.

Black and Latino people, Meyer said, have been less likely to make suicide attempts in their lifetimes, although he added that may be changing in recent years.

With the primary focus on mental health issues elsewhere in the LGBTQ community, Glaze’s death raises questions about whether sufficient resources are available to people in his demographic, or whether individuals are willing to seek out care options that are available.

Meyer said whether the resources for suicidal ideologies among LGBTQ people are sufficient and what more could be done “is the the million-dollar question.”

“It’s definitely not determined by just mental health,” Meyer said. “So many people have depression, but they don’t attempt suicide. And so, then the difficult thing is to find the right moment to intervene and what that intervention should be.”

Meyer said much of the focus on mental health is on a person’s last moments before making a suicide attempt, such as making suicide hotlines readily available, but some of the stressors he sees “are more chronic, ongoing things related to homophobia and the kind of experience that LGBT people have as they come to terms to realize their sexual identity.”

Pumphrey said another factor in mental health issues not to be underestimated for almost two years now is “dealing with the COVID and loneliness epidemic,” which appears to have no immediate end in sight with the emergence of the Omnicron variant.

“There was always this piece of sometimes the experience of being in your 50s and early 60s…we talk about the invisibility factor,” Pumphrey said. “But when there’s just this sense of being disconnected from community, especially in the early days of the pandemic, and kind of being locked down, I think that just raised the risk.”

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