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New effort to win marriage underway in Md.

‘We are not considering civil unions’



Del. Mary Washington (center), a lesbian member of the Maryland House of Delegates, announced plans for a new marriage bill at a news conference Tuesday. At left is Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. (Washington Blade photo)

BALTIMORE — A diverse coalition of organizations announced plans Tuesday to push for a same-sex marriage bill in Maryland during the 2012 legislative session, which begins in January.

Led by Progressive Maryland, the coalition is dubbed Marylanders for Marriage Equality and includes Equality Maryland, the Human Rights Campaign, ACLU, Service Employees International Union 1199, Maryland Catholics for Equality and a number of other religious organizations.

Coalition members gathered at a sweltering morning news conference in front of Baltimore’s City Hall to announce their plans, just weeks after New York’s legislature approved a marriage equality measure.

“I believe in equality for all Baltimoreans,” said Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. “Baltimore will continue to stand with you in Annapolis.”

Sen. Rich Madaleno (D-Mont. Co.), when asked by the Washington Blade whether the coalition would consider a civil unions bill in lieu of marriage in the event of a referendum threat, said unequivocally that civil unions are an unacceptable compromise.

“It is marriage and only marriage — we are not considering a civil unions bill,” said Madaleno, the only openly gay member of the state Senate. “We will win a referendum if it gets that far.”

Gov. Martin O’Malley did not attend the news conference, but has said since 2007 that he would sign a marriage equality bill if the legislature can pass it. Del. Maggie McIntosh, a lesbian and the most senior member of the LGBT Caucus in the House of Delegates, said the coalition is in talks with O’Malley about taking a more visible and public role in advocating for the bill. O’Malley was criticized by some marriage rights supporters earlier this year for his perceived lack of visibility on the issue, which comes in stark contrast to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who is widely credited with championing the issue in the Empire State.

McIntosh said marriage equality supporters have asked O’Malley to include the bill in the administration’s 2012 legislative package and that an answer on that request could come within weeks.

“The governor and the delegates have had discussions about this recently,” O’Malley spokesperson Raquel Guillory told the Blade after the news conference. “He is supportive of the new push and we are reaching out to a broad coalition of folks and discussing what steps we take next.”

Guillory didn’t say whether O’Malley would include the marriage bill in his administrative package.

“The governor was very clear last year that he would sign a marriage bill if it crossed his desk and that position has not changed,” she said. “He remains supportive.”

Asked why O’Malley didn’t attend today’s news conference, Guillory said, “This was an event organized by the delegates and [Rich] Madaleno —  this was their event, it wasn’t the governor’s announcement.”

She added that the difference between the successful New York effort and the very visible role Cuomo played in it and O’Malley’s approach to the issue is merely a matter of style.

“You’re focusing on one issue,” she said, “you need to look at the personalities of the individuals. [Cuomo] is not much more out there [on marriage], he’s more vocal about everything, it’s a matter of style.”

She added that O’Malley “did a lot behind the scenes to work this bill,” and that taking Cuomo’s approach “doesn’t ensure passage.”

A marriage equality bill failed in the House of Delegates in March after the Senate approved it. Multiple factors were cited for its failure, including opposition from conservative black pastors in Prince George’s County and a vigorous and well-funded campaign by the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage to derail the bill.

But supporters noted that they had little time to plan last year, because the bill was bottled up in committee until a sudden reshuffling of committee assignments in December resulted in its Senate passage.

“I’m incredibly optimistic this time,” said lesbian Del. Heather Mizeur (D-Mont. Co.). “Last year, we were caught off guard; this year we have more time to plan.”

Responding to speculation that the bill could be introduced at a special October legislative session on redistricting, Mizeur said that the bill would most likely be considered in January.

Guillory said the focus of the October special session would be on redistricting. “Other options could be put on the table, but our focus is to take care of the redistricting issue,” she said.

Del. Peter Murphy (D-Charles Co.), who came out in an interview with the Blade earlier this year, echoed Mizeur’s confidence.

“I’m very optimistic,” Murphy said, “there is a tremendous effort and organization behind this and I’m confident the citizens of Maryland will support it.”

Rion Dennis, executive director of Progressive Maryland, vowed that Maryland would become the nation’s seventh state to enact marriage equality. His group is leading the marriage coalition. Sultan Shakir, an HRC employee who was loaned to Equality Maryland during the legislative session to work on marriage, is now working with Progressive Maryland.

Equality Maryland fired its executive director after the 2011 legislative session and its board chair later resigned. The group has been plagued by financial and staffing problems, but one board member said Tuesday that things are turning around.

“We have a six-month plan in place and are back on sound financial footing,” said Equality Maryland board member Mark Yost. “We look forward to working with the coalition to bring marriage to all Marylanders.”

Yost said Equality Maryland is planning to hire a new executive director but declined to say when that would occur.

In addition to politicians and activists, the Tuesday news conference highlighted the plight of two lesbian couples from Maryland. Kalima Young and Francine Housier joined Chris Megargee and Barbara McKeefery in addressing the media and taking about the importance of marriage equality to them and their families.










District of Columbia

AIDS Healthcare Foundation celebrates opening of new D.C. healthcare center

Ribbon-cutting marks launch of state-of-the-art facility on Capitol Hill



AHF’s new healthcare center is located at 650 Pennsylvania Ave., S.E. (Washington Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation, the world’s largest HIV/AIDS healthcare organization with its headquarters in Los Angeles, held a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Sept. 27 to mark the official opening of its Capitol Hill Healthcare Center.

The new center, which AHF describes as a state-of-the-art facility for the holistic care and treatment of people with HIV as well as a site for HIV prevention and primary care services, is located at 650 Pennsylvania Ave., S.E.  a half block away from the Eastern Market Metro station.

A statement released by AHF says the Capitol Hill Healthcare Center will continue AHF’s ongoing delivery of “cutting-edge medical care and services to patients regardless of insurance status or ability to pay.” The statement adds, “The site also features a full-service AHF Pharmacy and will host Wellness Center services on Saturdays to offer STI testing and treatment.”

The statement was referring to the testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections. The D.C. Department of Health has said the highest number of STIs in the city have been reported for men who have sex with men.

Mike McVicker, AHF’s Regional Director for its D.C., Maryland, and Virginia facilities, said the Capitol Hill center began taking patients in October of 2021 as AHF transferred its operations from its facility on Benning Road, N.E. about two miles from the Capitol Hill site. McVicker said the Benning Road site has now been closed.

AHF’s second D.C. medical center is located downtown at 2141 K St., N.W. AHF operates three other extended D.C.-area health care centers in Falls Church, Va., Temple Hills, Md. and Baltimore.

“Our Capitol Hill Healthcare Center has no waiting room, so patients immediately are escorted to treatment rooms and serviced from a centrally located provider workstation,” McVicker said. “The goal is to maximize efficiency using this patient-centered model to improve health outcomes and increase retention in care.”

McVicker told the Blade the AHF Capitol Hill center is currently serving 585 patients and has a staff of 10, including Dr. Conor Grey, who serves as medical director. He said a separate team of five staffers operates the Saturday walk-in center that provides STI services as well as services related to the HIV prevention medication known as PrEP.

“I’m very excited to be a part of this team,” Dr. Grey said at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, which was held in a courtyard outside the Capitol Hill office building where the AHF center is located. About 50 people, including D.C. government officials, attended the event.

“This is a beautiful thing to celebrate,” Grey said. “So, I’m very happy to enjoy the day with all of you, and looking forward to a bright, productive future working together and fighting a common enemy that has unfortunately been with us.”

Others who spoke at the event included Tom Myers, AHF’s Chief of Public Affairs and General Counsel; Toni Flemming, Supervisory Public Health Analyst and Field Operations Manager for the D.C. Department of Health’s HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, STD, and Tuberculosis Administration (HAHSTA), and Dr. Christie Olejeme, Public Health Analyst for HAHSTA’s Care and Treatment Division.

Also speaking at the event was Japer Bowles, director of D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs.

Bowles called the AHF Capitol Hill center “another pivotal resource” for the LGBTQ community as well as for the city.

“We know, as has been previously stated, a low-barrier HIV prevention support is pivotal to the mayor’s mission of eliminating HIV infections in the District of Columbia and the region,” Bowles told the gathering.

“So, I’m very excited to see more services specifically provided to those in the Southeast and Northeast quadrants of our District,” he said, referring to the AHF Capitol Hill center. “This is a great moment for our community, but also for D.C. as a whole.”

In its statement released this week announcing the official opening of the Capitol Hill Center AHF notes that currently, 11,904 D.C. residents, or 1.8 percent of the population, are living with HIV. It points out that HIV disproportionately impacts Black residents, who make up about 44 percent of the population but comprise nearly three-quarters of the city’s HIV cases.

AHF official Myers said the Capitol Hill center will join its other D.C.-area facilities in addressing the issue of racial disparities related to HIV.

“Our treatment model helps eliminate barriers for those already in care, those who may not know their HIV status, and those living with HIV who may not currently be in care,” he said.

AHF says in its statement that it currently operates more than 900 healthcare centers around the world in 45 countries including 17 U.S. states. It has more than 1.7 million people in care, according to the statement. Founded in 1987, the organization has also taken on the role of public advocacy for federal and local government programs in the U.S. to address the HIV/AIDS epidemic, including efforts to lower the costs of HIV drugs.

During its work in the late 1980s and early 1990s AHF emerged as a strong advocate for addressing the special needs of gay and bisexual men who were hit hardest by HIV/AIDS at the start of the epidemic.

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District of Columbia

Georgetown University hosts panel on transgender, nonbinary issues

Lawmakers from Mont., Okla. among panelists



Oklahoma state Rep. Mauree Turner speaks at Georgetown University on Sept. 26, 2023. (Photo by Sydney Carroll)

A panel on transgender and nonbinary issues took place at Georgetown University on Tuesday.

The panel included Montana state Rep. Zooey Zephyr and her fiancée, journalist Erin Reed, who are both trans, and nonbinary Oklahoma state Rep. Mauree Turner. Charlotte Clymer was also on the panel that Amanda Phillips, a nonbinary Georgetown professor, moderated. 

The panel began with a discussion about anti-trans laws that have been enacted across the country.

Reed said the Alliance Defending Freedom and the American Principles Project developed a strategy in response to North Carolina’s now repealed law that banned trans people from using public restrooms consistent with their gender identity. 

They focused on states that are more “business-friendly and therefore harder to boycott, and started with sports. Reed said bans on gender-segregated sports put an “asterisk on [trans] identity” that made further attacks possible.

Clymer spoke on attitudes towards trans policies. 

She referenced a survey that asked Americans if they supported nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ individuals. Around 75 percent of respondents, including almost half of Republicans, said yes. Clymer said the next question that asked if such protections exist concerns her.

Roughly half of respondents said yes. 

While there are two U.S. Supreme Court rulings — Obergefell and Bostock — that extended marriage rights to same-sex couples and employment protections to LGBTQ people respectively, Clymer noted there are no federal protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Turner and Zephyr spoke about being censured for defending trans rights. 

Oklahoma lawmakers in March censured Turner after they refused to turn into the authorities a trans person who had allegedly assaulted a state trooper. 

Turner said in Oklahoma, where there is no public debate, and politicians are openly anti-trans, residents are fighting against an “apathetic” and “heinous” legislature. On the topic of activism, they said being a “truth teller,” and saying “absolutely not” is “what got [them] censured.”

Zephyr’s censure was in April after she criticized a bill to restrict gender-affirming health care in Montana. The protests that followed stemmed from trans issues, but Zepher said they were about much more. 

“The protests […] were about recognizing that when you silence a legislator, you take away representation from their constituents,” she said. “That fight became a larger fight about democracy.” 

From left: Erin Reed and her fiancée, Montana state Rep. Zooey Zephyr, speak at Georgetown University on Sept. 26, 2023. (Photo by Sydney Carroll)

The panelists talked about mental health and addressing it.

Turner said that being the representation they needed keeps them going. 

“I didn’t think I was going to make it through middle school,” they said. “Representation matters for so many people […] if you can aid in being that representation, being that force that helps somebody else keep going, that is one of the most powerful experiences.” 

The panel agreed that finding community is important to mental health. 

“Sometimes our best activism is finding our community,” Reed said. 

The panel also spoke about queer joy and strength. 

“Queer joy is the thing they can’t take away,” Zephyr said. 

Reed talked about photos of activists who were organizing before the Stonewall riots in 1969; they were smiling and enjoying their community. 

“The queer story is a story of not just surviving in the margins but thriving in the margins,” Reed said.

Turner added “trans lives aren’t just lives worth fighting for, they are lives worth living.”

A self-described “journalist” who didn’t identify himself or his outlet asked the panel, “What is a woman?” Clymer turned the question back to him, and he said it “comes down to genetics.”

Clymer began to explain that chromosomes don’t always define sex. The audience member began to argue and ignored an event organizer who was asking him to leave. Security promptly escorted him out. 

Reed continued Clymer’s point that even biological sex is difficult to define. 

“Last year, 15 different state legislators tried to define sex, did you know that none of them managed to do so in a way that was scientifically correct?”

The panelists also offered advice to allies. 

Clymer said treading about trans issues and being informed about them is a great start. 

“You’ve got to step up,” she said.

Turner said allyship goes beyond relationships, and into the realm of being uncomfortable. 

“Allyship is synonymous with action and moving forward,” they said.

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Rehoboth Beach

Rehoboth Beach theater announces new managing director

Clear Space hires Joe Gfaller after national search



Joe Gfaller starts his new role in November.

Rehoboth Beach’s Clear Space Theatre Company announced Tuesday that its board of directors has unanimously selected Joe Gfaller to join the company as managing director after a national search. 

Gfaller, who currently serves as managing director for Metro Theater Company in St. Louis, will join Artistic Director David Button as co-leader at CSTC, which marks its 20th anniversary in 2024.

“I am thrilled at the opportunity to help Clear Space Theatre Company grow its civic and philanthropic footprint as it begins a third decade of serving the community in coastal Delaware,” Gfaller said.

“Rehoboth is a special place to all who call it home, both year-round and seasonally. It is an extraordinary honor to work with such a creative and dynamic team as the CSTC staff and board to help the company grow to represent and reflect the fullness of this community.”

At Metro Theater Company, which is St. Louis’s primary professional theater for youth and families, Gfaller guided campaigns that helped grow the company’s revenues by 40% over four years, according to a release from Clear Space.

“Joe brings a wide range of theater experiences to the position and is sure to make an immediate impact on the company,” said Clear Space Board chair Laura Lee Mason. “His impressive track record and visionary leadership will undoubtedly elevate Clear Space to new heights. Joe shares our dedication to providing the community with outstanding education and theatrical experiences, and we look forward to collaborating with him to achieve those artistic aspirations.”

CSTC Artistic Director David Button added, “I look forward to Clear Space Theatre Company’s growth alongside Joe Gfaller. Not only will Clear Space benefit from his talent, but so will the community and state arts industry as a whole.”

Gfaller will begin full time in Rehoboth Beach in mid-November. During an October visit for the opening of “Young Frankenstein” at CSTC on Oct. 13, there will be opportunities for the public to meet him during the CAMP Rehoboth Street Festival on Oct. 15. He will be joined by his husband Kraig and their two dogs, Sprout and Emmit.

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