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Federal funds used to support anti-gay efforts in Iowa

$2.2 million aided group’s marriage campaign

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White House Press Secretary Jay Carney (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney declined to directly respond Monday to a recent media report revealing that $2.2 million in federal money that had gone to an Iowa group aided in its efforts to undo marriage equality in the state.

In response to a question from the Washington Blade, Carney said he was unaware of the Associated Press report about the issue and declined to say whether the Obama administration has a problem with federal resources being used for that purpose.

“I wasn’t aware of that,” Carney said. “I’ll have to take that question.”

Carney also demurred when asked about  the idea of President Obama issuing an executive order that would bar the use of federal funds for discriminatory efforts against LGBT Americans as a means to address the issue.

“I don’t have any — I mean, you’re asking a hypothetical about an executive order that doesn’t exist,” Carney said.

MORE IN THE BLADE: DEMOCRATIC WIN PRESERVES MARRIAGE RIGHTS IN IOWA

Last week, AP reported that $2.2 million in a federal grant received by the group — now known as the FAMiLY LEADER — between 2006 and 2010 for marriage counseling purposes also helped pay some operational expenses while the organization was leading a campaign against same-sex marriage. The information was found through grant documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.

The grant money reportedly helped the group — then known as the Iowa Family Policy Center — provide marriage counseling and education for hundreds of state residents. But the grant money also contributed to the salaries of five employees, rent, telephone, Internet and other expenses while the group was fighting same-sex marriage in Iowa.

The AP also quotes an anonymous University of Iowa researcher who was a consultant on the grant as saying the group declined to provide same-sex couples education and counseling with the funds.

After the Iowa Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in 2009, the FAMiLY LEADER was vocal in opposition to gay nuptials. The group wanted to block the ruling from taking effect and called on the state legislature to amend Iowa’s constitution to bar same-sex marriage.

The group supported last year in the Republican race for governor Bob Vander Plaats, who vowed to sign an executive order to overturn the marriage ruling. After losing to current Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad in the GOP primary, Vander Plaats led the campaign in 2010 that successfully ousted via referendum three of the justices who ruled in favor of same-sex marriage.

The FAMiLY LEADER didn’t immediately respond to the Washington Blade’s request for comment on the AP reporting or whether the organization believes efforts against same-sex marriage were an appropriate use of the grant. According to AP, the Department of Health & Human Services officials approved the grant budget, and there’s no indication the costs violated federal guidelines.

The information that $2.2 million in federal money went to the FAMiLY LEADER isn’t new. Reporter Andy Kopsa of the Washington Independent reported in April that the group received this money through the U.S. Healthy Marriage Demonstration Fund as part of a total of more than $3 million in grants.

But the AP report confirms that these funds aided efforts against same-sex marriage in Iowa and offers details on initiatives and employees working on that campaign who received money as a result of this grant.

Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, criticized the use of federal money to rescind marriage rights in Iowa.

“This appears to be an outrageous abuse of taxpayer money, in which funding intended to help support married couples was diverted into an attack on married couples, discrimination against some married couples, and a partisan political agenda that is anything but charitable,” Wolfson said.

Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, deferred further comment from the Obama administration on the AP report to HHS.

Richard Sorian, assistant secretary for public affairs at HHS, said the FAMiLY LEADER received its five-year grant in 2006 under a 2005 law signed by former President George W. Bush. But after the President Obama took office in 2009, Sorian said the organization declined the fifth year of its grant — citing “restraints” under the Obama administration — without identifying any restraint in particular.

“The key fact is they’re no longer a grantee and they pulled out of program after we began to review each grantee,” Sorian said. “It wasn’t just that grantee, all grantees were on an active-basis review to make sure that they were doing what they had asked for funds to do.”

Because the organization is no longer a grantee, Sorian said the administration is unable to investigate the FAMiLY LEADER for its use of federal funds.

Still, Sorian said the FAMiLY LEADER’s use of federal funds for its work against same-sex marriage wouldn’t have been appropriate. To receive the grant, Sorian said the FAMiLY LEADER had to propose what it would do with federal funds and how much money it wanted for each activity. But Sorian said campaigning against same-sex marriage wasn’t listed as among its proposals, so federal funds “could not be used for that purpose.”

The AP report isn’t the only media outlet indicating that federal funds could be used to harm or discriminate against LGBT Americans.

In July, Bachmann & Associates, the Minnesota Christian-faith clinic co-owned by Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann and operated by her husband, Marcus Bachmann, was revealed to have engaged in widely discredited ‘ex-gay’ reparative therapy. The clinic received $137,000 in Medicaid funds since 2005, although it’s unclear if this money paid for reparative therapy.

The Washington Independent also reported in February that Project SOS, a Jacksonville, Miss., based abstinence education program has received more than $6.5 million in federal funds since 2002. Several watchdog organizations have cited the group for spreading false information about HIV/AIDS. Additionally, Project SOS is a supporter of Ugandan pastor Martin Ssempa, a supporter of legislation that would institute the death penalty in the country for homosexual acts.

In response to such reporting, some LGBT advocates have called for an executive order specifically prohibiting the use of federal funds to discriminate against LGBT Americans.

Richard Socarides, president of Equality Matters, said the AP report from last week demonstrates the need for such a directive.

“We have sought for some time now an executive order specifically baring the use of federal funds for anti-gay purposes and this report again makes perfectly clear why it’s needed,” Socarides said.

Responding to a request for comment on such an order, Inouye said, “The president continues to examine steps the federal government can take to help secure equal rights for LGBT Americans. While I can’t speak to this specific proposal, we’ve already taken steps such as extending benefits to the same-sex domestic partners of federal employees and ensuring equal access to [Department of Housing & Urban Development] programs, and we hope to continue making progress.”

NOTE: This article has been updated.

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7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. customartist

    August 30, 2011 at 8:34 am

    Tell the President to issue an Executive Order NOW, Including elimination of funding to groups already known to have participated in discrimination.

    http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact

  2. Syd Diamond

    August 30, 2011 at 10:46 am

    Anti-gay conservatives are trying to take Federal dollars away from NPR and the National Endowment for the Arts. But conservatives turn around and take money from the government to use for a political purpose. Someone needs to make an undercover video on this group. Obama needs to stop funding any religious group that does not comply with basic civil rights.

  3. Blaine W. Andrews

    August 30, 2011 at 1:54 pm

    These organizations need to be called out on their discriminatory practices as well as their hypocritically “Partisan” agenda! Small government indeed! What hogwash!!

  4. Eric

    August 30, 2011 at 2:18 pm

    Same-old same-old from the big government conservatives.

  5. Erich Riesenberg

    August 30, 2011 at 2:58 pm

    I live in Iowa and was the first person to raise this issue publicly. I had wondered about the IFPC’s funding and started reading their tax returns. Two odd things: I think Obama has expaned faith based funding, and there was at least one other group affiliated with Focus on the Family (as was / is IFPC) who have received HHS funding. One other odd thing is members of the local gay advocacy group One Iowa were apparently aware of the funding and did not speak against it. People seem to think it is normal politics.

  6. John Doe

    August 31, 2011 at 8:34 pm

    WHITE HOUSE/HHS SPONSORSHIP OF ANTI-GAY HATE GROUP AFFILIATE?
    All Pro Dad, a program created by the Tampa-based organization Family First, is also known as the “Florida Family Council.” The Florida Family Council is an affiliate of the American Family Association, which has been designated as an anti-gay hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Moreover, Tony Dungy (All Pro Dad founder and spokesperson) and Mark Merrill (Florida Family Council president) are vocal critics of gay marriage and gay fatherhood. Clearly, federal funds including HHS healthy marriage and responsible fatherhood grants and contracts should not be used to promote hate, intolerance, and injustice. http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0409/20956.html

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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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‘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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