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Freedom to Marry spurns Md. marriage campaign

Nat’l group uncertain local supporters can defeat referendum



Evan Wolfson

Evan Wolfson says that a Maryland marriage bill would be vulnerable to a voter referendum. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The head of the national advocacy group Freedom to Marry startled leaders of Maryland’s campaign to pass a same-sex marriage bill in 2012 when he implied this week that organizers weren’t doing the work needed to defeat an expected voter referendum to overturn such a bill.

Evan Wolfson, executive director of Freedom to Marry, told the Washington Blade on Monday that his group chose not to join a coalition of local, state and national groups called Marylanders for Marriage Equality. The coalition is leading efforts to lobby the Maryland Legislature to approve a same-sex marriage bill when it convenes in Annapolis in January.

“We are deeply committed, as we have been for years, to ending exclusion from marriage in Maryland and throughout the country,” Wolfson told the Blade in an email.

But he added, “In Maryland, because of the likelihood that marriage legislation can be forced onto the ballot, the key question is not just passing a bill in the legislature, but defending it against an attack campaign via ballot measure,” he said.

“Freedom to Marry has made it clear to members of the coalition and to lawmakers that our goal is to win, not simply to pass a bill, if there is not sufficient groundwork and investment in a campaign to win at the ballot,” he said.

“We have continued to press for clarity and progress on benchmarks for success, and have urged elected officials, national organizations, and advocates on the ground to show the plan, investment, and activities needed now to build public support and succeed at the ballot, not just the legislature,” he told the Blade in his email message about the Maryland marriage campaign.

Spokespersons for two of the lead coalition partners of Marylanders for Marriage Equality – Fred Sainz of the Human Rights Campaign and Lisa Polyak of Equality Maryland – responded cautiously to Wolfson’s comments, saying the coalition is actively engaged in laying the groundwork and mapping strategy for fighting a possible marriage referendum.

Other sources familiar with the coalition’s member groups, who spoke on condition that they not be identified, said at least some of the coalition’s representatives took offense at Wolfson’s remarks. They said he appeared to be drawing conclusions about the coalition’s capabilities and setting criteria for it to obtain help from Freedom to Marry without knowing the full details of the coalition’s activities since it formed in July.

In addition to HRC and Equality Maryland, other members of Marylanders for Marriage Equality include the NAACP of Baltimore, the ACLU of Maryland, the Service Employees International Union of Maryland, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Progressive Maryland, the National Black Justice Coalition, Catholics for Equality, Maryland Faith for Equality, Maryland NOW, the Family Equality Council, and Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG).

“With the help of all of our coalition partners we believe that both a legislative fight as well as a referendum is very winnable in Maryland,” said HRC spokesperson Fred Sainz. “In fact, our recent polling shows that 51 percent of Marylanders would support it,” he said in referring to the same-sex marriage bill.

Another HRC spokesperson, Kevin Nix, released to the Blade the results of a poll that HRC commissioned from the polling firm Garin Hart Yang, which shows 51 percent of those polled would vote in support of same-sex marriage in a possible Maryland referendum. The poll showed 44 percent would vote against same-sex marriage in such a referendum, while 5 percent were undecided or had no opinion.

Nix said the poll was conducted Oct. 20-23 of this year.

“We believe that the numbers will continue to grow and the enthusiasm for marriage equality will only become greater should there be the need for a referendum,” Sainz said.

Lisa Polyak, board chair for Equality Maryland, acknowledged that the makeup of the Maryland Legislature will be the same in January as it was in March of this year, when it failed to pass a same-sex marriage bill due to lack of support in the House of Delegates. The State Senate passed the measure in what observers called an historic development.

But Polyak said the difference going forward is that Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, has agreed to introduce the bill this time around and serve as its chief sponsor in the legislature’s 2012 session, providing an important boost for its chances of passing.

“At Equality Maryland, we’re following the governor’s lead and we intend to show that his confidence and the ability of Maryland to pass this legislation are well founded,” she said. “We are going to work and work and work to not just pass the bill through the legislature but to deal with anything that comes after it to make sure that we achieve the goal of legal equality for our families through civil marriage.”

Asked if she believes the coalition is prepared to fight a ballot referendum, Polyak said, “Yes, we feel that we are and will be prepared if that becomes a reality.”

Maryland State Sen. Rich Madaleno (D-Montgomery County), who’s gay, said he, too, believes the coalition is quickly building an infrastructure needed to fend off a referendum. However, he said a referendum is not an absolute certainty. Under Maryland’s referendum law, organizers of a referendum must obtain about 52,000 petition signatures in a period of less than three months.

In past referendum battles, those opposing a referendum have challenged the validity of many of the signatures in efforts that have sometimes succeeded in preventing a referendum from reaching the ballot.

Melissa Goemann, legislative director of the ACLU of Maryland, said her organization and the coalition as a whole are “definitely” working on a plan to deal with a referendum over the marriage bill. She said ACLU of Maryland has hired a field director to work full-time on the marriage bill.

“We are very enthusiastic,” she said.

Others familiar with the Maryland coalition acknowledge that fighting a voter referendum will be a daunting task if recent history is a predictor of the outcome. Since 2004, opponents of same-sex marriage have succeeded in persuading voters in 29 states to approve ballot measures banning same-sex marriage in those states’ constitutions.

In 2006, same-sex marriage supporters in Arizona succeeded in defeating a ballot measure seeking to put in place a draconian constitutional amendment that would have banned same-sex marriage in the state as well as civil unions and domestic partnership rights for same-sex couples. The defeat marked the first and only time a state ballot measure calling for banning same-sex marriage had been beaten back.

But a short time later, Arizona voters passed a less restrictive ballot measure that bans same-sex marriage while allowing civil unions or domestic partnerships.

The National Organization for Marriage, the group leading efforts to oppose same-sex marriage in the United States, boasts that opponents of same-sex marriage have a perfect record of 29-0 in the fight against same-sex marriage.

Despite these odds, marriage equality advocates, including Wolfson, have said in the recent past that efforts to pass same-sex marriage bills in state legislatures or through the courts should continue. In discussing the approval in 2008 by California voters of Proposition 8, which overturned that state’s same-sex marriage law, Wolfson said the debate over Prop 8 played an important role in educating the American public about the importance of marriage equality.

Although Prop 8 was a defeat for LGBT equality in the short term, Wolfson has said it opened the way for “conversations” about marriage equality among the American people that would lead to the changing of hearts and minds of the public in the near future.

Some of the participants of Marylanders for Marriage Equality, speaking on condition that they not be identified, said the same principles should apply to Maryland. They said Wolfson should not impose a “benchmark” on the Maryland effort that calls for a guarantee that a referendum will be defeated before Freedom to Marry or other national organizations will lend their support.

Wolfson responded to these concerns in a follow-up email on Tuesday reiterating his belief that some benefit can be achieved even if a state marriage referendum loses. But he said such a benefit can only come about if supporters of marriage equality wage an effective and well thought-out campaign.

“[W]hen we engage in these campaigns against ballot attacks, we should fight so as to at least ‘lose forward,’ i.e., gain ground and set the stage for the next fight, via public education and enlisting support, even if we can’t prevail on the enemy’s timeframe by election day,” he said.

“So it is true that I believe in the value, indeed the necessity, of persuasion,” he added, which he described as lesson number two. “Lesson 1 was win,” he said.

“In Maryland, we have the opportunity to actually win and hold marriage, if we do what is needed not just to advance a bill but to mount a sustained and sufficient campaign to defend marriage at the ballot,” Wolfson said. “Benchmarks for achieving and holding the win are what Freedom to Marry has called for.”


District of Columbia

Anacostia group honors LGBTQ advocate Pannell for 30 years of service

Oct. 5 celebration set for Ward 8 Sycamore & Oak retail village



Phillip Pannell (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The Anacostia Coordinating Council (ACC), an advocacy organization for D.C.’s Anacostia neighborhood and surrounding areas east of the Anacostia River, is holding a celebration honoring LGBTQ rights and Anacostia community activist Phillip Pannell for his 30 years of service with the ACC.

The event was scheduled to take place from 6-8 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 5, at the recently opened Sycamore & Oak retail village mall on the St. Elizabeth’s East Campus in Southeast D.C.

Pannell, 73, serves as the ACC executive director, a position he has held since 1995. He has been a member of the Anacostia-based nonprofit organization’s staff since 1993.
A longtime advocate for LGBTQ rights, Pannell has been credited with persuading many of D.C.’s LGBTQ organizations to reach out to LGBTQ residents who live in Wards 7 and 8 east of the Anacostia River.

He has also been credited with persuading African-American organizations, including organizers of the annual Martin Luther King Jr. memorial celebrations, to include and welcome LGBTQ people to their events.

“Join us for an evening of food, fun, and surprises,” an announcement of the event released by the ACC says.

ACC spokesperson Lamont Mitchell told the Washington Blade several community leaders and public officials who have known Pannell during his many years of D.C. community involvement were expected to speak at the Oct. 5 celebration. Among the expected speakers, Mitchell said, was former D.C. Mayor Sharon Pratt.

According to the announcement, the event is free and open to the public, but organizers requested that people register in advance at

The ACC event honoring Pannell was to take place about a month after the D.C. newspaper Washington Informer published a detailed article profiling Pannell’s career as a community activist and advocate for several important local causes and issues, including D.C. statehood.

“D.C. statehood is not just a political issue, it is also a civil and human rights issue because if D.C. were a state, we would be a state with the highest percentage of African Americans, basically a majority, minority state,” the Informer quoted Pannell as saying. “That’s one of the reasons a lot of right-wing Republicans don’t want to see D.C. become a state because we are going to elect progressive, Black Democratic senators,” Pannell told the Informer.

A statement on the ACC’s website says Pannell has received more than 100 awards during his nearly four decades of work in D.C., including the 2011 U.S. President’s Call to Service Award and the 2012 D.C. Federation of Civic Associations award for Outstanding President of a Member Association.

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Elected officials turn out for annual Equality NoVa Ice Cream Social

Northern Virginia LGBTQ group stresses ‘political awareness, education’



Freddie Lutz, on right, and his husband Johnny Cervantes host the annual ice cream social. (Photo courtesy of Lutz)

Four LGBTQ supportive members of the Virginia General Assembly and two candidates running for seats on the Arlington County Board were among more than 100 people who turned out on Sunday, Sept. 24, for the LGBTQ organization Equality NoVa’s annual Ice Cream Social.

The event was held at the Arlington, Va. home of Freddie Lutz, owner of the Arlington gay bar and restaurant Freddie’s Beach Bar, and Lutz’s husband, Johnny Cervantes.

Daniel Hays, president of Equality NoVa, told those attending the event in introductory remarks that Equality NoVa, which recently changed its name from the Arlington Gay and Lesbian Alliance (AGLA), was founded in 1981 and is the oldest continuously operating LGBTQ organization in Virginia.

In an announcement in April the group said the name change came after it had taken on for some time the activities and representation of the now-defunct LGBTQ groups in Alexandria and Fairfax counties and had expanded its operations to cover most if not all the regions known as Northern Virginia.

Hays noted that the group is a nonpartisan organization that doesn’t endorse candidates for public office but organizes educational and political awareness events and awareness campaigns on issues impacting LGBTQ people related to statewide and local government agencies and officials.

The elected officials attending the event were Virginia House of Delegates members Charniele Herring (D-Alexandria & Fairfax), Elizabeth Bennett-Parker (D-Alexandria & Arlington), and Vivian Watts (D-Fairfax).

Also attending was Virginia State Sen. Barbara Favola, a Democrat whose district includes parts of Arlington, Fairfax, and Loudoun Counties.

Joining the state lawmakers attending the Equality NoVa social were Arlington County Board candidates Maureen Coffey and Susan Cunningham and Arlington County School Board candidate Miranda Turner.

Many of those attending the event said they were rooting for the re-election of Herring, Bennett-Parker, Watts, and Favola in the upcoming Virginia elections in November. All members and candidates for the General Assembly will be on the ballot in an election that political observers say could decide which party controls both houses of the state legislature.

Currently, Democrats control the 40-member Virginia Senate by a margin of 22-18 seats. Republicans currently control the House of Delegates by a margin of 51 to 46 seats, with three vacancies in the 100-member House.

With Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) putting in place through executive action public school policies that LGBTQ activists consider hostile and discriminatory for transgender students, LGBTQ activists are hopeful that a Democratic takeover of the House of Delegates would result in a reversal of Youngkin’s school policy.

Some of the activists attending the Equality NoVa event said they were fearful that a Republican takeover of the state Senate and if Republicans retain control of the House of Delegates could result in the General Assembly approving the type of anti-LGBTQ legislation passed in Florida and other states.

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Anti-transgender heckler interrupts Danica Roem during debate

Trans lawmaker is running for the Va. state Senate



Virginia state Del. Danica Roem (D-Manassas) speaks at the LGBTQ Victory Fund National Champagne Brunch in D.C. on April 23, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

An anti-transgender heckler interrupted Virginia state Del. Danica Roem (D-Manassas) on Sept. 28 during a debate with her Republican opponent for the state Senate.

The woman heckled Roem during the Prince William Committee of 100-organized debate between her and Bill Woolf that took place at Metz Middle School in Manassas. 

“Thank you for reminding me why I won three elections in this district in Prince William County, which is the most diverse county in all of Virginia and the 10th most nationally where we welcome everyone because of who they are, not despite it, no matter what you look like, where you come from how you worship, if you do, or who you love because you should be able to thrive here because of who you are, never despite it,” said Roem.

Audience members applauded Roem after she responded to the heckler who was eventually removed from the auditorium.

Roem in 2017 defeated then-state Del. Bob Marshall, a vocal LGBTQ rights opponent who co-wrote Virginia’s constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman that voters approved 11 years earlier. Roem subsequently became the first openly transgender person seated in a state legislature in the U.S.

Roem in 2019 became the first out trans state legislator to win re-election. Roem in May 2022 announced she is running to represent the newly redistricted Senate District 30, which includes western Prince William County and the cities of Manassas and Manassas Park.

Woolf during the Sept. 28 debate did not say whether he would support the repeal of the marriage amendment. Woolf also reiterated his support of a bill that would require school personnel to out trans students to their parents.

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