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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.”

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  1. laurelboy2

    December 6, 2011 at 6:03 pm

    Maryland: Just pass the dam thing and get it over with. Nobody will take advantage of it anyway. If they do, they’ll divorce and re-marry just like Rosie and Company. Oh, but we’ve got to have our equal rights!! Pass it on a Friday night, let the supporters toast on Sat night to broad smiles of victory, and then move on to bigger and more important matters.

  2. Steve

    December 6, 2011 at 6:53 pm

    My hope is that the strategists are not banking on 51% support in a poll taken in October. I doubt the poll centered on likely voters whereby older citizens vote in greater numbers than the younger generation. As such, older folks who are prone to vote against marriage equality will support the referendum as will religiously conservative African-Americans who are expected to vote in higher than normal numbers given Pres. Obama will be on the ballot. And that is before the opposition goes full throttle and demonzies gays and lesbians on the airwaves. In addition, when it comes to social justice, respondents are more apt to reflect a progressive tone believing that’s what pollsters want to hear. Accordingly, these polls are commonly inflated and reality comes to fore at the election itself. To use the 51% as any kind of earmark is unrealistic.

  3. kep

    December 7, 2011 at 8:33 pm

    Marriage equality is coming to Maryland, with or without Freedom to Marry. If Evan Wolfson wants to be remembered as someone who worked against this need when he could have worked for it—so be it. That will be his legacy—.

  4. Jackson

    December 8, 2011 at 11:32 pm

    Why is this so complicated? In referendum states like Maryland, you need a transition phase to bring public opinion fully on board. The MD coalition could pass civil unions this year or next by an overwhelming majority and it is highly unlikely the opposition would even try to put it on the ballot. And if it did go on the ballot, we would win soundly. Let that process happen and give the public a few years to come on board with full equality. After a few years – say, 4 or 5 – upgrade to full marriage equality. In that time, we will have built up a solid majority and will have had plenty of time to prepare for a ballot fight.

    In non-referendum states, you don’t necessarily need this transition period, but in MD you do. That’s how to get it done. The alternative is to overreach and suffer a setback at the ballot, leaving us with nothing for years to come. Hopefully, the coalition will listen to Wolfson.

  5. Walter

    December 9, 2011 at 11:10 am

    Let’s face it— Mr. Wolfson seems to be the only one willing to speak the truth. Equality Maryland is and has been a total trainwreck. They are not ready for this fight, and we don’t need another high profile loss. Better to get our act together in 2013 and win then instead of a devastating ballot loss in 2012. Finally someone is being honest about the situation.

  6. Steve

    December 9, 2011 at 11:16 am

    My hope is that the strategists are not banking on 51% support in a poll taken in October. I doubt the poll centered on likely voters whereby older citizens vote in greater numbers than the younger generation. As such, older folks who are prone to vote against marriage equality will support the referendum as will religiously conservative African-Americans who are expected to vote in higher than normal numbers given Pres. Obama will be on the ballot. And that is before the opposition goes full throttle and demonzies gays and lesbians on the airwaves. In addition, when it comes to social justice, respondents are more apt to reflect a progressive tone believing that’s what pollsters want to hear. Accordingly, these polls are commonly inflated and reality comes to the fore at the election itself. To use the 51% as any kind of benchmark is unrealistic.

  7. Mr. Wolfson states the truth

    December 9, 2011 at 11:43 pm

    Apparently the locals don’t like to hear the truth about their misguided efforts to pass same sex marriage. Last years attempt is a glowing example of how divided that ‘coalition’ can be. Mr. Wolfson is simply stating the obvious and Equality Maryland and H.R.C. would be wise to listen closely and make the necessary upgrades to their campaign for equality in marriage.

    Having a goal of 51% to claim a potential victory is ridiculous. That’s low-balling to an extreme. When voters come around to 65-70% then and only then can Equality Maryland be confident.

  8. Morgan

    February 17, 2012 at 9:14 pm

    Rubbish and nonsense. Maryland is on the verge of becoming the likely 8th US state to get marriage equality.
    NOM and Brian Brown etc. can take a flying leap. Maryland will get marriage equality and will damned well keep it, referendum or none and NOM, Maggie Gallagher and Brian Brown can go chase themselves.

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Long-time LGBTQ activist running for Md. House of Delegates

Patrick Paschall is former FreeState Justice executive director



Patrick Paschall (Photo courtesy of Eli Sauerwalt of Patrick Paschall for Delegate)

Former FreeState Justice Executive Director Patrick Paschall last week announced via social media that he is running for the Maryland House of Delegates.

“As a proud parent of two kids in Prince George’s County public schools, former Hyattsville City Council member, and lifelong civil rights advocate and policy analyst, I’ve spent my life and career working for equity, community and sustainability for my family,” Paschall said in a statement posted to Facebook on Nov. 23. 

Paschall, who currently is the American Rescue Plan Program Manager for the city of Hyattsville, previously served as executive director for FreeState Justice from 2015 to 2017. 

His LGBTQ advocacy work also includes serving as senior policy counsel for the National LGBTQ Task Force, as an organizer for Pride at Work and as a policy fellow for the National Center for Transgender Equality.  

He also worked for Family Equality Council, an organization advocating for the rights of same-sex couples and their children. 

“One of the things I’m running on is being a parent,” Paschall told the Washington Blade. “We can provide more opportunities for families to succeed in our communities.”

Paschall is running to represent District 22, which includes Hyattsville, where he has lived for over 10 years with his two children, who currently attend Hyattsville Elementary School, and his wife, who identifies as pansexual. 

He told the Blade he views his family as a “rainbow family,” but pointed out since he and his wife did not have to endure the same difficulties as his friends who are married same-sex couples when they wanted to adopt children.

“When I became a parent, no one stopped by my house to make sure it was an adequate living situation for my child, no one checked to make sure I had a room dedicated to the child and for no other purpose,” he said. “But my friends Jamie and Sean went through all of that when they tried to adopt a kid.”

Paschall explained that even though he and his wife didn’t go through these experiences, there was still room for Maryland to improve in the areas of adoptions and civil rights. 

“It strikes me how much privilege I have because the state doesn’t design to make it hard for me like it does for so many same-sex couples,” he explained. 

Patrick Paschall with his family. (Photo courtesy of Eli Sauerwalt of Patrick Paschall for Delegate)

Much like with the recent elections in neighboring Virginia, Paschall said helping parents is an important issue for him — one he wants to carry to Annapolis — if elected “because my district deserves better schools for our kids, more child care options and family support like paid family leave.”

“I think that District 22 needs a voice in Annapolis to represent progressive parents and to exercise policy expertise in achieving the values of our community,” he added. “And I have the experience to get it done.”

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D.C. area LGBTQ bars, eateries receive $100K COVID-19 relief grant

Pitchers, League of Her Own received NGLCC, Grubhub funds



indoor dining, gay news, Washington Blade
(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The D.C. LGBTQ sports bar Pitchers and League of Her Own, its adjoining lesbian bar, are among the nation’s first LGBTQ bars that serve food as well as alcoholic beverages to receive a $100,000 COVID-19 relief grant under a $2 million Community Impact Grant Program.

The program, aimed at supporting LGBTQ-owned and LGBTQ-allied small businesses struggling from the pandemic, was launched in September as a joint project of the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce, which goes by the initials NGLCC, and the global online food delivery company Grubhub.

In a Tuesday announcement, NGLCC and Grubhub said Pitchers and League of Her Own, which operate as one business in adjoining buildings in D.C.’s Adams Morgan neighborhood, are among the first three recipients of $100,000 grants under the Community Impact Grant Program. The other two recipients are FOODE + Mercantile of Fredericksburg, Va., and Café Gabriela of Oakland, Calif.

“Following this initial round of recipients, more grants will be issued in late 2021 and early 2022,” the announcement by the two groups says. In an earlier announcement, the groups said the application period for the grants program took place from September through Oct. 12, and the grants would range in amounts from $5,000 to $100,000.

“The impact of COVID-19 has been debilitating for countless restaurant and bar owners, including the many LGBTQ+-owned restaurants across the country who have persisted through lockdowns, operational changes and labor supply shortages,” said NGLCC Co-Founder and President Justin Nelson. “We’re grateful to have partnered with Grubhub to offer real lifelines to support businesses throughout the nation,” Nelson said.

“Building community in a fun and safe place has been our mission since the very beginning,” said David Perruzza, the owner of Pitchers and League of Her Own. “We’re relieved and thankful for these funds, and are looking forward to more stable days ahead,” Perruzza said.

“As a trans masculine and queer immigrant person of color, I’ve worked hard and put all my love and energy into building a beautiful and welcoming space in Café Gabriela,” said owner Penny Baldado. “I’ve remained resilient through COVID, and this grant is the injection of funds that we need to continue along our journey to full recovery,” Baldado said.

The statement announcing the first three grant recipient says funds for the $2 million grant program were generated by Grubhub’s “Donate the Change” program of which NGLCC became a partner in June. Grubhub says the program asks customers receiving food delivered by Grubhub “to round out their order and donate the difference” to the charitable fund.

“COVID has turned the restaurant industry on its head the last 18 months, and at Grubhub, we’ve been working hard every day to support our restaurant partners across the country,” said Amy Healy, Grubhub’s vice president of government relations. “As the world starts to return to a new normal, we’re proud to partner with the NGLCC and provide these grants to LGBTQ+-owned and LGBTQ+ ally-owned restaurants across the country that are pillars of their communities.”

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Va. businessman apologizes for burning of rainbow flag poster

‘Shocked and horrified’: Ashburn incident caught on video



Organizers of an event where a Pride symbol was burned say the incident was a misunderstanding.

The owner of a Virginia technology company that hosted a private Veterans Day party on the grounds of an Ashburn, Va., brewery in which a company employee used a flame-throwing device to ignite a rainbow flag poster said the selection of the poster was a mistake and he and his company have no ill will toward the LGBTQ community.

The Washington Blade learned about the poster burning from a customer of the Old Ox Brewery in Ashburn, where the incident took place on its outdoor grounds. The customer made a video of the incident with his cell phone and sent a copy of the video to the Blade.

The video, which includes an audio recording, shows a man using a hand-held flame-throwing device to ignite the rainbow poster, which was hanging from a cable and appeared to be mounted on cardboard or a thin sheet of wood. Bystanders can be heard laughing and cheering as the poster is set on fire.

The poster consisted of a variation of the LGBTQ Pride rainbow flag that included the word “love” configured from an upper white stripe on the rainbow symbol.

The customer who took the video, who has asked not to be identified, thought the decision to set the poster on fire was a sign of disrespect if not hatred toward a longstanding symbol of LGBTQ equality and pride.

Chris Burns, Old Ox Brewery’s president, shared that view, telling the Blade he and his staff were “shocked and horrified” when they learned later that a rainbow flag poster had been burned on the brewery’s grounds. Burns said Old Ox supports the LGBTQ community and participated in LGBTQ Pride month earlier this year.

He said the company that held the private party paid a fee to hold the event on the brewery’s grounds, but the brewery did not know a rainbow poster would be burned.

“I’m mortified that our event was interpreted in this way,” said Nate Reynolds, the founder and partner of Hypershift Technologies LLC, the Falls Church, Va.-based technology company that organized the Nov. 11 party at Old Ox Brewery. “I can assure you that ZERO ill-will or offense was meant,” Reynolds told the Blade in a Nov. 24 email.

“We held a small private party for a few clients, which included a demonstration of Elon Musk’s Boring Company ‘Not a Flamethrower,’” he said in his message. He was referring to one of billionaire businessman Elon Musk’s companies that specializes in boring through the ground to create tunnels for cars, trains, and other purposes. 

“After so many being isolated during COVID, we wanted to have an event that was lighthearted and to some small effect, silly,” Reynolds said in his message to the Blade.

According to Reynolds, in thinking about what should be used for “fodder” for the flame-thrower, he went to a Five Below discount store and purchased items such as stuffed animals and posters, including a “Space Jam” movie poster as well as what he thought was a poster of the British rock group The Beatles.

“When I pulled the Beatles poster out of the tube it was instead the ‘Love’ poster,” he said, referring to the rainbow flag poster the Blade asked him about in an earlier email.

“All I focused on was the ‘Love’ wording and not the rainbow and did not draw the conclusion that the poster was an icon that represents the LGBTQ community,” Reynolds said. “It was my own ignorance of not connecting the symbolism of the poster. If I had realized it was a symbol of the LGBTQ community, I would not have used it,” he said.

“I feel terrible, and I want to emphasize that I am solely responsible for this mistake – not the Old Ox Brewery,” he wrote in his message. “Nobody at Old Ox had anything to do with this activity.”

Reynolds added, “Hate has no place in my heart, and I sincerely apologize for any offense that could have been drawn from what I now realize was poor judgement on my part. I simply didn’t correlate this poster with the LGBTQ pride symbol.”  

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Before Reynolds issued his statement of apology, Burns, the Old Ox Brewery co-owner, told the Blade in an email he was “saddened and upset” over the rainbow poster burning on the grounds of his brewery.

“We do not wish to benefit from this event,” he said in his email message. “Therefore, Old Ox is donating 100% of the revenue generated from the private event to GLSEN.”

GLSEN is a national LGBTQ advocacy group that focuses on education and support for LGBTQ youth. Burns said Old Ox Brewery also donated proceeds from a Pride month event it organized earlier this year to GLSEN.

LGBTQ activists and organizations contacted by the Blade said they were unfamiliar with the variation of the rainbow flag with the word “love” that was the subject of the poster burning incident. The poster is available for sale at Five Below stores in the D.C. metropolitan area for $5.

Small print writings on the poster show it is produced by Trends International LLC, which describes itself on its website as “the leading publisher and manufacturer of licensed posters, calendars, stickers and social stationery products.” The Blade couldn’t immediately determine who designed the poster.

 The video of the poster burning incident can be viewed here:

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