Bills calling for legalizing same-sex marriage and banning discrimination against transgender persons are among the hot-button issues set to emerge next week when the Maryland State Legislature begins its 2012 session.
Officials with an expanded coalition backing the marriage bill and a new transgender advocacy group leading the effort on behalf of the Gender Identity Non-Discrimination Act say they are hopeful that the legislature will pass both measures before it adjourns for the year in April.
“It’s all hands on deck with both bills,” said Carrie Evans, executive director of the statewide LGBT group Equality Maryland. “We’re talking to many lawmakers, including Republicans.”
Evans and others working on the two bills were cautious about predicting when leaders of the Maryland Senate and House of Delegates will bring the measures up for a vote, saying control over the timing of the bills was exclusively in the hands of the lawmakers.
Supporters were also cautious about disclosing strategy for defeating an expected voter referendum that experts say will almost certainly be brought before the electorate in November – in the midst of the U.S. presidential election – if the Maryland Legislature passes a marriage bill this spring.
Public opinion polls show voters in the state are evenly divided over whether to vote for or against same-sex marriage.
Under rules of the Maryland Legislature, the committees with jurisdiction over the bills must hold a public hearing on the marriage and gender identity bills, even though the two bills were the subject of lengthy and contentious hearings less than a year ago during the legislature’s 2011 session.
The Democratic-controlled Senate approved the marriage bill last March in what supporters called an historic 25-21 vote. But the Democratic-controlled House of Delegates killed the measure for the year by voting to send it back to committee after supporters determined they were a few votes short of the 71 votes needed to pass it in the 141-member House.
In what some called an ironic twist, the House of Delegates passed the transgender bill last year before the Senate killed it by voting to send it back to a Senate committee. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller (D-Prince George’s and Calvert Counties) reportedly orchestrated the decision to hold off on a Senate vote, saying a number of key supporters changed their minds and threatened to vote against the bill.
Shortly after the defeat of the marriage bill last year, supporters led by the Human Rights Campaign formed Marylanders for Marriage Equality, an expanded coalition of organizations with a track record of political clout with state lawmakers. Among the coalition partners are the NAACP of Baltimore, the Maryland ACLU, and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Equality Maryland and HRC are also members of the coalition.
Coalition spokesperson Kevin Nix of HRC has said each coalition partner brings unique skills and expertise to the lobbying effort on behalf of the marriage bill.
But coalition officials haven’t disclosed which, if any, lawmakers who were uncommitted or against the bill last year have indicated support this time around.
“The good news and the bad news is the legislators are the same,” said Mark McLaurin, a gay man who serves as political director for the Local 500 of the SEIU of Maryland.
He noted that having the same players is helpful to a degree because they are already informed on the marriage and transgender bills. But McLaurin cautioned that with no election taking place since the 2011 legislative session, it may be hard to line up the additional supporters needed to pass the bills.
“Quite frankly, despite the great work that’s been done since the last session, I haven’t heard very many announced conversions from no to yes,” he said. “So in many respects I feel we’re in the same place that we were.”
Like others lobbying for the marriage bill, McLaurin said he is hopeful that Gov. Martin O’Malley’s decision to include the marriage and transgender bills as part of his legislative package this year will provide an important boost for both measures.
McLaurin, a former board member of Equality Maryland, criticized LGBT advocates and supportive lawmakers last year for their decision to withdraw the marriage bill from the House rather than bring it up for a vote. He said a vote would have helped in the lobbying efforts this year by identifying for certain where lawmakers stand on the marriage measure.
Other supporters disagree with that view, saying a vote last year would have forced wavering House members to take a position, possibly against the bill, making it more difficult for them to vote for it this year without being labeled as “flip-floppers.”
Veteran transgender advocate Dana Beyer, executive director of Gender Rights Maryland, the newly formed statewide group, said a number of important developments since the transgender bill died in the legislature last year have given the bill “great momentum” this year.
Among the developments are O’Malley’s strong endorsement of the bill and his pledge to make it one of his legislative priorities, said Beyer. She noted that O’Malley responded, in part, to the flurry of publicity surrounding the beating of transgender woman Chrissy Lee Polis at a McDonald’s restaurant outside Baltimore in April. The beating, which was captured on video taken by a McDonald’s employee, created a national sensation and boosted support in Maryland for transgender non-discrimination legislation.
In two other developments, the Howard County, Md., legislature passed a gender identity non-discrimination bill in December and the Eleventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that same month that a transgender woman fired from her job in Georgia was protected from discrimination by the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause barring gender-related discrimination.
“All of these things are giving this bill tremendous momentum,” Beyer said. “I feel really good about where things stand.”
Opposition to the marriage bill, coordinated last year by the National Organization for Marriage, is being spearheaded this year by the Maryland Marriage Alliance, a state coalition with ties to NOM.
“Special interest groups are pressuring politicians in Annapolis to redefine marriage in Maryland – despite the strong opposition of a majority of Maryland citizens,” the group says on its website. “A large outcry throughout the state convinced our elected officials last year to reject this drastic action, but the threat is raising its head again,” the web message says.
The group is calling on Marylanders to send contributions to support its effort to oppose the marriage equality bill and to “protect” marriage as a union of “one man and one woman.”
It has announced plans for a rally against the bill in Annapolis early this year and is encouraging churches to call on their congregations to oppose the bill on a regular basis during Sunday sermons.
Supporters of the marriage bill say the approval of a similar bill by the New York Legislature last year, under the strong leadership of New York’s Democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo, would also help the effort in Maryland.
Leaders of Marylanders for Marriage Equality, including HRC officials involved with the coalition, have yet to disclose their views on possible changes in the wording of the Maryland bill. But speculation has surfaced that O’Malley and supportive lawmakers in the legislature might follow Cuomo’s decision to add a new provision to expand the bill’s exemption for religious organizations.
Cuomo reportedly persuaded some wavering lawmakers to support the New York marriage bill by agreeing to add a provision that allows religious organizations other than churches, including some businesses, to refuse to rent their facilities or provide services, such as catering or the sale of wedding gowns, for same-sex marriages.
Gay rights groups that had been opposed to such exemptions went along with Cuomo’s backing of the exemptions.
When asked about a possible broadening of the religious exemption provision of the Maryland marriage bill, Nix, the spokesperson for Marylanders for Marriage Equality, said only, “Governor O’Malley is committed to ensuring that religious institutions are protected under Maryland law.”
Equality Maryland, meanwhile, announced this week a series of events and activities it will sponsor to push for the marriage bill. Among them are nightly phone banks staffed by volunteers across the state; a Feb. 1 prayer breakfast and Clergy Lobby Day in Annapolis; and a Feb. 13 lobby day in Annapolis in which LGBT advocates from across the state will visit their representatives to urge support for the marriage bill.
“Equality Maryland will also work with Gender Rights Maryland to pass a bill that will add protections in existing anti-discrimination laws for transgender individuals,” according to a statement issued this week by Equality Maryland.
Lawsuit charges D.C. Courts illegally fired trans man
Complaint says building technician subjected to abuse by supervisors
The D.C. Court of Appeals is currently deliberating over whether a 51-year-old transgender man who was fired in June 2019 from his job as a building maintenance technician at three buildings where the D.C. Superior Court and D.C. Court of Appeals are located has legal grounds to contest the firing, which he says was based on his gender identity.
In a little-noticed development, D.C. resident Dion Carter in June 2020 filed a lawsuit in D.C. Superior Court naming the D.C. government as the main defendant in the case on grounds that it plays a role in the funding of the D.C. Courts system and was responsible in part for more than eight years of discrimination and abusive treatment to which Carter was subjected on the job.
At the request of the Office of the D.C. Attorney General, which is representing the DC Court system in the lawsuit, a D.C. Superior Court judge on Jan. 29, 2021, dismissed the lawsuit on procedural grounds without addressing any of Carter’s allegations of discrimination.
Superior Court Judge William M. Jackson stated in a three-page ruling that the D.C. Attorney General’s Office correctly stated in a motion seeking the dismissal of the case that Carter’s lawsuit failed to plead a viable cause of action on two grounds.
One of the grounds, the AG’s office stated, is that the D.C. Courts’ Comprehensive Personnel Policy does not provide a remedy for employment discrimination allegations. Jackson cited the second ground for dismissal proposed by the AG’s office was that the D.C. Courts’ same personnel policy does not provide a private right of action for employees to seek monetary damages in a lawsuit related to discrimination.
In its brief calling for dismissal, the D.C. AG’s office also pointed out that Carter’s lawsuit was invalid because under court rules pertaining to the D.C. Courts’ personnel system, an internal administrative complaint alleging employment discrimination must be filed and carried out to completion before a lawsuit could be filed in court.
In a brief in support of Carter’s lawsuit, Carter’s attorney, Stephen Pershing, strongly disputes the AG office’s assertions, saying at least one Court of Appeals ruling indicated the D.C. Courts’ personnel policies legally “mirror” the provisions of the D.C. Human Rights Act, which, among other things, prohibits discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.
Pershing also argued in his court briefs that Carter did file an internal administration complaint to contest his firing. But he stated that a high-level D.C. Courts’ official advised Carter that under the court system’s personnel rules, a ruling in Carter’s favor could not result in monetary compensation for lost wages or other legal remedies that Carter called for in his complaint. The official advised Carter and Pershing to file the discrimination case in a lawsuit in court, the lawsuit says. This prompted Carter to withdraw his administrative complaint, a development that Pershing now says was based on false and misleading information provided by the D.C. Court’s official.
In February 2021, Pershing appealed the dismissal of the case before the D.C. Court of Appeals, requesting that the dismissal be reversed and the case be sent back to D.C. Superior Court, where the specific merits of the case could be argued and presented before a jury.
Since the filing of the appeal, Pershing and attorneys with the Office of the D.C. Attorney General have filed briefs under consideration by the Court of Appeals supporting and opposing the contention that the D.C. Courts’ personnel rules allow a remedy for Carter’s discrimination claims.
Like the original lawsuit filed in Superior Court, Carter’s appeal briefs filed by Pershing state that the alleged discrimination against Carter started shortly after Carter first began working in the court system’s building maintenance department in January 2010 as an out lesbian prior to his transition as a male.
At that time Carter already had 15 years of experience in the field of building maintenance technology and became the first woman to hold such as position at the D.C. Courts, the lawsuit says.
According to the lawsuit, the abusive and discriminatory treatment toward Carter increased dramatically in 2015 when Carter informed his then-supervisor Emanuel Allen that he would be taking a short period of leave to undergo gender reassignment surgery. Upon his return to work after the first of five gender reassignment surgical procedures that he has now completed, Carter presented for the first time at work as a male, the lawsuit says.
“For the six months between Carter’s Family Medical Leave Act notice and his surgery, Mr. Allen cut Mr. Carter out of all overtime duty, overtime that was mandatory for all building maintenance workers and that they considered desirable,” the lawsuit says. It says that when Carter asked why Allen did this Allen refused to provide an answer and threatened to issue a poor work performance evaluation against Carter if he continued to question the overtime denial decision.
When Carter returned from his surgery and presented as male, the lawsuit charges, Allen repeatedly referred to Carter as “he-she” in the presence of fellow employees as well as high-level officials involved in the operation of the court system buildings. Carter viewed his treatment by Allen as a form of bullying and disrespect, the lawsuit states.
Over the next three years, according to the lawsuit, Carter was subjected to a hostile work environment by supervisors who, among other things, made false claims that Carter was not doing his job properly, was absent from work without permission, and was acting “aggressively” toward his supervisors or fellow employees. One supervisor blamed Carter’s alleged hostile behavior on the testosterone treatment that Carter was undergoing as a routine part of his gender transition process, the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit alleges that Carter was ultimately fired “on a false pretext” allegedly fabricated by James Vaughn, the Chief Building Engineer and Acting Building Operations Manager of the D.C. Courts. The lawsuit and appeals court briefs say Vaughn accused Carter of consuming an alcoholic beverage at one of the court buildings where Carter was assigned to work on April 6, 2019.
Vaughn recommended to the court system’s acting director of capital projects and facilities management that Carter be terminated from his job on grounds of violating Personnel Policy No. 800, which prohibits consuming illegal drugs or alcohol on court property while on duty.
“That allegation is factually untrue,” the lawsuit states. “Mr. Carter neither consumed nor was under the influence of alcohol while on site,” it says.
“Mr. Carter’s termination was unjustified on any legitimate ground and was an act of unlawful discrimination on account of Mr. Carter’s race, sex, sexual orientation and/or gender identity and expression, and in retaliation for his complaining to his superiors about his illicit mistreatment on these grounds,” the lawsuit and the current appeals court briefs charge.
“These acts and omissions caused Mr. Carter loss of employment, loss of pay and other benefits of employment, as well as anguish, intense hurt, humiliation, anger, sense of loss, disappointment, and emotional conflict between his desire for professional excellence and the torment inflicted on him merely for showing up every day, working, and working well, as an African American, as a lesbian, and as a transgender male,” the lawsuit says.
“The acts of one or more of Mr. Carter’s superiors alleged in this complaint were motivated by actual malice and/or evil intent and were done with the intention to cause Mr. Carter pain, humiliation, anguish and torment, and as such warrant the imposition of punitive damages,” the lawsuit concludes.
Abigail McDonough, a spokesperson for the Office of the D.C. Attorney General, did not respond to an email message from the Blade asking the AG’s office to comment on Carter’s discrimination allegations. Among the names appearing on the AG office’s court briefs in the Carter lawsuit is D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine, who has expressed strong support for LGBTQ rights in the past.
Douglas Buchanan, a spokesperson for the D.C. Courts, said he would try to determine whether the court system’s building maintenance department would respond to a Blade request for comment on the Carter lawsuit and its allegations that high-level court officials in the maintenance department engaged in anti-transgender discrimination.
Pershing said he plans to file a separate lawsuit on Carter’s behalf in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia claiming the discrimination Carter faced violated his constitutional rights. He said he is hopeful that the D.C. Court of Appeals will rule in Carter’s favor, but a backlog in cases will likely mean a ruling would not take place before June of this year.
Under federal court rules, Carter must file his federal discrimination lawsuit in the U.S. District Court within three years from the time he was fired from his job in June of 2019.
Congress created the D.C. court system as a federal entity in 1970 at the time it created D.C.’s home rule government. The U.S. president appoints all judges. The D.C. Council and mayor have no control over the court system, although the D.C. government along with Congress funds the court system. The system is run by a Joint Committee on Judicial Administration consisting of five judges and a secretary who serves as the executive officer.
D.C.’s Capital Pride to resume ‘large-scale’ outdoor events
Organizers say one of the largest ever parades and festivals set for June
Capital Pride Alliance, the group that organizes D.C.’s annual LGBTQ Pride events, has announced on its website that it plans to resume the city’s Pride Parade and Festival in June 2022 that traditionally has attracted tens of thousands of participants after canceling the two events in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID pandemic.
“The Capital Pride Alliance is excited to announce the highly anticipated return of our annual large-scale outdoor Pride Celebration in June 2022!” the group says on its website. “Registration for the Capital Pride Parade on June 11, 2022, and the Capital Pride Festival on June 12, 2022, will be open soon,” the website message says.
Ryan Bos, the Capital Pride Alliance executive director, told the Washington Blade the group met with D.C. government officials on Monday to coordinate plans for the upcoming outdoor events in June. He said an updated announcement with more details of the events would be released later this week or early next week.
The Capital Pride website message focuses on the parade and festival.
“Join the LGBTQ+ community for the return of the historic Capital Pride Parade,” the website message says. “In 2022, a modified route will honor our history and acknowledge the evolution of the LGBTQ+ neighborhoods in Washington, DC, while respecting the origins and importance of taking to the streets in our fight for equality,” it says.
“Be prepared to experience one of the largest Pride Parades to ever take place in the United States Capital,” the message adds.
The message says the Pride Festival will resume at its traditional location on Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. near the U.S. Capitol that it refers to as America’s Mainstreet.
“Enjoy a full day of entertainment on three stages, food, drink and advocacy with over 300 exhibitors,” the website message says. “The Festival is the largest annual event in the national capital region,” the message continues, adding that the Capital Pride Concert will also return this year at its usual locations at the site of the festival.
“You will experience entertainment on three stages, from international headliners to our best local regional LGBTQ+ talent,” according to the Capital Pride website message. It says concert performances will take place from 12-10 p.m. And a “Capitol” Sunset Dance Party will take place at the festival site from 8-10 p.m.
“The concert may end but the dancing will continue,” the message says. “Enjoy the electronica sounds of an international DJ sensation while you dance in the middle of America’s Main Street on Pennsylvania Avenue, with the sun setting on the U.S. Capitol.”
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and the city’s public health officials ended the city’s COVID-related restrictions on the number of people allowed to attend outdoor events as well as indoor entertainment events last May as the number of COVID infections began to decline.
But as the number of Omicron variant cases of the COVID virus increased dramatically in the fall of 2021, the mayor resumed the requirement of the use of face masks in all indoor public places.
Also put in place earlier this month by the city was a requirement that restaurants, bars, nightclubs, and other entertainment establishments require customers to show proof of vaccination as a condition for admission to the establishments. Bowser, however, has said the city was not considering resuming restrictions on the number of people allowed in establishments such as restaurants and bars or outdoor stadiums.
Capital Pride Alliance has not said whether it will put in place a vaccination requirement for admission to the Pride festival and parade as well as some of its planned indoor events. With the number of Omicron related COVID cases beginning to drop in the past two weeks in D.C. and the surrounding suburbs, the prospect of a resumption in restrictions on the number of people allowed to assemble at outdoor events like the Pride Parade and Festival appears to be less likely.
Man who killed one in 2000 Roanoke gay bar shooting dies in prison
One of the worst bias attacks targeting LGBTQ community
A man sentenced to four consecutive life terms in prison for the September 2000 shooting at a gay bar in Roanoke, Va., in which one man lost his life and six others were wounded, died of natural causes on Jan. 15, according to the Virginia Department of Corrections.
A spokesperson for the Department of Corrections told WSLA 10 TV News that Ronald Edward Gay died while being treated at a hospital near the Deerfield Correctional Center, a state prison where he had been living as an inmate. He was 75.
Witnesses and law enforcement officials reported at the time of the shooting that a middle-aged man later identified as Gay arrived alone at Roanoke’s Backstreet Café, a popular gay bar, on the night of Sept. 22, 2000.
According to an account by an eyewitness to the incident who spoke last week with the Roanoke Times newspaper, after ordering a beer and standing next to the bar for a short time, Gay reached into the long trench coat he was wearing, pulled out a 9mm pistol, and fired a round “straight into the chest of 43-year-old Danny Overstreet, before opening fire on the rest of the bar.”
Overstreet, a beloved regular patron at the Backstreet Café, died at the scene of the shooting. Six others, who were wounded by bullets fired by Gay, later recovered, but they and many others who were present and witnessed the shooting were left emotionally scarred, the Roanoke Times reported.
In the weeks following the shooting, news media outlets, including the Washington Blade and the Washington Post, reported findings of an investigation by local police that Gay told police he went to Backstreet specifically to target gay people because he became bitter after years of being taunted and teased for his last name of “Gay.”
The Roanoke Times reported that, among other things, Gay told police “God told him to do it” and that he once wrote that there was an evil inside of him telling him “to shoot or have no rest.”
Gay later pleaded guilty to multiple charges against him, including murder. On July 23, 2001, he was sentenced to four consecutive life sentences in prison for the shooting incident and the murder of Overstreet.
The Backstreet incident in Roanoke was considered by LGBTQ rights advocates and others to be one of the worst incidents in which LGBTQ people were targeted for a shooting until the June 2016 shooting at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., in which 49 people died and 53 more were wounded in a mass shooting by 29-year-old Omar Mateen.
Mateen, who was shot and killed by Orlando police after a three-hour standoff, told police in a phone call from inside the nightclub after the shooting began that he swore allegiance to the leader of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and his attack against the gay nightclub was motivated by the U.S. military intervention in Iraq and Syria. The FBI later classified the incident as a terrorist attack.
The Roanoke Times reported that the shooting incident at Backstreet Café prompted LGBTQ residents and allies to gather in the days and weeks after the incident for vigils and marches. About 1,000 people walked through the streets of downtown Roanoke to honor the life of Overstreet and to urge Congress to pass federal hate crimes legislation, the newspaper reported.
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