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Clergy rally for Md. same-sex marriage bill

Extol religious protections in the measure



As fellow clerics look on, Catholic nun Sister Jeannine Gramick celebrates the Md. civil marriage bill. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

In a show of support for the Civil Marriage Protection Act being considered by the Maryland Judicial Proceedings Committee at 1 p.m. Tuesday, Marylanders for Marriage Equality gathered a group of sympathetic clergy at the Maryland Inn in Annapolis at 9:30 a.m. to push the legislature to pass the bill.

Roughly two dozen clergy gathered with several of the bill’s supporters, lawmakers and same-sex couples that would be affected by the bill prior to a lobbying effort at the capitol.

During the final prayer of a morning breakfast, Baptist minister Rev. David Gilmore told the group, “Yes I am a traditional black baptist minister — I don’t always think like a baptist,” he continued, however.

The minister hoped that his views would spread to his fellow Baptists. “God will open the minds of the rest of the baptist community,” he said.

After a breakfast punctuated by prayers for the success of the bill, Rev. MacArthur Flournoy, faith director of Marylanders for Marriage Equality, introduced a select group of the clerics who spoke passionately in favor of the bill.

“I have colleagues in this state that are concerned about religious exemptions in the marriage equality legislation before the state assembly,” said Rabbi Daniel Berg of Baltimore, the first of the clergy to speak. “I am here to tell you that I am also a man of faith. I am also a servant of God, and my belief is that God doesn’t want any of us to live a life of shame, inequality or fear.”

“God does not wish for us to condemn a portion of humanity to secrecy or celibacy or worse,” Berg said, referencing the book of Genesis. “It is not good for man to be alone.”

Rev. Starlene Joyner Burns of SJB Ministries emphasized that there is no difference in love between same-sex and opposite-sex couples. “The only thing that’s missing here in Maryland is that they cannot legally get married and provide the kind of protection that marriage and a certificate can bring,” Rev. Burns said. “That piece of paper that’s meaningless to some has a whole lot of meaning to those who can’t get it.”

Rev. Burns discussed the discrimination faced by same-sex couples in accessing survivor’s benefits. “We need change and we need it now.” “Religious freedom and marriage equality can and do go hand in hand.”

Episcopal priest Angela Shepherd asserted that support of marriage equality is a matter of civic good. “Many of us maintain our love for humanity by agreeing to disagree and therefore causing no harm,” Rev. Shepherd told the gathering. “However there is a wider venue that encompasses family and faith communities and that is the civic arena.”

Shepherd spoke about the pressure lawmakers were feeling from religious leaders opposed to the bill.

“Unfortunately some supportive elected officials have been threatened by a few religious leaders who are opposed to this bill,” Shepherd said. “Our separation of church and state is being compromised.”

“Same-gender couples have built lives that are grounded in love,” Shepherd concluded. “At heart of this matter is that four-letter word: love.”

Sister Jeannine Gramick, a Catholic nun who has worked for LGBT inclusion in the Roman Catholic Church since the 1970s, and Dr. Jeffery McCune who also spoke, discussed the changing definition of families throughout history, and the importance of religious leaders welcoming all.

(Blade photo by Michael Key)

“Marriage is sacred, and that is exactly the reason why I as a rabbi and as a religious person support marriage equality,” Rabbi. Berg said. “The bill before the General Assembly will in no way force you to bless same-sex unions, but yours is not the only authentic religious perspective.”

At 1 p.m. today both supporters and opponents of the bill will be given time to testify before the Senate committee on behalf of their constituencies. Each side will be given two hours to offer their arguments. Supporters of the bill expected to testify include some of the clergy that attended this morning’s rally, same-sex couples, children of gay parents and progressive leaders including representatives of the ACLU Maryland and the 1199 SEIU local.

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Comings & Goings

Nathanson takes role at Outright Action



Rikki Nathanson

The Comings & Goings column is about sharing the professional successes of our community. We want to recognize those landing new jobs, new clients for their business, joining boards of organizations and other achievements. Please share your successes with us at: [email protected] 

The Comings & Goings column also invites LGBTQ+ college students to share their successes with us. If you have been elected to a student government position, gotten an exciting internship, or are graduating and beginning your career with a great job, let us know so we can share your success. 

Congratulations to Rikki Nathanson on her new position as Senior Advisor – Global Trans Program with OutRight Action International in New York. Nathanson will be based in D.C.  

 “I am absolutely thrilled to be taking on this new role as Senior Advisor in OutRight’s Global Trans Program,” said Nathanson. “I have finally found the perfect fit for me: as a trans woman who has been fighting for equality not only for myself, but for others globally, this position is not only a job, it’s intrinsically part of who I am. So, what better way to live, nurture and grow myself.” 

Nathanson will be working closely with all program staff to ensure a cohesive and intentional approach to gender issues throughout OutRight’s programs, including its approach to gender ideology movements. She will lead new initiatives on gender advocacy and policy change, focused but not limited to legal gender recognition and anti-discrimination legislation and policies.

Prior to this Nathanson was director of housing programs at Casa Ruby in D.C. She has also held a number of other positions including: founder/executive director of Trans Research, Education, Advocacy & Training (TREAT), Zimbabwe; chairperson Southern Africa Trans Forum, SATF, Cape Town, South Africa; executive director, Ricochet Modeling Agency, Zimbabwe; and company secretary for Dunlop Zimbabwe Limited, Zimbabwe. 

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SMYAL Director Shakir to step down Dec. 31

Board to launch Executive Search beginning in January



SMYAL Executive Director Sultan Shakir addresses the crowd at the 2021 Fall Brunch. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Sultan Shakir, who has served as executive director of D.C.’s LGBTQ youth advocacy organization SMYAL since August 2014, announced on Friday that he will be stepping down from his position effective Dec. 31.

In a Dec. 3 announcement, SMYAL said details of Shakir’s future career plans would be announced in the coming weeks.

“While we are sad to see Sultan leave, we wish him nothing but the same success in his new endeavor as he had at SMYAL,” said Rob Cogorno, SMYAL’s board chair. “His leadership and vision enabled SMYAL to expand greatly needed services to LGBTQ youth in the DC metro area throughout his tenure,” Cogorno said.

“I am immensely proud of the work we have been able to accomplish together in my time at SMYAL,” Shakir said in a statement released by SMYAL. “SMYAL has been an integral and vital resource in the DMV community for over 37 years, and while we have come a long way in combating homophobia, transphobia, racism, sexual health stigma, homelessness, violence against the LGBTQ community, and oppression, we have a long way to go,” he said.

“This work has never been about one person,” said Shakir. “SMYAL was founded by our community and we’re still around because of our community,” he said. “I leave knowing that the commitment and passion of the SMYAL Board, staff, volunteers, and youth leaders have created a solid foundation from which our work will continue to grow until LGBTQ youth no longer need us.”

The SMYAL statement says that under Shakir’s tenure, SMYAL, which stands for Supporting and Mentoring Youth Advocates and Leaders, expanded its programs and services for LGBTQ youth. Among other things, in 2017 SMYAL opened its first of several housing facilities for homeless LGBTQ youth that include culturally competent case management, education and employment assistance.

“The Youth Housing Program now comprises five programmatic models that serve a combined 61 youth residents,” the statement says.

It points out that also under Shakir’s leadership, SMYAL expanded the age range of the youth its programs serve under a new Little SMYALs program, which welcomes LGBTQ youth ages 6-12. And earlier in 2021 under Shakir’s guidance, SMYAL began a new Clinical Services Department “which provides affirming and accessible mental health counseling,” the statement says.

“The SMYAL Board of Directors will officially launch an Executive Search beginning in January 2022 and expects to have named a new Executive Director by summer 2022,” the statement says. It says the board will soon name an interim executive director to work with SMYAL’s Deputy Executive Director, Jorge Membreno, and the organization’s leadership team to oversee the day-to-day activities until a new executive director is named.

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Rainbow History Project to honor LGBTQ ‘Pioneers’

Virtual celebration to take place on Dec. 9



David Mariner, gay news, Washington Blade
David Mariner (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

D.C.’s Rainbow History Project says it will honor and recognize 12 individuals and one organization by designating them as Community Pioneers “for their diverse contributions to the Washington-area LGBTQ community” at a Dec. 9 virtual celebration.

“Rainbow History Project is an all-volunteer organization dedicated to collecting, preserving and sharing the LGBT history of metropolitan Washington, D.C.,” the group says in a statement announcing the event. “The Pioneers awards recognize diverse community leaders for their roles as organizational founders, innovators, advocates and volunteers,” the statement says.

“The Pioneers celebration will be held virtually and is designed with special features that reproduce the feeling of attending in-person, such as live streaming and video chatting with other attendees and Pioneers before and after the core awards programing,” according to the statement.

“Celebrating our Community Pioneers has been a cherished tradition since Rainbow History Project’s founding 21 years ago,” said Rob Berger, the organization’s chairperson. “It’s always an inspiring event, and we are happy that our virtual platform will still allow participants to meet and talk with the Pioneers,” Berger said in the statement.

The virtual event is free and open to the public, the statement says. Organizers released this link for those interested in attending, saying a short registration process may require registering in advance. 

Remo Conference

Following is the list of Community Pioneers scheduled to be honored at the Dec. 9 event as released by Rainbow History Project along with the project’s description of their backgrounds.

Arlington Gay and Lesbian Alliance, a local group that since its founding has addressed equal rights issues for LGBTQ Virginians from a state and local perspective.

– Eboné F. Bell, founder and editor-in-chief of Tagg Magazine and Tagg Communication LLC.

Bart Forbes, founding member of “Gay Fairfax,” a pioneering television newsmagazine program in Northern Virginia.

– Ellen Kahan, youth and family advocate, president of Rainbow Families, former director of the Lesbian Services Program at Whitman-Walker Health, and currently senior director of programs and partnerships at the Human Rights Campaign Foundation.

– Theodore Kirkland (deceased), a co-founder of D.C. Black Pride in 1991, member of the Gay Liberation Front and Skyline Faggots, active community health volunteer and advocate.

– Paul Marengo, community leader through LGBTQ organizations including Reel Affirmations, Cherry Fund, and Pride celebrations for youth, Latino, Black and Transgender communities.

– David Mariner, executive director of CAMP Rehoboth, and former executive director of the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community.

– Mark Meinke founder longtime chair, Rainbow History Project, and co-founder of Rainbow Heritage Network, a national organization for the recognition and preservation of sites, history and heritage associated with sexual and gender minorities.

– Michael “Micci” Sainte Andress, artist, health educator and advocate and an early leader in bringing African Americans into HIV/AIDS clinical trials.

– Boden Sandstrom, founder and owner of Woman Sound (later City Sound), the first all-woman sound company, which makes LGBTQ rights rallies and the women’s music scene possible.

Casse Culver (deceased), nationally acclaimed D.C. lesbian feminist singer-songwriter, and partner of Boden Sandstrom, whose followers said her love songs and feminist lyrics moved audiences from foot stomping to silent reflection.  

Alan Sharpe, playwright, director and co-founder of the African American Collective Theater in Washington, D.C., in 1976, which now focuses on LGBTQ life and culture in the Black community.

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