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Marylanders celebrate as House OKs marriage bill

Intense floor debate leads to dramatic victory; referendum on horizon

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The crowd gathered at the Maryland Capitol cheered ecstatically when the marriage bill passed. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — A jubilant crowd erupted into cheers outside the House of Delegates chambers Friday night, as news broke that lawmakers had approved the Civil Marriage Protection Act in a close 72-67 vote.

The dramatic outcome — the bill passed by two votes, triggering a raucous cheer in the chambers — followed an emotional debate over the measure that would extend marriage rights to same-sex couples in the Free State. The bill now goes to the Senate, which passed a similar measure last year, and is expected to vote on the bill in the coming weeks.

MORE PHOTOS AND COVERAGE OF THE DEBATE LEADING UP TO THE WIN FROM THE BLADE.

Gov. Martin O’Malley has made the bill a priority and testified in favor of it at a House committee hearing. Assuming the Senate passes it as expected and O’Malley signs as promised, opponents would have until May 31 to collect 55,736 valid signatures to qualify a measure for the November ballot that would strike down the law.

“I didn’t do anything, we all did it,” Del. Luke Clippinger (D-Baltimore) said after the historic vote. “And now we’re sending this bill to Sen. Madaleno in the Senate, and we believe we’ll get this bill passed, and get it to the governor’s desk, and he’ll sign it right away.”

“As a big baseball fan, I’m guessing this is what it feels like to win the World Series,” Del. Heather Mizeur (D-Takoma Park), a lesbian, told the Blade.

Del. Clippinger's speech moved many in the chamber. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Clippinger became emotional as he rose to encourage his colleagues to support extending marriage rights to himself, the six other openly gay and lesbian delegates in the Maryland House, their colleague Sen. Richard Madaleno, and thousands of same-sex couples throughout Maryland.

“I ask you to vote ‘yes’ because the joy felt by two parents raising children shouldn’t be overshadowed by fear that the other parent might not be able to care for that child in a time of crisis,” Clippinger proclaimed to his fellow legislators. “But more, I’m here tonight to ask you to vote ‘yes,’ as I have before. Because I am here as a child of God, perfect in my imperfections. Because I am here — not less than any other person — but a full beneficiary to all of God’s infinite love, just as each and every person is. Because I am here as a Marylander.”

The final floor speech before the close vote was delivered by Del. Tiffany Alston, who angered many LGBT advocates in 2011 when she pulled her support for the bill. Alston spoke to the delegates about the difficulty she had coming to her decision to once again support gender neutral marriage in Maryland.

“I can say that my religion still tells me that marriage is between a man and a woman,” Alston said in a shaking voice, clearly emotional. “And I can tell you I still believe it’s OK for people of the same sex to get married. But what I know, is that as a state it’s time for us to move beyond this issue.”

“Today, I’m going to cast a green vote in support of the bill.” Alston adding, noting that she supports a referendum on the issue.

Upon her proclamation, many of the gay and lesbian lawmakers — including Clippinger, who had been a driving force behind the bill — became visibly emotional.

Tiffany Alston (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Alston offered one of two amendments that was accepted by the legislature earlier in the afternoon, which would ensure that the law could not take effect until all legal challenges to the law and any possible referendum were settled. However, according to the Maryland Constitution, a law cannot take effect until any referendum challenge has been settled in any case, meaning the Alston amendment merely restated existing state law.

Supporters of same-sex marriage were happy to back Alston’s amendment if it meant comfort to those lawmakers hesitant to support the bill before them because they feared a referendum would be blocked.

“It was something that could add a level of comfort for some people,” Del. Mary Washington (D-Baltimore), a lesbian, told the Blade, after the amendment was accepted 81-52. “This is something that we could negotiate on.”

Mizeur told the Blade that the fate of Alston’s vote on the bill itself was in the balance up to the afternoon of the vote. Throughout the proceedings, Alston seemed emotional, often resting her head in her hands as she sat at her desk, and looking around the room at her colleagues as they delivered their speeches for and against the bill.

“We talked about it as a possibility yesterday, and we were putting things in play to see if it would work,” Mizeur said. “By this morning, I was told 50/50, and we didn’t exactly know for sure when we were heading into the floor. It was that close.”

Dels. Heather Mizeur and Luke Clippinger embraced following the vote. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The bill’s supporters were grateful for Alston’s vote, as her change of heart in March 2011 elicited a backlash from many in the LGBT community.

Another amendment that the delegates passed was a measure that would have changed the date that the law went into effect from October to January.

A rejected amendment would have changed “civil marriage” to “civil unions,” in the law, a change that at least four of those who eventually voted against the bill said would have helped persuade them to support the measure, including former National Football League quarterback, Del. Jay Walker, who cited his fellow former NFL player, gay defensive tackle Esera Tuaolo in his remarks.

Another rejected amendment would have changed the legal age of consent for same-sex marriage to 18, and a fourth would have allowed parents to opt their children out of same-sex marriage related curriculum that they found offensive, which lesbian Del. Anne Kaiser argued the law already allows.

During the floor speeches Friday night, Del. Maggie McIntosh (D-Baltimore) gave a moving speech about making history in 2001 when she came out as a lesbian to her fellow lawmakers the same year that the House voted to enact a non-discrimination law covering gays and lesbians in employment.

“In 2001, I became legal,” McIntosh said of the vote, calling it a great moment in history.

Throughout the floor speeches, many of the opponents of the same-sex marriage bill began to move on from discussing the impending vote, to instead rallying for the expected ballot referendum, indicating that at least some of the opponents were expecting the bill to pass.

“It ain’t over ’til it’s over,” Del. Emmett Burns told the legislature, referring to the referendum, and insisting the voters must have their say. “The battle is not over. Same-sex marriage no!”

Many of the opponents referred to a legal fight over an immigration-related referendum that opponents attempted to block in Maryland. A judge has recently allowed that referendum to move forward. Referendum supporters wanted to be assured that there would be no impediments to giving Maryland voters an opportunity to overturn marriage, should it pass the Senate.

In contrast to the opposition, many LGBT allies in the legislature stood up to encourage their colleagues to do what they believed was right, with Baltimore Del. Keiffer Mitchell, Jr. calling LGBT rights “the civil rights issue of our generation.”

“I will not vote to deny individuals access to the same legal rights and responsibilities that are given to me and my wife by the state,” said Del. John A. Olszewski, Jr., who said he supported religious provisions that allow faith communities to make their own decisions about which marriages to peform. “As I think about one day when my wife and I look back on our time with our kids when they’re reaching [the marrying age], I know that they’ll be thankful, and I’ll be thankful for what I’ve done today.”

Feelings of relief

Gay Dels. Peter Murphy and Luke Clippinger embrace following the vote. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Bill co-sponsor Del. Nathaniel Oaks described a feeling of relief after the bill’s passage, and that sentiment was echoed by almost every other supporter.

“It’s like a big giant weight that’s been lifted, and now we move on,” Del. Mitchell told the Blade, calling the close vote “courageous.” “It’s great to be a part of this history.”

“Tonight can never be taken from us,” Del. Washington told the Blade after the vote.

Voting against the bill was Del. Sam Arora (D-Mont. Co.) who co-sponsored the failed bill of two years ago, and had in 2010 campaigned on a platform that he would support same-sex marriage.

“We feel betrayed,” said progressive activist Karl Frisch, who said that he supported his friend Sam Arora during his election, and said he speaks for many of Arora’s former friends. “This is about family and doing what’s right.”

Frisch told the Blade that a large group of national and local progressive leaders met via conference call Friday night to discuss replacing Del. Arora in his district with another Democrat.

“But it’s nothing personal, in the same way that Sam would claim it’s nothing personal, it’s just his faith,” Frisch said, telling the Blade that Arora took money from those he promised to support marriage equality. “It’s not personal, it’s just our lives. At the end of the day, I wonder how Sam squares his faith with lying and fraud.”

“I have a friend who bought a house in Maryland — not far from his district — and they regret not buying the house in his district so they would be able to vote against him in the next election,” Frisch said. “I hope he has trouble sleeping at night with the shame on his conscience.”

Another damper on last night’s celebrations was the looming prospect of referendum.

“We know there’s people probably out there right now with their petitions gathering signatures,” said Lisa Polyak, chair of the Equality Maryland board of directors. “We have a strategy that we’ve already been working on for months now about how we’re going to 50 plus 1, but we’ll worry about that tomorrow. Tonight we’re going to celebrate.”

Supporters jubilant, eyes on referendum

Maggie McIntosh lifts a bottle of Champagne after the vote. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

On the subject of a referendum threat, Clippinger said he is confident that same-sex couples in Maryland will see victory there too.

“We are going to win. The only people that are going to keep us from winning are those who doubt that we can.”

“Today, the House of Delegates voted for human dignity,” Gov. Martin O’Malley said in a statement. “Speaker Busch and his fellow delegates deserve a lot of credit for their hard work. At its heart, their vote was a vote for Maryland’s children.”

He continued, “There is still work to be done and marriage equality has not yet been achieved in Maryland. Wherever we happen to stand on the marriage equality issue, we can agree that all our children deserve the opportunity to live in a loving, caring, committed, and stable home, protected equally under the law.”

“We could not be more grateful to the delegates who today voted to make all Maryland families stronger,” said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign. “Today, we took a giant step toward marriage equality becoming law – and we are in this position due to the unwavering leadership and resolve of Governor O’Malley, Speaker Busch and our legislative allies.”

Dana Beyer, Gender Rights Maryland executive director, cheered the victory for gay and lesbian Marylanders, telling the Blade she felt “joy.”

“It changes the culture,” Beyer told the Blade. “That’s probably the most important thing. Now we have to do the heavy lifting and deal with the referendum, and that’s why I’m here to do that, and hopefully to get the gender identity bill through, now that this is off the table, so that we can have a duopoly this year.”

The clerk's vote tally just prior to the vote count annoucement. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

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Ruby Corado describes D.C. civil case as ‘persecution’

Casa Ruby founder claims board approved transfer of $400,000 in funds

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Casa Ruby founder Ruby Corado in El Salvador. (Washington Blade photo by Ernesto Valle)

(Editor’s note: International News Editor Michael K. Lavers translated this interview from Spanish into English.)

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — Casa Ruby founder Ruby Corado told the Washington Blade on Friday during an interview in the Salvadoran capital the allegations that D.C. officials have made against her amount to “persecution.”

“This is persecution,” Corado said during an interview at a San Salvador coffee shop. “At the end of the day I am interested in people knowing all these things, because I am a human rights activist and what is happening to Ruby Corado should be an alarm for any human rights defender.”

The D.C. Department of Human Services on Sept. 24, 2021, informed Casa Ruby it was not going to renew its annual $850,000 grant that, among other things, funded Casa Ruby’s emergency “low-barrier” shelter for homeless LGBTQ youth and adults. Corado during the interview with her in El Salvador said Casa Ruby remained open and was not in debt, even though she said the D.C. government did not pay the organization for six months.

“The staff was always paid, because the organization’s principal mission is giving work to all of those people that nobody wants to employ,” she said. “The government as of today owes us around a million dollars for services we provided and we have never been reimbursed, no newspaper has said this.” 

The Office of the D.C. Attorney General in a civil complaint it filed in D.C. Superior Court on July 29, 2022, alleged Corado violated the city’s Nonprofit Corporations Act in connection with its financial dealings. D.C. Superior Court Judge Danya Dayson later placed Casa Ruby under receivership. 

She named the Wanda Alston Foundation, a D.C.-based organization that provides housing services for homeless LGBTQ youth, as the city’s receiver. The Wanda Alston Foundation in a preliminary report it filed on Sept. 13 said Casa Ruby “should be dissolved.” 

An amended civil complaint the Office of the D.C. Attorney General filed in D.C. Superior Court on Nov. 28 alleges Corado withdrew more than $400,000 of Casa Ruby funds for unauthorized use in El Salvador. 

The amended complaint, among other things, includes three new defendants to what legal observers say is the equivalent of a D.C. government lawsuit against Corado and Casa Ruby. The new defendants are limited liability companies that Corado created and controls. They include a new version of Casa Ruby called Casa Ruby LLC, doing business as Moxie Health; Pneuma Behavioral Health LLC; and Tigloballogistics LLC, doing business as Casa Ruby Pharmacy.

The amended complaint notes Corado claimed the new companies — and especially the pharmacy — were part of Casa Ruby’s mission, but she never received the Casa Ruby board of directors’ approval to create them. The attorney general’s office has said the board rarely met and failed to provide any oversight of Corado’s actions.

According to the amended complaint, Corado transferred large sums of money from Casa Ruby to these companies. And at some point she transferred funds from the new companies to her own personal bank account.

Both the original complaint and the amended complaint allege Corado transferred as much as $500,000 of Casa Ruby’s funds to create what she said was a new Casa Ruby in El Salvador that the board approved. But the earlier and amended complaints allege the board never authorized the El Salvador operation.

The amended complaint says Corado between April 2021 and September 2022 transferred more than $400,000 from two Casa Ruby related accounts “to accounts she held under her birth name in two El Salvador banks.” It says the Casa Ruby board “never authorized any of these transfers.”

Corado told the Blade she feels targeted because she always tells the truth. Corado added people are distracted from the truth because of a system that benefits from “lies and defamation.”

“People know my work and have seen me working and because of this there are many people who continue to support me,” she said.

The Blade in March 2021 interviewed Corado about the opening of Casa Ruby in El Salvador.

“Our work at Casa Ruby is to avoid suffering and [to offer] support through alliances, that is why we aim to share the programs for migrants that work in Washington because we have seen that they work,” she said during an interview from Casa Ruby’s new office in San Salvador, on March 18, 2021. “We will do a little more work here in El Salvador so that the LGBTQ community has greater access to these opportunities.”

Corado said part of this work included the purchase of a restaurant and nightclub in order to create jobs for LGBTQ people. Corado also opened a shelter “with limited resources, not like what had been done in Washington” and offered makeup classes and other workshops that allowed clients to learn skills to support themselves. 

Casa Ruby founder Ruby Corado stands outside Casa Ruby’s new office in San Salvador, El Salvador, in March 2021. (Photo courtesy of Ruby Corado)

Corado said she began these projects with money she obtained through the sale of her home in D.C. and through her own salary. Corado categorically denied allegations that she withdrew more than $400,000 from Casa Ruby’s bank accounts without the board’s approval.

“I have everything documented in writing, where [the board] approved my salary and also where the $400,000 was approved,” said Corado. 

Corado said the board always knew about the El Salvador project, which she said was part of her strategy for Casa Ruby to expand its work outside the U.S. to countries that include Guatemala and Nicaragua. Corado also denied the allegation the majority of Casa Ruby employees were paid less than $15 an hour, which is less than the D.C. minimum wage as of July 1, 2021.

The minimum wage on that date rose to $15.20 an hour.

“Does the prosecutor want to spend resources investigating Ruby Corado and throwing away her work — as they have wanted to do for the last eight years — instead of feeding the needy,” said Corado. “Let them do it.”

“The project that I presented was a priority that President Biden had, which was giving money to NGOs to ensure that people don’t continue to migrate,” added Corado. “I didn’t invent anything that wasn’t already on the agenda.”

Corado noted she was among the LGBTQ and intersex activists who met with Biden in 2021.

“I went and I talked about what the barriers were,” she said. “One of them is local government relationships with the community.”

Corado said she has “more information that she cannot reveal,” but stressed she will do it through the court system. Corado told the Blade she was afraid to speak up because she did not want to jeopardize Casa Ruby’s funding.

The next court hearing in the Casa Ruby civil case is scheduled to take place on Jan. 6, and Corado is expected to attend.

‘I never kissed anyone’s ass’

Corado was born in El Salvador.

She said one of the reasons she decided to open Casa Ruby in the country was because she needed to “heal inside” and “take care of myself” from the trauma she said she suffered during the country’s civil war, from her life on the streets of D.C. and from the loss of several people close to Casa Ruby.

She said she had issued reports about hate crimes in D.C. and the Office of the Attorney General did not work with her. Corado said she once told D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine during a meeting that she did not think he was doing enough to help the city’s LGBTQ community.

“I was on this man’s black list from that moment on,” Corado said.

Corado once again described Racine’s allegations and the tweets he made against her as baseless, and she has made her opinion to the judge known.

“I never kissed anyone’s ass. I don’t expect these people now, after 30 years, to come and approve my work,” Corado emphasized.

The office of D.C. Attorney General Racine released a statement to the Blade in response to questions about Corado’s accusations. “We opened an investigation after public reporting in the Washington Post on July 17th suggested Casa Ruby had engaged in serious violations of the District’s nonprofit laws, which our office is responsible for enforcing,” the statement read. “Our complaint, and the remarkable amount of evidence we’ve uncovered in just a short time, speaks for itself.”

Corado also said she continues to receive death threats, and her car was vandalized when she was last in D.C.

“I was staying with a friend and someone came to the apartment wanting to hurt or kill me,” she said. “I don’t know.”

Lou Chibbaro, Jr. contributed to this story.

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Loudoun County shopping center hit with homophobic, racist graffiti

Sheriff’s Office seeks help from public to identify suspects

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Graffiti at a Loudoun County shopping center is being investigated as a hate crime.

The Loudoun County, Va., Sheriff’s Office is seeking help from the public for its investigation into an incident on Friday, Dec. 2, in which an unidentified suspect or suspects spray-painted anti-LGBTQ, racist, and anti-Semitic graffiti at a shopping center.

A spokesperson for the Sheriff’s office told the Washington Blade the graffiti, which is considered an act of vandalism and is being investigated as a possible hate crime, was found painted on the side of a building that once housed a Food Lion supermarket at the South Riding Town Center in Chantilly.

The Sheriff’s Office did not disclose the exact wording of the graffiti. But news media reports, including a report by WTOP News, said the graffiti included Nazi swastikas, racial slurs, and the phrase “stop white genocide.”

Among the graffiti messages was the symbol “1488,” which indicates “the perpetrator’s endorsement of white supremacy and its beliefs,” according to a statement from the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington as reported by the local publication Inside NOVA.

Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Michele Bowman said another, similar display of hate graffiti was found on Saturday behind the Bed Bath & Beyond building at the nearby Dulles Landing shopping center. Bowman said the Sheriff’s Office is also investigating that incident.

“There is no place in society for this behavior,” a statement released by the Sheriff’s Office on Facebook says.

“The LCSO takes this very seriously and is working with our station detectives, School Resource Officers, and our FBI Task Force member, and is reviewing social media and other potential leads to determine who is responsible for this vile act,” the statement says.

“We are asking the public for their assistance as well,” it says. “If anyone has information that may be helpful, please call Detective Fornwalt at 703-777-1021,” the statement says.

Loudoun4All, which describes itself as an advocacy organization that supports equality, announced on Facebook that it organized a rally on Sunday, Dec. 4, at the site of the graffiti at South Riding Town Center to speak out against hate.

The announcement says the group also arranged for volunteers to help remove the graffiti after learning that the Sheriff’s Office does not have authority to remove such graffiti on private property.

“About 50 local residents joined the rally, which took place along the side of Tall Cedars Parkway where the graffiti had been painted,” the group said in its Facebook posting. “Rally goers held signs with inclusive and supportive messages and waved at cars driving by,” the posting says.

It says that local resident Quante Timbers, the owner of Timbers Landscaping Care, LLC, volunteered his services by bringing a power washer to the site to remove most of the graffiti.

“Where his hoses wouldn’t reach, local kids converted the spray-painted message of hate into chalked messages of love,” the Loudoun4All statement says.

Loudoun Sheriff’s spokesperson Bowman said there were no updates to report on the investigation as of Monday, Dec. 5.

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Blade accepting applications for new fellowship focused on LGBTQ+ youth

Unique opportunity for college journalism students

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The Blade Foundation announced it has opened the application process for a new winter fellowship.

The application is open for an aspiring D.C.-based college-age journalist interested in covering LGBTQ+ youth. The fellowship runs for 12 weeks starting January 2023 with a $2,500 stipend. Fellows will be paired with a Blade editor for mentoring and reporting assignments.

This fellowship is focused on issues impacting queer youth in D.C. Coverage areas will include housing, coming out, education, and more. The fellowship is funded by a grant from the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs (MOLGBTQA).

College students may apply by emailing a letter of interest, resume, and links to three writing samples to: Kevin Naff, executive director, Blade Foundation, [email protected]. No phone calls. Deadline to apply is Dec. 23.

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