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Celebration, resolve as Maryland marriage bill signed

‘We’re going to win’ referendum fight, gay lawmaker predicts

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With a crowd of same-sex couples and the eight openly gay and lesbian members of the Maryland General Assembly standing behind him, Gov. Martin O’Malley on March 1 signed the Civil Marriage Protection Act. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

LGBT advocates joined gay and lesbian members of the Maryland General Assembly last week in predicting voters in their state would become the first in the nation to uphold a same-sex marriage bill in a referendum expected to be placed on the ballot in November.

With a crowd of same-sex couples and the eight openly gay and lesbian members of the General Assembly standing behind him, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley on March 1 signed the Civil Marriage Protection Act, which calls for legalizing same-sex marriage in the state.

Several hundred supporters celebrated at a reception hosted by O’Malley at the governor’s residence immediately following the signing ceremony at the State House in Annapolis.

“We’re going to win,” declared Del. Luke Clippinger (D-Baltimore City), one of seven out gay or lesbian members of the House of Delegates.

Clippinger, like the others basking in the legislative victory, acknowledged that supporters have a difficult task ahead in going against what most observers predict will be an aggressive and well-funded campaign by opponents to defeat the bill at the polls.

“We’re going to win because people in our community are going to get out, they are going to talk to their co-workers, they’re going to talk to their neighbors, they’re going to talk to everybody they know and tell them why this is so important,” said Clippinger.

Del. Heather Mizeur (D-Montgomery County), an out lesbian, said supporters across the state were poised and ready to wage an unprecedented campaign to retain the bill.

“It’s a very, very proud moment for all Marylanders to celebrate this day,” she said. “We’re celebrating today and savoring the sweet taste of equality on our lips. And we roll up our sleeves tomorrow, ready to pledge our best effort to defend this win at the ballot box in November.”

Darrell Carrington, former board member of the statewide LGBT advocacy group Equality Maryland, describes himself as a longtime civil rights activist and straight ally on the marriage issue.

“It’s just a remarkable day,” he said at the governor’s reception. “I could not be happier for all of my friends who get to become full citizens in the State of Maryland.”

Asked the prospects of winning a gay marriage referendum fight in Maryland, given that voters in 20 states have passed ballot measures banning same-sex marriage, Carrington said voters’ attitudes on the issue are changing rapidly.

“I believe if you look at the current polling data you see that the tide is changing,” he said. “It is changing dramatically and exponentially. And that’s what’s going to be helping us. So I think Maryland can be the first state to pass this on referendum.”

House of Delegates Speaker Michael Busch (D-Anne Arundel County) shares the optimism of supporters like Carrington on the bill’s chance of surviving a referendum.

“I believe that the more people understand about this issue they’ll look at it as an issue of equal rights and civil rights,” Busch told the Blade.

Gov. O’Malley: ‘We are all Americans’

Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller (D-Prince George’s and Calvert Counties) joined O’Malley in signing the bill before a crowd of hundreds of supporters who packed the lobby of the state capital building in Annapolis.

“We are all Americans. And all of us at end of the day want the same thing for our children. We want them to live in a loving, caring, and committed home that is protected equally under the law,” O’Malley said minutes before signing the bill.

O’Malley made no mention of a voter referendum expected to be placed on the ballot in November calling for killing the bill before it becomes law. But his brief remarks at the bill signing ceremony appeared to reflect the themes that Annapolis observers expect O’Malley to use to defend the bill before voters in the fall.

“For a free and diverse people, for people of many faiths, for a people committed to the principle of religious freedom, the way forward is always found through greater respect for the equal rights of all, for the eminent dignity of all,” O’Malley said.

After signing the bill, O’Malley handed the legislation to Busch and Miller, who placed their signature on the document.

Miller voted against the bill; Busch voted for it.

“The bill is signed,” O’Malley declared, triggering a burst of applause and cheers from the crowd.

Marriage equality supporters prepare for fight

Officials with Marylanders for Marriage Equality, the coalition of LGBT and straight allied groups that coordinated the effort to pass the bill in the legislature said that, while celebrating their legislative victory on March 1, they were gearing up for the referendum fight.

Spokesperson Kevin Nix said the coalition is already raising funds for the referendum through a donation link on its website and would soon be stepping up fundraising efforts. He said he could not discuss details on the organization’s campaign strategy by press time, saying campaign related activities would be announced soon.

Most agreed that O’Malley’s signature on the Civil Marriage Protection Act was the kick-off for what political observers predict will be an acrimonious referendum campaign in which opponents, as they have in other states, will warn that legalizing same-sex marriage would result in the “teaching” of homosexuality in elementary schools.

Brian Brown, president of the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage, called O’Malley’s signature on the bill a “meaningless” gesture, saying the bill was certain to be defeated in the upcoming referendum.

“The Maryland same-sex marriage legislation is a meaningless, symbolic act,” Brown said in a statement. “The people of Maryland, not politicians, will have the final say on marriage.”

The state Board of Elections on Feb. 29 approved the language for the referendum petition. The next day the elections board issued written confirmation allowing backers of the referendum to begin gathering signatures, according to board spokesperson Dona Duncan.

Same-sex marriage opponents are expected to gather the required number of petition signatures needed to place the referendum on the ballot for the November election.

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Delaware

Delaware’s Sussex Pride launches free statewide HIV, STI testing

Special program honors National HIV Testing Day on June 27

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Each year on June 27, people across the United States are encouraged to get tested for HIV. This year for Delawareans, it’s easier than ever.

Sussex Pride has partnered with STDCheck to offer free HIV and syphilis testing everywhere in Delaware. There are more than 20 locations across the state, making it simple to find a testing center.  

David Mariner, executive director of Sussex Pride, told the Blade, “We are thrilled with this new partnership with STDcheck. The ultimate goal is to empower individuals with knowledge about their HIV status, provide necessary support, and facilitate early intervention to improve health outcomes in our state.”

Finding a testing center, getting tested, and getting results is simple. Start by finding a lab near you using this link (https://www.stdcheck.com/std-test-center.php). Then call STDcheck at 800-456-2323 and request a free Sussex Pride HIV and/or syphilis test. Make sure to mention Sussex Pride in the call to get the test for free. Then schedule a time and get tested. 

“If you are HIV positive, the sooner you know, the better,” Mariner added. “Early and sustained treatment can help you live a long and healthy life. It can also help protect others.”

This special program is in honor of National HIV Testing Day, created in 1995 to highlight the lifesaving impact of HIV testing. HIV has historically had a disproportionate effect on the LGBTQ community. According to the CDC, 70% of all new cases of HIV in 2021 were among gay and bisexual men and other men who have sex with men.

The CDC’s theme for this year’s HIV testing day is “Level up your self-love: check your status.” The theme emphasizes, “valuing yourself, showing yourself compassion and respect, and honoring your health needs with self-love,” and the best way to do that is to test.

For more information on Sussex Pride’s testing program visit sussexpride.org/posts/testing/ and for more information on HIV visit CDC.gov/hiv.

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District of Columbia

D.C. police chief, officers marched in Pride parade in uniform

Capital Pride cautious about whether MPD violated ‘no uniform’ policy

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D.C. Police Chief Pamela Smith marches in the Capital Pride Parade on Saturday, June 8. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

D.C. Police Chief Pamela Smith led a contingent of D.C. police officers, including members of the department’s LGBT Liaison Unit, in the June 8 Capital Pride Parade with the chief and all the officers in uniform in what appeared to be a violation of a Capital Pride policy of not allowing law enforcement officers to participate in the parade in uniform.

The Capital Pride Alliance, the group that organizes most D.C. Pride events, including the parade, posted a statement on its website in June of 2020 announcing that a policy it adopted in 2018 that does not allow uniformed police officers to march in the parade remained in effect. The group told the Washington Blade this week in a statement that the no uniform policy remained in place for this year’s Pride parade.

In her own statement released on the day of the parade Chief Smith appeared to take exception to the no uniform policy without saying so directly.

“I am proud to march in today’s Capital Pride Parade in full uniform to support our LGBTQ+ colleagues and to further our commitment to creating inclusive and supportive environments,” the chief said. “MPD will continue to support, and ensure security, at Pride events and different community focused events year-round,” she said.

The chief’s statement, which was sent to the news media in a press release, added, “Having been selected as the department’s first Chief Equity Officer, and now as the Chief of Police, I’m committed to celebrating diverse identities. I will always stand up for diversity, equity and inclusion for our members and our community.”

In response to an inquiry from the Blade asking for confirmation of whether the “no uniform” policy was still in effect for the 2024 Pride parade, Capital Pride Alliance responded with a statement. 

“The Capital Pride Alliance policy concerning MPD remains in place,” the statement says. “If the group officially registers for the march, they must participate out of official uniform,” it says. 

“This year, the police did not register and as such were not an official parade contingent,” the statement continues. “The police chief walked the route with on-duty police officers, and being on-duty, officers are required to be in uniform.”

The statement adds, “We continue to have conversations with MPD, including the Chief of Police, about how we build a collaborative relationship with our community.”

D.C. police didn’t immediately respond to a Blade request for comment by Chief Smith or a spokesperson on the claim by Capital Pride officials that the police were not in an official contingent in this year’s parade.

Capital Pride officials did not respond to the Blade’s additional request this week for an explanation of why the no uniform policy was adopted and whether the policy is still needed.

In earlier statements posted on its website in past years, Capital Pride officials cited the Black Lives Matter movement and the police killing of Black Minneapolis resident George Floyd that triggered anti-police protests across the country as an issue that made some in the LGBTQ community and others participating in the Pride parade uncomfortable in the presence of uniformed police officers.

“Pride this year comes on the heels of a global pandemic and a nation confronting the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers,” the group said in a June 3, 2020, statement. The Floyd case and the 2020 police shooting deaths of a Black woman in Louisville, Ky., and a Black transgender man in Tallahassee, Fla. “have created a nationwide uprising crying out for racial justice and the protection of Black life,” the statement said.

“As members of the Black and Brown communities have stood with the LGBTQ+ community, the Capital Pride Alliance stands in complete solidarity to unite against these disparities that impact communities of color,” the 2020 statement said. “We pledge that we will work together to find solutions and make positive changes that are so desperately needed to end inequity, injustice, and violence against people of color.”

Activists have acknowledged that the LGBTQ community nationwide has been divided over decisions to ban uniformed police participation in Pride parades in cities across the country, including New York and San Francisco.

A June 2019 nationwide poll of 801 LGBTQ people in the U.S. conducted by the polling firm Whitman Insight Strategies and BuzzFeed News found that 79 percent of LGBTQ adults said, “police should be welcome to join pride events,” with just 8 percent expressing opposition to police presence, according to BuzzFeed.

“People of color, who made up 21 percent of all survey respondents, support cops in pride events by 77 percent to 8 percent (15 percent say it makes no difference either way),” BuzzFeed reported in a June 24, 2019, article.

Earl Fowlkes, the founder and former CEO of the D.C.-based Center For Black Equity, which organizes D.C.’s annual Black Pride events, told the Blade that Black Pride has not adopted a policy of restricting uniformed police officers from participating in any of its events.

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Comings & Goings

McCarty named director of partnerships at Universe

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Steven McCarty

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].

Congratulations to Steven McCarty on his new position with Universe, as Director of Partnerships. Universe supports movement organizations, labor unions, and Democratic campaigns, with the software they need to win. On accepting the new position he said, “I’m most excited to take my years of campaign and technology experience to down-ballot Democrats across the country as we fight to preserve our Democracy this election cycle.” 

Prior to this, McCarty was Business Development + Partnerships Lead, at STAC labs (State Technology Acceleration Collaborative), where he spearheaded strategic business development initiatives, expanding STAC labs’ partner network by 400% with the launch of the Progressive Tech Index and doubling DemLaunch user base from four to 11 states within a year. Prior to that he was president at The Kiwanis Club of Washington, D.C.; Senior Customer Success Manager at Crowdskout; Vice President at Circle K International, Indianapolis, Ind.; and a summer fellow at Michigan State AFL-CIO, Lansing, Mich. 

He has done a lot of volunteer work, including being an elected Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner for ANC 2G04, representing Blagden Alley, Naylor Court, and Shepherd Court. He received a Youth Champion Award for outstanding support to LGBTQ Youth, from SMYAL; and was named a Kiwanis Member of the Year, Kiwanis Club of Washington, D.C.

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