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DNC LGBT Caucus mum on call about marriage equality plank

Anonymous sources tell the Blade caucus is divided over the growing demand



Gay Democrat Earl Fowlkes, the only DNC LGBT Caucus member from D.C., told the Blade on March 3 that he believes it’s premature for the caucus to take an official position on the party platform. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Members of the Democratic National Committee’s LGBT Caucus reportedly were divided in an off-the-record conference call on Feb. 27 over whether to take an official position calling for a marriage equality plank in the Democratic Party platform, according to gay Democratic activist Paul Yandura.

Yandura and two other sources, who spoke on condition that they are not identified, said they have heard conflicting reports on which caucus members support or oppose taking a position on a marriage equality plank at this time.

Gay Democratic activist Rick Stafford of Minnesota, who serves as chair of the LGBT Caucus, said on Monday that all of the caucus’s phone conferences are confidential and he could not comment on specific issues discussed during the call.

“The caucus had a call that was the first of many talking about numerous LGBT issues that might be included in the platform as well as an expression of celebration to the many things the Obama administration and the Democratic Congress have accomplished for the LGBT community,” Stafford told the Blade. “I guess that’s about as far as I want to go at this point.”

On Wednesday, Stafford said by email that he personally supports including a marriage equality plank in the party platform. He said the LGBT Caucus plans to “weigh in” on the issue when the Democratic Party Platform Committee begins deliberations on the platform in the coming months leading up to the Democratic Convention in September.

The reports that the DNC’s LGBT Caucus discussed a marriage equality plank for the party platform surfaced shortly after the national same-sex marriage advocacy group Freedom to Marry launched a campaign calling on the party Platform Committee to adopt such a plank.

Calling its campaign, “Democrats: Say I do,” Freedom to Marry is calling on LGBT activists and their straight supporters to sign an online petition urging that the party platform “affirm the freedom to marry.”

In a survey conducted by the Washington Blade, the offices of 22 Democratic U.S. senators last week confirmed that the senators support including a marriage equality plank in the Democratic platform.

The LGBT blog Think Progress reported last week that at least 13 co-chairs of the Obama re-election campaign have publicly endorsed legalizing same-sex marriage.
A White House spokesperson has said repeatedly in recent months the president continues to ‘evolve’ on the marriage issue. At the time he ran for president in 2008, Obama said he supported civil unions over marriage for same-sex couples.

Gay Democrat Earl Fowlkes, the only DNC LGBT Caucus member from D.C., told the Blade on March 3 that he believes it’s premature for the caucus to take an official position on the party platform.

“Not a single member of the platform committee has even been picked,” Fowlkes said.

Maryland House of Delegates member Heather Mizeur (D-Montgomery County) is the only DNC LGBT Caucus member from Maryland. Mizeur did not respond to a Blade inquiry seeking her position on whether the caucus should adopt a marriage equality plank. Mizeur was among the lead sponsors and advocates for the same-sex marriage bill that the Maryland General Assembly approved last month.

LGBT Caucus member Randi Weingarten of New York, an out lesbian who serves as president of the American Federation of Teachers, said she favors adding a marriage equality plank to the party platform. Noting that she is a longtime supporter of marriage equality, she said she helped in the effort to lobby the New York Legislature to pass a same-sex marriage bill last year.

Asked to comment on the LGBT Caucus’s reported discussion on a marriage equality plank, Weingarten said, “The DNC call was an off the record call and I have to honor that.”

LGBT Caucus member Andrew Tobias of New York, who serves as the DNC’s national treasurer, told the Blade in an email that he was unable to participate in the caucus’s Feb. 27 conference call.

“But I believe all of us support marriage equality,” he said. “The exact language of the platform remains to be worked out, but I hope and expect it will be language the community will be proud to support.”

Several additional members of the LGBT Caucus contacted by the Blade via email, in addition to Mizeur of Maryland, didn’t respond by press time this week to a request that they disclose their position on including a marriage equality plank in the platform.

“We should ask each member to publicly state whether they are for or against inclusion of marraige equality in the Democratic Party platform since they are ‘representatives’ of the community and we deserve to know,” Yandura said.

In his statement, Stafford said the LGBT Caucus and the party as a whole would be considering inclusion of a wide range of LGBT issues in the platform.

“The American people, including LGBT Americans, have made it clear that there are many important issues facing our nation today,” Stafford said. “All of these issues, including those raised by the ‘I Do’ campaign, deserve to be considered in the party platform – as do other important issues of equality such as inclusive employment non-discrimination and safe schools.”

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  1. Frank Cardinalli

    March 9, 2012 at 11:12 am

    This is nuts. Don’t hand the Republicans have their favorite wedge issue to exploit once more.
    We are already winning in the courts and in public opinion. The evangelicals dislike Romney –
    lets NOT give them a reason to turn out and vote for him.

  2. Tar Heel

    March 11, 2012 at 9:26 am

    Why even have a DNC LGBT caucus if they won’t support something as meaningless as a plank in the party platform?

    Beyond ridiculous.

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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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