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EXCLUSIVE: Elizabeth Warren pledges to lead on LGBT rights

Senate hopeful calls on Obama to endorse marriage equality

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Elizabeth Warren at Women In Finance symposium (photo public domain)

Elizabeth Warren, who is running to unseat U.S. Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), pledged to support a series of pro-LGBT initiatives and called on President Obama to endorse marriage equality in an exclusive interview with the Washington Blade on Tuesday.

Warren endorsed the idea of an executive order from President Obama that would require companies doing business with the U.S. government to have LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination policies for their workers.

“Any steps that the president can take toward non-discrimination benefit the whole country,” Warren said. “I don’t know how else to say it. It’s the right thing to do.”

The measure is sometimes referred to as the “ENDA” executive order because its effect would be similar to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, but limited to federal contractors. The White House hasn’t said whether it will issue the directive.

Warren called on President Obama to complete his now 17-month-old “evolution” and endorse marriage equality. She also said she supports the call for a marriage equality plank in the Democratic Party platform this September.

Asked whether she wants Obama to finish evolving and support same-sex marriage, Warren chuckled and responded that was indeed her view.

“I want to see the president evolve because I believe that is right; marriage equality is morally right,” Warren said.

Warren expressed similar sentiments about the Democratic Party platform, saying it would build support for ending the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act.

“I’d be glad to see it included in the Democratic platform,” she said. “It helps raise awareness of the impact of DOMA and it helps build support to repeal it.”

The platform committee is set to discuss language for the Democratic Party platform when it gathers for the Democratic National Convention Sept. 3 in Charlotte, N.C.

Warren, an expert on the American economy and personal finance, gained notoriety after she chaired the congressional oversight panel for the 2008 bank bailout program. She led the establishment of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that was set up by the 2010 Wall Street reform bill, and was a favorite among progressives to head the organization before she launched her Senate bid and Richard Courdray was recess appointed to the role.

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work and among the chief advocates of the ENDA executive order, said “it makes perfect sense” for Warren to come out for the measure because it would ensure taxpayer money won’t go to work environments hostile to LGBT people

“I hope Ms. Warren will telephone President Obama and urge him to pick up his pen and sign the ‘ENDA Executive Order’ that his Justice and Labor departments have drafted and delivered to the White House for his signature,” Almeida said.

Evan Wolfson, president and founder of Freedom to Marry, also praised Warren for supporting the initiatives related to same-sex marriage and called on Obama and the Democratic Party to come into alignment with her views.

“We welcome Elizabeth Warren alongside the many other leaders, and the signers of our online petition, as we urge President Obama and the Democratic Party to stand with Presidents Clinton and Carter in the growing nationwide majority for marriage,” Wolfson said.

Warren, who’s already expressed support for DOMA repeal, also said during the interview that she would take a leadership role in efforts to repeal the 1996 anti-gay law if elected to the Senate.

“I think that DOMA is a terrible statute,” Warren said. “For forever, the federal government has permitted the states to define marriage, and now the federal government steps in and says, ‘Yeah, the states get to do it for most families, but not those families because we don’t like them.'”

If elected to the Senate, Warren would represent a state where more than 13,000 same-sex couples have been legally married. She said DOMA, which prohibits federal recognition of these unions, is “institutionalized discrimination.”

“Being a senator from Massachusetts, it’s possible not just to be a vote in the right direction, it’s possible to provide leadership,” Warren said. “I think that starts by calling out the statute on how wrong it is morally and counter to our basic legal foundation.”

Warren noted that DOMA means a same-sex couple married in Massachusetts won’t have access to federal benefits and that those with grown children, in some instances, can’t visit grandchildren in another state “without being treated during the visit as having a different marital status.”

“I think there’s already legislation pending, but it’s got to have some energy behind it and that means you’ve got to be willing to go out and talk about it — not only here in Massachusetts but around the country on national television to get out and make that case,” Warren said.

Warren conducted the interview with the Blade via phone after she visited Fenway Health, a Boston-based organization that provides health services to the LGBT community and conducts research and advocacy for LGBT health.

She called the work at Fenway Health “extraordinary” because the institute provides both health services and engages in research.

“What they see on the clinical side informs what they’re doing on the research side,” Warren said. “So they get ideas and they’re able to test them, and the two move back and forth. As a result, we have improvement in both health outcomes for those who go to the center. At the same time, developments in research help support advances in health care and other services for LGBT [people] around the country.”

Warren said the visit she paid to the institute was a reminder that community health centers are integral to providing health services. The health care reform measure President Obama signed into law in 2010 makes grants available to such institutions.

“Community health centers are very much supported by the Affordable Care Act,” Warren said. “Republicans have declared war on it — Scott Brown, my Republican opponent, and the Republican presidential candidates have said they will repeal the Affordable Care Act. That would be devastating to community health centers, not just Fenway, but community centers across the country.”

In September, the Department of Health & Human Services awarded the institute $248,000 to help create a national training and technical assistance center aimed at helping community health centers improve the health of LGBT populations.

Warren is running against Brown — a Republican senator representing a “blue” state. Brown won praise from LGBT advocates for voting in favor of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal in 2010, but that was only after he twice voted against defense legislation that included repeal language.

Warren said Brown’s vote on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal was “a good vote” and that he should be commended for it, but added she’d step up the LGBT advocacy if elected to the Senate.

“I’ll be there on every vote,” Warren said. “I’ll be there not just to provide a vote, but leadership, and I think that’s what the LGBT community really needs.”

Warren praised Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), who’s running for the open seat in Wisconsin in a bid that could make her the country’s first openly gay U.S. senator.

The two have set up a joint fundraising group called the Massachusetts-Wisconsin Victory Fund, which thus far has raised $171,250, and have appeared together in a joint fundraiser in Philadelphia hosted by donor Peter Buttenwieser.

“I was delighted to do the event with Tammy,” Warren said. “We actually did a second [event] together. We were out in San Francisco with other women senators and women challengers. And I hope we’ll have more opportunities to do that. I’d really love to see Tammy get elected. I worked with Tammy before, so I’m a big fan.”

Warren criticized the Republican presidential candidates for their anti-gay views. Each of the GOP hopefuls who’ve won any states — Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich — backs a U.S. constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage throughout the country and rescind it in states like Massachusetts.

“I think their position is wrong,” Warren said. “They have a vision of America that does not represent who we are as a people and the kind of country we want to build.”

Over the course of her campaign, Warren said she’s spoken with LGBT organizations about a variety of subjects including LGBT rights, although she couldn’t immediately identify any of the groups. Earlier this month, the Human Rights Campaign endorsed her candidacy.

“We talked about health care issues, we’ve talked about economic issues, we’ve talked about justice issues — particularly on DOMA and marriage equality,” Warren said. “We’ve also had conversations that range into other areas about art, about education, about the importance of anti-bullying programs.”

 

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18 Comments

18 Comments

  1. Nancy Scott

    March 21, 2012 at 3:23 pm

    Awesome person, please run for President!

  2. Rickindc

    March 21, 2012 at 5:46 pm

    Nothing like pandering for votes, how pathetic.

  3. Addy Free

    March 21, 2012 at 10:07 pm

    Rickindc: Can you please say why you find Warren to be pandering? Is it because the Blade didn’t offer background on her long-standing support of LGBT people? What leads you to make that comment?

  4. Barton McLaine

    March 23, 2012 at 11:04 am

    Warren loves more paperwork. It is all she knows.

  5. bob from account temps

    March 23, 2012 at 1:09 pm

    hey lizzy, here’s a news flash ; obama won’t finish his evolution on gay marriage until after the nov. election!!

  6. Bill

    March 23, 2012 at 11:29 pm

    Hey Bob;
    You are really delusional, The President knows what is right and will EVOLVE…He is a fair and great man!

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Minnesota

Minnesota middle school principal ousted for displaying Pride flag

Critics ramped up attacks on the career educator- some compared her to the Devil after publicly associating with LGBTQ+ people and students

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Screenshot via Marshall Public Schools, YouTube Channel

MARSHALL, Mn. — A former middle school principal in Minnesota who lost her job after displaying a Pride flag alleges in a federal lawsuit that the school system retaliated against her for supporting LGBTQ+ students.

Mary Kay Thomas filed the complaint against Marshall Public Schools in the U.S. District Court of Minnesota Tuesday after anti-LGBTQ+ middle school staff, parents, students and local clergy began efforts to remove the Pride flag that she put up in her middle school’s cafeteria in 2020 as a part of an inclusiveness effort.

According to the lawsuit, Thomas has been a teacher and principal for more than three decades with a long track record of success. She held the principal position at Marshall Middle School for 15 years, receiving contract renewals, pay raises and praise for her performance.

“But when Thomas decided to display an LGBTQ Pride Flag in the school cafeteria in early 2020, everything changed,” reads the complaint. 

Thomas refused to take down the Pride flag as critics ramped up attacks on the career educator. The lawsuit alleges that some even compared her to the Devil after publicly associating with LGBTQ+ people and students. 

“Sadly, the Marshall School District has sided with these critics,” her lawyers wrote. 

What followed was an “escalating series of adverse actions” taken by the Marshall School District, said the lawsuit. She claims that the school targeted her by threatening her employment, conducting a “bad-faith” investigation, putting her on indefinite involuntary leave, suspending her without pay and putting a notice of deficiency in her personnel file. 

The complaint says that the deficiencies were “false, distorted, and/or related to Thomas’s association with members of the LGBTQ community.”

Thomas also claims that the District attempted to get her to quit by removing her as principal and assigning her to a “demeaning ‘special projects’ position.”

At one point, Marshall Public Schools Superintendent Jeremy Williams, who is named as a defendant in the case, told Thomas he could “make this all go away” if she stepped down, according to the complaint. 

The school removed the Pride flag in August 2021 after settling a lawsuit brought by residents who opposed it. 

The Blade reached out to Williams for comment but did not receive a response. However, according to the Marshall Independent, Williams did release a statement on the matter. 

“Marshall Public Schools is committed to the education of every child and has strong policies and practices in place against discrimination, against both students and staff members. The school district is committed to creating a respectful, inclusive, and safe learning and working environment for students, staff and our families,” Williams said. “While the school cannot comment about the specific allegations made in the complaint, the school district strongly denies any allegation of discriminatory conduct. The school will vigorously defend itself against these allegations.”

In addition, Thomas alleges that she resisted unwanted sexual advancements from school board member Bill Swope. She claims she told Williams about the sexual harassment.

As of Thursday, the school has not filed a response, and no hearing has been scheduled yet. 

Thomas is seeking a jury trial, damages and reinstatement as principal of Marshall Middle School.

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National

Matthew Shepard honored at National Cathedral

Daylong services held to mark his 45th birthday

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Matthew Shepard, gay news, Washington Blade
Matthew Shepard Thanksgiving and Celebration at the National Cathedral in 2018. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The parents of gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard, who was murdered in a 1998 hate crime that drew international attention to anti-LGBTQ violence, were among those attending a day of religious services commemorating Shepard’s 45th birthday on Wednesday at the Washington National Cathedral.

The services, which the Cathedral organized in partnership with the Matthew Shepard Foundation, included tributes to Shepard at the Cathedral’s St. Joseph’s Chapel, where his remains were interred in a ceremony in 2018.  

“Matthew Shepard’s death is an enduring tragedy affecting all people and should serve as an ongoing call to the nation to reject anti-LGBTQ bigotry and instead embrace each of our neighbors for who they are,” the Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith, Dean of Washington National Cathedral, said at the time of Shepard’s interment.

“In the years since Matthew’s death, the Shepard family has shown extraordinary courage and grace in keeping his spirit and memory alive, and the Cathedral is honored and humbled to serve as his final resting place,” Hollerith said.

The first of the Cathedral’s Dec. 1 services for Shepard began at 7 a.m. with prayers, scripture readings, and music led by the Cathedral’s Rev. Canon Rosemarie Logan Duncan. The service was live streamed on YouTube.

An online, all-day service was also held from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. that Cathedral officials said was intended to “connect people around the world to honor Shepard and the LGBTQ community and pray for a more just world.”

The Shepard services concluded with a 5:30 p.m. in-person remembrance of Shepard in the Cathedral’s Nave, its main worship space. Among those attending were Shepard’s parents, Dennis and Judy Shepard, who have said they created the Matthew Shepard Foundation to continue their son’s support for equality for all.

A statement released by the Cathedral says a bronze plaque honoring Matthew Shepard was installed in St. Joseph’s Chapel to mark his final resting place at the time Shepard was interred there in 2018. 
Following the Cathedral’s Dec. 1 services for Shepard, the Adams Morgan gay bar Pitchers hosted a reception for Dennis and Judy Shepard, according to Pitchers’ owner David Perruzza.

One of the two men charged with Shepard’s murder, Russell Henderson, pleaded guilty to the charge after prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty for him. The second of the two men charged, Aaron McKinney, was convicted of the murder following a lengthy jury trial.

Prosecutors said McKinney repeatedly and fatally struck Shepard in the head with the barrel of a handgun after he and Henderson tied Shepard to a wooden fence in a remote field outside Laramie, Wy., on Oct. 6, 1998. Police and prosecutors presented evidence at McKinney’s trial that McKinney and Henderson met Shepard at a bar in Laramie on that day and lured him into their car, where they drove him to the field where authorities said McKinney fatally assaulted him.

Shepard died six days later at a hospital in Ft. Collins, Colo., where he was taken after being found unconscious while still tied to the fence.

In a dramatic courtroom scene following the jury’s guilty verdict for McKinney, Dennis Shepard urged the judge to spare McKinney’s life by not handing down a death sentence. He said that out of compassion and in honor of his son’s life, McKinney should be allowed to live. The judge sentenced McKinney to two consecutive terms of life in prison without the possibility of parole, the same sentence given to Henderson.

(VIDEO COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON NATIONAL CATHEDRAL VIA YOUTUBE)
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National

‘Very familiar’: Mark Glaze’s story brings into focus mental health for gay men

Experts see common story as LGBTQ people enter middle age

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Mark Glaze's death by suicide is bringing into focus mental health issues faced by gay men.

The death by suicide at age 51 of Mark Glaze, a gun reform advocate who was close to many in D.C.’s LGBTQ community, is striking a chord with observers who see his struggles with mental health and alcoholism as reflective of issues facing many gay men as they enter middle age.

Glaze’s story resonates even though much of the attention on mental health issues in the LGBTQ community is devoted to LGBTQ youth going through the coming out process and transgender people who face disproportionate violence and discrimination within the LGBTQ community in addition to a growing focus on LGBTQ seniors entering later stages of life.

Randy Pumphrey, senior director of behavioral health for the D.C.-based Whitman-Walker Health, said Glaze’s story was “very familiar” as a tale of mental health issues facing gay men in the middle stage of life.

“You’re talking about a gay-identified man who is in his 50s, somebody who has struggled with alcohol misuse — or maybe abuse or dependence— and also depression,” Pumphrey said. “I think that there has always been a higher incidence of suicide for men in general in their middle age 50 and above, but this increases when you’re talking about gay men, and also if you’re talking about gay men who suffer with mental health issues, or substance use disorder issues.”

Several sources close to Glaze said his death did not come as a surprise. His family has been open about his death by suicide last month while he was in jail after allegedly fleeing the scene of a car accident in Pennsylvania and a long history of depression and alcoholism.

Pumphrey said Glaze’s situation coping with mental health issues as well as the consequences for his role in the accident, were reflective of someone who might “begin to perceive that this is an issue that they can’t get away from, or the consequences they can’t get away from exposure and that can lead somebody to a fatal outcome.”

“My experience is that there have been gay men that I have worked with over the years — particularly in their 50s and early 60s — it’s taken them a long time to recognize the severity of the problem, whether it’s their depression or their substance abuse, and then they find themselves in a very precarious situation because of shame, and so they may not necessarily seek help even though they need help.”

A 2017 study in the American Journal of Men’s Health found the prevalence of depression among gay men is three times higher than the general adult population, which means they are a subgroup at high risk for suicide.

The study found “scant research exists about gay men’s health beyond sexual health issues,” most often with HIV, which means issues related to depression and suicidality “are poorly understood.”

“Gay men’s health has often been defined by sexual practices, and poorly understood are the intersections of gay men’s physical and mental health with social determinants of health including ethnicity, locale, education level and socioeconomic status,” the study says.

The study acknowledged being male itself is one factor incorporated in addressing mental health issues in this subgroup because “regardless of sexual orientation, men can be reluctant to seek help for mental health problems.” Another study quoted in the report found 23 percent, less than one quarter of gay men, who attempted suicide sought mental health or medical treatment.

In addition to mental health issues facing gay men in Glaze’s age group, others saw his situation as a common story in the culture of Washington, which is notorious for celebrating and prioritizing success with little tolerance for personal setbacks.

In the case of Glaze, who had sparred on Fox News with Tucker Carlson as executive director of Everytown for Gun Safety, the threat of exposure and threat to his career may have seemed overwhelmingly daunting.

Steven Fisher, who knew Glaze since the 1990s and worked with him at the D.C.-based Raben Group, said one factor that contributed to Glaze’s condition was “he could only see upward in terms of his career trajectory.”

“We saw that in him and it had me very concerned because I felt like he might end up in a place that wasn’t good once he left Everytown, and that’s tragically and sadly what happened,” Fisher said. “I think he just had trouble adjusting to what is usually a roller coaster ride, I think, in people’s careers, especially in the D.C. world.”

Along with Glaze, Fisher has worked on gun issues for Everytown, which has been a client of his since 2015 after he worked for them in 2012 after the Newtown shooting.

Compounding the challenges that Glaze faced is a culture among many gay men focused on sexuality, which prioritizes youth and appearance and presents problems as those qualities start fading when men enter middle age.

Fisher said another factor in Glaze’s condition was social media, pointing out public perception about his identity was important to him.

“If you look at his social media — I think this is instructive to the rest of us — a lot of the comments are about how Mark was so good looking and he was charming, and he was so smart and so funny,” Fisher said. “That’s all true, and that’s why he was very appealing to many people, but those qualities don’t really tell you everything about a person. In fact, one could argue they’re superficial in a way, and people have to remember people are more complicated than what you see on social media.”

One issue for gay men facing mental health issues as they enter middle age is they don’t have the same resources as those available to LGBTQ youth, who have been more of a focus in terms of mental health issues in the LGBTQ community.

Among the leading organizations for LGBTQ youth is the Trevor Project, which has resources and a hotline for LGBTQ youth facing mental health crises.

Kevin Wong, vice president of communications for the Trevor Project, said his organization would be receptive to an older LGBTQ person who calls the hotline, but ultimately would refer that person elsewhere.

“If an LGBTQ person above the age of 25 reaches out to The Trevor Project’s crisis services for support and expresses suicidal thoughts, our counselors will listen, actively and with empathy, and work with them to de-escalate and form a safety plan, like any other contact,” Wong said. “However, our organization has remained youth-centric since its founding and our volunteer crisis counselors are specifically trained with younger LGBTQ people in mind.”

Much attention is focused on the coming out process for LGBTQ people, a time that can upend close relationships — as well as reaffirm them — and a process more commonly associated with youth.

Ilan Meyer, senior scholar of public policy at the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, said data is scant about suicide rates among LGBTQ people, but information on suicide attempts shows they tend to be at a heightened rate for LGBTQ people as they go through the coming out process.

“What we do know is that there is a connection with the coming out period at whatever age coming out happens,” Meyer said. “And so, we see a proximity to coming out whatever age that happened, we see the suicide attempts proceeding and after that.”

Suicide attempts, Meyer said, are much higher for LGBTQ people than the population at large. The self-reported rate of suicide attempts in the U.S. population as a whole, Meyer said, is 2.4 percent, but that figure changes to 20 to 30 percent among LGBTQ youth, which about to 10 to 15 times greater.

Black and Latino people, Meyer said, have been less likely to make suicide attempts in their lifetimes, although he added that may be changing in recent years.

With the primary focus on mental health issues elsewhere in the LGBTQ community, Glaze’s death raises questions about whether sufficient resources are available to people in his demographic, or whether individuals are willing to seek out care options that are available.

Meyer said whether the resources for suicidal ideologies among LGBTQ people are sufficient and what more could be done “is the the million-dollar question.”

“It’s definitely not determined by just mental health,” Meyer said. “So many people have depression, but they don’t attempt suicide. And so, then the difficult thing is to find the right moment to intervene and what that intervention should be.”

Meyer said much of the focus on mental health is on a person’s last moments before making a suicide attempt, such as making suicide hotlines readily available, but some of the stressors he sees “are more chronic, ongoing things related to homophobia and the kind of experience that LGBT people have as they come to terms to realize their sexual identity.”

Pumphrey said another factor in mental health issues not to be underestimated for almost two years now is “dealing with the COVID and loneliness epidemic,” which appears to have no immediate end in sight with the emergence of the Omnicron variant.

“There was always this piece of sometimes the experience of being in your 50s and early 60s…we talk about the invisibility factor,” Pumphrey said. “But when there’s just this sense of being disconnected from community, especially in the early days of the pandemic, and kind of being locked down, I think that just raised the risk.”

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