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New leader in fight to protect Md. marriage law

Levin ‘confident of victory,’ buoyed by recent polls



Josh Levin, gay news, gay politics dc

Josh Levin will lead efforts to defend Maryland’s marriage equality law. (Courtesy photo)

Marylanders for Marriage Equality, the statewide coalition leading efforts to defend the state’s same-sex marriage law against an expected voter referendum, announced on April 11 that it has hired political strategist Josh Levin as the coalition’s new campaign manager.

Levin, 33, a Chicago native who has served as campaign manager for Democratic congressional candidates in Illinois and Ohio, will replace Sultan Shakir, who headed the successful campaign to pass the same-sex marriage measure in the Maryland General Assembly.

A statement released by the coalition says Shakir will become political director in the campaign to defeat a referendum seeking to kill the Civil Marriage Protection Act before it takes effect. Opponents of the law are currently gathering petition signatures needed to place it on the ballot in the November election.

“I’m thrilled to be part of the historic effort to ensure all families and their children have the same legal protections,” Levin said in a statement. “We have a number of advantages this election year, and the momentum is with us,” he said. “We’re confident of victory.”

Levin has served as campaign manager for several U.S. congressional candidates, including Tammy Duckworth in Illinois. He has also served as state director for Americans Against Escalation in Iraq in Illinois, a 2007 effort opposing President George W. Bush’s plans to increase the number of U.S. troops in Iraq.

Levin also served as regional field director for the 2004 presidential campaign of Howard Dean and later that year worked as field director for the get-out-the-vote effort in Wisconsin for Americans Coming Together, an independent “527” committee supporting Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry.

“Josh’s campaign experience will be invaluable,” said Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley in a statement. “I’m confident voters this fall will come down on the side of human dignity.”

Marylanders for Marriage Equality also released on April 11 results of a poll it commissioned from Hart Research polling firm showing that 51 percent of Maryland voters support upholding the same-sex marriage law, with 43 percent saying they oppose it.

The poll also shows that nearly 70 percent of Obama voters and 30 percent of those saying they would vote for GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney support marriage equality.

The poll was conducted March 18-23 among 604 Maryland voters. Marylanders for Marriage Equality did not release the poll’s margin of error.

In an interview with the Blade this week, Levin was asked what makes him confident that the Maryland marriage equality law can survive a voter referendum when same-sex marriage laws have gone down to defeat in all other states that have subjected them to a referendum.

“I think it starts and very nearly ends with 52 percent, which is what the polling says is the portion of the electorate in Maryland that supports marriage equality,” he said. “We have a majority now. We need to grow that and we need to defend it,” he said.

“And we need to take advantage of everybody who has said they’re on our side and is going to help us work on this,” said Levin. “And that’s members of our coalition – the group that hired me, that’s the governor and his commitment. And we will continue to work with the fact that public opinion has changed on this issue and changed quickly in the last two years in Maryland.”

When asked about how voters in California overturned that state’s same-sex marriage law in 2008 after early polls showed voters would uphold the law, Levin said, “I think we learn lessons from every campaign. I learn lessons from every campaign I’ve been a part of.”

He added, “In no way are we going to take anything for granted in Maryland. We’re working hard in communities all across the state because we have supporters in communities all over the state.”

Levin said the main theme Marylanders for Marriage Equality will stress in the campaign is the importance of families.

“We’ve got thousands of committed couples across the state in committed, stable, caring homes and we simply want to make sure that they’re recognized,” he said. “This campaign is going to be about those Maryland families, those gay and lesbian families and their kids and making sure that those kids have the same legal protections that the children of straight families have.”

Asked if same-sex families will be visible in the campaign, Levin said, “Oh yeah – the campaign is all about families. This is a campaign about marriage and marriage is about families. So yes, front and center.”

Following are excerpts from the Blade’s interview with Levin this week.

Washington Blade: Could you tell a little about the campaigns you’ve been involved with in the past?

Josh Levin: Yes, sure. I think the biggest and most relevant ones to us today are the ones talked about in the press release. I was working for Tammy Duckworth back home in Illinois in her congressional primary this year and then for Mary Jo Kilroy, who is a member of Congress from Ohio in 2010. So most of my background is in candidate campaigns, especially congressional campaigns. The bottom line is I’m a campaign type person.

Blade: Do you see similar issues that will surface in this campaign, which is not for a candidate but for an issue?

Levin: I think so. Part of the reason I was hired is because we’re turning the page now to the ballot effort. And I think that my experience is running campaigns with budgets and a staff that we’re going to need like this one and getting everything lined up and moving in the right direction, which is the biggest thing we’re going to need going into November.

Blade: In the course of getting ready for this campaign, have you had a chance to look at past same-sex marriage campaigns that went to referendum in some of the other states like California’s Proposition 8 and the campaign in Maine?

Levin: Sure, and we have been looking at it. We’ve been looking at both what is successful for the folks on our side of the issue and where we fall short. We’re looking at what our opponents are likely to do and what we can expect in terms of opposition. But the great thing is sitting here in Maryland we have some momentum and we have good reason to be confident right now based on what we have seen in other places but especially the unique experiences here in Maryland.

Blade: Are you expecting any particular tactics by the opponents once they obtain the signatures needed to place the referendum on the ballot?

Levin: We’re aware of what has been done in other places, and we expect to see some of the same. There were some documents just a couple of weeks ago that lay out some of the potential strategy that our opponents might follow. But as I said, I think we have a base of knowledge that is going to be helpful to us because of that.

Blade: Is there a budget that the campaign has or do you know what the budget will be in order to wage a successful campaign?

Levin: I don’t think I’m ready to put a number on it but it is going to be significant. The folks who raised the legislative campaign were successful in raising money for that. And I think we’re going to need to go both that and beyond to be successful for the fall. We’re going to have to be out there organizing an awful lot of communities. We’re going to have to get our message out to an awful lot of channels. The governor has already clearly made a commitment. He was up in Connecticut a couple of weeks ago raising money for us. And we have great partners at the table who are raising money from their members and other folks across the state.


District of Columbia

Capital Pride announces 2024 Pride honorees

Nine LGBTQ leaders, Destination DC to be honored



Iya Dammons is among this year’s Pride honorees. (Washington Blade file photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

Capital Pride Alliance, the group that organizes D.C.’s annual LGBTQ Pride events, has announced its selection of nine individuals and one D.C. organization as recipients of its annual honors awards recognizing outstanding service for the LGBTQ community and the cause of LGBTQ equality.

“Each year, the Capital Pride Alliance honors outstanding individuals, leaders, and activists in the National Capital Region who have furthered causes important to the LGBTQ+ community,” the group said in a statement. The statement says the honorees chosen this year “tirelessly contribute to our collective advocacy, outreach, education, and programming in support of our intersectional community.”

The awards were scheduled to be presented to the recipients at a Capital Pride Honors ceremony on Friday, May 31 at the MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Md. A statement released by Capital Pride says the event will be hosted by WUSA9 TV news reporter Lorenzo Hall, with entertainment by special guests, including singer-songwriter Crystal Waters, DJ Honey, and the Black Leaves Dance Company.

The award recipients as released by Capital Pride Alliance include the following:

Hero Award recognizing  “individuals who have furthered the causes important to LGBTQ+ community in the national capital region” and “have brought about positive changes to our lives and our community.”

• Hope Gisselle, nationally recognized author, artist, and activist who advocates for LGBTQ rights through organizations she has been a part of, including her founding of a human resources organization called AllowMe and her current role as CEO and Executive Director of the National Trans Visibility March.

• Jamison Henninger, has served as leader of the D.C. Area Transmasculine Society, known as DCATS, a community-based organization that aids transmasculine individuals in the D.C. metro area, serves on the board of Trans Pride DC, and serves as a consultant for Gender Illumination, a nonprofit group.

• Kenya Hutton, a social justice, equity, HIV prevention, and sexual health advocate who has worked to address issues impacting communities affected by HIV and other health disparities for over 20 years. He currently serves as deputy director of the D.C.-based national LGBTQ organization Center for Black Equity and is set to become its acting CEO and executive director in August.

• Carol Jameson has worked for more than 35 years in Northern Virginia developing and administering programs that address health care disparities and provide access to health care services, including HIV/AIDS related services. She has served as executive director for NOVAM, a nonprofit group providing HIV prevention and HIV care for adolescents and young adults in Northern Virginia.

• Tula, an esthetician and hair stylist by day, has been a widely recognized drag performer for more than 30 years and host to D.C. cabaret shows. A former title holder and member of the Academy of Washington, D.C. drag organization, “she brings a plethora of stage experience to any show,” according to a Capital Pride writeup.

• Jose Alberto Ucles has been involved with a wide range of LGBTQ supportive events and projects both culturally and politically while working in his day job for the past 23 years as the Hispanic Outreach Spokesperson and Public Affairs Specialist for the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Some of his many involvements include past work with the Whitman-Walker Clinic, Capital Pride organizing in the 1990s, and currently a member of the Arts & Culture Committee for World Pride 2025 DC.

Breaking Barriers Community Impact Award recognizes individuals or organizations who have demonstrated significant impact on the LGBTQ+ community and helped eliminate barriers for social, personal or professional growth of the LGBTQ+ community.

• Iya Dammons, a widely recognized transgender and LGBTQ rights advocate is the founding Executive Director of DC Safe Haven and Maryland Safe Haven, the nonprofit organizations credited with providing support and services for LGBTQ people experiencing homelessness, substance use problems at risk of an overdose, and discrimination based on their gender identity or sexual orientation.

The Bill Miles Award for Outstanding Volunteer Service acknowledges exemplary contributions to the Capital Pride Alliance and its programs, initiatives or other Pride sponsored activities.

• Bryan Davis is an accomplished Sign Language interpreter trained at D.C.’s Gallaudet University who currently serves as Volunteer Chair with Capital Pride Alliance and previously has served as Executive Producer and Chair for Accessibility and Interpreter Coordinator for Capital Pride.

• William Hawkins has since 2017 been a committed volunteer for Capital Pride as part of its production team and as Executive Producer of Health and Safety and later as Health and Safety Chair. He is credited with helping to form alliances with G.W. Hospital, the D.C. Fire & Emergency Medical Services Department, and the D.C. Licensing Division.

Larry Stansbury Award for Exemplary Contributions to Pride recognizes outstanding efforts related to programs and initiatives of the annual Capital Pride Alliance or Pride movement.

• Destination DC, a private, nonprofit corporation, serves as the lead organization to successfully manage and market Washington, D.C. as a premier global convention, tourism, and special events destination, with a special emphasis on the arts, cultural and historical communities. It is credited with generating economic development for the city through visitor spending.

Further details about the Capital Pride honorees and the May 31 event, including availability of admission tickets, can be accessed at their website.

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District of Columbia

D.C. mayor to hold 2nd annual LGBTQ flag raising ceremony

Event set for June 3 outside District Building



Mayor Muriel Bowser speaks at last year's flag ceremony outside of the John A. Wilson Building. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs announced this week the mayor will lead the city’s second annual LGBTQIA+ Flag Raising Ceremony at 4 p.m. on June 3 outside the John A. Wilson Building at 1350 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W., which serves as the D.C. government’s city hall.

“We are delighted to invite you to the LGBTQIA+ Flag Raising Ceremony, a significant event celebrating the visibility and diversity of our LGBTQIA+ community,” said Japer Bowles, director of the Mayor’s LGBTQ Affairs Office, in a May 21 statement.

“Join us as we raise the LGBTQIA+ flag alongside Mayor Muriel Bowser, D.C. Council members, and community leaders,” Bowles said in the statement. “This event is free and open to the public, and we encourage everyone to attend,” the statement says.

“Washington, D.C. is proud to be a leader in LGBTQIA+ rights and advocacy,” the statement adds. “This ceremony symbolizes our ongoing commitment to equality and the vibrant diversity of our community.”

The event was expected to take place on the sidewalk in front of the Wilson building at the site of its flagpole.

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District of Columbia

Capital Stonewall Democrats clarifies ‘no endorsement’ of Pinto

Says it postponed action on Ward 2 D.C. race until November



D.C. Council member Brooke Pinto. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The president of the Capital Stonewall Democrats, D.C.’s largest local LGBTQ political group, expressed regret that he did not clarify in an announcement earlier this week that the organization chose to postpone deciding whether to endorse D.C. Council member Brooke Pinto (D-Ward 2) in the city’s June 4 primary election because she is running unopposed in the primary.

“I misspoke, and I take responsibility for that,” Michael Haresign, the group’s president, told the Washington Blade on Thursday. Haresign said that he regrets that he did not inform the Blade in a May 21 interview at a post endorsement party the group held that Pinto’s name was not on the endorsement ballot the group sent to its members earlier this month to vote on the endorsements.

Based on a press release issued by the group on May 21, the Blade reported that Capital Stonewall Democrats announced it had endorsed just four candidates appearing on D.C.’s June 4 primary ballot – President Joe Biden, D.C. Council members Robert White (D-At-Large) and Janeese Lewis Geroge (D-Ward 4), and D.C.’s U.S. Shadow Representative Oye Owolewa (D).

Among the candidates not endorsed that surprised some in the LGBTQ community were Pinto and D.C. Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D),  who, like Pinto, is a strong LGBTQ community supporter. In the group’s May 21 press release it did not disclose that Pinto’s name was not on the group’s endorsement ballot.

Elizabeth Mitchell, Capital Stonewall’s Vice President for Legislative and Political Affairs, and Austin Naughton, a member of the group’s endorsement committee from Ward 2, contacted the Blade by email on May 23 to point out that the group decided at the committee’s recommendation to postpone a decision on whether to endorse Pinto, and the membership did not vote on a Pinto endorsement.

 “We made a careful and considerate decision as an election committee to not impose upon CM Pinto’s busy schedule at this time as there was no challenger for the primary,” Mitchell told the Blade in an email. “We assured CM Pinto and her campaign that we would revisit the subject of endorsement after the primary as it’s possible a challenger may emerge at that time,” said Mitchell, who added that the group was unaware of anyone emerging to challenge Pinto in the November election.

“As such, we did not include her on our endorsement ballot,” Mitchell said. Mitchell was also referring to the decision not to invite Pinto to one of the group’s candidate forums related to the June 4 primary, even though Pinto made it clear she would be happy to participate in a forum.  

No candidates have emerged in the June 4 primary to challenge Pinto either as Democrats or as members of the city’s two other registered political parties – the Republican and Statehood Green parties. An independent candidate could emerge to challenge Pinto in the November general election, and voters are eligible to vote for a write-in candidate in both the primary and general election.

Mitchell said Norton’s office did not respond to an invitation to participate in the Capital Stonewall Democrats first of two candidate forums and told the group a conflict in her schedule prevented Norton from attending the group’s second candidates forum.

“Her office sent us a very professional letter explaining that she had a prior engagement the evening of our forum and would be unable to attend,” Mitchell said. “We explained that to our members,” according to Mitchell, who added, “She was on our ballot and failed to receive enough votes to win an endorsement.”

 Under the group’s endorsement policy, candidates must receive at least 60 percent of the vote from the members to receive an endorsement. Under that policy, Haresign said the group also did not make an endorsement for the Ward 7 and Ward 8 D.C. Council races or in the race for the D.C. U.S. Shadow Senator seat because no candidate received a 60 percent vote threshold.

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