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EXCLUSIVE: Rep. Steny Hoyer’s daughter comes out as a lesbian

Hemmer seeks role in defending Md. marriage law

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Stefany Hoyer Hemmer (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Stefany Hoyer Hemmer (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Stefany Hoyer Hemmer has two reasons to come out publicly as a lesbian: her father’s recent endorsement of marriage equality and the likely upcoming battle at the ballot in Maryland over same-sex marriage.

“My father, as you know, just came out in support of gay marriage,” Hemmer said. “The momentum in Maryland right now for the adoption of the gay marriage law is fast-paced. I’m 43 years of age, and I’ve been gay my whole life and I just figured this is a good time to lend my name to the cause.”

In an exclusive interview with the Washington Blade, Hemmer — one of three daughters of House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) — made for the first time a public statement that she’s a lesbian. She said a limited number of people — including family and some friends — knew she was gay, but she hadn’t yet made a public statement about her sexual orientation.

“This was not his idea at all,” Hemmer said. “It was mine completely, but he’s very supportive. I talked to him before I did this, and he’s on board. Obviously, it’s a little nerve-racking for me to do this, but there’s something inside of me that’s telling me I need to do it.”

Hemmer said she consulted her father before making a public statement that she is gay and he was supportive. The decision comes on the heels of Hoyer’s announcement in favor of marriage equality. The Maryland lawmaker’s statement came just days after President Obama’s endorsement of marriage equality.

“Because I believe that equal treatment is a central tenet of our nation, I believe that extending the definition of marriage to committed relationships between two people, irrespective of their sex, is the right thing to do and will not, in any way, undermine the institution of marriage so important to our society nor impose a threat to any individual marriage,” Hoyer said. “It will, however, extend the respect due to every one of our fellow citizens that we would want for ourselves and our children.”

Hemmer said reading her father’s endorsement of same-sex marriage inspired her to come out publicly and do more for the LGBT community — even though she said she’s always known her father supported LGBT rights.

“I’m personally an advocate, and I’m certainly not one to hide my sexuality, but I’ve never out there with it politically,” Hemmer said. “So, I think when my dad actually came out with a statement, it triggered a want in me to further the cause, and I think that he’s powerful enough, and I’m frankly, smart enough, to do it. So, yeah, that was really the impetus.”

Hemmer said she knew her father wrote the statement himself because it was his style of writing and she commended him afterwards, but had no knowledge beforehand that he would adopt that position or issue those words.

“We had a brief [conversation] because we were at a birthday party for my grandson, but I said, ‘Good job coming out for marriage equality!'” Hemmer said. “He said, ‘Thank you, thank you.’ We just kind of had a brief conversation about how it’s been a long time coming, and he was happy to have been able to do that.”

A registered psychiatric nurse who works as a clinical nurse liaison for Maryland’s Department of Health & Mental Hygiene in the mental hygiene administration, Hemmer has been living with her partner of 18 months on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Although Hemmer declined to offer her partner’s name or age, Hemmer said she’s a nurse as well and they live together in Queen Anne, Md., with three cats and a chihuahua.

“We’re pretty normal, really,” Hemmer said. “Nothing is exciting and grand other than the day-to-day stuff. I have a pretty normal kind of existence.”

Hemmer was once married to a man about 20 years ago named Tim Hemmer, who’s an electrician and works at the Smithsonian. Hemmer said she struggled with her sexual orientation and entered into the marriage as a way to assert she wasn’t a lesbian, but the couple divorced when she was 23. Out of that marriage, Hemmer had a daughter, Judith Gray, who’s now 25 and has young children of her own.

In the wake of her father’s endorsement of same-sex marriage and the possible referendum on the state’s recently signed same-sex marriage law, Hemmer said she’s “committed” to taking a role to preserve marriage equality in Maryland. Opponents of same-sex marriage in Maryland have already submitted 113,000 signatures to put marriage equality on the ballot, which far exceeds the necesary 55,736 names, so the initiative will likely be on the ballot.

Hemmer said she hasn’t previously been involved in LGBT advocacy — and hasn’t even made any donations to any LGBT rights groups —but has already reached out to the Human Rights Campaign to get involved with the Maryland effort and expects to work with her father to speak out for marriage equality. Hemmer said she would consider getting married in Maryland if the law survives the referendum, but has no immediate plans to tie the knot.

“I think my father is going to lend himself to the campaign as well,” Hemmer said. “However, I think I will initially be an adjunct to him. I will go places with him and maybe speak, but I think that role will evolve. Basically, I’m here and what do you think I can do for you. You guys are the experts, you tell me what I can do. I think this helps. I think talking to them, going out, being visible.”

Even though Hoyer delivered the statement in favor of marriage equality just last month, the lawmaker has been known for his support for LGBT rights. During the legislative battle to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Hoyer took the lead in the House and submitted standalone legislation to the floor along with former Rep. Patrick Murphy to repeal the military’s gay ban during the lame duck session of the 111th Congress.

Hemmer said she’s “very proud” of her father’s role in repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and predicted his support for LGBT rights would continue, but said that effort didn’t inspire her as much as her father’s support for marriage equality

“Everything he does in terms of gay rights and civil rights really makes me proud,” Hemmer said. “So, I think that he will continue to do that, and I think that he will continue to lead in the equality fight in Maryland with the referendum.”

Hemmer said her father sometimes consults her about legislative issues — including LGBT issues — but acknowledged he has numerous consultants working for him. She said she had a conversation with him about “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal at the time, but didn’t immediately recall how the conversation went other than she gathered her father thought it was an unjust law.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

In a statement issued to the Blade, Hoyer said he is proud that his daughter intends to add her voice to the Maryland fight.

“I’m pleased that Stefany is adding her voice to those across Maryland and the country calling for marriage equality,” Hoyer said. “This is about ensuring all families receive equal treatment under the law. As more people speak out, the more momentum this effort gains to give every family the dignity and respect they deserve.”

Hemmer said she never explicitly told her father that she was gay, although she had spoken with her mother, Judy Pickett Hoyer, about being a lesbian. In 2003, Hemmer had one of her sisters break the news and later showed up at his house with a girlfriend.

“He was very welcoming,” Hemmer said. “Of course, my sister had prepped him. He was not the least bit shaken or upset and very pleasantly just a nice guy. He’s always been respectful of my privacy, so unless I initiate a conversation with him about pretty much anything that’s private, he doesn’t get into my personal business, which I respect. But he’s been great.”

Hoyer isn’t the first senior member of Congress to have an openly LGBT member of his family. Dick Gephardt, a former House Democratic leader, has a daughter, Chrissy Gephardt, who came out prior to his 2004 presidential campaign. Hemmer said she has seen Chrissy Gephardt speak in 2005 at Camp Rehoboth, an LGBT community organization based in Rehoboth Beach, Del.

A number of Republican public officials have LGBT family members. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) has a trans son, Rodrigo Lehtinen, who’s been involved with the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force and its “Creating Change” conference. Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich has a half-sister, Candace Gingrich-Jones, who has worked with the Human Rights Campaign and has criticized him for his anti-gay views. Former Vice President Dick Cheney has a lesbian daughter, Mary Cheney.

Even though Hemmer said coming out is “a little scary” for her, she doesn’t think there’ll be any serious backlash for either her or her father as a result.

“And if there is, it’s going to be from people who clearly don’t matter,” Hemmer said. “The Republican Party might have something to say about it that’s not very nice. But what am I going to do? It is what it is.”

In fact, Hemmer said she hopes her coming out will be a positive step in helping to preserve to right to marry for gay couples in Maryland that will build upon her father’s support for same-sex marriage.

“I’m doing this because I think that the time is now to do it,” Hemmer said. “I was not the impetus for him; he was the impetus for me. And I just want to make sure that people understand that. Having said that, he told me the other night, “I’ll support whatever you do.” He knows that it’s important. That’s the way I feel. It’s an opportunity for me to make a difference, and that’s what I hope to do.”

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Pennsylvania

Gay journalist murdered inside Philadelphia home

Josh Kruger’s death has left city ‘shocked and saddened’

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Josh Kruger with his cat Mason (Photo courtesy of Josh Kruger's Facebook page)

An openly gay journalist was shot to death in his Point Breeze neighborhood home in the 2300 block of Watkins Street in South Philadelphia early Monday morning.

According to Officer Shawn Ritchie, a spokesperson for the Philadelphia Police Department, 39-year-old Josh Kruger was shot at about 1:30 a.m. and collapsed in the street after seeking help. Kruger was transported to Penn Presbyterian Hospital where he was pronounced dead at 2:13 a.m.

Police said that Kruger was shot seven times throughout the chest and abdomen and that no weapons were recovered nor have any arrests been made. Homicides investigators noted that there was no sign of forced entry and the motive remains unclear.

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner said in a statement:

“Josh Kruger lifted up the most vulnerable and stigmatized people in our communities — particularly unhoused people living with addiction. As an openly queer writer who wrote about his own journey surviving substance use disorder and homelessness, it was encouraging to see Josh join the Kenney administration as a spokesperson for the Office of Homeless Services.

Josh deserved to write the ending of his personal story. As with all homicides, we will be in close contact with the Philadelphia police as they work to identify the person or persons responsible so that they can be held to account in a court of law. I extend my deepest condolences to Josh’s loved ones and to all those mourning this loss.”

WHYY reported Kruger had written extensively with bylines in multiple publications, including the Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Magazine, the Philadelphia Citizen, WHYY, and Billy Penn.

CBS News reported that Kruger overcame homelessness and addiction to work for five years in city government, handling Mayor Jim Kenney’s social media and serving as the communications director for the city’s Office of Homeless Services.

He left city government in 2021 to return to journalism, according to his website.

“He was more than just a journalist,” Kendall Stephens, who was a friend and neighbor of Kruger’s, told CBS News. “He was more than just a community member. He was somebody that fought that great fight so many of us are not able to fight that fight because we’re too busy sheltered in our own homes wondering if someone is going to knock down our doors and kill us the same way they killed him. The same way they tried to kill me. And we’re tired of it.”   

Kenney said in a statement that he is “shocked and saddened” by Kruger’s death.

“He cared deeply about our city and its residents, which was evident in his public service and writing. Our administration was fortunate to call him a colleague, and our prayers are with everyone who knew him.”

The District Attorney’s LGBTQ+ Advisory Committee issued the following statement:

“Many of us knew Josh Kruger as a comrade who never stopped advocating for queer Philadelphians living on the margins of society. His struggles mirrored so many of ours — from community rejection, to homelessness, to addiction, to living with HIV, to poverty — and his recovery, survival, and successes showed what’s possible when politicians and elected leaders reject bigotry and work affirmatively to uplift all people. Even while Josh worked for the mayor, he never stopped speaking out against police violence, politicized attacks on trans and queer people, or the societal discarding of homeless and addicted Philadelphians.

We are devastated that Josh’s life was ended so violently. We urge anyone who has information that could lead to an arrest and prosecution for Josh’s murder to contact the Philadelphia Police or the DA’s Office directly. LGBTQ+ Philadelphians experience violence of all kinds every day; few people used their platforms to remind powerful people in government of that reality as effectively as Josh Kruger did. Josh and the communities he advocated for every day of his life deserve nothing less than justice and accountability for this outrageous crime.”

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U.S. Federal Courts

Lesbian mother from El Salvador released from ICE custody

Jessica Barahona-Martinez arrested on June 26, 2017

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(Bigstock photo)

A federal judge last week ordered the release of a lesbian mother from El Salvador who had been in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody since June 2017.

Jessica Patricia Barahona-Martinez and her three children entered the U.S. on May 31, 2016. A court filing notes she fled “persecution she faced in El Salvador as a lesbian, and because the government had falsely identified her as a gang member.”

Barahona-Martinez lived with her sister and other relatives in Woodbridge, Va., until ICE arrested and detained her on June 26, 2017. She was housed at two ICE detention centers in Virginia until her transfer to the South Louisiana ICE Processing Center, a privately-run facility the GEO Group, a Florida-based company, operates in Basile, La., in October 2020. 

An immigration judge in November 2019 granted Barahona-Martinez asylum for the second time. The government appealed the decision and the Board of Immigration Appeals, which the Justice Department oversees, ruled in their favor.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Louisiana last month filed a writ for habeas corpus petition in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana’s Lafayette Division that asked for Barahona-Martinez’s release. U.S. District Judge Terry A. Doughty on Sept. 27 ruled in her favor.  

“Petitioner (Barahona-Martinez) ultimately argues that her prolonged detention violates due process; she moves that this court issues a temporary restraining order, requests release, a bond hearing, an expedited hearing and costs and attorney fees,” wrote Doughty.

“This court finds that petitioner has plausibly alleged her prolonged detention violates due process,” added Doughty.

An ACLU spokesperson on Monday told the Blade that ICE has released Barahona-Martinez and she is once again in Virginia with her children and sister. 

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State Department

State Department hosts intersex activists from around the world

Group met with policy makers, health officials, NGOs

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The State Department last week hosted a group of intersex activists from around the world. (Courtesy photo)

The State Department last week hosted five intersex activists from around the world.

Kimberly Zieselman, a prominent intersex activist who advises Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad, brought the activists to D.C.

• Morgan Carpenter, co-founder and executive director of Intersex Human Rights Australia

• Natasha Jiménez, an intersex activist from Costa Rica who is the general coordinator of Mulabi, the Latin American Space for Sexualities and Rights

• Julius Kaggwa, founder of the Support Initiative for People with Atypical Sex Development Uganda

• Magda Rakita, co-founder and executive director of Fujdacja Interakcja in Poland and co-founder of Interconnected UK

• Esan Regmi, co-founder and executive director of the Campaign for Change in Nepal.

Special U.S. Envoy for Global Youth Issues Abby Finkenauer and Assistant Health Secretary Rachel Levine are among the officials with whom the activists met.

Zieselman told the Washington Blade on Sept. 21 the activists offered State Department officials an “intersex 101” overview during a virtual briefing.

More than 60 Save the Children staffers from around the world participated in another virtual briefing. Zieselman noted the activists also met with Stern, U.N. and Organization of American States officials, funders and NGO representatives while in D.C.

“The people we met were genuinely interested,” Rakita told the Blade.

Stern in an exclusive statement to the Blade said “the visiting intersex activists clearly had an impact here at State, sharing their expertise and lived experience highlighting the urgency to end human rights abuses, including those involving harmful medical practices against intersex persons globally.” Andrew Gleason, senior director for gender equality and social justice at Save the Children US, in a LinkedIn post he wrote after attending his organization’s meeting with the activists echoed Stern.

“There are many learnings to recount from today’s discussion, but one thing is clear, this is unequivocally a child rights issue, and one that demands attention and action at the intersection of LGBTQI+ rights, reproductive rights and justice, disability justice and more,” wrote Gleason. “Gratitude to the panelists for sharing such poignant testimonies and providing insights into what organizations like ours can do to contribute to the broader intersex movement; and thank you to Kimberly for your leadership and bringing this group together.”

The activists’ trip to D.C. coincided with efforts to end so-called sex “normalization” surgeries on intersex children.

Greek lawmakers in July passed a law that bans such procedures on children under 15 unless they offer their consent or a court allows them to happen. Doctors who violate the statute face fines and prison.

Germany Iceland, Malta, Portugal and Spain have also enacted laws that seek to protect intersex youth. 

A law that grants equal rights and legal recognition to intersex people in Kenya took effect in July 2022. Lawmakers in the Australian Capital Territory earlier this year passed the Variation in Sex Characteristics (Restricted Medical Treatment) Bill 2023.

Intersex Human Rights Australia notes the law implements “mechanisms to regulate non-urgent medical care to encourage child participation in medical decisions, establish groundbreaking oversight mechanisms and provide transparency on medical practices and decision making.” It further points out the statute “will criminalize some deferrable procedures that permanently alter the sex characteristics of children” and provides “funding for necessary psychosocial supports for families and children.”

“It’s amazing,” Carpenter told the Blade when discussing the law and resistance to it. “It’s not perfect. There was some big gaps, but physicians are resisting every step of the way.”

The State Department in April 2022 began to issue passports with an “X” gender marker.

Dana Zzyym, an intersex U.S. Navy veteran who identifies as non-binary, in 2015 filed a federal lawsuit against the State Department after it denied their application for a passport with an “X” gender marker. Zzyym in October 2021 received the first gender-neutral American passport.

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